2012 Longshots in the Australian Baseball League

#1 Kenny Wilson (Theron Kirkman/SMP Media)
Citing Ken Griffey Jr. as his favorite MLB player growing up and Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips as his role model for having fun while playing pro ball, Canberra Cavalry’s outfielder Kenny Wilson is a mixed hybrid of both baseball idols. A Blue Jays 2nd round pick in the 2008 draft out of Tampa’s Sickles High School, Wilson was offered a full-ride to the University of Florida. Rather than going on to play college ball, Wilson opted to take the loonie loot offered by Toronto instead and accepted a $644,000 signing bonus on June 10, 2008. Blessed with blazing speed, the teen that dreamt of being the fastest law enforcement officer on the Florida Turnpike matured into the U.S.A. Sunshine State’s finest baseball player.
Canberra's Kenny Wilson (Martin Caulfield/SMP Media)
Prior to joining the Cavs this year in the ABL, the switch-hitting 21-year-old completed a rehab assignment in the Dunedin Blue Jays Instructional League after missing the final four months of the 2011 season due to shoulder surgery. With four home runs and 122 stolen bases as a Toronto minor leaguer, he is known more for his speed than his power. Currently tied for 4th in doubles (7) and 5th in stolen bases (6) in the ABL, Wilson undoubtedly will be looking for more opportunities to get in scoring position for Canberra in 2012. He has also come through in the clutch with 15 RBI, which ranks 7th best in the league. Watch for Kenny Wilson to come flying late for a photo finish.
#2 Calvin Anderson (Theron Kirkman/SMP Images)
Named bonorable mention for the ABL Round Six Player of the Week batting award, Adelaide Bite’s first baseman and clean-up hitter Calvin Anderson came back strong to earn ABL Round Seven Player of the Week recognition for his .333 batting average (5-for-15, including two home runs and four RBI in the four-game series against Brisbane. Currently 4th in home runs (6) and tied for 5th in RBI (17) in the ABL, Anderson made ABL history with his 12-game hitting streak. He had 19 hits in 52 at-bats during the offensive outburst (.365 BA). His hot streak has been instrumental in elevating the Bite, which sat near the cellar of the standings before Anderson propelled them into 2nd place.
Bite celebrate Anderson's walk-off home run against the Sydney Blue Sox in Round Four of the 2011-12 ABL season. (Ryan Schembri / SMP Media / ABL)

Calvin Anderson was selected in the 12th round of the 2008 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. The 24-year-old six-foot-seven Kirkland, Washington-born slugger was Goliath during the first half of the 2011 season at Single-A Advanced Bradenton blasting 13 homes runs in 225 plate appearances while batting .271, but the former Southern A & M College star sat out the second half with a knee injury. Anderson’s power numbers doubled as he hit 11 homers in 464 at-bats in 2010. Look for a break out 2012 from this MLB prospect and Big League muscle for Adelaide down the stretch.
#3 Aaron Baker (Jen Edwards / SMP Media / ABL)
Drafted in the 11th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Oklahoma University in 2009, Texas native Aaron Baker was also at Single-A Advanced Bradenton this past summer before being traded by the Pirates to Baltimore in exchange for MLB veteran Derek Lee. The 24-year-old Baker was hitting .282 with 21 doubles, 15 home runs and 73 RBI at the time of the trade. The former UO catcher and first baseman was named a 2011 Florida State League All-Star.

The left-handed hitting first baseman became the Bradenton Marauders’ fan favorite and was considered the Pirate organization’s most promising prospect to break into the Bigs before flying away as an Oriole. Playing for ABL defending champion Perth Heat, Baker is currently 5th in the league in HR (5), RBI (20) and SLG (.524). It’s best to use his hot bat in all 2012 exotic wagers or else…

#4 Trent Baker (Scott Powick / SMP Images / ABL)
Trent Baker has been on a 2011 MLB roller coaster after being down-and-out when released by the Cleveland Indians in March and then being high-in-the-sky while seeking redemption when signed by the Atlanta Braves in July. Originally signed as an outfielder by the Tribe in 2008, the 21-year-old Aussie will report to 2012 Braves Spring Training as a left-handed throwing hurler. In 10 innings pitched for the Brisbane Bandits, Baker is 2-1 and has struck out 11. Beware as this outsider will make a run for the money at the wire.
#5 Todd Van Steensel (Ryan Schembri/SMP Media) splits his time blogging for the Clubhouse Chronicles, tweeting on twitter @toddvs35 and playing MLB 2K12.

Todd Van Steensel experienced the same euphoric yo-yo effect after being signed by the Philadelphia Phillies at the 2008 U18 Championships in Perth only to be released in March 2010. As the youngest member on Team Australia, the 20-year-old Sydney socialite trained diligently at the Australian MLB Academy, where he signed with the Minnesota Twins. The Blue Sox pitcher should not be over-looked as it would not be surprising to see him and his American teammates in the 2012 ABL Winner’s Circle.

#6 Bubbie Buzachero (Brett Crockford/SMP Media)

Selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2002 draft out of Tennessee Tech, Bubbie Buzachero has also played for the Houston Astros organization in ten minor league seasons. The 30-year-old pitcher compiled a 38-29 record, a 3.74 ERA, and 70 saves in 392 games. Playing for the ALPB Long Island Ducks in 2011, he made 57 appearances and posted a 8-2 record with a 2.42 ERA. Bubbie Buzachero–Melbourne Ace and the longest shot in the field–was born to perform and to deliver nothing short of his best effort.

Canberra Cavalry Pitcher Brian “True Grit” Grening, Newport Beach’s next John Wayne, charges to MLB

California’s beautiful Newport Beach is the resting place of legendary American icon John Wayne and the birthplace of a Major League Baseball (MLB) pitching prospect named Brian Grening. As odd as it may sound, Newport Beach launched both star’s professional careers in different ways. World-renowned for its huge surf break which has left generations of daredevils with broken bones, head injuries and even death, Newport Beach’s Wedge offers huge breakers towering 20 feet and sometimes higher to the delight of those who live for the rush of defying the odds with a patrol boat standing by to rescue the injured and the last-minute weak at heart. A true testament to laws of physics, the Wedge’s incoming waves carom off the rock jetty that protects Newport Harbor and slam into following swells, resulting into giant tubes that thunder to shore at speeds up to 30 mph. A word of warning though as even expert swimmers can get sucked into the Wedge’s extreme break and either be propelled into the air or slammed into the shallow bottom. Parking spaces can be just as dangerous to negotiate since locals are first to find out when the Wedge is going off, and massive road-raged crowds from outside city limits flock to the free-falling spectacle.

Marion Morrison AKA John Wayne played football for the University of Southern California in the 1920’s. One day he went bodysurfing in Newport Beach and was badly hurt while swimming in the sea. The accident turned the tides of his career path as the injury sustained was the final blow in his decision to forego athletics in favor of a shot of hitting it big as a Hollywood actor. A fan of Wayne’s football heroics, cowboy star Tom Mix landed “John Wayne” a $35-a-week job as a prop man at the Fox studios in 1928.

Discovered shortly thereafter by director John Ford while loading furniture onto a truck on the Fox lot, Wayne never had to do anymore heavy lifting in Hollywood. When his health began to take a nosedive in 1966, he moved from the stuffy confines of Beverly Hills to the cool breeze of invigorating Newport Beach for a new lease on life. His large waterfront home afforded a panoramic vista of tranquil Newport Bay until his passing in 1979. John Wayne’s dreams of the big screen began and ended in Newport Beach as he is now buried there today.

Pitcher Brian Grening’s dreams of the Big Leagues began on June 10, 1985 at birth in Newport Beach. In the same way John Wayne used his “True Grit” attitude to catapult himself into acting, the Southern California native was determined to beat the odds to join baseball’s elite in MLB. Graduating in 2003 from the same high school as former 2001 and 2003 Angels pitcher Bart Miadich, Brian Grening wanted to follow the footsteps of Miadich en route to a career in Major League Baseball.

He did not let his college coaches at Cuesta College and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo discourage him from pursing his vision of playing in the Bigs. Standing at five-foot-eleven and throwing a fastball that only hit the low 80’s, Grening did not possess the power arm or intimidating six-foot-five stature that coaches desired. Without allowing him enough time to demonstrate his most admirable features of character and discipline, he was cut early on during try-outs by Cuesta and Cal Poly coaches. However, after a short-lived stint at Cuesta, Brian Grening wasn’t going to accept “no” for an answer anymore and was determined to pitch for the 2008 Cal Poly Mustangs. Whether is was selling tickets to Mustang ballgames at the stadium, playing long toss on off-campus school fields, or beating the weight room morning rush, Grening wanted to remain connected to the game he longed for with his heart and soul. “I was obsessed with playing baseball at Cal Poly,” Grening said. “People thought I was nuts in the dorms. I wasn’t partying. I was getting up at 6:30 a.m., six days a week when most people would not get up until 10 or 11. I knew I wanted to play and I had to keep getting better.” Indeed he did, and people began to take notice of this Big League dreamer.

