Results tagged ‘ Kody Hightower ’

Top 40 Americans in the ABL (#1-10)

AT40In the final installment of the Top 40 Americans in the ABL series, we now feature the very best import players (#1-10) hailing from the U.S.A. It has been a rewarding experience interacting with players, coaches, scouts, front office staff, media representatives and baseball fans to put together this rather ambitious undertaking. Congratulations to 2013 ABL Champ Canberra Cavalry!

By clicking above, witness the resilience of Top 40 American in the ABL Honorable Mention Antonio Callaway and the thrilling comeback of 2013 ABL Champion Canberra Cavalry in the regular season against former MLB reliever Dae-Sung Koo of the Sydney Blue Sox. Special thanks to Canberra’s CHARGE TV for streaming live coverage all season long with
the excellent play-by-play commentary of ABC Grandstand’s “Strike Zone” host Chris Coleman and his team of supporters including Top American GM in the ABL Thom Carter.

#10 Brian Grening of the Canberra Cavalry was interviewed by Fox Sports after game 1 of the ABL Championships Series. (Ben Southall / SMP Images)

#10 Brian Grening of the Canberra Cavalry was interviewed by Fox Sports after being named Player of the Game in ABL Championship Series Game 1. (Ben Southall / SMP Images / ABL)

#10 Brian Grening of the Canberra Cavalry

#10 Brian Grening of the Canberra Cavalry (Photo by Adam East/ozcards.blogspot.com)

#10 Brian Grening of the Canberra Cavalry has always kept MLB caliber talent close by his side. The former 2008 Cleveland Indians draft pick was teammates with ABL Triple Crown winner and recently signed San Diego Padres prospect Adam Buschini as well as St. Louis Cardinals prospect and Top 40 American in the ABL Adam Melker (#23) in 2007-08 at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. More recently the 27-year-old Newport Beach, California native was teammates with fellow Cavalry pitchers and Top 40 Americans in the ABL Sean Toler (#32) and Dustin Loggins (#40) along with one-time Atlanta Braves/Kansas City Royals prospect Steve Kent while playing independent ball for the 2012 Kansas City T-Bones. As a starter in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball last year, he registered a career-high 113 strike outs–while picking up ten wins with a 3.69 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. He was equally as impressive in the ABL last season, making 23 relief appearances and striking out 43 batters in 43.2 innings of work.

#10 Brian Grening pitching for Team World  in the 2012 ABL All-Star Game at Melbourne's Altona Stadium. (Scott Powick / SMP Images)

#10 Brian Grening pitching for Team World against Team Australia in the 2012 ABL All-Star Game at Melbourne’s Altona Stadium. (Scott Powick/SMP Images/ABL)

In addition to his critical postseason victory in ABL Championship Series Game 1 against former two-time champ Perth Heat, the hard-throwing right-hander posted a 4-2 record in regular season action with a 2.87 ERA. The ABL Team World All-Star pitcher was a mentor for the slew of first-time American imports to Canberra. First-year Cavalry manager Michael Collins praised Grening for developing into the team’s top starting pitcher and taking on a leadership role with the club’s rookies. Collins said, “Brian’s been huge. He came here last year as a bit of everything. He came back strong and was our number one starter this year. He really led these new guys and was comfortable in everything he did.” Grening felt home field advantage with the Canberra fans suffocated Perth’s chances of a Heat three-peat. He said, “When you get it on, the place erupts, it makes you feel like you’re on top of them. It’s way more detrimental to the other team when the whole place is right on top of you, so awesome crowd, the best I’ve ever seen in Australia,
best fans in the ABL…”

#9 James Robbins of the Sydney Blue Sox (Photo courtesy of Steve Bell / SMP Images / ABL)

#9 James Robbins of the Sydney Blue Sox (Photo courtesy of Steve Bell / SMP Images / ABL)

#9 James Robbins of the Sydney Blue Sox is an aspiring Detroit Tigers prospect

Aspiring Detroit Tigers prospect #9 James Robbins

Upon the recommendation of Sydney Blue Sox recruiter and ex-Minnesota Twins third baseman Glenn Williams–who was was inducted in the Baseball Australia’s Hall of Fame and won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens–#9 James Robbins from
the Detroit Tigers Single-A Advanced affiliate Lakeland Flying Tigers was summoned to play in New South Wale’s capital city. He was the most prized and highly-touted player of Sydney’s five American imports, including Top 40 Americans in the ABL J.D Williams (#29) and Tyler Herr (#23) as well as Zach Penprase (#20) and Geoff Klein (#13). SydneyBlueSox

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Robbins, alongside former Sydney Blue Sox and 2012 Top 20 American in the ABL Tyler Collins (#9), led Lakeland to a Florida State League Championship after appearing in 124 games last year. The left-handed hitting DH and first baseman made his pro debut at 18 when he played for the Rookie Gulf Coast League Tigers and was ranked the 29th best prospect in the Tigers organization by Baseball America. A 30th round pick by Detroit in the 2009 draft out of Shorecrest High School in Shoreline, Washington, the 22-year-old was third for Sydney in batting average (.298), slugging (.461) and RBI (26).

#8 Jack Murphy @jackmurphy219 twitter profile photo

#8 Jack Murphy @jackmurphy219 twitter profile photo with his loyal Aussie fan club

#8 Jack Murphy of the Canberra Cavalry (Photo by Adam East/ozcards.blogspot.com)

#8 Jack Murphy of the Canberra Cavalry (Photo by Adam East/ozcards.blogspot.com)

#8 Jack Murphy of the Canberra Cavalry was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 31st round of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft from Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey. Excellent behind the plate, the 24-year-old Sarasota, Florida-born catcher possesses a .993 fielding percentage (better than any catcher in the MLB Hall of Fame). Throwing out 29 of 76 baserunners (38%) while finding his power stroke and hitting 10 home runs in 2012 at Single-A Advanced Dunedin, Murphy had a breakout season prior to joining the Canberra Cavalry. He caught fire against the Melbourne Aces in ABL Round Four action–during which he went 9-for-17 with a home run, a double and five RBI–and was subsequently chosen to represent Team World in the 2012 ABL All-Star Game. Third on the 2012-13 Cavalry staff in doubles (11), home runs (5) and RBI (24), the Toronto Blue Jays prospect posted a respectable .304 batting average and a .480 slugging percentage.

