Results tagged ‘ Brisbane Bandits ’
San Diego’s Little Italy and Sanremo’s Alex Liddi share a love for baseball and its rich Italian history
While attending Beverly Hills High School, Agostino Liddi played baseball before repatriating to Italy after graduation. It was there that he met his future wife, Flavia, who played softball competitively in Italy.
You could say that Alex was a truly a baseball baby since it was reported that Flavia played first base for the first three months of her pregnancy carrying Alex. When Alex was old enough to play, his mother coached his baseball teams. As a teenager, his father drove him long distances to compete in games throughout Italy. With the addition of their two sons, Thomas and Alex, the couple shared their love of the game to transform the Liddi’s into the archetypal Italian baseball family. Alex Liddi was honored last year by the Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) for his valuable contributions to the game. FIBS president Riccardo Fraccari called
Liddi “the real ambassador of Italian baseball” after he became the first player from Italy to play in the Major Leagues since 1954 and the first-ever Italian-developed player in MLB. Liddi, the face of European baseball, has the opportunity to spur the growth of baseball back home by playing at the sport’s highest level. By watching Liddi on MLB.tv and reading the nightly box scores, young Italian athletes are now inspired to think that playing Major League Baseball is a viable option. Currently at Triple-A Tacoma with Team Italia pitcher Brian Sweeney, Alex Liddi is playing with conviction
in anticipation of his return to the Mariners for his third consecutive season. Now leading the Rainiers in home runs (7), runs (29), and RBI (31), the sheer power of Italian
24-year-old Liddi will be a welcome addition to the Seattle lineup when MLB rosters expand to 40 players in September. The European baseball ambassador was kind enough to sit down for an interview at the 2013 World Baseball Classic in Phoenix.
Roberto: You were signed in 2005 by Mariners’ scout Wayne Norton and current WBC Team Spain manager Mauro Mazzotti. Isn’t that a good sign for Italian baseball when two Italian managers, Italy’s Marco Mazzieri and Spain’s Mauro Mazzotti, are leading two of Europe’s finest ballplayers in the WBC?
Alex Liddi: Yeah, I’m happy for him that he is able to participate in the World Baseball Classic with another team. I wish him the best.
Roberto: Has the journey with the Seattle Mariners organization been a good experience so far?
Alex Liddi: Yeah, I enjoy my time in Seattle and in the minor league system. I think that it’s a pretty good system. I’ve enjoyed my years playing with them. I’ve got to thank them for giving me a chance to play in the big leagues. So I’m really thankful.
Roberto: You began your professional career in 2006 with the Peoria Mariners and then were then promoted to Single-A Wisconsin. You remained there until 2008 at which time you were batting .313 and enjoyed an eight-game hitting streak when you nearly hit .500! That must have been memorable?
Alex Liddi: Yeah. At every level you go, you try to make adjustments. I was trying to show them that I could play in the states.
Roberto: In 2009 playing for Single-A Advanced High Desert, you led the California League with a .345 batting average, 23 home runs, and 104 RBI. You were selected as a Cal League All-Star. In addition, you were awarded the Cal League MVP, Topps Cal League Player of the Year, Mariners Minor League Player of the Year and MLB.com Mariners Organization Player of the Year. What an accomplishment!
Alex Liddi: Yeah, it we kind of my break out year. We had a good team that year so it was a little easier for me to put out good numbers plus it was a good hitter-friendly park. But that gave me the confidence, and it gave me the chance to keep going for the rest of that year. All these things combined made me have a really good year.
Roberto: How did it feel playing on Team Canada at the Toronto’s Rogers Centre in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and beating the home team on their own turf?
Alex Liddi: Yeah, it was a good time for me. It was probably one of the biggest memories of my life, of my career. I had the chance to beat Canada at the highest level of competition. It will always be something that I will bring with me. I am happy that I was there.
Roberto: In 2011 you were invited to your first Spring Training camp with the Seattle Mariners. It was special because you hit back-to-back grand slams in consecutive games and produced impressive numbers: .385 batting average and a .429 on-base percentage. Your stellar 2011 campaign at Triple-A Tacoma (30 home runs, 104 RBI, 121 runs scored, 32 doubles and 61 walks) led you to your MLB debut with the Seattle Mariners on September 7. 2011. When you got to the big leagues, you hit three home runs and drove in six RBI in 40 at-bats while playing 15 games as a September call-up. Did you ever have to pinch yourself to make sure you were not dreaming anymore and come to the realization
that you were actually a big leaguer?
Alex Liddi: Yeah, for sure. I remember that I had a good spring, but I was still young.
So I had to go back down to Triple-A and develop myself a little more. But then it was getting really close to when the roster expanded to 40 in September, and I was getting really pumped. I maybe had the chance to get called up. Somebody would say ‘yes’
that I was going to get called up and somebody else would say ‘no’. Until they called
me and told me that I was getting called up. It was kind of like all the dreams came true, and it was a big day for me.
Roberto: You also played in the 2011 All-Star Futures Game. That must have been an
eye-opener playing in the front of the MLB media under the watchful eye of a worldwide televised audience.
Alex Liddi: It was a real honor. I would have never expected that to have come to me.
I was really happy to go there. It was really fun.
Alex Liddi: First of all, I have a lot of respect for him
as a person and as a player. He’s a really good friend
of mine and probably one of my best friends. He’s one
of those guys who always works hard and fights for everything. He never got anything easy in his life and always had to fight for it. That’s why I give him a lot of respect as a person. Plus he’s a really good pitcher with really good stuff. It was a shame when he got released by the Cubs, but at the same time I remember when I called him to tell him to keep his head up. I thought he could have pitched in the big leagues for sure, and I
still think he can. And then he got a chance to pitch in Japan and make it to the big leagues there. I’m really proud of him. Hopefully, he will have a long career.
Roberto: He actually was selected as the inaugural Fan Choice Award in the Australian Baseball League when he pitched for the Brisbane Bandits in 2011. Wherever he decides
to play, he always makes a major impact.
Alex Liddi: He has charisma. He has a really good attitude on and off the field that makes him a complete player. Good tools, good person, good teammate…so all these things combined together make him a really good player.
Roberto: What is different about Team Italia in the 2013 WBC from the previous team in 2009. What is different in the chemistry which makes the team such a dominant player in this year’s World Baseball Classic?
Alex Liddi: Last time in the World Baseball Classic we had a good team, but this time we have been playing together more. I mean we already know Chris Denorfia, Nick Punto, Anthony Rizzo–I’ve known Rizzo for a couple years now. He’s been a friend of mine since I have been playing against him for a long time. The other guys have been playing together for a while now so the team is really together now. Instead of the other teams, they might bigger names but they have never played together like we do.
Roberto: You could have a bunch of big names on a lineup card, but at the end of the day you look at the box score and the team with the biggest desire to win the game will actually succeed.
Alex Liddi: I think we showed them already that we came here to win. We’re not joking and you can see it on our face…our enthusiasm on the field. We’re playing hard right now. We’re playing real baseball so everybody has to be careful.Roberto: You are going out there playing nine one-inning games every contest, opponents should not take Team Italia lightly.
Alex Liddi: We’re playing as a team. Everybody can come up with the big hit. Nobody has got to do too much. Everybody’s got other people’s back, you know. We keep playing like this, and we’ll do a lot of damage.
Roberto: Having a stellar coaching staff which includes future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza and Frank Catalanotto, it must have a tremendous impact on your entire approach to baseball.
Alex Liddi: For sure. I mean when you have a chance to have coaches like Mike Piazza and Frank Catalanotto—guys who have been in the big leagues for a long time—it makes it fun just to be around those guys. You’re able to ask them questions and learn from them so that’s another big part of the team right there too.
Roberto: How proud are you being an Italian playing Major League Baseball and providing hope for Italian athletes that they too can play baseball professionally?
Alex Liddi: I’m really proud to have accomplished being the first Italian-born-and-raised player in the big leagues. It was something that I was always looking forward to coming up through the minors. That was my goal ever since getting signed. Getting closer to it, I could actually understand what it meant. As I got closer, and I was really excited about it. There was no pressure for me. It’s something I’m happy about that happened to me–getting to the big leagues. I’m really thankful to everybody for giving me the opportunity.
Roberto: I love what you represent to Team Italia, your family, friends and fans.
Alex Liddi: I respect this game, and I respect my family. You always got to remember where you come from. So I will always be there for my friends, and a lot of my friends are my fans too. They’re there for me so I got to be there for them. The fans are what make
the game fun. So you have got to be thankful for the fans. I really appreciate the fans. Without the fans, this game would be nothing…
on the arms of the Italian pitching staff.
Italy manager Marco Mazzieri and pitching coach
Bill Holmberg sat down prior to a scrimmage against
a team of spirited Seattle Mariners prospects at the
Peoria Sports Complex in Arizona and provided a very
candid snapshot of their team’s compromised chances
of beating the odds and advancing to the second round
of the highly-touted competition in the following interview.
Roberto: Is Team Italy ready to battle Mexico, Canada and USA in the 2013 World Baseball Classic?
Marco Mazzieri: We’ll be ready when the games start. We’re right now just trying to tune up all the guys and waiting for our MLB players to come down and join us. We know they’ll all be excited to go. So we’re pretty excited about this.
Bill Holmberg: I like our team a lot.
I think we’re going to have a very solid pitching staff, and our position players
of course are very good. I think we have a very, very good chance to go to the next round.
Roberto: Having to listen to a lot of disrespect from the media who consider Italy a novelty and a doormat for other teams, do you enjoy being the underdog and having to endure constant scrutiny?
Marco Mazzieri: I think it’s our destiny to be the underdogs all the time. We were the underdogs four years ago against Team Canada, and we beat them. The next thing we know we didn’t have hotel rooms because nobody expected us to win. We had to move to another hotel. I mean last September we were supposed to lose against the Dutch in the European Championship. They were celebrating the 100th anniversary of their federation and it was like 35 years that we had not beat them on their own soil. And we beat them! So I think we got used to being the underdog, but we don’t complain. We’re going to use all of this to get the guys even more excited and more ready to go. I think they will do a good job.
We expect everybody to have no fear.
already once in 2007 during the World Cup
in Chinese Taipei. They had Evan Longoria, Colby Ramus, Andy LaRoche, and Brian
Bixler. They had a great pitching staff.