Grening proved everyone wrong as he was a late bloomer. His perseverance paid off, and he was rewarded by being added to the 2008 Mustangs roster at age 23. Making pitching appearances in 23 games in the NCAA Big West, Grening struck out 67 batters in 65 innings of work while compiling a 3-6 record and a 5.23 ERA.

Selected by the Cleveland Indians out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo College in the 38th round of the June 2008 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Brian Grening pitched for three years in the Indians system and reached as high as Triple-A ball in Columbus in 2009. The right-handed reliever got better with age in 2010 as he tallied 83 strikeouts in 69 innings of work while splitting his time in between the Carolina League Kinston Indians and Eastern League Akron Aeros.

This past winter Grening pitched for the Cartegena Tigers in the Columbian Winter League of Professional Baseball. Owned by the Renteria Foundation–a charity run by Cincinnati Reds shortstop Edgar Rentería–and supported by the likes San Francisco Giants shortstop Orlando Cabrera–who has owned teams over time, the Columbian Winter League is a popular off-season refuge for MLB prospects. On the road to earn an All-Star slot in the competitive South American league, the Cleveland farmhand dominated his opponents by striking out 18 batters in 13.2 innings pitched with a resilient 1.98 ERA.

2011 was a year of touch-and-go trade bait in the American Association Independent League for the 26-year-old Grening as he spent time as a reliever for the Gary Southshore Railbirds and the Kansas City T-Bones. Despite being sent up and down U.S. Interstates 55 and 70 repeatedly, the pitcher made the best of the situation in Kansas City, where he was loved and respected so much that he was brought back by popular demand. The Indy League franchise recently exercised their option to pick up Brian Grening to ensure he returns in a KC T-Bones uniform in 2012.

Backed by Major League Baseball and the Australian Baseball Federation, the Australian Baseball League (ABL) attracts world-class talent like Grening ‘Down Under’. In its second season as the newly reformed ABL, there are now over three times as many players with Major League Baseball contracts participating than last season in addition to all-star players from Japan, Taiwan, Korea, India and Italy.

Brian "no-holds-barred" Grening (Ben Southall/SMP Images/ABL)

Since being released by the Indians organization, pitcher Brian Grening’s John Wayne-like “True Grit” persona is even more apparent. With an ever-growing sense of determination to overcome adversity, pitcher Brian Grening is striving to land a new Major League deal in the ABL. Nobody is counting his pitch count nor how many appearances he makes as a reliever free of restrictions for the Canberra Cavalry.

Currently ranked #20 among ABL pitchers with a 1-1 record and 4.50 ERA, reliever Brian Grening has appeared in 14 games so far and struck out 23 in 26 innings. When pitching against defending ABL Champs Perth Heath in early December–who had just returned as the Australian representative in the 2011 Asia Series against the championship teams from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League, the Korea Baseball Organization, and the Chinese Professional Baseball League in late November–Grening held the jet-lagged Heat scoreless in 3.2 flame-resistant innings of relief.

Sharing the same determination and “can do” attitude embodied by John “True Grit”  Wayne and providing a harsh yet welcoming environment in which America’s favorite pastime of baseball can take root in, Australia is a melting pot of cultures that value individual effort, team work, and “never say die” spirit.  Adopting Australia’s philosophy that all things are possible–just as in the case of the 2004 Athens Olympics when Team Australia stunned the baseball world by shutting out the heavily favored Japan National team to achieve silver medal status–pitcher Brian “True Grit” Grening is a 26-year-old outcast ‘Down Under’ trying to paddle his way back to the shores of Major League Baseball. While the stage is being set for his dramatic comeback, he is enjoying his playing time at the outback ABL.

26-year-old Canberra Cavalry Pitcher Brian "True Grit" Grening is determined to beat the odds making it to the level of the game's elite in MLB (Ryan Schembril/SMP Images/ABL)

With Newport Beach being home to 2011 American League All-Star Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Pitcher Jered Weaver and also the location of super agent powerhouse Scott Boras’ offices, local native Brian Grening is definitely rubbing shoulders with the right crowd in South Orange County. In the spirit of giving like Weaver offering the LA Angels a “hometown discount” and re-signing at far below what his agent Boras would have liked as a free agent, the next John Wayne cowboy Brian Grening is willing to consider a “truce discount” for the Cleveland Indians to re-sign him over a T-Bone steak dinner.

All I want for Christmas is Aussie Baseball Love!!!

At mlbblogger–where the stadium lights are always on–we long for baseball to reach a worldwide audience. We are thankful for the blessings of an Aussie Baseball Christmas and wish for a prosperous 2012 in the Australian Baseball League (ABL). In the spirit of giving, we would like to share the current holiday season standings and our secret Santa for each team in the ABL.

Team: PERTH HEAT ABL Current Standing: 1st (18-6, .750) 2011 Defending Australian Baseball League Champions
AKA: The ‘Alcohol Think Again’ Perth Heat

Official Website
Official Mascots: HEAT Flash and Hot Dog
Home Field: Barbagallo Ballpark

Secret Santa: Tim Kennelly BA .341 (4th) HITS: 30 (4th)
RBI: 19 (4th) RUNS: 17 (4th) 2B: 6 (5th) OBP: .413 (6th)

Families celebrate the Christmas spirit in Western Australia's capital city of Perth.

Attending the Australian Baseball Academy at the young age of 16, Tim Kennelly was on display for a slew of MLB scouts–who were impressed with his Big League potential as a strategic catcher and skilled third baseman. While still a teenager, he was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies as a non-drafted free agent in 2003 out of Fremantle, Australia’s Christian Brothers College. In his first year for the Gulf Coast League Phillies in 2005, Kennelly hit .295 with an equally impressive .420 slugging percentage. After suffering a torn labrium in 2006, he missed an entire season. The six-foot Perth-born utility player came back strong in 2009, when he put together a .289 batting average and .433 slugging percentage in 113 games for Phillies affiliates Florida State League (FSL) Single-A Advanced Clearwater Threshers
and Eastern League Double-A Reading Phillies.

Retired MLB All-Star Pedro Martinez stretches with Tim Kennelly before rehab assignment game.
HEAT's Tim Kennelly (Theron Kirkman/SMP Images)

Named to the 2009 FSL Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star teams, Kennelly soon rubbed shoulders with the baseball’s elite–including former MLB All-Star pitcher Pedro Martinez while calling games behind the plate. Spending seven seasons in the Philadelphia minor league system, he has posted a .263 batting average with 18 home runs and 210 RBI in 485 games. To the delight of friends and family, the Aussie native returned home to play for the Perth Heat in the reorganized MLB-sponsored Australian Baseball League in 2010.

Perth's Barbagallo Ballpark, home of the inaugural ConocoPhillips ABL All-Star Game and
the ABL Defending Champion Alcohol Think Again HEAT (Theron Kirkman/SMP Images/ABL)

After leading his team to the 2011 ABL Championship, Tim Kennelly flew 11,641 miles and spent 24 hours in the air before touching down in Lakewood, New Jersey–home of the Phillies affiliate South Atlantic League Single-A Lakewood BlueClaws. As the BlueClaws primary catcher and outfielder, he compiled a respectable .293 batting average with one home run and 20 RBIs in 39 games.

Perth Heat slugger Tim Kennelly on Team Australia in the 2011 ABL All-Star Game (Theron Kirkman)

In fact, the resourceful utility man has played every position but shortstop in his baseball career. Having returned from Taiwan where he played in the 2011 Asia Series against the best from the Chinese Professional Baseball League, Korea Baseball Organization and Japan’s Nippon Baseball League, the Heat’s Tim Kennelly is having a smashing time during the current 2011-12 ABL season. He will undoubtedly compete for the ABL MVP title down the stretch. Since filing for free agency, the talented and multi-faceted Australian renaissance man remains a solid bet to rejoin the Philadelphia Phillies–considering his fine catching ability and familiarity with the world-class organization’s up-and-coming pitching prospects due to arrive at the Double-A level in 2012.

Adelaide Christmas cheer

ABL Current Standing: 2nd (14-10, .583) Games Behind: 4

AKA: Adelaide ETSA Bite

Official Website

Official Mascot: Chomper

Home Field: Coopers Stadium at Norwood Oval

Top ranked Seattle Mariners prospect James Jones is projected to make his MLB debut at Safeco in 2013.