#7 Kody Hightower shares a laugh with catcher Geoff Klein. (Photo by Joe Vella / SMP Images)

#7 Michael Ohlman shares a laugh with Geoff Klein. (Joe Vella/SMP Images/ABL)

#7 Michael Ohlman of the Perth Heat received a $995,000 signing bonus after being chosen by the Baltimore Orioles in the 11th round of the 2009 draft out Florida’s Lakewood Ranch High School. Ohlman finished the 2012 season with the Single-A Delmarva on a roll. He batted .304 with 16 doubles, two home runs and 28 RBI in 51 games. He reached base in 47 of his 50 starts and led the team with a .411 on-base percentage. The MLB prospect will likely start 2013 at Single-A Advanced Frederick, where Perth teammates–Top American in the ABL Brenden Webb (#18) and Aussie Alan de San Miguel–played last year. Hoping to lead Perth to its third-straight ABL Championship title, the
22-year-old Ohlman and San Miguel split time between first base and catcher with the Heat. Having the best overall ABL campaign of the three Baltimore farmhands, Ohlman hit .317 with six home runs and 27 RBI in 43 regular season games and hit .467 in the postseason.
#7 Michael Ohlman of the Perth Heat (Photo by Ryan Schembri / SMP Images)

#7 Michael Ohlman of the Perth Heat (Photo courtesy of Ryan Schembri/SMP Images/ABL)

#6 Ryan Stoval batting for Team World in the 2012 ABL All-Star Game. (Scott Powick / SMP Images) Diamondbacks organization. (

#6 Ryan Stovall at bat for Team World in the 2012 ABL All-Star Game. (Scott Powick/SMP Images)

#6 Ryan Stovall of the Canberra Cavalry signed on with ACT Baseball club Tuggeranong Vikings after a try-out with the Arizona Diamondbacks aspiring to make it in the ABL and eventually to MLB. Cavalry manager Michael Collins learned of the 25-year-old Florida native in no time and officially added him to the Canberra roster after making an impression in the New Zealand national team exhibition series. It was the second time an import playing for a local club has made an instant impact for the Cavalry as fellow Top 40 American in the ABL Kody Hightower had been recruited by Canberra from the Ainslie-Gungahlin Bears in 2011. Originally selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 19th round of the 2009 draft out of Georgia’s Thomas University, he played for Single-A Advanced Wilmington Blue Rocks in two of his three seasons in the Royals organization before being delisted in 2011. Appearing in 80 games for the American Association of Independent Baseball 2012 Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, Stovall was a very well-seasoned utility player who saw time at first, second, and third as well as all three outfield positions.
#6 Ryan Stovall of the Canberra Cavalry (Photo courtesy of Joe Vella / SMP Images / ABL)

#6 Ryan Stovall of the Canberra Cavalry (Photo courtesy of Joe Vella / SMP Images / ABL)


Ryan Stovall of the Canberra Cavalry (Ben Southall / SMP Images / ABL)

Ryan Stovall of the Cavalry is now an Arizona Diamondbacks prospect. (Ben Southall / SMP Images / ABL)

The Team World ABL All-Star was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks after a few weeks of ABL action. He was also named ABL Player of the Week for Round Nine during which time he led the league with the best batting average. While playing away against the Perth Heat, Stovall went 9-for-20 (.450) with two home runs, two doubles, a triple, and seven RBI. His off-the-charts performance spurred a big momentum swing for the Cavalry as they took three of four games from the league’s 2011 and 2012 Claxton Shield champions to move into clear sole possession of first place. While sporting a .320 batting average in the ABL, Stovall
was the leader in triples (4), runner-up in slugging percentage (.582), and third in runs (32). He was rewarded for his hard work in Australia and in indy ball by getting his contract purchased by a Major League Baseball franchise. “Ryan does a lot of good things on the baseball field,” said RedHawks manager Doug Simunic. “He can play all over the field, swings the bat well and is a plus runner. Hopefully he can go to Arizona and work his way up in their organization.”

#5 Ryan Stovall of the Canberra Cavalry being congratulated by teammates after hitting a home run in ABL Championship Game 2 against the Perth Heat.  (Ben Southall / SMP Images)

#6 Ryan Stovall of the Canberra Cavalry being congratulated by teammates after hitting a
home run in ABL Championship Game 1 against the Perth Heat. (Ben Southall / SMP Images)


#5 Kody Hightower of the Canberra Cavalry (Photo by Adam East/ozcards.blogspot.com)

Kody Hightower of the Canberra Cavalry (Photo by Adam East/ozcards.blogspot.com)

#5 Kody Hightower of the Canberra Cavalry is an unsung American hero, who after being disregarded by U.S. professional baseball retreated to the European leagues and has since been a fixture as one of the continent’s most adored and cherished elite superstar players. Here’s the lowdown on MLB’s MIA Kody Hightower. After being selected as a
NAIA All-America Honorable Mention at Brevard College in North Carolina, he was named to the 2008 Southern States Athletic All-Conference team, NAIA Region 13 team, and the NCCAA All-South team in addition to being an All-American and the NCCAA South Region Player of the Year in his final two seasons at Southern Wesleyan University in South Carolina. He posted a .427 batting average with six home runs, seven triples,
16 doubles, 61 runs scored and 64 RBI in 58 games during his 2008 collegiate campaign. Despite his stellar year, he was completely ignored in the 2008 MLB June Amateur Draft.

Witness the speed of #5 Kody Hightower when he legs out this inside-the-park home run off #14 Anthony Claggett (of Top 40 Americans in the ABL fame) in 2013 ABL Championship Game 1 by clicking HERE and when he sprints around the bases after launching a leadoff homer off Detroit Tigers prospect Warwick Saupold in ABLCS Game 2 by clicking HERE.