They only lost that one game, but we
were the team that beat them. Again,
we respect everybody a lot, but there’s
going to be no fear at all.”
2013 WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC
ITALY MANAGER MARCO MAZZIERI
— MLB Europe (@MLB_Europe) August 13, 2012
Roberto: Former Chicago Cubs minor league pitcher Alessandro Maestri was named as the recipient of the 2011 Australian Baseball League Fan Choice Award after decimating hitters with his wicked slider pitching for the Brisbane Bandits. He has since been having a strong campaign for Japan’s Orix Buffaloes, the same team that recently signed former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Brandon Dickson as well as former outfielder/catcher for the Cleveland Indians/New York Mets/2009 Team Italy Vinny Rottino. Any words on Alex?
Bill Holmberg: Alex is a really, really good pitcher. And you know at times he’s great.
He’s shown in the past that he has been able to throw well for us, and we’re looking
forward to having him on the mound real soon during the WBC series.
ROBERTO ANGOTTI — Toronto’s John Mariotti will pitch for Italy in the World Baseball Classic… fb.me/1l3Y9UT5D
— Canadian Baseball (@CDNbaseball) January 23, 2013
Roberto: Former Baltimore Orioles prospect John Mariotti has been stellar for the defending Can-Am League Champion Québec Capitales for the past two years. How did you find this outstanding Canadian Italian pitcher?
Bill Holmberg: John has been around and spoke with Marco a couple years ago. He had been talking with the Italian Baseball Federation and Marco for a few years so we’re very lucky to have John. John is a sinkerball pitcher that really helped us at the European Championship, and I imagine he’s going to help us even more during the World Baseball Classic.
@grillcheese49Hey Grill.It’s Cat.Marco Mazzieri would like yuor number.Can you send it to me so I can get it to him. Thanks. Hope ur well
— frank catalanotto (@fcat27) June 30, 2011
Fun fact while researching WBC: Jason Grilli’s 0.00 ERA in ’06 WBC tied … Erik Bedard for best in the tourney.
— Bill Brink (@BrinkPG) February 28, 2013
Roberto: Team Italy has the luxury of having one of MLB’s premier closers, Pittsburgh Pirates’ Jason Grilli, ready and willing to do what he does best in shutting teams down with the lead late in any game. You must feel good about that?
Bill Holmberg: I’m very happy to have Jason and to be honest with you I’m happy to
have every one of our pitchers. I believe all of them can be situational where they come in and close the door on any team we are going to play. Of course, you are going to have to execute. We’re going to try to scout as well as we can and give them the best possible plan before the game. From there, all they have to do is execute.
— Roberto Angotti (@ABLblogger) January 23, 2013
— Matt Torra (@TheContractor31) February 25, 2013
Roberto: Matt Torra, a former 2005 first-round draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks and current Washington Nationals’ MLB hopeful, is also a very capable pitcher for Team Italy.
Bill Holmberg: Matt has thrown well. We’ve had one live batting practice session,
and he’s going to be throwing today. I was extremely happy the way he threw the BP.
He throws strikes. He keeps the ball down. He’s a smart kid. He knows how to pitch.
— Pat Venditte (@PatVenditte) February 22, 2013
— Pat Venditte (@PatVenditte) February 25, 2013
Roberto: The ambidextrous Pat Venditte from the New York Yankees organization is a pitching staff’s best friend and a hitter’s worst nightmare. Although recent surgery on his right shoulder labrum has limited him to throwing as a lefty for the World Baseball Classic,
do you think he will contribute as Team Italy’s secret weapon?
Bill Holmberg: Pat threw a short side, and I think he’s going to be extremely nasty. I’ve seen him on youtube, and if that is the same way he throws on the mound during a game then we’re pretty lucky.
— Tyler LaTorre (@tylerlatorre) January 9, 2013
Just signed my new contract for 2013. Resigning with the 2012 World Series Champions San Francisco Giants. twitter.com/tylerlatorre/s…
— Tyler LaTorre (@tylerlatorre) November 25, 2012
— Tyler LaTorre (@tylerlatorre) February 15, 2013
— Roberto Angotti (@ABLblogger) February 14, 2013
— Drew Butera (@drewbutera) February 22, 2013
We’re proud to announce our new website drewnews.blog.com There’s a free contest for a Drew autograph waiting for you there!
— Drew Butera Fan Club (@DButeraFanClub) August 22, 2012
Roberto: Any thoughts on San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A catcher Tyler LaTorre and Minnesota Twin’s backstop Drew Buter?
Marco Mazzieri: We’re very happy with our catchers as well. Tyler LaTorre has been
with us in the European Championship. He did a terrific job handling the pitching staff.
Drew Butera is so excited. I talked with him last night, and he can’t wait to be here.
He’s going to give us a pretty experienced catcher. With the pitchers that we have,
we are looking forward to it.
@tylerlatorre thanks again La Torre!! Def appreciate ur help!!
— Sergio Romo (@SergioRomo54) February 7, 2013
Roberto: Tyler LaTorre has caught San Francisco Giants’ Ryan Vogelsong and Sergio Romo. Vogey is reportedly scheduled to pitch for Team USA against Italy, and Romo will be the closer for Team Mexico. Did you know that you have a built-in scouting report on your roster?
Bill Holmberg: I didn’t know that. We’re getting information from everywhere. We’re getting information from guys that are playing in the Mexican Leagues. Of course, John Mariotti is Canadian so we’re trying to get as much information as we possibly can.
We’ll take it from anywhere. So Roberto if you have some information to give us, I’d be happy to accept it.
Roberto: If you put a Team Italia jersey on my back, I will happily sit in the dugout and scout on your behalf (laughter)…
@bigace22 that’s great news! I’ll be training with Team Italy at the Dodgers facility. Going in as a reserve in case they need a guy
— Alexander Burkard (@burky23) February 8, 2013
Got my Italian Passport! Now I’m ready to report with Team Italia in AZ for pre-tournament practices #WBClassic
— Alexander Burkard (@burky23) February 18, 2013
— Alexander Burkard (@burky23) March 1, 2013
Tommy Lasorda visit twitter.com/burky23/status…
— Alexander Burkard (@burky23) March 1, 2013
Roberto: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim prospect Alexander Burkard is a reserve pitcher from Caracas, Venezuela. He is in your back pocket if you need him in a pinch.
Bill Holmberg: He’s a great kid, a terrific kid. He’s six-foot-eight, just a terrific kid. He threw the other day. He didn’t do as well as we’d hoped, but I’m sure with a little bit of work in the bullpen as we did today he’s going to be a lot better next time out.
Roberto: Bill, how does it feel being a contributing member of this eclectic Team Italy coaching staff?
Bill Holmberg: I love the guys who are on this staff. To be honest with you, I’m very privileged to be on Marco’s staff. We have a great group of guys, and we just get along very well. It’s tremendous to come out here. This is not work. This is coming out here and having a good time. We laugh a little bit. We work real hard, and at the end of the day we’re happy with what we do.
Anthony Rizzo primed to play for Team Italy in WBC.trib.in/X90HGX
— Paul Sullivan (@PWSullivan) February 26, 2013
Roberto: When you heard that Chicago Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo was playing for Team Italy,
you must have felt like your chances to advance in the WBC had increased.
Marco Mazzieri: That was good because at one point it looked like the USA team was going to call him up. So we were kind of afraid that we couldn’t get him. We’re happy to have him. We’re looking forward to it. But we have another guy that we really like a lot–Chris Colabello. He’s in Big League camp with the Twins along with Alex Liddi (Mariners) and Chris Denorfia (Padres). I think we have a pretty good heart of the lineup.
@bbrentz7 I’m good homie… I’m over in Holland playing in the European Cup for Italy… Way to go get you a ship!
— Chris Colabello (@CC20rake) September 15, 2012
Pizza italiana e’ piu’ buona #italianpizzaisbetter
— Chris Colabello (@CC20rake) January 12, 2013
Roberto: Chris Colabello has been shadowing Minnesota Twins four-time all-star first baseman Justin Morneau and tearing the leather off the ball in Spring Training. His father Lou played for Italy in the 1984 Olympics.
Bill Holmberg: I’ve known Chris for maybe 20 years because he used to come over to Italy with his dad. His dad pitched in the Italian Baseball League. His mom is Italian. Chris is just
a great kid. He loves to come over and play for us. We enjoy having him. We like him. He’s
a very energetic, tremendous kid.
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) November 19, 2012
Roberto: Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Nick Punto has a World Series ring after having played under Tony La Russa for the St. Louis Cardinals. How has his energy helped Team Italy?
Marco Mazzieri: Nick is a terrific guy. We met him four years ago for the World Baseball Classic. We didn’t know him. We’ve been in touch with him throughout the years, and he can’t wait to be here as well. Again, here’s a guy with tremendous experience. A big clubhouse guy trying to keep everybody up and ready. But overall honestly I don’t like to talk much about individual single players, single names. I think we have tremendous chemistry in the clubhouse. That’s what we’re about. It’s important. As we showed four years ago, these guys played as a team from day one. It’s not going to be like an all-star team where everybody is kind of like showcasing themselves. This is going to be about winning ballgames and be together and doing the little things. We’re going to do that.
— Mike Vassallo (@MikeVassallo13) February 17, 2013
Roberto: Any feedback on the lesser-known Milwaukee Brewers/Italy shortstop Jeff Bianchi?
Bill Holmberg: I don’t know him as well as Marco does. I know he’s in the Big Leagues
and he can’t be that bad. So hopefully he’ll come to play. I know he was a high draft choice with the Royals. We also have another infielder who played with us in Holland during the European Championship–Tony Granato. He’s extremely solid, a great team player guy.
He plays his ass off every time he goes out.
Roberto: Anthony Granato is the heart and soul of Team Italy. He represents La Squadra Azzurri’s “Never Say Die” approach to the game.