Secret Santa: James Jones
HR 3 (5th) RUNS 15 (6th)
SB 3 (6th) 2B 4 (7th) HITS 24 (10th)
OBP .380 (10th) RBI 11 (11th)
BA .279 (16th) SLG .430 (16th)

Prior to the start of his 2009 college season at Long Island University, Baseball American ranked James Jones #30 in its Top 100 Prospects. He was later selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 4th round of the 2009 amateur draft as an outfielder.

The Adelaide Bite's James Jones has all the tools to succeed in the Bigs. (Ben Southill/SMP Images/ABL)

While in college, he was respected as an excellent defensive outfielder and a strong pitcher who could hit 95 on radar guns with his fastball. In July of 2009, the six-foot-four left-handed hitter headed to the Pacific Northwest to join Mariners affiliate Northwest League Single-A short season Everett AquaSox and played in 45 games. His quick bat and speed on the bases were evident as demonstrated by his .311 batting average with three homers, 12 doubles, three triples, 24 RBIs, 28 runs scored and 19 walks.

A speedy James Jones on the bases is a pitcher's worst nightmare. (Ryan Schembri/SMP Media/ABL)

James Jones helped the Single-A Clinton LumberKings become 2010 West Division Champs in the Midwest League and a strong contender in the 11 game playoffs–where he led in batting average (.356), hits (16), home runs (3), and stolen bases (9). Last season Jones played with the current ABL batting leader, Adelaide teammate Denny Almonte, as well as Perth Heat’s James McOwen while with the Single-A High Desert Mavericks. Rated by Baseball America as the best outfield arm among Mariner prospects and heralded as an excellent athlete–who is fast and strong with good Big League composure in regards to personality, intelligence, and work ethic– Jones has gap-to-gap power, the ability to track down balls in the outfield and blazing speed on the base paths. James Jones has not wasted a moment in making believers of those following his progress in the Australian Baseball League. On December 11th with Adelaide Bite trailing Canberra Cavalry by one-run heading into the top of the eighth, the 23-year-old slugger blasted a grand slam for a heroic come-from-behind rally to victory.

Christmas in the South Wales capital city of Sydney

ABL Current Standing: 3rd
(13-12, .520) Games Behind 5.5

Official Website

Un-Official Team Blogger:
Todd Van Steensel

Official Mascot: Syd

Home Field: Blue Sox Stadium, Blacktown International Sportspark

Aussie Chris Oxspring and Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland during Spring Training.

Secret Santa: Chris Oxspring
Win-Loss Record: 2-2 (3rd) ERA 2.00 (5th)
Strike Outs 28 (5th) WHIP 1.19 (9th)

After pitching the Australian National Team to a 1-0 victory over Japan in a semifinal game at the 2004 Athens Games and assuring his country’s first Olympic silver medal in Aussie baseball history, Chris Oxspring was hailed a national hero. With Major League veteran catcher Dave Nilsson calling the game behind the plate, Oxspring pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings against Japan. By striking out five and issuing no walks, he catapulted Australia into the gold medal game against Cuba. However, being the pride and joy for Australia was not enough for this professional ballplayer with real life MLB experience with the San Diego Padres as well as four seasons under his belt at the Triple-A level playing for the Milwaukee Brewers and Detroit Tigers organizations. Oxspring began the 2011 season with Detroit affiliate Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens. In 20.2 innings pitched, he struck out 20 batters in 20.2 innings pitched. Rather than competing for regular playing time, Oxspring opted to make 18 starts for the Independent Atlantic League Somerset Patriots. In 115.2 innings of work, he struck out 114 batters with a 4.17 ERA.

Blue Sox pitcher Chris Oxspring will not settle for anything less than the best. (Joe Vella/SMP Images)

Oxspring has a career 40-24 record with a 3.66 ERA and 612 strikeouts in 638.2 innings pitched. Equipped with a mid-90’s fastball, a knee-buckling curve ball, a cutter/slider and change-up, this right-handed hurler can decimate hitters. After pitching stints for Japan’s Nippon Baseball League Hanshin Tigers and Korea Baseball Organization’s LG Twins, Oxspring had to take two seasons off for an elbow injury. Now in his second season for the ABL’s Sydney Blue Sox, the power arm of Chris Oxspring is in full effect.

Christmas season in Canberra

ABL Current Standing: 4th
(10-15, .400) Games Behind 8.5

AKA Canberra UberGlobal Cavalry

Official Website

Official Mascot: Sarge

Home Field: Narrabundah Ballpark

Cavs Takumi Akiyama has returned to Japan due to player union rules. (Jen Edwards/SMP Images/ABL)

Secret Santa: Takumi Akiyama
Win-Loss Record: 1-0 (1st) ERA 1.23 (1st)
WHIP 1.05 (3rd) Strike Outs 16 (15th)

A fourth-round pick by Japan’s Hanshin Tigers in 2009, Takumi Akiyama may be the best-hitting pitcher in Asia. During his high school campaign, he knocked out 48 home runs. Making his Nippon Baseball League debut in 2010, he held opponents to a .228 batting average in seven starts and put together a 4-4 record with a 3.35 ERA. His mid-90’s fastball, curveball, slider and forkball were all effective pitches in the ABL. Due to Japanese player union rules, Akiyama had to return home to rest before the beginning of the 2012 season. However, Cavs fans need not fret as Santa has left two stocking stuffers from the Tampa Bay Rays organization: Baseball America’s Top Defensive Outfielder Rays prospect–Kevin Kiermaier and catcher Mark Thomas, who led the Charlotte Stone Crabs with 13 home runs.

Melbourne magic during Christmas time

ABL Current Standing: 4th
(10-15, .400) Games Behind 8.5

AKA The Jet Couriers Melbourne Aces

Official Website

Un-Official Team Blogger: Jason Hirsh

Official Mascot: Maverick The Mascot!

Home Field: Melbourne Showgrounds

Secret Santa:
Justin Huber
BB 19 (1st) OBP .468 (1st)
RUNS 19 (2nd) OPS .974 (3rd)
BA .333 (5th) HITS 29 (5th)
2B 6 (5th) HR 3 (5th) SLG .506 (6th)
SB 2 (7th) RBI 12 (10th)

Melbourne's Justin Huber was converted from a catcher to a first baseman due to a knee injury.
(Ryan Schembri / SMP Images / ABL)

Signed in 2000 by the New York Mets as a catcher, 18-year-old Aussie high school student Justin Huber still had another six months before he would graduate. In his first professional season, he blasted seven home runs and drove in 31 runs while boasting a .287 batting average. Racking up an impressive .399 OBP in 2002, he ascended up the Mets ranks by crushing 14 home runs and driving in 93 runs. In his first two pro seasons while facing the Mets top pitching prospects, the 20-year-old catcher hit 21 home runs and recorded 124 RBI.

Justin Huber went 3-for-5 in the inaugural 2011 ABL All-Star Game (Theron Kirkman)

The six-foot-five catcher became Mike Piazza’s protegé and looked to be a MLB shoe-in. However, in the summer of 2004 Huber would undergo surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee and his future as a catcher was over. He was traded to the Kansas City Royals organization in exchange for home run king, Jose Bautista. In 2005 the Royals converted Huber to a first baseman, and he responded with career bests 23 home runs, 97 RBI, a .326 batting average and a .417 OBP. He was named to the 2005 MLB Futures Game with the likes of Hanley Ramirez, Justin Verlander, Francisco Liriano and B.J. Upton. Playing for the World team, Huber’s two-run double lead to a 4-0 victory over U.S.A., and he was awarded the game’s prestigious MVP honors. He has since played in 72 Major League games for the Royals, Padres and Twins.

Bright Brisbane Christmas

ABL Current Standing: 5th
(9-16, .360) Games Behind 9.5

Official Website

Official Video: Brisbane Bandits Baseball “They’re Back”

Official Mascot: Buster the Bandit

Home Field: RNA Showgrounds

2011 Team Australia All-Star Joshua Roberts went 2-for-4 with a home run in the ABL All-Star Game.
(Ben Southall / SMP Images / ABL)

Secret Santa:
Joshua Roberts
2B 9 (2nd) 3B 1 (2nd) HITS 31 (3rd)
OPS .974 (3rd) HR 3 (5th) RBI 17 (5th)
SLG .495 (7th) RUNS 13 (8th) BA .301 (11th)

As the RBI leader in ABL last year, Brisbane Bandit right fielder Joshua Roberts earned the team’s MVP honors. On par to have an equally impressive finish this season after a brilliant performance for Team Australia in the inaugural 2011 ABL All-Star Game, Roberts is certainly one of Australia’s finest athletes–splitting time between baseball’s Brisbane Bandits and rugby’s Ipswich Jets. Roberts probably recorded one of the best jumping catches in ABL history when he literally ran through the fence to rob a home run during a game against Adelaide. Signed by the Cleveland Indians to play professional baseball at 18, Roberts never made it to the Major Leagues in his 117 games for the Tribe from 2004-06. Yet, the 25-year-old’s athleticism and desire to play tough should not be discounted. Look for him to make a big Brisbane Bandit push down to the wire with his “never say die” attitude.