Kody Hightower celebrates the Canberra Cavalry receiving the Claxton Shield after winning the 2013 ABL Championship Series. (Ben Southall/SMP Images)

Kody Hightower celebrates the Canberra Cavalry receiving the Claxton Shield after winning the 2013 ABL Championship Series. (Photo courtesy of Ben Southall / SMP Images / ABL)

#5 Kody Hightower of the Canberra Cavalry represented Team World in the 2012 ABL All-Star Game ( Scott Powick / SMP Images)

#5 Kody Hightower of the Canberra Cavalry was the Team World shortstop and leadoff
hitter in the 2012 ABL All-Star Game. (Photo courtesy of Scott Powick/SMP Images/ABL)

#7 Kody Hightower of the Canberra Cavalry (Photo by Geoffrey Chang /Canberra Times)

#5 Kody Hightower of the Canberra Cavalry
(Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Chang/Canberra Times)

Winner of the Cavalry ABL Fan Choice Award two years straight, Hightower ended the 2011-12 season with a .361 batting average (third in the ABL) and was equally as impressive this past season with a .325 batting average (fourth in the ABL). At the time he was named ABL Player of the Week for Round Seven, Canberra’s 27-year-old spark plug was leading
the Cavalry and the ABL with a .406 batting average. Igniting the league’s best offense–which finished nearly thirty points higher (.295 batting average) than second place Perth (.267 batting average), the Cavalry shortstop went 11-for-17 (.647) with two doubles, two home runs, three runs scored and six RBI in four games against the Melbourne Aces during ABL Round Seven competition.

#4 Virgil Vasquez of the Perth Heat

#4 Virgil Vasquez, ace of the Perth Heat
(Photo by Adam East/ozcards.blogspot.com)

#4 Virgil Vasquez of the Perth Heat credits qigong–an ancient Chinese regimen of body, breath, and mental training exercises–for transforming his career and the reason for his second chance in the Bigs. “It’s an opening to find out more of who I am. With the qigong and the meditation, I’m just living life with a different attitude–without fear and trying to enjoy every moment,” said the Heat pitcher and recently signed Minnesota Twins minor leaguer. “It’s made me realize you never really know how you’re going to end up with the dream you hold in your mind. Just allow the path that you’re on to keep going and know that you’re going to end up where you’re supposed to be.” His path led him to Minnesota via Melbourne, where his zen-like pitching sent a renowned Twins scout into nirvana. Vasquez said, “The story is I was pitching in Melbourne. There’s a guy called Howie Norsetter over there who signed Luke Hughes and a few other Perth boys. He watched me pitch and liked what he saw. He turned my name in,
and it happened just a few days later.”

Pitcher Virgil Vasquez made his MLB debut on May 13, 2007 for the Detroit Tigers.

Pitcher Virgil Vasquez made his MLB pitching
debut for the Detroit Tigers on May 13, 2007.

Starting for the Perth Heat in nine games, the ABL Team World All-Star hurler recorded four victories and 55 stikeouts in 61.2 innings of work with
a 2.77 ERA. Picked by the Detroit Tigers in the 7th round of the 2003 MLB draft out of the University of California, Santa Barbara, the Southern Californian spent three years in the minor leagues before making his MLB debut in 2007. After signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009 and making seven starts, Vasquez was dealt to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010. At Triple-A Durham, he went 6-2 with a 4.88 ERA in 12 starts. Signed by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the winter of 2010, Vasquez was subsequently released at 2011 Angels Spring Training. He pitched for the indy Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in 2012 before heading to Perth. Now in his 11th pro baseball season, the 30-year-old veteran hopes to start at Triple-A Rochester before gravitating toward his imminent return to MLB in Minnesota.

Virgil Vasquez and Ryan Spilborghs (Colorado Rockies) at the 2010 Santa Barbara International Film Festival (Santa Barbara Independent)

Santa Barbara baseball legends Virgil Vasquez/Ryan Spilborghs in 2010 (Photo by Paul Wllman/
Santa Barbara Independent)

“You always hear there are scouts and
affiliated coaches in Australia. There’s
always people watching you, and that’s
what I’ve always known and told people.
No matter where you play, just go and play
and enjoy yourself and love the game. There’s
always someone watching you, so if you play
with Heat and play with passion, if it’s meant
to be, it’s meant to be. I’m very excited, it’s
been a long fun road and I’ve enjoyed every moment. I’ve just got to thank the Heat, the organization and especially my teammates.
They’ve been behind me all the way and
without them I can’t get any outs as they
make all the plays. Fish, Lloydy and all of
the guys, even my family back home as
well–it’s been a real privilege to be here.”


Virgil Vasquez worked with Perth Heat pitching coach and former World Series Champion Graeme Lloyd to recapture his MLB form. (Photo courtesy of Theo Fakos / PerthNow

Virgil Vasquez worked with Perth Heat pitching coach and former World Series Champion
reliever Graeme Lloyd to recapture his MLB form. (Photo courtesy of Theo Fakos/Perth Now)

#3 Jeremy Barnes of the Canberra Cavalry

Cleanup hitter Jeremy Barnes represented Team World in the 2012 ABL All-Star Game. (Photo by Adam East/ozcards.blogspot.com)

#3 Jeremy Barnes of the Canberra Cavalry was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 11th round of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. The infielder spent four years in the minor leagues and reached as high as Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Former Cavalry manager Steve Schrenk, a pitching coach in the Phillies organization, recruited Barnes to play in the ABL and become Canberra’s third baseman after the Phillies released Barnes at the conclusion of the 2012 season. The Texas-born slugger’s stats were among the best in the ABL: 16 doubles (1st); 32 RBI, .423 on-base percentage and .989 on-base plus slugging (2nd); 57 hits, seven home runs, .343 batting average and .566 slugging (3rd). Barnes has focused on producing rather than worrying about being picked up by another MLB team. “I can hit .350, but if there’s no spots or no interest, I can’t control that,”
he said. “All I can do is put up numbers, and hopefully it happens. It can drive you crazy, but it’s all part of the business.”

#3 Jeremy Barnes of the Canberra Cavalry (Photo courtesy of Ben Southall  /SMP Images / ABL)

#3 Jeremy Barnes of the Canberra Cavalry (Photo courtesy of Ben Southall/SMP Images/ABL)

Experience firsthand the power of ABL All-Star Jeremy Barnes‘ bat by clicking HERE.