After an eventless first at bat for the Greek, Italy takes the lead on an RBI-single by Anthony Granato, who… fb.me/28qHVrJEW
— Nederland op WBC ’13 (@NederlandopWBC) September 10, 2012
Marco Mazzieri: Very much so. I think he really made a difference on our team since he joined us three years ago. As a matter of fact, we won two European Championships. We went to Chinese Taipei in 2010 and claimed the Bronze Medal. And he really made a huge difference for this team. Not only for his play, but he is a leader out on the field. And he shows it. He’s not the type of guy who’s going to talk a lot. He’s going to show it by example and lead by example in the way he goes about his business.
— Baseball Spain (@BaseballSpain) January 25, 2013
El manager de Spain es italiano.. Mauro Mazzotti
— LigaDom.com (@LigaDomcom) February 26, 2013
Roberto: Italians are gaining massive respect in Europe as witnessed by Team Spain’s decision to hire Italian manager Mauro Mazzotti. Could you imagine seeing two Italian managed European teams playing head-to-head after advancing to the second round?
Marco Mazzieri: It would be nice, but let me tell you that we’re thinking about ourselves right now. It might be a little selfish. If they make it, we’re happy for them. But at this time we’re just mission focused, and we want to be the team that advances for sure. We’re going to do everything possible to be there.
How Alex Liddi can help conquer Europe es.pn/YYtGd2
— ESPN.com’s SweetSpot (@espn_sweet_spot) February 27, 2013
Roberto: Didn’t Mazzotti sign Alex Liddi? Bill, why didn’t you sign him like you did for the Italian-born Alberto Mineo as the Chicago Cubs international scout?
Bill Holmberg: I wish I would have signed him back then. Mauro Mazzotti had a hand in that, but Wayne Norton was also involved. I know that. I would have liked to have signed Alex. If he had come to our Italian Academy to work with Marco for at least a year, I think he would have gotten a lot more money. Hindsight is always 20/20. He’s done well for himself in the meantime.
— Roberto Angotti (@ABLblogger) February 22, 2013
Roberto: San Diego Padres’ Chris Denorfia is a diamond in the rough. What a score for Italy!
Marco Mazzieri: Again like Nick Punto four years ago, he came along and showed tremendous leadership. Won’t give up. We’re very proud and happy to have him back
again for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He’s a great guy. He works hard and he’ll be playing a good center field. Along with those other guys, it’s going to a solid lineup.
Roberto: Have you decided on the WBC pitching rotation for Team Italy?
Marco Mazzieri: We’re going to decide after we play these four scrimmage games until March 3rd and then we’re going to decide who’s the hottest guy. Pretty much if I am allowed to say is that we are the only team in this bracket that is scheduled to play five games in a row with two exhibition games. It’s not to complain, but I don’t think it’s fair on our pitching staff…honestly. With all the pitching limitations and everything, why are we the only team with five games in a row? Everybody else is getting a day off in the middle, and we’re not. Again, we’re going to use our weakness as our strength at this point. We just want to go out and prove everybody wrong.Roberto: What makes Team Italy so resilient?
Bill Holmberg: We’re a hard hat, lunch pail type of team. We’re blue collar from the beginning to the end. No obstacle is too great for us. We are not afraid. We fear no one. Bottom line is like what Marco said before…whatever comes, comes. We’re going to play
our cards as they are dealt. And that’s it, and we’re going to be happy doing it.
Roberto: Let’s beat Mexico, Canada and USA so that we can advance to round two in Miami.
Bill Holmberg: That’s our plan.
Roberto: Thanks for your time gentlemen. Buona fortuna!
While America’s exports to Australia amounts to over $27.5 billion, baseball is a priceless Aussie favorite. No matter how many machines, engines, pumps, vehicles, aircraft, spacecraft, gems, precious metals, coins, pharmaceuticals, plastics, rubber and chemical goods make their way Down Under, these were some of the Top 40 American imports (#11-20) in the thriving
2012-13 Australian Baseball League.
After being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 13th round of the 2006 MLB June Amateur Draft from Mississippi Valley State University, #20 Zach Penprase spent the following three years honing his skills in Single-A ball within the Phillies and Red Sox organizations. Despite being released from MiLB in 2008, the talented infielder was determined not to give up playing baseball professionally. When the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks offered refuge from the minor league madness, he gratefully accepted the invitation and has since become a leader and fan favorite in the Independent American Association League for the past three seasons. Making waves across the U.S. that were felt as far as Bondi Beach, Penprase got the attention of Sydney Blue Sox GM David Balfour. Given the opportunity to redeem himself in front
— Zach Penprase (@pachzenprase) February 2, 2013
of MLB scouts while experiencing unrivaled Aussie hospitality in the ABL, the 27-year-old Southern California native signed up to play ball in the state capital of New South Wales.
Representing Team World in the ABL All-Star game at the end of round six of ABL action, Penprase was one of the top three hitters in the league with the second-best batting average (.370) and the third-best on-base percentage (.469). Setting new team records in games played (45) and stolen bases (16), the Sydney Blue Sox second baseman and shortstop proved to be a valuable American import with a respectable season-ending .282 batting average and
.365 on-base percentage.
#19 Quincy Latimore replaced injured Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Justin Howard on the Adelaide Bite roster shortly after Christmas. He was a welcome addition to the team’s ailing line-up after an impressive 2010 ABL campaign in which he played in 31 games for Adelaide with a .313 batting average and was sixth in the ABL in both slugging percentage (.548) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.923). Selected in the fourth round of the 2007 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Middle Creek High School in Apex, North Carolina, Latimore competed in rookie ball until 2010. While at Single-A Advanced Bradenton, the left fielder crushed 19 homes runs with 100 RBI and earned Florida State League post-season All-Star honors. In each of his last two seasons at Double-A Altoona, he has hit 15 homers, while exercising more plate discipline by taking more walks and cutting down on strikeouts. With a minor league career .255 batting average, Quincy Latimore was recently acquired by the Cleveland Indians in exchange for the MLB-experienced right-handed pitcher Jeanmar Gomez. The 24-year-old put together a .286 batting average and a .400 on-base percentage in 16 games for the 2012-13 Bite.
One last thank you from all the way across the globe to all Aussies and especially to @sydneybluesox for never saying a bad word about me.
— Zach Penprase (@pachzenprase) February 12, 2013
#18 Brenden Webb was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles as a 19-year-old in the 30th round of the 2009 amateur draft out of Palomar Community College in San Diego County. Ranked #31 by Orioles Nation in their 2013 Top 50 Baltimore prospects feature article, lefty outfielder is a five-tool player with potential to make a positive impact on the major league level. His aggressive defensive prowess is demonstrated in this youtube video of him throwing out Canberra’s Kody Hightower at the plate. Featured in last season’s Top 20 Americans in the ABL article after hitting .270 and ranking fourth-best in walks (25) with only 100 at-bats, Brenden Webb returns again in this season’s Top 20 despite having only joined Perth in early January. In 2012 between his stints at Single-A Delmarva and Single-A Advanced Frederick, the 23-year-old power-hitter had career-highs in both walks (98) and home runs (14) while greatly increasing his on-base percentage.
Finally off to Australia! Lets hope this flight goes by fast! 😒
— Brenden Webb (@BrWebb24) December 27, 2012
Named ABL Player of the Week for Round One of 2012-13 action, #17 K.C. Hobson of the Canberra Cavalry absolutely raked at the plate by going 6-for-10 and hitting two home runs in three games. Named to the ABL World All-Stars roster after being Canberra’s most consistent bat as well as their clean-up hitter from the moment he set foot in Australia’s capital city at the start of the season, the aspiring 22-year-old Toronto Blue Jays prospect’s time in the ABL was cut short by a calf injury which prevented him from playing against Team Australia in the 2012 ABL All-Star game and sent him home early before Christmas. Picked up by the Jays in the sixth round of the 2009 draft out of Stockdale High School in Bakersfield, California, Hobson had a breakout year in 2012 for Single-A Lansing–where he hit .276 and set a single-season franchise record 43 doubles. The Cavalry first baseman’s injury cost him a possible ABL batting title as his average plummeted from a league-leading .600 to a season-ending .271.
Heading back to the states. Thanks @perthheat for the amazing time. The great fans and people is what makes Perth so special to me.
— Brenden Webb (@BrWebb24) February 10, 2013
— Canberra Cavalry (@CanberraCavalry) November 6, 2012
— Australia News (@AustraliaFlash) December 9, 2012
#16 Jim Schult of the Brisbane Bandits was named the 2011 Division III National Player of the Year while playing at Eastern Connecticut State University. A First Team All-American Collegiate Pitcher, Schult joined the Can-Am NYSL Federals in 2011 and the Frontier League’s Joliet Slammers in 2012. With unlimited potential and a bright baseball future ahead, the 23-year-old New Yorker made a great debut pitching in the ABL with a superb 4-2 record and will be welcome back.
#15 Zachary Arneson of the Melbourne Aces was drafted by the San Francisco Giants out of Cal State Bakersfield in the 21st round of the 2010 draft, but chose to return to college and transfer to Lewis-Clark State in Lewiston, Idaho. After posting a 2-1 record with a 2.82 ERA and 46 strikeouts in his senior year, he was drafted by his favorite team–the New York Yankees–in the ninth round of the 2011 draft. The hard-throwing relief pitcher signed immediately
Melbourne Australia – 3 months, cya
— Zach Arneson (@ZachArneson) October 24, 2012
and has since moved up the ranks
rapidly to Single-A Charleston.
Marred by nagging injuries throughout his brief minor league career, Arneson was used primarily in a setup role out of the bullpen during 2012 and pitched two scoreless innings in his last outing for the Single-A Charleston RiverDogs to earn his only victory (1-0) before heading to Australia. The day news got out that the Melbourne Aces had scored the first American import affiliated with one of the most prestigious MLB franchises to play in the ABL, the entire Australian state of Victoria buzzed with anticipation. Melbourne Aces general manager Windsor Knox said, “It’s a fantastic day for the Aces and our fans to be associated with the New York Yankees. We look forward to seeing Zachary’s contribution to the team’s success this season.” Aces manager Phil Dale commented that it was great for the ABL to have the biggest team in the world willing to send out players. With opponents failing to connect with the 24-year-old flamethrower’s fastball early on, Arneson rightfully earned a spot on the ABL World All-Star team roster and continued to dominate with a 1.77 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 20.1 innings.