Hu is on the World Team in the ABL All-Star Game?

Former Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets shortstop Chin-lung Hu is now playing for the Adelaide Bite in the Australian Baseball League. Hu will be leading the Team World All-Stars in the inaugural ABL All-Star Game? Exactly, who else?

George Bush and Condoleezza Rice’s spoof of the classic Abbott and Costello Who’s on First skit, a hilarious chat between Costello–who plays a peanut vendor named Sebastion Dinwiddle, and Abbott–manager Dexter Broadhurt of the mythical St. Louis Wolves, has placed the former White House all-star comedy duo into the eternal Hall of Shame. In honor of the original Abbott and Costello’s tribute to the great game of baseball, let’s make sure everyone knows everyone else’s name on Team World in the Australian Baseball League (ABL) All-Star Game, which will be televised live on Wednesday, December 21st at 4 pm (Perth, AU Time) by Fox Sports Australia as well as ESPN Star Asia and later replayed on MLB Network in the U.S.A. at 1 pm (EST).

The 42-year-old former New York Mets relief pitcher Dae-Sung Koo is still as strong as ever in the Sydney Blue Sox and the 2011 Team World All-Star bullpen.

Based on the number of players on Team World who have some sort of oddity attached to them, this squad of international all-stars should be called “Team Novelty”. National heros in their respective homeland, Taiwan’s Chin-lung Hu and Korea’s Dae-Sung Koo are well-respected in Asia. Yet in MLB, they are extraterrestrial beings. Whether poking fun at his name Chin-lung Hu or playing on words in Hu’s on First, Hu has received more notoriety for everything but his skills. As shortstop and leadoff hitter for the Adelaide Bite, his very serious .291 batting average is no laughing matter.

Former Cubs minor league pitcher Alex Maestri was the first Italian player ever signed to Major League Baseball and is now the premier European import to the 2011 ABL International All-Stars.

Koo’s claim to MLB fame came in the May 2005 Subway Series matchup between the Mets and Yankees at Shea Stadium. The Korean lefty was called from the bullpen mid-game. In his first at bat against Randy Johnson, Koo was so nervous that he initially did not swing the bat. Everyone–including broadcaster Tim McCarver–discounted him as an easy out. Instead, the slugger Koo emerged when least expected and rocketed a shot over the outfielders’ head to the wall for a stand up double. Jose Reyes layed down a sacrifice bunt to advance Koo to third, but seeing nobody covering home plate he continued to run for the score. Sliding head first and beating the tag, the crowd roared “KOO” and later the sold-out stadium gave him a standing ovation. He appeared in 33 games as a Mets middle reliever and posted a 3.93 ERA with 23 strike outs in 23 innings of work in 1995.

Following his appearance in the 2011 ABL All-Star Game, SoftBank Hawks reliever Yohei Yanagana will return to Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball League. (Theo Karanikos/SMP Images)

Being the first Italian born player signed by MLB in 2006, pitcher Alex Maestri is also considered by many as another one of baseball’s novelties. 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. His moment of glory came on April 1, 2009, when he made his preseason MLB debut against the Oakland A’s during Cubs Spring Training in Phoenix. Manager Lou Pinella summoned him out of the bullpen. Maestri struck out Orlando Cabrera and then he sized up against slugger Jason Giambi–who managed 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.

India's Rinku Singh is an up-and-coming pitching prospect for the Pittsburgh Pirates organization and yet another international novelty on the 2011 ABL Team World All-Stars. (Ben Southall/SMP Images)

Despite the fact that Yohei Yanagawa has fast become a fan favorite Down Under, Aussies will have to bid him Sayonora after charting in the Top 7 pitchers of the Australian Baseball League with a 2.52 ERA in 35.2 innings. Second in the league in strike outs (43), the Japanese reliever turned ABL starter of seven games had great control as demonstrated by his 1.23 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched). Stretching out to pitch seven innings this past week, the 25-year-old right-handed hurler struck out nine and issued no walks. After the ABL All-Star Game, Yohei Yanagawa will return to Japan.

Currently in his second ABL season, 23-year-old Rinku Singh has recorded one win and one save with a 1.59 ERA out of the Adelaide Bite bullpen in 11.1 innings–while allowing just seven hits, one walk and striking out ten. Now an international hero for winning the Million Dollar Arm competition, the first-Indian born pitcher to win an American professional baseball game posted a 2.45 ERA for the Pittsburgh Pirates as a minor leaguer in 2011. Now the subject of a upcoming movie produced by Walt Disney Pictures, Singh has gone Hollywood, and the world will soon know of his life story from the slums of India to the MLB diamonds.

The international all-stars will feature a strong artillery of former and future MLB players from the U.S.A. including Jason Hirsh (Houston Astros/Colorado Rockies), Mike McGuire (Philadelphia Phillies), Alex Burg (San Francisco Giants), Brian Burgamy (Philadelphia Phillies/San Diego Padres), Dominic Ramos (Boston Red Sox), Mychal Givens (Baltimore Orioles), Ty Morrison (Tampa Bay Rays), Tyler Collins (Detroit Tigers), Denny Almonte and James McOwen (Seattle Mariners).

The 2011 Team World All-Star roster will also carry many Japanese players from the Nippon Professional Baseball League including Yusei Kikuchi (Seibu Lions), Hiroshi Katayama (Rakuten Eagles), Fumikazu Kimura (Seibu Lions), Yamashita Ayatsugu and Kenta Imamiya (SouthBank Hawks). Remember to mind your manners when cheering on your favorite player, no matter Hu…

Top 20 Americans playing in the ABL (#11-20)

Taking on the responsibility of selecting the Top 20 Americans currently playing in the Australian Baseball League is risky business. For the 20 up-and-coming MLB prospects, it’s an early holiday present to share with friends and family back home while playing ‘Down Under’. Yet for the others unfortunately not mentioned in the Top 20, it’s another Big League blow… As a sign of good faith, we will feature the missing in action in future articles. In the meantime, let’s now look at numbers 11-20 of the Top 20 Americans in the ABL.

#11 Mychal Givens of the Perth Heat is a very hot prospect for the Baltimore Orioles. (Theron Kirkman/SMP Images)

Considered baseball’s best all-around high school player in the nation at the time, Mychal Givens was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the 2nd round of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft as a shortstop and reportedly received a $800,000 signing bonus just hours before the Orioles’ rights to Givens would have expired. Not only was the six-foot-one high school athlete an All-State shortstop during his junior and senior years at Florida’s Plant High School, but Mychal Givens’ cannon for an arm was utilized on the mound because of explosive mid-90’s speed and a 1.71 ERA. With aspirations of one day soon helping the Orioles win the World Series, he sped through four levels of low minor league action in his first season as a professional playing second baseman and shortstop. Impressing the O’s with his athleticism and maturity only a year out of high school, Givens had exceeded the Orioles’ expectations during extended spring training and started his season at a higher level than expected.

In the 2011 Asia Series against the Korea Baseball Organization Samsung Lions, Mychal Givens showed the world his natural talent. (Scott Powick / SMP Media / ABL)

In June 2010, a minor setback sent Givens back to his Tampa area home to nurse a sprained left thumb shortly after being promoted to the Delmarva Shorebirds. Despite injuring his thumb sliding into a base and as a result missing significant time off the diamond, the 2011 Prospect Handbook ranked the 21-year-old #7 in their list of the Top 10 prospects in the Baltimore organization. After hitting nearly .300 and projecting a nice contact bat, MLBDirt.com recently ranked Givens #16 in their 2012 Oriole’s prospect projections in hopes that the team would use their infielder as a pitcher. As an impact player committed to playing whatever position the O’s want him to play, Mychal Givens is determined more than ever to make it to Major League Baseball as quickly as possible. His move to align himself with the Australian Baseball League’s defending champion Perth Heat was a solid decision. Playing in the 2011 Asia Series with some of baseball’s best was a bonus nonetheless. Among the top twelve hitters in the league with a .308 average, Givens is tied for fourth in doubles (5) and stolen bases (4). Look for him to turn on the Heat down the stretch.