Pitcher Chris Smith (Steve Bell/SMP Images)

Newly signed New York Yankees pitching prospect Chris Smith (Steve Bell/SMP Images/ABL)

Named ABL Pitcher of the Week for Rounds Seven and Nine, #2 Chris Smith of the Brisbane Bandits crushed hitters in Australia. The Kentucky native threw seven innings of one-hit ball with 11 strikeouts on December 14th against the Adelaide Bite, and returned just two weeks later for a memorable encore performance by pitching a complete shutout with a new ABL record 15 strikeouts versus the Melbourne Aces. In his nine starts for the Brisbane Bandits, the 24-year-old right-hander had the ABL’s lowest WHIP (.85)–while posting a 3-3 record with a 2.31 ER and a 65:7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 50.2 innings. The former Kentucky Wesleyan College outfielder and closer set a Panther season record with eight saves during his senior year. Ranking in KWC’s all-time Top 10 in six pitching and hitting categories, Smith broke college records for most games played and starts (187). As a 2012 indy Frontier League Washington Wild Things starting pitcher, the Yankees prospect led the team in starts (19), wins (nine), innings pitched (129) and strikeouts (116).
#2 Chris Smith of the Brisbane Bandits (Scott Powick/SMP Images/ABL)

#2 Chris Smith of the Brisbane Bandits (Scott Powick/SMP Images)

#1 Adam Buschini of the Canberra Cavalry (Photo by Adam East/ozcards.blogspot.com)

#1 Adam Buschini of the Canberra Cavalry (Photo by Adam East/ozcards.blogspot.com)

Ironically, our top American in the ABL–
#1 Adam Buschini of the Canberra Cavalry–was not named to Team World in the 2012 ABL All-Star Game. Yet, Buschini was awarded the first-ever ABL Triple Crown for his heroic 2012-13 ABL regular season. The Triple Crown–awarded to a player who has the highest batting average, the most home runs and driven in the most runs in a season–is one of the game’s rarities. The Triple Crown has only been achieved 16 times in over 130 years of MLB history. The 25-year-old Northern California-based slugger claimed the ABL Triple Crown with a .363 batting average, a league record-tying 15 homers, and an ABL record-breaking 50 RBI in just 45 games. He was named ABL Player of the Week twice. In ABL Round 10 action, Buschini went 8-for-17 (.471) with a double, three home runs and 9 RBI. As if that was not impressive enough, he exploded in ABL Round 13 when he went 9-for-15 (.600) with four homers and 9 RBI to help the Cavalry claim the top playoff spot.

See ABL Triple Crown Winner and #1 Adam Buschini in action by clicking HERE and HERE.

#3 Adam Buschini (Ben Southall / SMP Images / ABL)

#1 Adam Buschini was overlooked in voting for the 2012 ABL All-Star Game. (Ben Southall / SMP Images)

Buschini was selected in the fourth round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft by the Phillies out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In his final season for the Mustangs, Buschini hit .422–which is the school’s Division I record. He was a career .336 hitter in college from 2006-09 despite missing the 2008 season due to Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Canberra general manager Thom Carter said, “Here’s a kid who was drafted high in the fourth round by the Phillies, had some injury problems and got cut. He played two years of excellent independent ball, came out here hoping to get seen and was seen.” Recommended to the Padres by Canberra manager Michael Collins–a former Padres minor league catcher who manages the organization’s Dominican League and Arizona League teams–San Diego picked up the remaining three years of the contract Buschini originally signed with the Phillies in 2009. San Diego vice president of player development and international scouting Randy Smith said, “Quite frankly, he tore it up. He had very good numbers, runs well, is a good athlete. So we gave him a Spring Training invite. We’ll see what he can do.”
#1 Adam Buschini of the Canberra Cavalry is congratulated by American teammates Jeremy Barnes and Ryan Stovall. (Ryan Schembri/SMP Images/ABL)

#1 Adam Buschini of the Canberra Cavalry and the San Diego Padres organization is congratulated by Americans Jeremy Barnes and Ryan Stovall after the first of his two
homers against the Adelaide Bite on January 26, 2013. (Ryan Schembri/SMP Images/ABL)


#1 American in the ABL and Triple Crown Winner Adam Buschini and his mother hold the Claxton Shield after winning the 2013 ABL Championship Series Narrabundah Ballpark, Canberra, ACT, Australia on February 9, 2012. (Ben Southall/SMP Images/ABL)

#1 American in the ABL/Triple Crown Winner Adam Buschini holds the Claxton Shield with his mother after winning the 2013 ABL Championship Series at the Fort at Narrabundah Ballpark in Canberra on February 9, 2012. (Ben Southall/SMP Images/ABL)

SanDiegoPadres

Top 40 Americans in the ABL (#11-20)

aust-usa-mapABL logosWhile 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.

#20 Zach Penprase of the Sydney Blue Sox

#20 Zach Penprase of the Sydney Blue Sox was 16-for-20 in ABL stolen base attempts.

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
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.
#20 Zach Penprase with Blue Sox teammates (Joe Vella / SMP Images)

#20 Zach Penprase with Blue Sox teammates (Photo courtesy of Joe Vella / SMP Images / ABL)

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 of the Adelaide Bite (Photo by Sarah Lee/The Advertiser)

#19 Quincy Latimore of the Adelaide Bite (Photo courtesy of Sarah Lee / The Advertiser)

Cleveland Indians prospect Quincy Latimore in 2013 ABL action (Ryan Schembri / SMP Images)

Recently traded from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Cleveland Indians, prospect Quincy Latimore returned for his second ABL season in 2013.
(Ryan Schembri/SMP Images/ABL)

#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.

#18 Brenden Webb of the Perth Heat

#18 Brenden Webb of the Perth Heat

#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.
Baltimore Orioles prospect Brandon Webb displayed raw power in his limited at-bats in the ABL in 2013. Of his 11 regular season hits for the Perth Heat, five were home runs.

Baltimore Orioles prospect Brandon Webb displayed raw power in his limited at-bats in the ABL in 2013. Of his 11 regular season hits for the Heat, five were home runs.

#17 K.C. Hobson of the Canberra Cavalry

#17 K.C. Hobson of the Canberra Cavalry was named to the ABL Team World All-Stars roster but could not play due to a calf injury. (Photo by Adam East/ozcards.blogspot.com)

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.