All-Star Game, Japanese friends twitter.com/ZachArneson/st…
— Zach Arneson (@ZachArneson) December 16, 2012
@zacharneson In Melbourne 3 months and already know who runs this City. You just claimed your Victorian citizenship mate!
— SpazzyPC (@SpazzyPC) January 7, 2013
Originally selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 11th round of the 2005 draft out of the University of Califoria, Riverside, #14 Anthony Claggett of the Perth Heat was acquired by the New York Yankees in the 2006 Gary Sheffield trade. Equipped with a sinking 92 mph fastball and a 85 mph slider, the Southern California hurler came into 2009 Yankees Spring Training as the 26th-ranked prospect in the franchise and the third-ranked right-handed relief pitching prospect. Five months after making his MLB pitching debut on April 18, 2009 against the Cleveland Indians, Claggett was claimed off waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was designated for assignment by the Pirates when Octavio Dotel was acquired in 2010 and was granted free agency at the conclusion of the 2011 season. Prior to signing on with the Perth Heat in the ABL, he pitched for the Somerset Patriots and the St. Paul Saints. The 2012 ABL Team World All-Star (4-5, 3.31 ERA) was second-best in strikeouts (77) and was also named ABL Pitcher of the Week for Round Five after throwing 6.2 innings of shutout ball against the Aces with seven strikeouts and no walks allowed.
Beautiful day for baseball in Perth #perthheat
— anthony claggett (@aclaggs10) December 14, 2012
— anthony claggett (@aclaggs10) February 3, 2013
Officially back in California. Thank you Australia for all the good times #perthheat.
— anthony claggett (@aclaggs10) February 17, 2013
#13 Geoff Klein of the Sydney Blue Sox was drafted by the Saint Louis Cardinals in the 15th round of the 2010 draft from Santa Clara University in Northern California, where the switch-hitting 2009 West Coast Conference batting champion was named a 2010 preseason All-American. The 24-year-old Huntington Beach catcher and first baseman has fared well in the Cardinals minor leagues. He set career-highs in games played (102), home runs (7), RBIs (34) and walks (30) in his second season for Single-A Advanced Palm Beach prior to joining the Blue Sox in the ABL. Klein was the unsung hero calling games behind the plate for Sydney as
I’d like to thank the fans, my teammates, and staff of the @sydneybluesox for making my winter ball experience memorable. Unreal journey
— Geoff Klein (@Kleinburger27) February 2, 2013
the Blue Sox pitching staff was the ABL’s best with the league’s lowest ERA (2.91) and WHIP (1.20). He also produced offensively for the squad–ranking third in doubles (10) and walks (20) and fourth in hits/runs (43) and RBI (21).
Last day in Oz. Bittersweet, leavin behind a lot of good mates and great experiences but can’t wait to get home and back to the grind #2013
— Geoff Klein (@Kleinburger27) February 5, 2013
#12 Carlo Testa of the Melbourne Aces beat out 29 other players for this year’s ABL Fan Choice Award. The Kansas City Royals’ selection in the 18th round of the 2008 draft out of Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee was a 2012 Texas League Mid-Season All-Star as an outfielder for Double-A Northwest Arkansas with career-highs in home runs (15) and RBI (54). Playing in all 46 games for Melbourne this season,
Thanks to everyone that voted for my mate Carlo Testa.He came out on top as the ABL’s Fan Choice Awards.Well done my man! #goaces
— Travis Blackley (@Travis_Blackley) February 7, 2013
the 26-year-old Midwestener was the driving force behind the ABL’s last place offense by leading the Ace’s regulars in nearly every category including: doubles (11), home runs (6), stolen bases (10), batting average (.294), on-base percentage (.394), and on-base plus slugging percentage (.835).
#11 Cody Clark came to Brisbane, Australia after spending the 2012 season with the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers. Bouncing between the Texas, Atlanta and Kansas City franchises, the 31-year-old journeyman has played 10 years in the minor leagues. The veteran catcher needed an outlet such like the Australian Baseball League to show-case for international MLB scouts as he entered free agency. The Arkansas native ventured over 8,600 miles to get Aussie baseball love. Taken in the 11th round of the 2003 draft by the Texas Rangers, Clark moved over to the Atlanta organization in 2006 before signing with Kansas City
Big homer by Cody Clark to send the storm chasers to another win!!
— Johnny Giavotella (@Gio2bKC) May 6, 2012
in 2007. A fixture at the Triple-A level ever since, the versatile catcher got a lot of action in 13 games at Royals Spring Training last year. Clark was 6-for-18 for a .333 average, and he drew four walks to give himself a healthy on-base percentage of .435. Despite rubbing shoulders with the elite and handling major league pitching at camp, his MLB debut still eludes him to this day. However, his seasoned level of play in the ABL would make one think he had broken into the Bigs
a long time ago. In addition to being an ABL Team World All-Star, the Brisbane backstop was named ABL Player of the Week for Round Four. During the four-game series against the Adelaide Bite at the Norwood Oval, Clark went 8-for-15 with two home runs, two doubles, two walks, two runs scored and nine RBI. There was nothing bush league about the Bandits’ leader in hits (50), runs (25), doubles (13), and RBI (28) or nothing minor about his .299 batting average.
ball in places like Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and Perth as participants in the Australian Baseball League. Let’s look at some of the Top 40 Americans in the ABL. #30 C.J. Beatty was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 26th round of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft after all-star play at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina. He progressed rapidly up the ranks in 2010 to Single-A Advanced Palm Beach in the Florida State League before the Cardinals farm system released him after discovering an irregular heartbeat during his 2011 camp physical. Although he was cleared to play after an EKG, the red birds acted on the side of caution with his release. That didn’t stop him from pursing his dream. After Independent ball stints
in the North American League (San Angelo, Edinburg, and Fort Worth)
and the American Association League (Lincoln), the 24-year-old North Carolinian relished his time in the ABL playing third base for the Brisbane Bandits. He earned the ABL Round 11 Player of the Week title after a multi-home run game in which he drove in five of the Bandits’ six runs. The former St. Louis Cardinals farmhand had hits in all four games of the Bandits’ Round 11 series, going 6-for-11 (.667) with three homers and eight RBI. Beatty led Brisbane in both slugging percentage (.483) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.845) while batting .252 during 2012-13. #29 JaDamion “J.D.” Williams played in his first year in the ABL after spending three seasons in the Minnesota Twins minor league system. A 10th round draft pick by the Twins in 2010 out of high school, J.D. inked a $125,000 signing bonus and spent the first two years at the rookie level before jumping to Single-A in 2012. He struggled in his pro debut, hitting just .214 while playing primarily second base in the Gulf Coast League in 2010, but switched to the outfield while moving up to Elizabethton in 2011 and thrived. He batted .317 with 17 extra-base hits, 25 walks, and 10 steals in 50 games. Williams demonstrated that beyond tools and projection there was a talented baseball player beneath all the speed and athleticism. With the Beloit Snappers in 2012, the Florida native batted .234 and stole 23 bases in 32 attempts. The 21-year-old’s power numbers have also gone up every year, hitting one in his first season and six in 2012. Playing 37 games for the 2012-13 Sydney Blue Sox in the ABL, the switch-hitting outfielder contributed greatly to the team’s second place finish in the standings despite a lackluster .218 batting average. Drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 19th round of the 2008 MLB June Amateur Draft after graduating from South Carolina’s York High School, #28 Zac Fuesser chose not to sign in favor of attending college. Yet, the left-handed hurler was snagged as a 2009 34th round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates after receiving a $125,000 signing bonus. Since embarking on his professional baseball career at age 18, Fuesser has appeared in 83 games for three different minor league teams in the Pirates system and has a career 3.73 ERA. He spent his 2011 and 2012 campaigns pitching for Single-A West Virginia Power prior to joining the Adelaide Bite in the Australian Baseball League. Named to Team World in the 2012 ABL All-Star game, the 22-year-old southpaw contained Team Australia and pitched one scoreless inning. Second on the Adelaide pitching staff in strikeouts (57) in 57.1 innings of work, starter Zach Fuesser appeared in 11 games during the 2012-13 ABL season and posted a 4-4 record with a 3.61 ERA. He held opponents to a .259 batting average and had a strong 1.44 ground outs per fly outs ratio. #27 Jonathan Jones was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 29th round of the 2010 draft after a successful collegiate career for the Long Beach State Dirtbags. Prized for his speed, strong throwing arm and defensive prowess in the outfield, the 22-year-old Northern California native played in 90 games for the 2012 Single-A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays and posted a .266 batting average before venturing down under in the Australian Baseball League. The Canberra Cavalry center fielder was promising in the early going (.258 BA, 1 HR, 2 SB), but unfortunately had to return home after only eight games due to a hamstring issue that shortened his ABL experience.
@abuschini Thanks bro. Give me a call when you get back to the Bay.
— Jonathan Jones (@JonJones707) January 6, 2013
“I believe that Twitter is a great tool. It gives the fans access to follow their favorite players and see what they are doing, learn their likes and dislikes, and even get to see photos. It allows fans to feel like they have a personal relationship and for the athletes, and in return, it allows us to see all the fans’ love and support.”After a stellar high school baseball career, #26 Andrew Kittredge–a Spokane, Washington-born right-handed pitcher–was taken in the 45th round of the 2008 draft by the Seattle Mariners. Kittredge began his pro ball career after playing at the University of Washington in Seattle. He completed his first full season in the Mariners organization by splitting time between three different leagues within the farm system in 2012. Starting at Single-A Clinton before jumping up to Double-A Jackson, the 22-year-old Mariners prospect spent most of the season pitching for Single-A Advanced High Desert Mavericks. During the course of his brief 2012 elevator ride up-and-down, Kittredge made 25 appearances in 42 innings of relief and went 3-1 with a 4.07 ERA while striking out 43. Working as the 2012-13 Adelaide Bite closer in the ABL, Andrew saved six games and compiled a 3-1 record with a 4.73 ERA while striking out 25.