Mariners prospect #12 James McOwen 2010-11 ABL MVP Silver Slugger/Helms Award Winner (SMP Media)

Perth teammate James McOwen will always be known as the one who came really close to beating some Big League names for the longest hitting streak in Minor League Baseball in 2009. With the record set almost a decade earlier in 1919 by Joe Wilhoit (69) and the legendary Joe Dimaggio checking in second (61), Single-A Seattle Mariners affiliate High Desert Mavericks outfielder James McOwen went down in California League record books for his 45-game hitting streak and compiled an impressive season .340 batting average with 10 home runs and 82 RBIs.

Snagged by the Mariners as their 6th round selection in the 2007 draft and reeled in with a $123,000 signing bonus, James McOwen was always considered a contact hitter rather than a power hitter during his college career at Florida International University. The franchise was so confident in his MLB promise that he was invited him to 2010 Mariners Spring Training.

Mariners hopeful James McOwen in the LA Angels of Anaheim dugout in 2009 (Geoff Baker/Seattle Times)

On the final weekend before the start of the Mariners 2009 Season in an exhibition game against the Colorado Rockies in Albuquerque, things looked good for the bright new MLB hopeful. McOwen was where he longed to be: playing left field in a Mariners uniform. However, a deep drive hit by Rockie Clint Barnes sent him to the warning track and beyond. Trying to track down the fly ball to keep the game tied, McOwen slammed into the outfield wall and suffered a separated left shoulder–thereby eliminating the opportunity to play in MLB in 2009.

James McOwen in the 2011 Asia Series against Japan's SoftBank Hawks (Scott Powick/SMP Images)

McOwen attempted to rewrite history after one year of rehab when he was sent to Scottsdale in 2010 to start as the Mariners left fielder against the Colorado Rockies in the final spring training game in Arizona. The 26-year-old made a lasting impression on the Seattle franchise by going 2-for-3 and scoring a run that day. McOwen worked hard to get up to speed before making his splash last year in the newly reformed ABL’s inaugural season, when he led the league in home runs (11), RBI (30) and slugging percentage (.613). As Adelaide’s best hitter with a .340 batting average, he was also recognized as the league’s finest player being voted ABL Silver Slugger and MVP/Helms Award recipient.

In quite a shocker, McOwen signed with Perth in the off-season. The move was a sound one as he was recently selected as ABL Player of the Week for Round Six. Now leading off for the Heat, McOwen has hit safely in each of the Round Six games–thereby extending his hitting streak to seven games during which he has four multi-hit games, 10 runs scored and six RBI.

Could this be the return of the record-breaking James McOwen? His seven-game ABL hitting streak is no accident as he has really developed an eye for the strike zone. Over the past few years, McOwen has really transformed himself into quite a patient hitter. In the current 2011-12 ABL season, he is first in stolen bases (10) and triples (2), third in batting average (.367), fourth in doubles (5) and OBP (.449) and sixth in walks (9). McOwen has been known to perform even better the second time around.

#13 Nic Ungs (Brett Crockford/SMP Images/ABL)

Dubuque, Iowa’s Nic Ungs of the Melbourne Aces delivered possibly his best pitching performance against the Brisbane Bandits last month and was named as one of the ABL Players of the Week for Round Three. Coming within two strikes and inches away from throwing the first ever perfect game in ABL history, Ungs now wishes that he could get the pitch back that Brisbane’s Brad Dutton drilled just out of Aces first baseman Justin Huber’s grasp to end his no-hit bid.

Having already pitched a no-hitter before in his professional baseball career, it would have been a first perfect game for the 32-year-old Midwesterner. Being the 12th-round draft pick by the Marlins in 2001 after his junior season at the University of Northern Iowa, Ungs has also played in the Chinese Professional Baseball League as well as for Brewers organization in the minor leagues, where he has career 71-56 record and a 3.64 ERA.

Ace hurler Nic Ungs is one of the most dependable and consistent pitchers in the Australian Baseball League. (Joosep Martinson/SMP Images/ABL)

In 2009 while pitching for the Marlins Double-A affiliate Jacksonville Suns, Ungs went 10-3 with a 2.37 ERA in 18 starts. With four years of Triple-A experience under his belt, Nic Ungs has flirted with graduation to Major League Baseball. Prior to signing on with the ABL’s Melbourne Aces, Ungs spent the 2011 season with the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball Somerset Patriots. Currently one of the ABL’s Top 10 Pitchers with a 1-1 record in four starts and a 3.05 ERA, Nic Ungs strives for absolute perfection every time on the rubber.

#14 Trevor Caughey (Scott Powick/SMP Media/ABL)

San Luis Obispo, California pitcher Trevor Caughey was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the 9th round of the 2002 MLB Amateur Draft after playing at Cuesta College, where he posted a 3.14 ERA and was a All-California First Team selection. Remaining in the O’s minor leagues for five and a half years before launching a very successful career in the independent league circuits in the U.S. and abroad, Caughey was unable to demonstrate his ability to play first base and outfield while a MLB pitching prospect in the minors.

Trevor Caughey started for the Perth Heat and made Australia stand tall and proud in the 2011 Asia Series against Japan's SoftBank Hawks. (Scott Powick/SMP Images)

The six-foot-one southpaw wasted no time free from the restrictions and was named to the 2008 Baseball America All-Independent Team while pitching in the Golden Baseball League. In 2010 he ventured to Europe, where he pitched for Technika Brno in the Czech Extraleague and compiled a 7-1 record with an ERA of 1.86 in eleven games. He averaged one strike out per inning and only walked 14 in over 77 innings of work. Last winter in the ABL, Trevor Caughey was outstanding while collecting two post season wins and propelling the Perth Heat to the championship title. So far, 2011 has proven to be a renaissance year for the 29-year-old pitcher. Making 15 appearances in 108 plus total innings and starting in 13 games for the Spanish Division de Honor club Astros Valencia, the California Central Coast import performed even more EU magic by posting a 11-3 record and a 0.83 ERA. Back ‘Down Under’ in the ABL for the 2011-12 season with defending champs Heat, Trevor Caughey has won both of his starts (2-0) and has struck out nine in 12 innings pitched. Expect Heat manager Brooke Knight to ignite Caughey’s fire power to defend the ABL crown.

#15 Brandon Barnes of the Sydney Blue Sox is Houston Astros property. (Murray Wilkinson/SMP Images/ABL)

During the recent World Series, news came out of the Houston Astros camp that they had re-signed Orange County, California’s Brandon Barnes to another Minor League contract with a Spring Training invite. Was it because the Houston Astros Player Development Department honored Barnes in May 2011 for his defensive excellence at Triple-A Oklahoma City after playing in 33 games and attaining an impressive .988 season fielding percentage? Or maybe it was because out of his 45 hits for the RedHawks, 26 of them (58%) were doubles or better? Better yet, perhaps it was due to the fact that he was originally a high school football player who tried out for the Cypress College team, only to become a Freshman All-American and is still learning the game? Regardless, the fact remains that Barnes was drafted in the 6th round of the 2005 MLB June Amateur Draft by the Houston Astros for a Big League reason. In his seven-year tenure with the rebuilding organization, he has put together a combined .250 batting average with 77 home runs and 300 RBIs.

Brandon Barnes (on the far right) and friends lend a helping hand to local families during the holiday season while playing for the Corpus Christi Hooks.

The 2008 Baseball America Prospect Handbook Astros Minor League Depth Chart described Barnes as “a sleeper with limited baseball experience who became Tri-City’s MVP after bashing 10 homers in 2007.” Since his first game in a Sydney uniform on December 1st, word is out in the ABL that this 25-year-old Blue Sox slugger is not sleeping in the batter’s box. His .386 batting average ranks third and his .455 OBP ranks fourth among ABL’s leading hitters. Beware…

Sydney Blue Sox #16 Joey Hage is making a speedy comeback to Major League Baseball by playing in the Australian Baseball League.

Sydney Teammate Joey Hage was drafted at age 18 by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 23rd round of the 2007 MLB Amateur Draft as a second baseman. He played for three years for both the Gulf Coast League Cardinals and the Johnson City Cardinals in the Appalachian League from 2007 until an abrupt halt to his young aspiring career in 2009, when diagnosed with colitis. In those three seasons, Hage recorded a combined .248 batting average with three home runs and 43 RBIs in 130 games. He returned to baseball when the Toronto Blue Jays signed him to a minor league contract in January 2011. Hage began playing with the Rockland Boulders of the Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball. On July 24th against the Quebec Capitales, Hage made Can-Am baseball history with one swing. With the bases loaded , two outs and the Boulders trailing by a run in the top of the ninth, the South Florida-native rocketed the first pitch he saw out of the park to give Rockland a 7-4 victory and record the Boulders’ first grand slam ever in their young history.