Toronto Blue Jays prospect K.C. Hobson is hoping to help the franchise.

Toronto Blue Jays prospect K.C. Hobson is hoping to help the franchise.

#16 Jim Schult of the Brisbane Bandits (Charles Knight / SMP Images)

#16 Jim Schult of the Brisbane Bandits had the fourth-lowest ERA (2.47) and WHIP (1.12) in the Australian Baseball League. (Photo courtesy of Charles Knight / SMP Images / ABL)


BrisbaneBanditslogo #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  (Brett Crockford / SMP Images)

#15 Zachary Arneson of the Melbourne Aces
(Photo courtesy of Brett Crockford / SMP Images)

#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
and has since moved up the ranks
rapidly to Single-A Charleston.

New York Yankees pitching prospect Zachary Arneson

New York Yankees pitching prospect Zachary Arneson

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.

#14 Anthony Claggett of the Perth Heat made his MLB debut on April 9, 2009 for the New York Yankees.

#14 Anthony Claggett of the Perth Heat made his MLB debut on April 9, 2009 for
the New York Yankees and also played that same season for the Pittsburgh Pirates.


#14 Anthony Claggett of the Perth Heat ( Ryan Schembri / SMP Images)

#14 Anthony Claggett of the Perth Heat (Photo courtesy of
Ryan Schembri / SMP Images)

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.

#13 Geoff Klein of the Sydney Blue Sox (Photo by Joe Vella / SMP Images)

#13 Geoff Klein of the Sydney Blue Sox (Photo courtesy of Joe Vella / SMP Images / ABL)


Vaughan Harris and Geoff Klein of the Sydney Blue Sox ( Joe Vella / SMP Images)

Vaughan Harris and Geoff Klein of the Sydney Blue Sox (Joe Vella / SMP Images)

#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
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).

#12 Carlos Testa of the Melbourne Aces was voted by the public as the recipient of the second annual ABL Fan Choice Award. Italy's Alex Maestri won in 2012.

#12 Carlo Testa of the Melbourne Aces was voted by the public as the recipient
of the second annual ABL Fan Choice Award. Italy’s Alex Maestri won in 2012.


KC Royals prospect Carlo Testa

Kansas City Royals prospect & ABL All-Star Carlo Testa

#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,
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 of the Brisbane Bandits spent six seasons in the Kansas City Royals minor leagues before embarking to play in the ABL.

#11 Cody Clark of the Brisbane Bandits spent six seasons in the Kansas City Royals minor leagues before embarking to play for the Brisbane Bandits in the Australian Baseball League.

#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.
#11 Cody Clark of the Brisbane Bandits (Brett Crockford / SMP Images)

#11 Cody Clark was named a 2012
ABL Team World All-Star. (Photo by Brett Crockford/SMP Images/ABL)

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
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.abl

Prelude to the Top 40 Americans in the ABL: MLB success story of Houston Astros’ Brandon Barnes

Top40Last December MLBblogger profiled the Top 20 Americans playing in the ABL, which was considered a holiday present to the homesick yet aspiring MLB prospects. The prized imports shared the good cheer with friends and family in the U.S.A. while playing during the offseason in Australia to fulfill their dreams of reaching the big leagues.

2011 Top 20 American in the ABL Brandon Barnes made his MLB debut in 2012

2011 Top 20 American in the ABL Brandon Barnes (Sydney Blue Sox) made his MLB debut for Houston in 2012. Photo by Tom Gannam/Associated Press

Ranked 15th in the 2011 Top 20 Americans in the ABL, former Sydney Blue Sox outfielder Brandon Barnes made his MLB debut for the Houston Astros on August 8, 2012 and became the first non-Aussie from the recently reformed Australian Baseball League to debut in the Major Leagues. As the seventh ABL star to compete in MLB after hitting .321 with 6 HRs and 30 RBI in 29 ABL games last season, Barnes joined Sydney’s Rich Thompson and Trent Oeltjen, Melbourne’s Travis Blackley and Shane Lindsay, and Perth’s Luke Hughes and Liam Hendriks as one of baseball’s elite. Brandon ventured Down Under to work on his swing and gain momentum going into Astros’ 2012 Spring Training. Although Barnes made a strong case to make the big league club, the promising Orange County, California native spent a majority of 2012 at Triple-A Oklahoma City (62 games) and Double-A Corpus Christi (44 games). The right-handed hitter was batting .321 with a .381 on-base percentage and a .514 slugging percentage when he was called up.
@TheBarnyard15 Brandon Barnes tweeted in January 2012: "Bondi Beach. One of the most amazing beaches I have ever seen.

Southern California-born and bred Brandon Barnes @TheBarnyard15 tweeted enthusiastically from Sydney on 01/10/12: “Bondi Beach. One of the most amazing beaches I have ever seen.”

Americans
Back by popular demand this holiday season, MLBblogger now presents an expanded Top 40 Americans in the ABL format to the delight of even more players and their most loyal fans abroad. Visit MLBforLife.com often for updates on all the imports. Americans Zachary Arneson, Jeremy Barnes, Anthony Claggett, Cody Clark, Zachary Fuesser, Brian Grening, Tyler Herr, Kody Hightower, K.C. Hobson, Jonathon Jones, Jack Murphy, Zach Penprase, Kevin Reese, Chris Smith, Carlo Testa, and Virgil Vasquez were named World All-Stars and are playing host Australia in the Second Annual ABL All-Star Game on December 16th.ABL All-Star Game Results

A Wise ‘Tail’ of MLB’s Past and Present “Big Dog”, Cuban Tony Pérez and Australian Hayden Beard

" The Big Dog" Hayden Beard from the Canberra Cavalry is an Australian all-star pitcher in the
San Diego Padres organization. (ABL/Ben Southall/SMP Images)

What does Cuban-American baseball legend Tony Pérez have to do with Aussie pitcher Hayden Beard in the San Diego Padres organization? Could it be their professional ties to the Padres? After all, Tony Pérez was named the Most Valuable Player in the Pacific Coast League in 1964 when he played for the San Diego Padres, a minor league club in the Cincinnati Reds organization at the time when Hayden Beard wasn’t even born yet. After hitting .309 with 34 home runs and 107 RBI for the Padres, Pérez was sent up to Major League Baseball late in the 1964 season to become one of the game’s most clutch hitters. Over a decade later his two-out, two-run blast off Boston’s
Bill Lee in the seventh inning of the final game of the 1975 World Series lifted the Cincinnati Reds to their first world championship. Both Pérez and Beard share the same “Big Dog” nickname but for different reasons. Pérez’ teammate Lee May came up with the “Doggie” moniker saying, “He’s the big dog, the top dog … you could always depend on Doggie to drive in the big run.” In Hayden Beard’s case as a pitcher, he is “The Big Dog” on the mound who consistently keeps opponents off-balance and guessing in clutch situations.

