If you can’t beat them, join them. After Baseball Western Australia State All-Star Pitcher Greg Van Sickler held Perth scoreless and struck out five in his four innings of perfection in the Heat’s 3-2 loss to the BWA All-Stars in a Spring Training exhibition game on October 20th, the three-time All-American Van Sickler made quite an impression on the two-time reigning Australian Baseball League champions. So much in fact that Perth wasted little time in calling him up from the Carine Cats, member of the 12-team WA State League, to join the Heat.
From Virginia to Australia by way of Belgium, Perth Heat pitcher Greg Van Sickler has ventured on the road less traveled in pursuit of his dream in playing baseball professionally. After a stellar season playing for Belgium’s Premier League Namur Angels of the Ligue Francophone Belge de Baseball et Softball, the Virginia native is now on an Aussie baseball odyssey in Perth. Greg Van Sickler, the first player in the USA South Conference history to be named both the Player and Pitcher of the Year in the same season, was 11-1 on the mound for 2011 Shenandoah University Hornets while batting .390 with seven homers and 46 RBI from the three hole in the batting order to earn first-team accolades at the utility position. The Division III All-American led the team to the NCAA Division III College World Series twice and was named 2010 and 2011 Virginia state Player of the Year by the Virginia State Sports Information Directors Association (VaSID). Van Sickler was a four-time VaSID All-State selection who earned All-America honors during his final three seasons. In both 2010 and 2011, he was a first team All-America honoree by both D3baseball.com and the American Baseball Coaches Association.
The six-foot-two 23-year-old tipped off his talent early on while playing baseball at Winchester, Virginia’s James Wood High School, where he was named team captain and MVP twice as well as 2007 Northwestern District Player of the Year. Over five years later, Greg Van Sickler finds himself nearly 12,000 miles away from home playing for the defending ABL champs Perth Heat. In his 6.2 innings of bullpen relief, the
Top 40 American has been dominant with seven strikeouts and a 1.35 ERA.
When Oakland A’s closer Grant Balfour talks, people listen…especially when your father is the Australia Baseball League’s Sydney Blue Sox General Manager! Coming back from Tommy John surgery and beginning his rehab during the 2011-12 offseason, pitcher Caleb Cuevas enlisted Balfour as his workout partner to train with in Clearwater, Florida. The Aussie sent his father, Blue Sox General Manager David Balfour, an email detailing the skills Cuevas possessed. Balfour described the young American pitcher as a “flamethrower”–quite the comment from a reliever who himself lights up the radar gun with triple digits.
Not only did Balfour serve as a mentor to the 24-year-old North Carolina native, but he also recommended that the Sydney Blue Sox sign Cuevas. Caleb spoke highly of Grant Balfour and his positive reinforcement post-surgery. “Grant helped me a whole lot, particularly with my recovery and my off-speed pitching,” Cuevas said. “He was real supportive not just of
me getting back to 100%, but how
I could be an even better pitcher
once I returned completely.”
Although the right-handed hurler officially began his first professional season in the Can-Am League with the 2012 Newark Bears, Cuevas got his first MLB test while on the Coastal Carolina University squad when facing some big guns on the Texas Rangers lineup in an April 2012 exhibition game. Click HERE to watch him take on the likes of Napoli, Borbon, Kinsler, and Andrus. The six-foot-two pitcher was a two-time All-Western Athletic Conference pick at West Henderson High School prior to playing for Louisburg College, the Outer Banks Daredevils and Coastal Carolina.He began the 2012 season as a starter in Indy
League play before moving to the Newark Bears bullpen. In his final 14 appearances as a reliever, Cuevas posted a 2.38 ERA over 15.1 innings
of work, allowing 17 hits, six walks and four
earned runs, while striking out 18. Blue Sox
manager Jason “Pops” Pospishil took notice
of his good numbers and immediately thought
how valuable the young import could prove to be
for Sydney while echoing the sentiment shared by Oakland Athletics’ Grant Balfour. “His numbers out
of the bullpen were extremely impressive and he
also has some experience as a starter, so he will
be a flexible piece to add to our pitching staff,”
said Pospishil. The Blue Sox skipper believes that
with Cuevas’ versatility he could play various
pitching roles for Sydney this season. During his
10 ABL appearances and 10.2 innings of relief,
Cuevas has given up opponents ten runs (8.44 ERA).
Recent College of the Ozarks graduate Dustin Logginsis the youngest of four Kansas City T-Bones pitchers, who currently serve as the nucleus of the Canberra Calvary pitching staff–including teammates Steven Kent, Brian Grening and Sean Toler. The six-foot-five right-handed Missouri native was named to the 2012 All-Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference First Team after posting career bests in wins, strikeouts, and ERA during his final season of his four years playing for the Bobcats. Before joining the T-Bones, Loggins pitched 37 1/3 innings and struck out 43 with a 2.89 ERA for the Ozark Generals of the MINK Midwest Summer Collegiate Baseball League. Converting from a starting pitcher in college to a reliever professionally has helped his velocity touch the mid-90’s. In his 21 ABL relief appearances so far, Loggins has logged 23.1 innings and has struck out 31. With a 4-2 record, 2.31 ERA, and one save under his belt, the 22-year-old will be the Cavalry’s stopper late in games to ultimately halt the ABL reigning champion Perth Heat from a never seen before three-peat.
Last December MLBblogger profiled the Top 20 Americansplaying 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. 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.
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.