Experienced Cardinals and Blue Jays minor leaguer Joey Hage will get his share of plate appearances and starts at second base for the Sydney Blue Sox. (Joe Vella/SMP Media)

The 22-year-old has kept up his reputation for heroics in the ABL. In his debut on December 1st, Hage scored the winning run of a 15 inning marathon against the Brisbane Bandits and was batting .429 (3-for-7) with two runs scored and one stolen base by midnight. Based on 20-year-old Minnesota prospect and Aussie teammate Todd Van Steensel’s tweets: “Rain out today, so back at the house playing MLB 2K10 with the Americans” & “Taking the Americans out for dinner in the city, show them the lights and sounds and everything good #Sydney”, Barnes and Hage have been captured and held hostage by the Clubhouse Chronicles.

Pirates closer prospect #17 Ryan Beckman was named to the Team World roster in the inaugural 2011 ABL All-Star Game against Team Australia in Perth on December 21st (Ryan Schembri/SMP Media)

ESPN’s Tristan Cockroft recently selected Adelaide Bite 21-year-old closer Ryan Beckman as the fantasy sleeper to own in the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen. After pitching in a Pirates Spring Training game in Bradenton, Florida against the Tampa Bay Rays on February 27th, the Pittsburgh organization saw they had something special in 21-year-old Ryan Beckman. Summoned from the bullpen to relieve roughed up starter Kevin Correa, Beckman took on a line-up that included Desmond Jennings, Sam Fuld, Kelly Shoppach, Matt Joyce and Casey Kotchman.

Ryan Beckman during 2011 Pirates Spring Training

In the end, Beckman prevailed to keep hitters off the bases in his 1 2/3 innings of relief and retired all five Rays he faced. Scouts already knew that the six-foot-four Texan was a rarity when he was drafted by the Pirates in the 18th round of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft. Before joining the Adelaide Bite in the ABL, Beckman spent most of the 2011 season as the Single-A Advanced affiliate Bradenton Marauders closer. Posting a 3.12 ERA and striking out 46 in 52 innings, he tallied 11 saves. The sidearm right-handed pitcher had a brilliant summer beginning in July, when his ERA was 2.05 and hitters batted just .172 against him.

Adelaide Stopper Ryan Beckman (Ryan Schembri/SMP Media/ABL)

Equipped with a fastball in the low 90′s with a wicked curve and change-up, Beckman’s delivery is from a different arm angle than most pitchers to create even more deception. Recently named to Team World in the inaugural ABL All-Star Game, which will televised on Fox Sports Australia and MLB Network on December 21st, Ryan Beckman has earned the right to showcase in front of a worldwide audience after leading the league in saves (4) and keeping batters at bay with a 1.38 ERA. Making nine appearances and providing 13 innings of relief for the Adelaide Bite, he has a 1-0 record and has averaged one strike out per inning while only allowing two walks. Although he was home schooled, Beckman played baseball for the same Grayson County High School that produced the big Abilene, Texas MLB star John Lackey. Following in his footsteps, Ryan Beckman could very well be the next Big League pitching sensation from the Lone Star state in 2012. Saddle up and watch the ride–yee haw!!!

Ex-Rockie #18 Sean Jarrett (Joe Vella/SMP Media)

Upon the urging of rehabbing major leaguer Jason Hirsh and current Los Angeles Dodger Shane Lindsay, Colorado’s 28-year-old pitcher Sean Jarrett is now playing in the ABL for the Brisbane Bandits. Drafted by the Rockies in the 20th round of the June 2006 First-Year Draft out of Tulsa’s Oral Roberts University, the six-foot-five reliever went straight to work as a minor league closer with fifteen innings experience and a sparkling 1.10 ERA before blowing his arm out.

Shortly thereafter, he underwent Tommy John surgery and was out of baseball-related activities until after 16 months of rehabilitation. Jarrett worked his way back through extended spring training followed by short-season ball. He eventually moved on up to the Colorado Rockies Double-A affiliate Tulsa Drillers bullpen as the club’s reliever. After going 3-1 with a 1.85 earned run average in 2010, Jarrett expected to get more playing time with the Drillers in 2011. Although his velocity had decreased following his 2007 surgery, he was still very effective with the command and movement of his pitches. In a less-than-optimal position stuck in between the inactive list and the Tulsa roster, Sean was used to eat up innings and fill in gaps. He sought to be released from the Rockies organization after being fed up with the way things went down with the Drillers.

After five and a half seasons in the Rockies minor leagues–where he had thrown 193 career strike outs while recording a 3.56 ERA, Sean Jarrett was released by Colorado on August 5th and was quickly snapped up 11 days later by the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball Camden Riversharks, who coincidently picked up the ABL’s current #1 American pitcher–Canberra Cavalry’s Mike McGuire–one month later. Since joining the Bandits, he has been working on his slider and building his arm strength. Although only seen in 6.2 scoreless innings out of the bullpen with opponents batting a whimpering .143 against him in the ABL, it would not be surprising to see him stretch out and start for Brisbane.

John Tolisano, the pride & joy of Toronto (Ben Southall/SMP Media)

It would be unfair if we did not at least acknowledge a player who could quite possibly have been the league’s MVP if he had not been injured during ABL action in November. Canberra Cavalary’s John Tolisano was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2nd round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft and was lured to sign for a $391,500 bonus, instead of accepting a full-ride scholarship to the University of Florida. After hitting 30 career home runs in four seasons as the starting shortstop for Southern Florida’s Estero High School, the Jays had high hopes that Tolisano could become Canada’s future home run king and follow the lead of the MLB All-Star Jose Bautista. He led the Gulf Coast League with 10 home runs in 2007 and was named to the GCL Post-Season All-Star team. Tolisano moved up the ranks as a 2008 Midwest League All-Star. Things were looking prosperous for the Toronto prospect as he progressed to the Jays Single-A Advanced affiliate Dunedin Blue Jays for the 2009 and 2010 seasons.

Despite being a a jack of all trades and playing five different infield and outfield positions in 61 games in 2010, Tolisano was injury-plagued. He still managed to move up the ladder to the Jays Double-A affiliate New Hampshire Fisher Cats. However, history would repeat itself again in 2011 for the 23-year-old switch-hitter as a dominant force behind the Canberra Cavalry charge in the ABL. The Cavs lost its star slugger when he slid into second base in a game against the Adelaide Bite last month and experienced a small tear in a shoulder tendon. Later medical scans confirmed John Tolisano’s shoulder injury was worse than first thought, which resulted in him returning to Florida for treatment.

Whatever the cost, Canberra Calvary's John Tolisano plays to win games. (Ben Southall/SMP Images/ABL)

Before Tolisano got hurt, he was by far the best player in the ABL. In his first game on November 4th, he went 2-for-3 with a home run, a walk and two runs scored in Canberra’s season-opening victory against Brisbane. On the next day in a doubleheader against the Bandits, he reached base five of seven times and slammed a walk-out home run in the nightcap. Tolisano continued on his torrid pace, going 6-for-14 (.429) with a .529 on-base percentage, one double, two home runs, three walks and 13 total bases in his first four games.

John Tolisano hits a walk-off home run, and his teammates are standing by to celebrate Aussie style. (Ben Southall/SMP Images/ABL)

John Tolisano was named ABL Player of Week for Round One as a result of his terrific start in the ABL. Prior to his injury on November 11th, he was batting .333 and led the team in almost all hitting categories. The Cavs second baseman will be sorely missed for the remainder the year, and we hope that the future Toronto MLB All-Star will return sometime in 2012–especially if Canberra can make it into the playoffs. Tolisano is expected to make a full recovery by January, so we anticipate a bright road ahead for this budding superstar. Come back!

#20 Dominic Ramos hustling for the Melbourne Aces (Joe Vella/SMP)

28-year-old Melbourne Aces shortstop Dominic Christian Ramos was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 17th round of the 2005 MLB June Amateur Draft. During his two years in the Red Sox farm system, the former Texas State University player made a few stops–including Boston Single-A affiliates Lowell Spinners and Greenville Drive–before joining the Can-Am League in 2007. Making his debut with the Worcester Tornadoes in Massachusetts, Ramos put together a .311 batting average with five home runs and 43 RBI. After being traded to the Brockton Rox in 2008, he broke loose with 116 hits–second-most in club single-season history. 2009 was equally as impressive as he hit .294 and finished fourth in the league with 108 hits. Ramos hit at a .288 clip in 2010 with 35 RBI, 19 doubles and one homer. Before heading ‘Down Under’ to play in the ABL, the five-foot-ten Texas native finished the 2011 Brockton season with a .284 batting average, 34 RBI, 23 doubles and four home runs.