#25 Nathan Melendres was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 17th round of the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft from his hometown University of Miami Hurricanes in Florida. The 22-year-old outfielder was one of three Adelaide Bite imports to have finished the 2012 season with the High Desert Mavericks of the California League. Having only played in 23 games in 2012 during his second season in the Mariners organization, Nathan put together a .307 batting average with two home runs and 15 RBI between
— Andrew Kittredge (@amkittredge) October 25, 2012
his time at Single-A Advanced High Desert, Single-A Clinton and the Arizona Rookie League. However, he got his work in this off-season in 26 ABL contests. With a .245 batting average, five extra-base hits and five homers to his credit while in an Adelaide Bite uniforn, Melendres made his impression felt
in Australia and excited the Mariners’ faithful. #24 Carlos Alonso was selected in the 32nd round of the 2010 draft by the Philadelphia Phillies after playing for the University of Delaware. The Los Gatos, California native began his collegiate baseball career at Santa Barbara City College, where he was a two-time First Team All-Western State Conference third baseman. Hitting over .360 two years straight for the Vaqueros, he started 88 consectutive games at Santa Barbara City College and led his team to the playoffs twice. Leaving the West Coast in search of more playing time, Alonso transferred to the University of Delaware and was under the guidance of head baseball coach Jim Sherman. Upon being drafted by the Phillies in 2010, Sherman was supportive
of Alonso regardless of his chosen career path. “Wherever Carlos goes, whatever he decides to do beyond baseball, whether he plays baseball for a career professionally, or goes into the business sector of the world, no matter what part of the country he’s in, he’s always going to be perceived as a class individual,” Sherman said. “I think people are just going to gravitate towards him.” Ranked #25 in Bleacher Report‘s 2012 Phillies Top 25 Positional Prospects, the righty infielder played 93 games for Single-A Advanced Clearwater and racked up a respectable .278 batting average. A versatile utility player who can play any infield or outfield position,
the 25-year-old Phillies farmhand is valuable commodity for any team manager. While in Australia, Alonso anchored the Brisbane Bandits infield at third base. Bandits manager Kevin Jordan said, “Like a lot
of guys, Carlos got out here and you’re learning the whole league overnight, literally. You get thrown in the fire. For him, it is what
it is. I told him what was going to happen, that he was going to be thrown into it, that he was going to have to pretty much learn all
the pitchers; where to play guys defensively, on the fly and he’s starting to come around, especially with the bat.” Alonso ended the 2012-13 ABL season with a .209 batting average and seven doubles. #23 Adam Melker was selected by the
St. Louis Cardinals in the 44th round of the June 2010 Amateur Draft from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. After completing his third season
in the Cardinals organization and putting up good 2012 numbers (126 games, .278 batting average, 10 home runs, 35 RBI) at Double-A Springfield, Melker was reunited with former Perth Heat manager and current Corvallis Knights skipper Brooke Knight–who took his 2011-12 Aussie champion Heat to South Korea to represent Australia in the 2012 Asia Series. Prior to arriving in mid-October to play for Perth in the ABL, the left-handed hitting slugger exuded excitement. “I’m really excited,” said Melker. “I’ve heard baseball in Asia is extremely good so I’m looking forward to the challenge. Some time off this winter would have been nice, but I couldn’t turn down and opportunity to play baseball on two other continents…”
Melker remained with the Heat until mid-December and then
returned to the United States. “I would have liked to have stayed longer,” he said. “But I needed some time off that
I could dedicate to strength training and get 100% healthy before I headed off to spring training in March.” During
the 22 ABL games Melker played in the Perth outfield,
he contributed to the Heat’s early season offensive attack
with a .247 batting average–including two doubles, two
triples, one home run, six RBI and one stolen base.
(4 games played, 9-for-14 for a .643 batting average, 4 doubles, 4 RBI, and 6 runs total) sustained an elbow injury and had to return to America for surgery. In his last nine games prior to his departure, the left-handed hitting 25-year-old Bite first baseman/ DH was on a roll–going 15-for-35 with five doubles and five RBI–but left with a down-to-earth .266 batting average.
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in
the 24th round of the 2010 MLB June Amateur Draft from University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, Justin Howard has successfully been promoted each of his three seasons for the Buccos. The native Texan hit .283 with two homers and 29 RBI in 83 games for Single-A Advanced Bradenton prior to playing in the ABL. He will certainly be welcome to return to the Adelaide Bite next season.
It’s been amazing Adelaide. Sorry for the early departure but gotta get the elbow cleaned out. Back to the great state of Texas in 15 hours
— Justin Howard (@JHowey_11) December 18, 2012
Prior to joining the Brisbane Bandits, the closest lefty pitcher Chuck Lofgren ever came to Australia was in 2010 when Aussie teammate Trent Oeltjen from the Nashville Sounds, Triple-A affiliate for the Milwaukee Brewers, introduced him to Vegemite. It was during this time period that the Wild Wild West California Country boy, who always wears boots on days that he pitches, got a chance to meet his idol Garth Brooks at the superstar’s Teammates for Kids Foundation Fundraiser at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. Brooks later summoned Lofgren from his sixth row seat at the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Ford Theater to join the band onstage.
Click HERE to see his live performance. “Besides being drafted, that was the best thing I ever did,” said Lofgren, who plays a Seagull six-string guitar in a Country music cover band. “When you’re playing tiny mom and pop shops and dive bars, it’s a lot different than getting up there with him.” It’s been a long road for the former 2004 Cleveland Indians fourth round draft pick, who was heralded in the Baseball America 2006 Handbook “as one of the top lefthanders in the minors.” The Baseball America 2008 edition speculated that Lofgren “could make his big league debut later in the year.” However, his MLB debut eluded him after an extended stay at Triple-A Columbus did not warrant a call-up. When the Cleveland Indians left Lofgren exposed in the Rule 5 draft, the Brewers claimed him in 2009. After a 2010 season-long Nashville audition, which included his unrehearsed performance with Garth Brooks at the Country Music Hall of Fame, Milwaukee set him free.
The South Bay native grew up watching his favorite player, Will “The Thrill” Clark, play at nearby Candlestick Park, and it was always a childhood dream to play for the San Francisco Giants. It was a family affair for Lofgren as his father was a 35-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department and worked on-field security near the dugout during Giants games. He signed as a minor league free agent with the Giants’ organization in 2010. Lofgren pitched in 2011 at Single-A San Jose, Double-A Richmond and Triple-A Fresno–posting a 5-3 record with a 4.31 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 6.8 K/9 rate, and 5.2 BB/9 rate. The Giants were looking for more from their local cowboy so Lofgren dug deep to his baseball roots when he was a successful two-way player and made the transition from lefty pitcher to first baseman and outfielder with his bat.
As a teenager, he was named to the AFLAC All-American High School Baseball Classic in 2003 for his precise pitching and consistent hitting after three consecutive years as a two-way player for the USA Baseball team in Mexico (Gold Medal Winners), Venezuela and Curacao, Netherlands Antilles. When Lofgren was drafted by Cleveland in 2004, he was so good offensively that his contract allowed him to pitch and hit. Unfortunately, a home plate collision quickly ended his hitting career as the Tribe did not want their star pitching prospect getting hurt. Yet, after eight years of pitching in the minor leagues Lofgren was willing to lay it all on the line as a hitter for the San Francisco Giants when he re-signed as a minor league free agent for the 2012 season. If current free agent Rick Ankiel had successfully made the transition from pitcher to hitter in MLB, why couldn’t Lofgren do the same? The six-foot-four, 220 pounder was encouraged by the support of the Giants’ front office–especially Vice President Bobby Evans, who reportedly liked Lofgren’s swing and wanted to work with him.The Giants had the lowest 2011 run total in the National League and as a result had little patience for Lofgren’s offensive transformation. On March 12th
San Francisco trimmed down its roster in preparation of 2012 Spring Training and had to part ways with
the once-heralded baseball prospect. In a classy response to his release, Chuck Lofgren (@chuckylof) tweeted: “Got released today by the Giants always thankful for the opportunity from the team that I grew up watching and loving. One door closes…” Although not a Major League Baseball club, American Association of Independent Professional Baseball’s Amarillo Sox happily opened the door for the multi-talented player. Since it is a rarity in baseball to find a starting pitcher who can serve as the team’s designated hitter on most pitching off days, Lofgren was a welcome addition to the 2012 Amarillo Sox roster. In his 200 at-bats, Lofgren compiled a .245 batting average with eight doubles, two triples, three homers, 32 walks and 25 RBI. Making 20 starts and working 119.2 innings, the veteran pitcher compiled a 4-6 record with a 4.36 ERA. 2012-13 Brisbane Bandits pitcher Chuck Lofgren (4-3, 3.05 ERA) appears to have found his groove again playing in the Australian Baseball League. His most impressive
start on December 7th against the Perth Heat yielded 11 strikeouts
and was by far his best outing yet. Lofgren said, “Coming out you always want to face Perth. You hear that they’re the team to beat.” The 26-year-old American import went 6.2 innings and limited the reigning ABL champion Heat to just one earned run, seven hits and one walk. Lofgren may just have to sing Garth Brooks’ “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” again for MLB as a reminder that he still has a lot of game left in him despite being written-off prematurely.
One of the most arm demanding pitches in baseball is the slider. The pitch is usually not taught to younger and underdeveloped pitchers unless their arms are physically ready to perfect the pitch. Unfortunately, the slider has caused more elbow injuries than all the other pitches combined. Having said that, when thrown correctly, the slider is one of the most devastating pitches out there. With a new found appreciation for this pitch and the pitchers who throw it, we turn our attention to an Angel pitching prospect that could possibly possess the best slider from his native Australia. Introducing 21-year-old Aaron SookeeThe best pitchers in baseball use the slider to their advantage on the field, while their agents successfully utilize it in negotiations to ultimately determine their client’s fame and fortune. It is one of the four pitches that usually dictates a player’s ability to play at a professional level. The slider is very deceptive as the batter sees the ball as a fastball due to its speed and spin, but at the last moment the slider drops in front of home plate–unlike a curve ball which is detected by its spin or the pitching motion of the pitcher. A slider is thrown by grasping the ball with the index finger and middle finger not in the center of the ball, but off a bit to the right. Some of the most notable players to have made the slider one of the most difficult pitches to hit include: Hall of Famers Bob Lemon, Bob Gibson, Dennis Eckersley and Steve Carlton; legends Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, and Sparky Lyle; and pitchers Brad Lidge, Francisco Rodriguez, Zack Greinke, Johan Santana, Carlos Marmol, Ryan Dempster, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Joba Chamberlain, Ervin Santana, Aroldis Chapman, Jonny Venters, Daniel Bard and Craig Kimbrel.