Canberra Cavalry and Padres Double-A affiliate San Antonio pitcher "Big Dog" Hayden Beard
is tracking the scent leading to his Major League Baseball debut at San Diego's PETCO Park and
is only two steps away from making it. (Photo courtesy of ABL / Ben Southall / SMP Images)


”Canberra

Signed by the New York Mets in 2005, Hayden Beard was plagued by injuries early in his career and was shut down from competition for three years. Beard returned home to play for the Canberra Cavalry and pitched two seasons for the Padres Single-A Advanced affiliate Lake Elsinore Storm. After pitching for Team Australia during the 2011 Baseball World Cup in Panama, Beard’s 2011-2012 ABL campaign for the Cavalry earned him ABL Player of the Week and a team-leading five wins with a 2.82 ERA. We caught up with “The Big Dog” Hayden Beard at Padres Spring Training camp in Peoria, Arizona prior to him being sent up to pitch for the San Diego Double-A affiliate San Antonio Missions.
Roberto: Thanks for joining us. How did you get “The Big Dog” nickname?
Hayden Beard: It was a radio broadcaster back in Low A (ball). I asked him to call me the name one day as a bit of joke on the bus on the way to the field, and I threw that night. (Later) we get off the bus, and he replayed the audio of the game. And sure enough he said, “Here comes the pitcher, the Big Dog, and the Big Dog whatever…” And the name just kind of stuck. Unfortunately, it was a self-given nickname. (laughter)
Roberto: Let’s talk Canberra pitching for a moment. Were you happy for Steve Kent being signed by the Kansas City Royals after a stellar 5-1 record with six saves in the ABL?
Hayden Beard: I think with Steve getting that opportunity with the Royals was great, especially (after) the way things ended with the Braves. He had a great year two years ago coming off surgery. Didn’t start so well last year and then to be let go…I think it hit him pretty hard. But in saying that, it gave him maybe a bit more drive than he had before to work harder, to get stronger and be a better pitcher. The work that he did in the ABL was unreal. He was out there everyday working his butt off, doing extra work. Just the progress made for a pitcher was phenomenal. He’s a new guy now. I hope he stays healthy and has a great year. Out of the bullpen, pitchers can fly through the levels. It’s not unrealistic that he could be in the Big Leagues in the next 12 months. [Editor’s note: The Kansas City Royals have since released Steve Kent.]
Roberto: What about the Cavalry’s unsung hero, pitcher Brian Grening averaging a strikeout per inning with an unrestricted limit of 43.2 innings pitched?
Hayden Beard: Grening was definitely our go-to-guy throughout the whole year. If we were in jam or if we needed someone to eat up a couple innings, we’d send “Greno” out there. I’ll tell you what, as far as a pitcher goes, if I could have any pitch from anyone on
the staff, it would his change-up. That thing is unreal. I think that’s why he had the success that he had. He doesn’t have a 95 mph fastball. He doesn’t have the big hammer, but that change-up is just phenomenal. It’s been unfortunate that he hasn’t been picked up by an affiliated team so far this year, but hopefully he goes and plays independent ball. And if someone needs a guy throughout the year, his phone starts ringing and maybe he is back out here.Roberto: Of all the ABL teams, the Canberra Cavalry had the strongest American presence. Why did you have so many U.S. players?
Hayden Heard: I guess we need the Americans on our team because Canberra is the smallest city that has a baseball team, and our baseball population is small. Therefore, our player base from where we can draw players in is quite limited. We don’t have the number
of professionals that Sydney, Perth, especially Victoria, Brisbane have, so we’re always in need of international help. So for us local guys that are on the team, we are all current professionals that have played professional baseball so we have been around Americans
our whole careers. We know a lot about them, and the reality of the situation is once you
all get together and put that same uniform on—you’re a team. And you’re all striving for
the same goals. You are there to win. You’re there to get better. You have to start off, and it’s a little bit weird maybe not knowing everybody. But that will last maybe one or two days. And you’re all baseball-minded. You all love the game, and you’re there because you want
to be there. As far as having that big U.S influence on our team, it’s not a problem at all.
It’s something I look forward to every year. Meeting new guys and making new friends.
It’s good.
Roberto: Kody Hightower was a true competitor. Did you expect him to have the third best batting average (.361) and on-base percentage (.455) in the ABL?
Hayden Beard: What a story he was throughout the year! He’s a guy that rolls out of club ball. I think when they were putting the team together, he wasn’t really looked at as a guy that would be in our starting nine. A few injuries happen, we need a guy. Our manager, Steve Schrenk–a great guy–calls Kody and says, “Would you come away and play with us?” Kody had obligations with his club team in Canberrra that brought him to Australia to play. So it was a little tough to get those guys to come on the road with us, and then they obviously would miss their games that these clubs had paid for them to come out here and play. But Kody, I mean, for someone who had not really been playing professional baseball at a high level to come in and just do what he did there…absolutely raked. You know, he was probably our best hitter. He and Burgamy during that last month of the season were just unreal. Kody stepped up to the plate. The way he did it showed a lot about his character and him as a person. He’s most welcome to come back and play on the team anywhere I play in the world. He could come out here and compete in minor league ball. There’s no doubt in my mind about it. So who knows, maybe a scout saw it and thinks the same thing?
Roberto: That’s exactly why I wrote the article—The Risky Lowdown of MLB’s MIA Kody Hightower. His talents are uncharted and are unrecognized by the international scouts. He’s got the competitive spirit to roll with the punches and play with the big boys.
Hayden Beard: He absolutely does. When he gets between those lines, he’s brutal…he’s a fighter and he wants to win. He sets very high standards for himself, and if he doesn’t reach those goals then he is really hard on himself. I think that is the kind of mentality that you have to have to have success in the game. Kody is a guy that could play anywhere in the world, and I’m sure he’d have success and do what he has done throughout his career.Roberto: Now let’s talk about you. How did the MLB Australian Academy on the Gold Coast prepare you for professional baseball?
Hayden Beard: Without the MLB Australian Academy, there’s no way I would have
been signed. I wouldn’t have gotten the exposure I had without this opportunity. I signed with the Mets. Went over there and went to the instructional league in 2005. Played in 2006. Spring training in 2007 then hurt my elbow and ended up having surgery. Took me out for the season. Never really bounced back after surgery. The arm never responded for whatever reason. Mets didn’t give me a visa for the next two years because I wasn’t healthy so I was no use to them. Then in 2009 I had an opportunity to go to Japan and play on the Australian provincial team. So I went over there for about a six week trip to Japan. The coach called me three weeks out and said, “You know Beardy, we need an arm. Are you healthy?” So I said,”Maybe I’ll get healthy. I’ll give it a go.” So I committed. Got back in the gym, worked hard, started throwing, made the trip, went over there. Threw pretty well. Velocity was back up, you know, 93, 94, 95… And I thought I could have a chance to get back out on the mound, you know. I got home and contacted the Mets. Told them I was good to go. Went and played the Claxton Shield with Adelaide. The Adelaide Bite needed an arm and their manager called me and said, ‘Would you be interested in playing for us.”