Dominic Ramos keeps the faith that he will make an impact in the ABL. (Ryan Schembri/SMP Images)

Putting a cross in the dirt every time he steps up to the plate, Dominic Christian Ramos carries his faith out on the field with him to withstand the intense and competitive pressure. The Melbourne Aces are believers in his ability to put up numbers offensively and provide solemn defense. Now among the Top 15 ABL hitters with a .295 batting average, he is living up to his word by ranking fourth in runs scored (16) and seventh in hits (24). Taking a leap a faith with a blessing from above, Ramos and the Melbourne Aces pray everyday to make the ABL playoffs. God bless baseball. Amen!!!

Top 10 Yanks in the Australian Baseball League

Break out the sparkling cider and put on those holiday party hats as we have only just begun to blog away on baseball worldwide. In honor of MLBlogs Network and MLB.com Blogs Central ranking mlbblogger #10 in its Top 50 Fan Sites, it is only appropriate that we create a Top 10 list of our own. In appreciation to those American ballplayers who are currently away from their loved ones serving their county in the Australian Baseball League, we at mlbblogger salute you for your dedication to the game and thank you for representing the good old, red, white and blue with the excellent play in competitive and rugged outback action.

For the select few who demonstrated Major Leaguer attributes and whole-heartedly deserve to be featured here as a Top 10 Yank in the Australian Baseball League (ABL), congratulations and keep up the good work! For the other American ballplayers who did not make the cut this time around and regrettably are not included, there is still time to kick some butt and make the Top 20 Yanks list, which will reveal up-and-coming prospects #11-20.

#1 Mike McGuire (Ben Southall/SMP Images/ABL)

25-year-old Canberra Cavalry Mike McGuire (2-1, 1 SV) is now second among ABL pitchers with the league’s second lowest ERA (1.11) and most strikeouts (40) in 32.1 innings. He also set a new ABL strikeout record in a game this season when 14 Adelaide hitters bit the dust. McGuire’s dream of making his MLB pitching debut for the team he grew up rooting for in Philadelphia may be coming true sooner than later as ABL opponents are batting an anemic .183 average against this six-foot-seven giant.

Mike McGuire was named to the ABL All-Star Game Team World roster (Ben Southall/SMP Images)

The Phillies prospect was selected to pitch for Team World against the Australian National Baseball Team in the inaugural ABL All-Star Game on December 21st. Making a remarkable comeback from vascular surgery, the 2008 Cleveland Indians draftee has earned himself the honor of being recognized as the top American pitcher in the 2011-12 ABL season. After pitching four years for Delaware University, he went on to play in the Cleveland Indians minor leagues as well as the Can-Am League before being signed by Philadelphia.

#2 Denny Almonte joins teammate Chin-lung Hu in the ABL All-Star Game (Ryan Schembri/SMP Images)

Switch-hitting centerfielder Denny Almonte was named ABL Round Five Player of the Week for his Major League offensive attack for the Adelaide Bite against Melbourne. He got three of his team’s four hits–including two doubles–last Thursday. The 23-year-old Mariners prospect slammed two homers–including a grand slam–and collected an ABL record eight RBI which led the Bite to victory last Friday. He smoked another three-run homer late in the game to ensure a win last Saturday, and hit yet another solo shot on December 9.

A-Rod as a rookie

In the two wins against the Aces, the Florida-born Almonte drove in 12 of the team’s 14 runs and compiled a .562 batting average. Now the ABL’s top hitter in hits  (29, 1st) and batting average (.382, 1st) with five home runs (2nd) with 19 RBI ( 2nd), it won’t be long before the insomnia wears off in Seattle, and the franchise wakes up to the realization that Denny Almonte could very well be the next A-Rod. Remember him? The bluebird of happiness is in your own backyard! It’s time to wake up and smell the Almonte all the way to Safeco. With Almonte joining two other of MLB’s budding stars–Dustin Ackley and Alex Liddi–on the Mariners Big League roster, the worst hitting team in baseball can vastly improve its chances to compete in the tough American League West.

#3 Alex Burg in the 2011 Asia Series (photo by Scott Powick / SMP Images)

Heralded by many as the MVP candidate favorite in the ABL, Perth Heat catcher/infielder/DH Alex Burg is a tied for the league lead in homers (6) with the addition of an explosive leg kick which makes this power hitter even more dangerous. After five months of intense training to improve his swing with ex-San Francisco Giant Jason Ellison, Burg has been scorching the leather off the ball with a .324 batting average. A catcher from the Giants organization, the 24-year-old Washington state native hits homers in batches. In August as a member of the San Jose Giants, Burg rattled off four home runs in three games against the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. Facing the best teams from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League, the Korea Baseball Organization, and the Chinese Professional Baseball League in the recent 2011 Asia Series, Alex Burg showcased to the world his natural talents with the ABL’s representative Heat.

ABL All-Star Alex Burg slides in the 2011 Asia Series

His most important task at hand now is leading the defending ABL champs to a repeat of last season’s successful bid. Heat manager Brooke Knight knew early on that Burg was a natural born winner when he coached Alex three years ago as a player for the Corvallis Knights, and they won the West Coast League Championship. With the prospect of moving Giants catcher Buster Posey to first base, the door may swing wide open for Alex Burg to make his MLB debut behind the dish after a strong ABL campaign.

#4 Geoff Brown throwing Heat (Theron Kirkman / SMP Media / ABL)

The six-foot-one lefty Geoff Brown was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 23rd round of the 2007 Amateur Draft after playing like a pro at Mill Creek, Washington’s Jackson High School–where Toronto Blue Jay Travis Snider and Chicago White Sox Brent Lillibridge also launched their careers in prior years. As a high school junior, Brown led his 2006 Jackson squad to a state championship (27-0) after winning 10 games (0.98 ERA, 78 strikeouts in 69 innings) and a number two team ranking in Baseball America‘s final top 25 poll. MLB National League teams took notice when the pitcher threw five innings of flawless pitching and demonstrated his slugger power by hitting a two-run home run in the Washington State 4-A Championship at Mariners Safeco Field. His senior year was equally as good with a 0.93 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 45 innings. Rather than signing with the Royals, Brown chose to attend college and play for the University of Washington.

Brown led the NECBL Champions Newport Gulls

In the summertime he pitched for the Newport Gulls in Rhode Island. Brown held the Vermont Mountaineers scoreless in the final four innings of the 2009 New England Collegiate Baseball League Championship to ensure victory and bragging rights for the title. That year he compiled a stellar 5-0 record with a 1.48 ERA–striking out 38 and only issuing eight walks over 31 total innings. Brown returned in 2010 with yet another undefeated season (3-0, 1.96 ERA).

Lefty Geoff Brown (Theron Kirkman/SMP Images)

Geoff Brown has picked up the win in each of his four appearances in the ABL this year (4-0 1.29 ERA). Despite the notion that lefties are live bait for right-handed batters, Brown is the exception to the rule as he has dominated right-handed hitters and only surrendered nine hits with a 0.60 ERA. The 22-year-old pitcher is in winning form and is credited for stopping the bleeding on Monday when Canberra Cavalry tried to sweep the Heat four-in-a-row. Commanding his pitches early on, Brown took control of the game and never looked back. It would not be surprising to see him show up on MLB’s radar in 2012.

#5 Jason Hirsh (Ben Southall / SMP Images)

Former MLB pitcher and current Melbourne Ace Jason Hirsh is an intimidating figure on the mound in the ABL with his six-foot-eight stature and Big League experience. ‘Down Under’ now rehabbing after major shoulder surgery, which put him on the shelf for entire 2011 season, he hopes to share with the world the real life experience of a player’s battle to return into peak pitching form by writing an eloquent blog On My Way Back Up Down Under.

Jason Hirsh made his MLB pitching debut in 2006

Drafted by the Houston Astros in the second round (59th overall) of the 2003 amateur entry draft, Hirsh received a $625,000 signing bonus and finally made his Major League pitching debut on August 12, 2006. In his nine starts for Houston that season, the crafty right-handed pitcher recorded three wins with a welcome to the Bigs 6.04 ERA.