Signed by Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim scout Grant Weir in 2009, Aaron Sookee knew early on that it was a match made in heaven when the Southern California team made an offer he could not refuse. The teenager pitcher had dreamed of playing professional baseball for the LA Angels, who had at the time been a favorite among Australian baseball fans because of the famed Aussie pitcher and former Angel/Blue Sox Rich Thompson.
Working as a late-inning reliever for the Sydney Blue Sox this past ABL season, Sookee made his presence felt by averaging more than one strike out per inning, which is just about the same ratio of two-year Angel minor league campaign (61 strike outs in 59 innings). Heading into his third Angels Spring Training camp, Aaron appeared more confident and more determined than ever to break into Major League Baseball. The following interview took place in mid-March at the Angels Spring Training facility in Tempe, AZ.Roberto: What inspired you to dream of playing Major League Baseball as a kid in Australia?
Aaron Sookee: I guess growing up we didn’t get a lot of the major league games so you had to look to the local teams in the old ABL. I remember watching Gary White and Dave Nilsson, both catchers but really great players. And then more recently Chris Oxspring and Brad Thomas and just seeing how they go about their business to hopefully make me into a major league pitcher one day.
Roberto: When did the bidding war between MLB teams begin for your seven-year professional baseball contract?
Aaron Sookee: In January 2009 is when it began and a few teams, I think five or six from memory, were competing. But as soon as the Angels made a bid, I knew that I wanted to play for the Angels.
Roberto: Now with Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson acquired during the offseason, do you think the Angels have the winning combination?
Aaron Sookee: Most definitely, you know what I mean. They should win close to 100 games this year with them two. It should be pretty exciting to watch.
Roberto: Has playing in the Angels farm system and in the Australian Baseball League during the offseason helped you develop into a confident pitcher?
Aaron Sookee: I have come a long way. I think that’s from playing everyday. There’s a different brand of baseball here because you do play everyday and you have to be ready to grind it out everyday. That’s the main difference between Australian baseball and American baseball.
Roberto: What are your short-term and long-term goals?
Aaron Sookee: I think the first plan or goal of mine is to make the long season team
in the Midwest League for the Cedar Rapids Kernels. Then step-by-step hopefully one day I get to play pro ball.
Roberto: While a member of the ABL’s Sydney Blue Sox, you were being mentored by former MLB pitching teammates Dae-Sung Koo (New York Mets), Chris Oxspring
(San Diego Padres) and Brad Thomas (Detroit Tigers). Was that inspirational to you?
Aaron Sookee: It definitely was…just watching how those guys go about their business.
It was an honour playing alongside them. I learned a lot from all three of them, even though that Koo didn’t speak much English. He can translate through baseball language I guess and then Thom-O and Ox really helped me grow this offseason.Roberto: Why did you choose to become a pitcher instead of another position?
Aaron Sookee: Because I couldn’t hit. That’s basically it…couldn’t hit! (Laughter)
Roberto: There’s hope thanks to the designated hitter.
Aaron Sookee: Yeah right, it came in for a reason. (Laughter)
Roberto: Your pitching arsenal has improved dramatically with the addition of a wicked
slider, which has successfully ended a lot of innings for you. When did you add that pitch
to your repertoire?
Aaron Sookee: (Laughter) It’s come a long way during the offseason…maybe the last calendar year. I’ve been working really hard on it. I just can’t wait to use it this season.
Roberto: With that pitch, are you the Australian version of the Italian slider expert Alessandro Maestri of the Brisbane Bandits?
Aaron Sookee: Yeah, I guess so (laughter). Maestri has carved Sydney a few times…
He’s a true professional in every aspect of the word. Roberto: Does it feel good when fans ask for your autograph?
Aaron Sookee: It’s very humbling to see that fans appreciate what you do and all the
hard work that you put in because it translates to performance on the field. Yeah, it’s good.
Roberto: Any advice for the youth back home that are considering playing baseball?
Aaron Sookee: Just stick with it. Every time you can throw a ball, throw it and don’t hold back. Don’t leave any stone left unturned and just go after it. Don’t be afraid to play.
That’s the main thing I think.
Roberto: Thanks for taking time out to talk today.
Aaron Sookee: Thank you. It’s been a honour. Thanks for having me.
Baseball in Italy received a Major League surprise last month when an unannounced MLB manager graced the 436 registered attendees with his presence at the Italian Coaches Convention Dinner at Castelnuovo de Garda (Verona). Tampa Bay manager Joe Madden, a first-generation Italian-American whose father was born in Italy, was overjoyed by the warm reception received at the gala dinner which pays tribute to the coaches that make a difference in the internationalization of baseball in Italy. Madden exclaimed, “I feel at home here, because in the small city in Pennsylvania where I live there is a big Italian community.”His grandparents original surname was Madonnini, but after emigrating from the Region of Abruzzo to America
their last name was shortened. Maddon continued, “It is always a pleasure for me to visit Italy. I am proud of my heritage.” The Rays were very well represented in Italy as Maddon brought along members of his coaching staff to lead instructional clinics for the delegation of Europe’s best coaches. Riccardo Fraccari, president of the Federation of Italian Baseball and Softball (FIBS), spoke of Alex Liddi becoming the first Italian-born and developed player to play Major League Baseball and its great significance to baseball in Italy. He said, “Alex’s story is really the tip of the iceberg, and we really need to take into account the daily work of the coaches in Italy who are the base of the movement.” Liddi was signed by the Seattle Mariners after being selected to attend the inaugural MLB International European Academy in 2005 and in September 2011 became the first graduate of the MLB International European Academy to play in the Major Leagues. Bill Holmberg is one such coach that FIBS President Fraccari was referring to in his compelling speech. Holmberg has been living under the radar since 1989, when he came to Italy to serve as manager and technical director of the Godo baseball club for 12 years. He later became the pitching coach for San Marino as well as the Italian Junior and Senior National teams. Coach Holmberg was named Director and Field Coordinator of the MLB Italian Academy nearly a decade ago and has been instrumental in signing the best homegrown talent as a former international scout for the Chicago Cubs. Everyday he tirelessly trains the cream of the crop at an elite sports academy in the quaint beach community of Tirrenia near the Italian cultural iconic city of Pisa. Alessandro Maestri, the former Chicago Cub minor leaguer and recent Brisbane Bandit / 2012 Australian Baseball League (ABL) Fan Favorite Award recipient, was signed by Holmerg in 2006, when he became the first Italian-born pitcher ever signed by a Major League Baseball team.
Chicago Cub scout Holmberg knew early on that Alessandro was something special when he saw the young Italian play baseball for the first time. Holmberg said, “Alex can do whatever he wants to. He’s got the temperament and composure. He’s hit 95 mph, and his slider is at 86 or 87. He competes as hard as anyone out there.” Maestri still to this day works under the guidance and direction of Coach Holmberg. The Cesena, Italy
native made World Baseball Classic headlines in 2006 when his first offering to the Dominican Republic’s Moises Alou was rocketed out of the park for a home run. Despite the rocky start, he would not allow another earned run in his 4.2 combined innings in both the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics. Maestri demonstrated great promise in the Midwest and Florida State leagues as a two-time All-Star. As as starter and relief pitcher in the Chicago Cubs minor league system for five seasons, he racked up a 24-17 record with a 3.75 ERA and 19 saves. The right hand throwing pitcher put away hitters with his evasive slider–which was once voted as the best slider thrown by anyone in the entire franchise. Maestri made his preseason MLB debut against the Oakland A’s during Cubs Spring Training in Phoenix on April 1, 2009 when Cub manager Lou Pinella summoned him out of the bullpen. Maestri struck out Orlando Cabrera and then he sized up against slugger Jason Giambi–who was lucky to squeak out a single through the hole. MLB All-Star
Matt Holliday was caught looking at a third strike slider for the second out, and Eric Chavez went down swinging at his Italian slider in the dirt to end Maestri’s almost perfect outing. Nearly three years later, Alessandro is still as dominant as ever as witnessed by his numbers in the most recent 2011-12 ABL season. As the workhorse and ace of the Brisbane Bandit pitching staff, Maestri led his team in wins (4) and proved to be one of the best pitchers in the league. He finished third in the ABL in innings pitched (63.2) and in strikeouts (53), fourth in the ABL in WHIP (1.16) and sixth in the ABL in ERA (3.25). In Round Eight of the regular season, he earned the Pitcher of the Week award after pitching a stellar complete game two-hitter against the Canberra Cavalry. Based on his most recent form, Maestri is worthy of a second look by international scouts to make his long-awaited MLB debut. He will always be a competitor who lives on the edge to bail his team out of pressure situations.
Of the frequent MLB-sponsored instructional clinics throughout Europe, none has had the impact of MLB / FIBS Academy host Coach Holmberg’s annual three and a half week summer invitational Major League Baseball International European Academy at the Olympic Training Center in Tirrenia. Designed to provide promising junior teenage players with both the environment and the instruction to reach their full potential, the European Academy brings together around 50 or more of the brightest young playing talent in Europe and Africa with the best in Major League coaching and instruction. The Academy seeks to provide a path for elite players from this region to improve their skills in preparation for the rigors of professional and international baseball. In addition to helping these bright young stars develop their skills, the Academy enables MLB Clubs to scout the best future talent. Holmberg explained, “It’s a pretty good place to see all the best players in Europe at one time. We’ve had between 18 and 20 scouts that have watched the games this past year.”
The Tirrenia baseball camp, which began in 2005, has much to do with MLB’s accelerated rate of signing the European elite to professional contracts based on the fact that the numbers have more than tripled from 2005 (2.33 average) to 2011 (9.0 average). So far 49 Academy graduates from ten countries (45 players from Europe and 4 players from Africa) have signed professional contracts with 19 different Major League Baseball franchises. Holmberg commented, “We’re not the Dominican Republic yet, but I think we might be sneaking up on Australia.”