I said, “Yes.” Turns out one of the Adelaide coaches is a scout with the Padres. He put in his reports. December comes around, Rule 5 Draft happens. Get a call at three o’clock in the morning–“You’re now a Padre!” And from then it has been taken off flight. Coming over here to the San Diego organization has been unbelievable. It’s like what Corey Adamson said,
it is like a family here. The way you are treated. The way everyone gets on so well. From
the front office right down to the Arizona League. The trainers, the staff, everyone is just fantastic. And I couldn’t think of a better place to be right now. I’m not sure a lot of clubs out there would have given me the opportunity that San Diego has. You know, I ‘m getting pretty old as far as minor league age goes. They’ve kept me around. Obviously, they see something in me. I hope to repay them and have a successful Big League career.
Roberto: Josh Spence would love to have a fellow Aussie teammate down in San Diego.
Hayden Beard: Absolutely, I’ve know Spence. We went to the MLB Academy together in 2005, and now being in the same organization it’s pretty cool. I think the role change from
a reliever to a starter has been huge for me, you know. Went out there in the Australian league, never started before. Started, worked on my secondary pitches, things just took off from there. Right now I’m pitching the best that I have in my life, and hopefully I will try to carry it right through into the season. Have a successful year. Who knows what the boys are going to do upstairs? They might give me a call down.
Roberto: Weren’t you looked upon as the closer for Team Australia?
Hayden Beard: Yeah, I was. That was the initial plan, and then through talking to the Australian coaches and the staff they said my secondary stuff needs work. And it’s tough to get that work out of the bullpen. You know, if you’re not throwing between outings, you get your work in on the mound. Only throwing two pitches out of the bullpen–fastball, slider–both hard pitches, nothing below 85 mph–guys were starting to see it pretty good and hit it hard. And that’s why I switched to the starting role to be able to throw a change-up. Through that I now have four pitches. I have an overhand breaking ball which is down around 79, 80 mph and a change-up around 78. Totally changed the way I pitched, and I guess the success I had in the Australian league is a testament to that, being a different pitcher than I was last year.
Roberto: What about the new Australian Baseball League with its support from Major League Baseball and the growth of the game in Australia since then?
Hayden Heard: I remember the old ABL about 12 or 13 years ago now. When that folded,
I was just a young kid and it was pretty hard. Because I used to love going there with my dad. He’d take me out there, and I’d go chase the foul balls. It was great. But then having no league in Australia to follow and no guys to watch was a little bit hard coming through the baseball ranks as a junior. Now the league is back. The growth we’ve seen in the game has been huge. The kids are walking around the malls wearing Canberra Cavalry hats, wearing Canberra Cavalry t-shirts. We’re averaging 1000 people a game this year. That’s fantastic! The numbers of baseball junior registrations have just skyrocketed. And I think it’s a real testament to the league and the work they have done with Major League Baseball as a partner, trying to get their game out there in Australia and really promote it. And I’m sure if this league sticks around then you’re definitely going to continually see more and more Australian professional baseball players leaving their mark in the Major Leagues.Roberto: Was pitching your number one preference as opposed to playing a different position?
Hayden Beard: No. I never pitched! I was a shortstop until I was 18. Then a Braves scout was at our game to see my buddy who was a Brave at the time. He saw me pitch. We were tied, had to go extra innings and ran out of arms so I was called from shortstop to throw a couple innings. I think I was running up to 87, 88 or something. This is at club baseball back home, and he was the one who first saw me there. It’s Neil Burke, he’s on the coaching staff for the Melbourne Aces. He spoke to the Academy people and said, “This guy has a chance, you know. Give him some time and train him up a little bit.” And they did and a few months later I was a full-time pitcher. Now I’m a professional baseball player. That’s seven, eight years ago now. I don’t have that many innings at all in my arm. I’ve probably only thrown maybe 300 innings total as a pitcher. I’m still raw. I’m getting better everyday. I guess that’s a positive right now.
Roberto: Has Aussie MLB pitchers like Grant Balfour been inspirational to you?
Hayden Beard: He has. Watching him pitch in the playoffs a couple years ago was awesome. Just seeing that there is hope there for Australian guys to come through the systems. Look…Peter Moylan as well with the Braves, another great guy, great impression. He had a burst in the minor leagues, hurt his back, had some surgeries, came back as a 26-year-old. And then to do what he did now..not just a Big League pitcher but a dominant Big League pitcher. That’s impressive!
Roberto: What was your surgery all about?
Hayden Beard: It was a nerve arm issue. One of the nerves in my elbow popped out of where it was supposed to be and was rubbing against a bone. So they just moved the nerve. It had nothing to do with the way I threw the ball. I have real clean mechanics so I really have never had an arm injury sort to speak as far as ligament damage or anything like that. So hopefully this fresh arm will stay fresh for a while longer–knock on wood…Roberto: Is playing baseball a good life?
Hayden Beard: I’m just happy to be here. I love the game. I love doing what I do everyday. I know that I’m fortunate to wake up and come to the ballpark. Back home working a nine to five job makes me really appreciate what we have over here. Something
I think a lot of young guys really don’t understand is how good this opportunity is, how
good a life it is playing baseball. Some young guys might have a bit of a whine, whatever. That it’s tough out here on the field. It’s not tough. Tough is getting up at seven o’clock in the morning, going to work for nine hours a day digging a ditch and then going home at nighttime. I love the game, and I’m happy to be here.
Roberto: Having already led the Lake Elsinore Storm to a Cal League Championship.
Are your Single-A minor league days over?
Hayden Beard: I did throw a lot of innings in the ABL in the offseason so that may count for something, and they might send me straight to Double-A San Antonio. It’s really up to the bosses here. Wherever they send me, I’ll go out and I will pitch my ass off. Work hard everyday and try move up that ladder to get up to the Big Leagues.
Roberto: I would like to see you to go head-to-head with Melbourne Ace and Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Shane Lindsay in the Major Leagues.
Hayden Beard: Absolutely. Shane is a great guy. He’s a tremendous competitor. He’s got
a lot of fire in his belly. I’m sure if anyone is going to get there–it’s going to be him. So I’m with you. I really hope he gets healthy and has a year like he did last year to force their hand to put him in the Big Leagues.
Roberto: Thank you for your time today, and I look forward to “The Big Dog” pitching in his MLB debut at San Diego’s PETCO Park.
Hayden Beard: I’ve still got a lot of arm left in me. Thanks Roberto!