Jason Hirsh pitching in 2008 for Colorado

He was traded in the winter of 2006 to the Rockies, and then a series of mishaps ensued in 2007. Hirsh sprained his ankle in July and was sidelined for a month. After an initial trouble-free outing in Florida, he returned to the hitter-friendly Coors Field to face the Milwaukee Brewers. After J. J. Hardy drilled a line drive shot directly to the pitcher’s right leg, Hirsh hung in there despite the pain and continued to dish out six innings. After an x-ray revealed a broken leg, he went down for the remainder of the season. Prior to being put on the DL, Jason Hirsh started 19 games and strung together a 5-7 record with a rocky mountain 4.81 ERA.

The NY Yankees organization signed Hirsh in 2009

Once in Yankee pinstripes, it appeared that Hirsh had regained his mojo. His arm felt stronger, and it showed as he posted an impressive 1.35 ERA in six starts for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. His sinker-slider, change up and curve ball made minor league hitters wreck havoc. Since coming back from shoulder surgery, the 29-year-old Southern California native has been pitching well for the Aces and has tallied two wins in four starts.

#6 Ben Moore pitching in the 2011 Asia Series (Scott Powick/SMP Media)

As the starting pitcher for the ABL defending champs Perth Heat, 30-year-old right-hander Ben Moore was named ABL Player of the Week in Round One for his six innings of pitching excellence on November 4th against the Adelaide Bite, and later that month the hurler was called a national hero for his illusionary tactics of hurler deception in the 2011 Asia Series against the CPBL Uni-Lions. With a perfect 0.00 ERA so far this ABL season, it is simply a continuation of last year’s Aussie magic. After being voted ABL Championship Series Most Valuable Player in 2010-11 for his influential role pitching a complete game four-hitter versus a hungry Adelaide Bite and leading his team to a 7-1 victory in the rubber match third game of the competition, Moore had a brilliant 2011 campaign for the Sioux Falls Pheasants of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball League. He was named to Baseball America’s 2011 Independent All-Star Team and awarded the American Association Right-Handed Pitcher of the Year.

Ben Moore pleading for justice in the 2011 Asia Series (Scott Powick / SMP Media Asia Pacific / ABL)

The Wisconsin-born, Minnesota native Moore has some deep roots in Yank baseball. Signed by New York Yankees organization in 2003 as a free agent, he spent some quality time pitching in the Yanks minor league system. Moore finished 2003 with a 4.29 ERA between Rookie and Single-A ball. He ascended up to Double-A action before the end of the 2004 season, while posting a a solid 9-3 record and 3.45 ERA. Moore has been a hit the moment he touched ‘Down Under’ and played for the 2010 USA All-Stars in the ABL’s Inaugural Spring Training Series against the Perth Heat.

#7 Brian Burgamy is playing for Team World in the ABL All-Star Game (Ben Southall/SMP Images)

Switch-hitting 30-year-old Canberra Cavalry infielder Brian Burgamy was ABL Player of the Week Round Four Honorable Mention and selected to represent Team World in the ABL All-Star Game. In the current ABL season, he ranks second in walks (14) and OBP (.466), and fourth in home runs (3) and batting average (.359). Before being selected by the San Diego Padres in the ninth round of the 2002 draft, Wichita State-educated five-foot-ten Burgamy was awarded Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year. After a successful run with the Padres Single-A affiliate Lake Elsinore Storm, he was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the Double-A Phase of the Rule Five Draft. A career minor leaguer, he has played for ten seasons without breaking into the Bigs. Never caving in and determined to beat the odds of playing MLB, Burgamy had a Big League season in 2010 when he hit .307 with 15 home runs and 85 runs batted in for the Camden Riversharks and earned himself an Atlantic League All-Star appearance. Like a fine wine getting better with age, vintage Burgamy leads the Cavs.

#8 Todd Glaesmann is one of five Canberra Cavalry in the ABL All-Star Game (Ryan Schembri/SMP Media)

Canberra outfielder and teammate 21-year-old Todd Glaesmann was also selected to represent Team World in the ABL All-Star Game. Glaesmann was the highest 2009 draft pick that the Tampa Bay Rays actually signed. Baseball America magazine reported last year that he possessed the best outfield arm in the 2010 Tampa Bay organization. Currently second in stolen bases (7) and fourth in home runs (3) with a .325 batting average in the ABL, the six-foot-four prospect offers enormous five-tool potential for Rays manager Joe Madden’s galaxy of up-and-coming MLB shining stars.

#9 Tyler Collins joins teammate Dae-Sung Koo in the ABL All-Star Game (Ryan Schembri/SMP Images)

Outfielder Tyler Collins is a 21-year old “sleeper prospect with a chance to hit for power and average,” according to MinorLeagueBaseball.com As a sophomore at Texas’ Howard Junior College , he was named an NJCAA Division I 1st Team All-American with a .488 batting average, 82 RBI, 16 steals, 19 home runs, 34 doubles, four triples, .561 OBP with 33 walks, and a .949 slugging average. Drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the sixth round of the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Sydney Blue Sox Tyler Collins is currently batting .329, tied for first in doubles (8) and fourth in hits (24) in the ABL.

#10 Brenden Webb of the Heat (Theron Kirkman/SMP Images)

Brenden Webb hails from San Diego’s Rancho Penasquitos. Making the 2009 All-Pacific Coast Conference 1st Team while attending Palomar College, Webb broke the Comets’ all-time single-season record for RBI (40) and hit .342 with six doubles, two triples, and eight home runs. Webb was recruited to play ball for USC, but after being drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 30th round of the June 2009 draft he opted to start his professional baseball career with sights on Camden Yards. The six-foot-three 21-year-old played in more games than any other player on the 2011 Demarva Shorebirds. The versatile Brenden Webb played all three outfield positions and displayed tremendous defensive skills all season, committing just seven errors and totaling 16 outfield assists. Webb warmed up in June, when he hit .259 with a homer and nine runs-batted-in. Nothing compared to when the Heat is on as the bright new MLB prospect is lavishing his time at the plate in the ABL with a .343 batting average after going 4-for-7 (including two homers) on Friday. Check back to see #11-20 Yanks!

UFO in the ABL: Unidentified Forgotten Object found on the Canberra Cavalry pitching mound

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Has Santa already gifted the Australian Baseball League (ABL) an early present that Major League Baseball decided to send away to Misfit Island because nobody wanted it? Could it be the recently released Xavier Paul? Could it be true that one of Major League Baseball’s most prestigious franchises–the Atlanta Braves, well-known for snagging raw material and manufacturing the best–prematurely cut bait and released the ABL’s catch of the season? Could this be an extreme case of mistaken identity?

Often confused with the German-born pitcher of the same name who made his MLB pitching debut in 2002 with the Tampa Bay Rays, the Australian native Canberra Cavalry pitcher Steve Kent set the record straight. “I’ve been mistaken for ‘that’ Steve Kent a lot of times,” Kent explained. “When I was with the Braves, people would often send me his baseball cards to sign. It is pretty funny because he had one season with the Braves in 2005 and then my first season with them was 2006.” Could the team have made a clerical error by releasing Kent? Why did the Braves sever ties with their top 10 prospect who was signed at age 16?

In 2007 Danville Braves starting pitcher Steve Kent (AKA Steven Kent) was ranked lucky #7 among Atlanta farm hands with a 1.14 WHIP and also ranked #10 with a .241 opponents’ batting average. Equipped with a wicked curveball and a solid feel for pitching, the Aussie dominated his competition until Tommy John surgery put him on the shelf in 2009. Returning for the Single-A affiliate Rome Braves in 2010, he staged a remarkable comeback with a blemish-free 2-0 record and 0.69 ERA.

Braves minor leaguer Steve(n) Kent

Lady luck went sour for Kent’s career as a Brave in 2011 as the guy who hit the big jackpot on the minor league slots inherited an earned run average the size of a jumbo jet (.777) and subsequently was given his walking papers to the welcoming island of the ABL. Since then, the tides have turned for the man ‘Down Under’. In his lucky number seven appearances this 2011-12 season, Canberra lefty reliever Steve Kent has become the league’s top winning pitcher with three victories (3-0, 1.50 ERA) and one save in 12 innings of work out of the Cavalry bullpen. Heading into round five of ABL competition, Kent and the Cavalry’s pitching arsenal led by San Diego Padres prospect Hayden “Big Dog” Beard, former Philadelpia Phillies prospect Mike McGuire and former Cleveland Indians prospect/current American Association Indy pitcher Brian Grening are now in the league’s top 20. Only second to defending champs Heat in combined ERA (3.70), Canberra’s pitching staff is on the improve.

The one that got away from MLB, Steve Kent (photo courtesy of Geoff Jones/SMP Images/ABL)