Australia has produced over 330 players who have signed professional contracts with Major League Baseball (MLB) clubs and boasts more MLB contracted players than talent pools from China and its province in Taiwan, Japan, Korea and Cuba. Australia set a country-best record earlier last year with nine Aussie players being called up to the major leagues. Now in 2012, there are now nearly 60 Australian players competing in the major and minor league circuits. In total to date, there have been 35 Australian players who have successfully achieved MLB status.
Leading the charge of the thunder ‘Down Under’ in Major League Baseball is Grant Balfour of the Oakland Athletics. Balfour is just one of two Australian professional players to compete in a World Series as a late-inning relief pitcher for the 2008 American League Champ Tampa Bay Rays. Acquired by the Rays in July 2007 from the Milwaukee Brewers in a trade sending pitcher Seth McClung to Miller Field, Grant Balfour did not make Tampa Bay’s opening 2008 roster. However, after turning heads at Triple-A Durham and closer Troy Percival being placed on the disabled list early into the season, the Rays sent Ben Zobrist to Durham in exchange for Balfour. Tampa Bay’s decision paid off immediately as the Aussie pitcher was worth his weight in gold.Assuming the role of Rays closer for the ailing Troy Percival until mid-July, Balfour ended his regular season campaign with a stellar
6-2 record and a 1.54 ERA. In perhaps the most memorable appearance of his Tampa Bay career, Balfour struck out future Baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. for the final out of game four of the 2008 American League division series against the Chicago White Sox and led the Rays to its first playoff series win ever. After a three-year stint in Tampa Bay, Balfour signed a two-year contract worth 8.1 million dollars with the Oakland Athletics in January 2011. In
his 62 innings of relief for the A’s during 2011, Grant struck out 59 hitters and racked up five wins for the third-place Athletics. He also repeated his personal best 14 2/3 inning scoreless streak in 2011.
The 34-year-old Balfour, who made his MLB debut back in
2001 for the Minnesota Twins, is the Australian patriarch for future Aussie baseball prospects. Although more than a decade has passed since then, he appears to have turned a new leaf and be at the prime of his career. Perhaps his greatest Aussie highlight came on September 15, 2010–when he fanned the Yankees’ Austin Kearns and passed former MLB star Graeme Lloyd on the career strikeout list for Australian-born pitchers. Lloyd, however, can still lay claim to being half of MLB’s first
all-Australian battery with catcher Dave Nilsson in 1994.
to go head-to-head against for his first MLB victory. With no run support from his Twins offense, the Perth-born Hendriks fought hard by pitching seven strong innings but in the end lost his first decision 3-0. Fox Sports North analyst and Baseball Hall of Famer
Bert Blyleven praised Hendriks on his first outing. He said, “From what I saw today, he deserves a B-plus. I thought he pitched very well, he did a good job.
Hendriks controlled both sides of the plate, and he changed speeds well. He got through it with flying colors. Run support would be nice but you can’t always have that, but I thought he pitched a very, very good ballgame.” The elusive first win never manifested in four appearances this past season; however, Hendriks kept hitters guessing by striking out 16 in a combined 23 innings of work. Liam Hendriks was signed by the Twins as a non-drafted free agent out of Australia’s Sacred Heart College in 2007. He made his professional debut as an 18-year-old that summer with the Single-A Rookie Gulf Coast League Twins. In his eleven starts in Florida, Hendriks went 4-2 with a 2.05 ERA. In 2008 he pitched for the Australian national team in the Final Olympic Qualification Tournament before undergoing season-ending back surgery. Prior to the start of the 2009 season, Hendriks returned on the hill for his country in the World Baseball Classic.
Coming off a layoff, he then resumed play in the minor leagues, where he posted a 5-5 record with a 3.55 ERA in 14 starts. Hendriks was selected for the 2010 All-Star Futures Game, but was forced to miss the contest due to appendicitis. In 2011 he began the season at Double-A New Britain and went 8-2 with an impressive 2.70 ERA in 15 starts. Hendriks was promoted on July 19th to Triple-A Rochester, where he tallied a 4-4 record with 4.56 in nine starts. History would repeat itself the Aussie right-hander was once again selected to the World Team roster in the 2011 All-Star Futures Game. As if being chosen an All-Star for the second consecutive year was not enough, the six-foot-three, 210-pound Liam Hendriks was recently named the 2011 Jim Rantz Award winner as the Twins’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year after ranking second among all Twins Minor Leaguers in wins (12) and strikeouts (111). Hendriks has a promising future ahead in MLB.
Facing Detroit Tigers’ Max Scherzer on the mound in his first major league at bat in April 2010, Luke Hughes slugged a home run out of the park. Perhaps an early indication of what was to follow in 2011 Twins Spring Training, Hughes showed a ton of promise with his bat and defensive position versatility.
By leading the Twins with six home runs, 15 RBI, a .567 slugging percentage and 37 total bases in the preseason, there was no way manager Ron Gardenhire was going to send him back down to the minors again. Luke played in 96 games as a utility infielder in his first full major league season in 2011.
Going into 2011 Chicago White Sox Spring Training in Arizona, relief pitcher Shane Lindsay had a career minor league record of 19-14 with a 3.65 ERA in the NY Yankees, Colorado Rockies and Cleveland Indians organizations. Although he did not make the 25-man opening day roster, manager Ozzie Guillen and pitching coach Don Cooper were very much impressed with the 27-year-old career minor leaguer. So much in fact that when the roster expanded in September–it was graduation time to Major League Baseball for Lindsay. After posting a 1.98 ERA and punching out 78 in 63 innings of relief work at the Triple-A level, Shane was put to the test in his MLB pitching debut on September 2nd against the 2011 American League Central Division Champion Detroit Tigers. In his inning pitched as a reliever at Comerica Park, Lindsay allowed no hits with a strike out and a walk. The six-foot-one, two hundred five-pounder made three other relief appearances before the end of the season.
Lindsay elected free agency in October 2011, and agent Paul Kinzer reported in November that his client had signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He will need to impress coaches at Dodgers Spring Training when pitchers and catchers report at the end of month at Arizona’s Camelback Ranch to make the 2012 Dodgers Opening Day roster. Most predict Shane Lindsay will begin as a member of the Dodger Triple-A affiliate Albuquerque Isotopes bullpen in anticipation of the MLB call up.
Former Australia World Baseball Classic team member and current Atlanta Braves 33-year-old reliever Peter Moylan underwent right shoulder surgery during the offseason to repair a torn right labrum and rotator cuff. The groundball specialist was encouraged by surgeon Dr. James Andrews’ projection that he would likely only need six months of rehab. Moyan said, “It is what it is and couldn’t have been avoided. It’s rough, but it just means my offseason will be spent rehabbing instead of relaxing. It’s not going to change anything. I’m still going to be ready to go by the end of spring.” Moylan has long been plagued by a series of injuries and surgeries. The Aussie pitcher missed most of the 2011 season after another surgery for a bulging disk in his back.
With 287 game appearances under his belt in his on-and-off again six seasons in MLB, Moylan has been a workhorse out of the bullpen when not on the disabled list. After recovering from Tommy John surgery, the hard-throwing right-hander with his signature side-armed ‘down under’ delivery returned in fine form in 2009 and set a Braves franchise record 87 relief appearances. 2010 was equally as busy as his workload included 85 appearances in relief.
Even for a reliever who has set the bar high with a respectable 2.60 ERA and 205 strike outs in his illustrious MLB career, there is a heightened sense of optimism that if Moylan returns healthy in 2012 that his personal best year for the Braves has yet to come. An Atlanta fan favorite out of the bullpen, Peter is also well-liked on Twitter–unless you are in the band Nickelback. Considered less than entertaining live, they were nearly booed offstage in Detroit on Thanksgiving. @PeterMoylan tweeted to Nickelback lead singer Chad Kroeger that he should attend a Foo Fighters concert to learn how to put on a good show. “Foos are killer for sure,” tweeted Kroeger. “We’re doing just fine too thanks. ? for you Pete, is watching [Braves closer Craig] Kimbrel better from the bench or on TV?.” Better cancel Atlanta boys!!! Worth following anywhere, Peter Moylan is top-notch entertainment.
Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Trent Oeltjen could have easily followed his childhood friends playing rugby in Sydney. Instead, his American father made sure that Trent played T-Ball at an early age and developed a love for his dad’s country’s favorite pastime. After catching the eyes of MLB scouts as a standout player for Australia in the World Junior Baseball Championship, Oeltjen signed a professional baseball contract with the Minnesota Twins organization at the ripe young age of 17. He was chosen to play for the Australian national team at the Athens Olympics in 2004. As a member of Australia’s 2005 Baseball World Cup and 2006 World Baseball Classic teams, Oeltjen once again represented his homeland. Oeltjen proclaimed, “Any time you get to represent your country on the world’s stage, it’s a dream come true for any Australian kid.”
The accolades continued as he was selected to the 2006 MLB All-Star Futures Game and the 2007 Baseball World Cup, where he led the international competition in three major categories. Batting an unstoppable .523, stealing seven bases and scoring nine runs, Oeltjen became the first Australian in the event tournament’s 37 years to make the All-Star team and win its Batting Award. “The World Cup really helped me turn around my career,” Oeltjen exclaimed. “It helped me get the confidence to know that I could play against some of the best players in the world. Since then I’ve found that my career has really turned around.” He was summoned once again for more Aussie baseball ambassadorship duty in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, where another strong offensive 6-for-12 batting frenzy ensued. Not surprisingly, his success for Australia coincided with another baseball dream realized. The aspiring and talented athlete spent nine years in the minor leagues before making his MLB debut for the 2009 Arizona Diamondbacks, thereby becoming Australia’s 27th member of the elite Major League Baseball fraternity.
On August 6, 2009, Oeltjen made the best of his MLB debut against the Pittsburgh Pirates by blasting his first major league home run over the right field wall off relief pitcher Jesse Chavez in the top of the 8th inning to tie the score in a game the D-Backs would win in extra innings. Leaving a lasting impression on baseball fans and international supporters who always believed in his athleticism, Oeltjen finished the game 2-for-6 with one RBI and two stolen bases.