The risky lowdown on MLB’s MIA Kody Hightower

Leading the Australian Baseball League (ABL) in batting average (.383) and OPS (1.140) as well as being second in OBP (.474) and SLG (.667), 26-year-old American import Kody Hightower has made MLB scouts scratch their heads and ponder how their organizations could have been granted a new lease on life if he had not been left for dead on draft day years ago and had been added as their teams’ spark plug and late-budding baseball star.

Putting everything on the line with a solid spiritual foundation and faith to beat the odds in pursuit of competing with the game’s elite, Hightower is currently walking an Aussie tightrope by simultaneously playing shortstop for the Australian Capital Territory Baseball Association’s Ainslie Gungahlin Bears and the ABL’s Canberra Cavalry. The high stakes North Carolina native and versatile ball player came to Australia after leading the Swiss Baseball League Zurich Barracudas into the playoffs.

When America turned her back on Kody Hightower, he launched a strong European baseball campaign as a pitcher and shortstop for the German HSV Stealers and the Swiss Zurich Barracudas with massive success and international fanfare to go along with it.

Known for his outstanding arm, Hightower traveled to countless U.S. tryouts and showcases to be seen by the movers and shakers in professional baseball. Kody elaborates, “At one tryout in Atlanta, I was videotaped pitching and a manager in Germany saw it on youtube. He got in touch with me, and I signed almost immediately. I figured if I couldn’t play in the states, I might as well see the world and continue playing. I really enjoyed my time in both Germany and Switzerland. I used it as a stepping stone to continue trying to get my name out there.” The Lenoir, North Carolina hometown hero expanded his European fan base by playing for the HSV Stealers and the Zurich Barracudas. Hightower recently led the Barrcacudas to the post-season in late August with a near perfect outing on the hill as the Zurich hurler clinched a playoff spot when he pitched a nine inning 7-0 shutout over crosstown rival Challengers while striking out 16. Hightower helped himself to earn the win offensively by going 4-for-4 with a home run, two doubles and four RBI. It was business as usual for Kody as he relished European pitching throughout the entire season. Before heading to Australia, he was named as the recipient of the 2011 Barracudas’ Best Hitter Award.

Kody Hightower's swing led Southern Wesleyan University to a 2007 NCCAA National Championship.

After being selected as a NAIA All-America Honorable Mention at Brevard College, Hightower was named to the 2008 Southern States Athletic All-Conference team, NAIA Region XIII team, NCCAA All-South team as well as an All-American and NCCAA South Region Player of the Year in his final two seasons at South Carolina’s Southern Wesleyan University. He compiled a .427 batting average with six home runs, seven triples, 16 doubles, 61 runs scored and 64 RBI in 58 games during 2008.

Having only struck out only five times in 234 at bats and been caught stealing once in 24 stolen base attempts in his final year of college ball, Hightower demonstrated great presence of mind and Big League potential at the plate and on the base paths. Considered a natural 2008 MLB Amateur draft selection by coaches and fans alike, Kody got no love from American professional baseball. He was left out in the cold without a contract or any leads to continue his hot hitting ways in MLB.

Kody Hightower leads the ABL in batting and the Canberra Cavalry charge to victory.

The eternal optimist Hightower reflects, “Out of college I had a couple looks from the Pirates and the Reds, but no calls came on draft day. I was disappointed, but you just have to bite your tongue and keep moving forward. It’s not the end of the world. There are still other options. It’s great playing for the Cavalry, and I really enjoy the guys on the team as well as the management. My rituals aren’t too ‘out there’–even though I went through a phase of eating veggie mite before games (laughter). It’s an Aussie spread they put on toast–not very tasty–but I believed it to be helping me in the batter’s box. After I went 0-9 in a series, I stopped with that because you have to start fresh and try something new if it doesn’t work for you.” Despite his love for the ABL and the Cavalry, Hightower is contracted to play for the Ainslie Gungahlin Bears and could miss out on Canberra’s final push for the playoffs.

Kody sheds light on the possible conflict, “I knew the situation before I came and agreed to put the (Bears) club first. That’s just the way it is. My host family here has really done a lot for me, and I don’t want to do anything to disrespect that by any means.” Regardless of the situation, he remains upbeat about his future. Hightower concludes, “It has been a tough road. I am not getting any younger, but I am having a lot of fun traveling and playing this wonderful game. I couldn’t do it without my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Will anyone answer MLB’s MIA prayers for a professional baseball contract? Faith can move mountains…

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