After playing in 24 Diamondbacks games before the end of the 2009 season, Trent Oeltjen signed with the Dodgers in July 2010. He was assigned to Triple-A Albuquerque and later called up to the majors briefly at the end of the 2010 season. In June 2011, the left hand-hitting slugger earned his way back up to the major league level for good with a .339 batting average–including a sizzling .440 in May–racking up eight homers and 34 RBI in 56 Triple-A games.
During the remainder of the 2011 season, Oeltjen played in 61 Dodgers games in the absence of Manny Ramirez. Despite a major letdown in Mannywood, it was all blue skies for the Aussie outfielder. He took full advantage of the opportunity to become an everyday player. However, 2012 will prove to be a critical season for the 29-year-old as he strives for a slot in the Dodgers Opening Day line-up.
A Major League Baseball Australian Academy Program (MLBAAP) success story playing for two of Australia’s
and America’s finest organizations in the Sydney
Blue Sox and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim,
Rich Thompson recently returned from his third trip to Taiwan after pitching for the Major League Baseball
All-Stars in the 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series. Having played for the Australian national team during his junior and senior international career, Thompson was well aware of the young Chinese Taipei team’s talent and ability to compete. This time he made history as the 27-year-old Hornsby-native not only was the first of the 31 Australians to play Major League Baseball to be selected for a traveling All-Star Series team but also the first MLB pitcher to win two games in the five-game exhibition series. Enjoying a solid 2011 campaign for Halos manager Mike Scioscia, Thompson made 44 appearances and kept batters at bay with a 3.00 ERA. Best known for being a pressure situation reliever with men on base, Thompson comes through when called upon to deliver key outs in times of critical crises.
Having that extra pitch (cutter) maybe gave me some more confidence, and I had more opportunities to get guys out.”
Although he hails from Geelong, Australia, San Diego Padres southpaw Josh Spence began his collegiate pitching campaign at Central Arizona Community College, where in two seasons he stifled and rung up batters at an alarming rate (327 strike outs) to the tune of a whopping 1.40 ERA. Arizona State University (ASU) recruited Spence into their 2009 starting rotation, and the Sun Devils enjoyed a ride to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska as a result. Spence has proven that he can compete under pressure when it counts and deliver outstanding pitching performances when they mean the most.Teammates Mike Leake–named 2009 National Player of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) and current Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher–and Jason Kipnis–named a 2009 1st Team All-American by ABCA and current Cleveland Indians second baseman–witnessed first-hand the pitching magic of Josh Spence–named a 2009 2nd Team All-West Regions Honoree–as he compiled a 10-1 record with a 2.37 ERA during his junior year. It will make for an interesting 2012 ASU reunion this year between July 30 and August 2 at Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark when Leake and Kipnis face Spence for the first time in opposing uniforms.
The slender six-foot-one lefty Spence was drafted in
the third round by the Angels in June 2009, but he opted not to sign so that he could return to Arizona State for his senior year. However, he missed the
entire 2010 college season with a vague elbow injury. Regardless, the Padres still selected him in the ninth round of the 2010 draft, and he proved healthy enough to pitch 24 innings between rookie ball and the Midwest League. Prior to being called up to MLB in June 2011, Spence surrendered only 48 hits and struck out 84 with a remarkable 2.14 ERA in 71 innings pitched in the minor leagues. The 24-year-old continued his dominant pitching as a San Diego Padres reliever by striking out 31 hitters in 29 innings and posting a 2.73 ERA. Under the watchful eye of former Angels pitching coach and current manager Bud Black, Josh Spence possesses the tools to become not only a promising MLB starting pitcher but also a potential future Cy Young candidate. Padres’ faithful look for Josh Spence to have a breakout season in 2012.
Postseason baseball–courtesy of former Minnesota Twins Double-A affiliate New Britain Rock Cats teammate Michael Cuddyer’s game-winning home run–saved the life of pitcher Brad Thomas. Changing his travel plans and ultimately his fate, Thomas would not leave on this particular date and flight to his native Australia because advancing to the Eastern League’s finals pushed back that trip for him. With airline tickets in hand for he and his wife, Kylie, on American Airlines Flight 11–which took off from Boston on September 11th destined for Los Angeles but instead crashed into the World Trade Center, Brad Thomas lived to tell his story. He commented, “Michael pretty much saved our lives single-handedly by knocking in the winning runs in the last of the playoff games that took us to the next round.” Cuddyer was Thomas’ first roommate in professional baseball in 1997. They played parts of the following seven seasons together, making their way up through the Twins minor league system. When Brad Thomas began pitching for the Detroit Tigers in the 2010, their friendship took a slight turn. Friend or foe–when pitching to an opponent, even a lifesaver–it’s a different ball game. In four career at bats facing the left-handed reliever, Cuddyer is hitless with a walk. Off the diamond, however, they are life-long bros.
While Cuddyer continues to thrive in Minnesota, the future is unknown for the 34-year-old Thomas. With a 6-6 career record and a 5.80 ERA in Major League Baseball, it’s probable that this Aussie will be looking for another minor league deal or a return to Japan or Korea for another new lease on life in the world of baseball. He recently had a great abbreviated season in the Australian Baseball League with the Sydney Blue Sox. The Sydney native made four starts and five total appearances amounting to 22.1 innings pitched. With a 2.42 ERA and a 1-1 record in the 2011-12 ABL season, Brad Thomas demonstrated that he is once again MLB ready.
With a landmark partnership between the Australian Baseball Federation, Major League Baseball and the Australian Sports Commission, the sky is the limit for the recently revamped Australian Baseball League. In an effort to propel baseball’s profile on the Australian sports landscape and foster participation in the game, the ABL seeks to showcase the wealth of talented Australian baseball players on their own home turf and to teach what their fellow Aussie predecessors from decades past have mastered in elevating the sport on the international level. Teams boast elite national players from across Australia along with personnel from Major League Baseball feeder clubs, the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan, the Korean Baseball Organization and the Chinese Professional Baseball League. The ABL pioneers the pathway of development for many emerging Australian baseball prospects as well as offers a vibrant alternative off-season league for games hosted in the northern hemisphere. Currently in its second season as Australia’s premier professional baseball competition with the 2012 ABL Championship Series between defending champ Perth Heat and challenger Melbourne Aces this weekend, be sure to tune in and watch the excitement of what is truly the ABL’s answer to the MLB World Series. For further information on the Australian Baseball League, visit their official ABL website.
Food for thought: Pitcher Alex Maestri–Italy’s first export to MLB imported by ABL’s Brisbane Bandits
When asked about preparations for his Italian squad in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, the best hitting catcher in Major League Baseball (MLB) history and Team Italy hitting coach Mike Piazza replied, ”We’ll have the best food.” All joking aside, Pizza commented: “You’ve got talent in Italy, think of Alex Maestri and Alex Liddi… To help talented kids you need to get them to play more games. Look at me, I didn’t really improve until I was given the possibility to play every day.”
The 26-year-old Alex Maestri made MLB history as the first Italian born pitcher to be signed by a major league club–the Chicago Cubs–in 2006. Three years later another historical milestone in baseball would take place when the Italian prospect would finally compete on the Major League level. Thinking that it was yet another day on the bench or perhaps a really good April Fools prank, April 1, 2009 would go down as a very Big League day for Alessandro Maestri. Upon reporting to a Cubs Spring Training game in Phoenix against the Oakland Athletics, Maestri was informed that he would making his first preseason Major League pitching debut, which many would consider to have been “textbook”
and as good as it could ever be.
The setting was perfect under a pleasant 71 degree warm Arizona sun for Maestri to take over for Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano and Luis Vizcaino in the fifth inning. Little did Maestri know that he would come face-to-face with some of Major League Baseball’s most feared hitters. His first strike out victim was Orlando Cabrera, who was caught looking at a fastball on the outside corner. Next up with slugger Jason Giambi, who managed to squeak out a single through the hole. Following was Matt Holliday, nicknamed “Big Daddy” for his towering six-foot-four stature and his muscular physique. Maestri dug down deep and mesmerized the intimidating Major League All-Star with a called third strike slider for out number two. The selective Eric Chavez worked the count full before swinging and faltering to Maestri’s wicked slider in the dirt for his third strikeout. Upon returning to the dugout, legendary Cubs skipper Lou Pinella congratulated the young Italian hurler.
As as starter and relief pitcher in the Chicago Cubs minor league system for five seasons, Maestri racked up a 24-17 record with a 3.75 ERA and 19 saves. A two-time minor league All-Star, the right hand throwing pitcher put away hitters with his evasive slider–which was once voted as the best slider thrown by anyone in the entire organization. Representing his native Italy in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic (WBC), Maestri dominated hitters. In the 2009 WBC, Maestri held opponents scoreless in his two plus innings–during which he got Miguel Cabrera to ground out on a fielder’s choice and Magglio Ordonez to strike out.
Since joining the Brisbane Bandits in the Australian Baseball League (ABL) this month, Maestri has been brilliant. In his first two ABL victories against the Canberra Calvary and the Sydney Blue Sox, he threw over 10 innings of scoreless ball and struck out 11. Add to that total another 8 K’s he put down on his most recent indecision versus the Melbourne Aces on November 18th, and Maestri has tallied 19 strike outs in just over 17 innings pitched. With the ABL’s fifth lowest ERA (1.56), the five-foot-eleven Italian has dished out almost nothing but zeros across the box scores. Look for Maestri to battle teammate Yohei Yanagawa–Japan’s 2011 Nippon Professional Baseball League Champion Fukuoka Southbank Hawks reliever, who has struck out 20 as a Bandits starter in over 16 innings–and Canberra Cavalry’s Michael McGuire–a six-foot-seven, 240 pound 2008 First-Year Player Draftee by the Cleveland Indians from the University of Delaware and currently a Philadelphia Phillies minor league starting pitcher, who now leads the ABL with 21 strike outs in 13 plus innings of work–to battle it out until the end for the title of 2011-12 ABL Strike Out King.
When the ABL season concludes in late January, Alex Maestri is scheduled to head to O’Flallon, Missouri to pitch for the 2010 Frontier League Champion River City Rascals after being acquired in a trade last month with the Lincoln Saltdogs–2009 American Association of Independent Professional Baseball Champions. Heralded as the premier Italian born baseball champion of Major League Baseball, Maestri has fast become a favorite in the Australian Baseball League’s appetite for imports as a leader of the Brisbane Bandits.