Prior to the start of the 1970 MLB season, Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Joe L. Brown was looking to trade for some pitchers to enhance his team’s chances for a World Series title. He approached Roberto Clemente and asked “The Great One” who he should go after. The Latin American hero from Puerto Rico responded, ” Get the little Italiano from St. Louis. If Giusti is sound, then he can help the Pirates. He has always had good stuff, and he is a tough competitor.” On October 21, 1969, Joe L. Brown made a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals to bring Dave Giusti to Pittsburgh. In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2002, Dave Giusti said , “I did okay against Clemente, and that’s one of the reasons I ended up with the Pirates.”
The oldest of two sons born to David and Mary Giusti on November 27, 1939 in Seneca Falls, New York, Dave Giusti‘s first word out his mouth was reportedly “ball”. With a father who played semi-pro baseball before his birth and an uncle who was the captain of the Syracuse University baseball team in 1957, Dave Giusti had athleticism in his DNA from an early age. He followed in his uncle’s footsteps to become the captain of the Syracuse University Orangemen in 1961, when the baseball squad went on to the College World Series but came home empty-handed.
The Houston Colt .45s, a National League expansion team, signed Dave Giusti as an amateur free agent shortly after college graduation on June 16, 1961. He used part of the $35,000 signing bonus to pay off his parents’ medical bills and purchase an insurance policy. The promising MLB prospect simultaneously pursued a high school science teaching career while earning a master’s degree in physical education during the off-season.
Dave Giusti made his MLB debut on April 13, 1962. He remained with the Houston organization through 1968 and played for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1969. Prior to being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Dave Giusti was used as a starting pitcher. Bucs manager Danny Murtaugh converted him to a reliever. Assuming a new role as the club’s elite closer in 1970, Dave Giusti put together a 9-3 record with a 3.06 ERA and 26 saves.
During the 1971 regular season, Dave Giusti helped the Pittsburgh Pirates during the 1971 regular season by leading the National League with 30 saves and posting an impressive 2.93 ERA. He was also instrumental in the 1971 National League Championship Series when he became the first MLB player to pitch in every game. In four scoreless appearances and 5.1 innings pitched, Dave Giusti gave up just one hit with two walks and three strikeouts. He later led the Pittsburgh Pirates to the franchise’s fourth World Series Championship title (1909, 1925, 1960, and 1971) after appearing in three 1971 World Series games and picking up one save. Dave Giusti achieved major career milestones including playing in his first MLB All-Star game and being named Sporting News National League Fireman of the Year in 1971. He became even more dominant in 1972 when his ERA dropped one point to a minuscule 1.93 and he tallied 22 saves.
In 1974 Dave Giustibecame the first relief pitcher in MLB to earn a $100,000 a year when he delivered 12 saves and a 3.32 ERA in over 105 innings pitched. After returning from elbow surgery, the dominant Pirates closer saved 17 games with a 2.95 ERA in 1975. The following year sportswriter Harry Stein named DaveGiusti as the relief pitcher on his all-Italian team in an Esquire magazine article. He was 47-28 with a 2.94 ERA and 133 saves in his seven years as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. DaveGiusti was traded to the Oakland Athletics in 1977 when he went 3-3 with a 2.98 ERA and six saves in 40 games before being dealt to the Chicago Cubs late in the season. The proud Italian American finished his 15-year career in 1977 with a 100-93 record, 145 saves, and a 3.60 ERA. The closer with impeccable command threw a total of 335 ninth innings during his career and set the MLB record for most ninth innings pitched without hitting a batter.
PITCHERS: Team Italy switch-pitcher Pat Venditte, who has proved himself worthy of playing in Major League Baseball after stints with the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners, signed a minor league deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers in late November with an invite to 2018 Spring Training. The 32-year-old fan favorite was lights out in Arizona, where he appeared in more games than any Dodger pitcher (nine), threw more innings than any other Dodger reliever (10.1), and posted the lowest ERA (1.74) of any reliever who pitched more than eight innings this spring. The Omaha, Nebraska native allowed only two earned runs on seven hits, while walking three and striking out 13. Despite his remarkable statistics and stellar performance, Pat Venditte will have to wait patiently and pitch for the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers before he makes his debut at Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles.
MLB veteran Tommy Layne made 19 appearances out of the New York Yankees bullpen in 2017. The lefty reliever specialist signed a minor league contract with the Boston Red Sox in February and appeared in eight 2018 Spring Training games. He pitched seven inning in relief and picked up one save with a 2.57 ERA and six strikeouts. The 33-year-old seasoned professional will start out the 2018 season playing for Triple-A affiliate Pawtucket Red Sox with hopes of being brought back to Boston, where he spent most of his MLB career from 2014-2016.
In 2017 Sam Gaviglio made 12 appearances (11 starts) with the Seattle Mariners before being claimed off waivers by the Kansas City Royals, where he made another four appearances which included two starts. Overall, he went 4-5 with a 4.36 ERA. The Pacific Northwest right-hander was recently traded to the Toronto Blue Jays and assigned to Triple-A affiliate Buffalo Bisons. It won’t be long before Sam Gaviglio makes his debut at Rogers Centre to give the Blue Jays added pitching depth.
Blue Jays prospect Jordan Romano was named 2017 MiLB Organizational All-Star after pitching for the Single-A Advanced DunedinBlue Jays and playing with future MLB stars Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He amassed 138 strikeouts in 138 innings of pitching during the 2017 season, which included 26 starts (7-5, 3.39 ERA). Jordan Romano was invited to 2018 Blue Jays Spring Training, where he appeared in three games and pitched 2.2 inning of relief with a 3.38 ERA. Although he was assigned to Double-A affiliate New Hampshire Fisher Cats, it would not be a stretch of the imagination to see Jordan Romano join fellow Team Italy pitcher Sam Gaviglio in Buffalo en route to Toronto in 2018.
After spending seven years in the Cleveland Indians organization and pitching for Double-A affiliate Akron RubberDucks in 2017, Luis Lugo signed a minor league contract with the Baltimore Orioles in December. The crafty 24-year-old Team Italy left-hander, who was born in Venezuela, went 8-7 in 25 starts with a 4.35 ERA in 2017. He will be forwardly placed in the Orioles minor league system in anticipation of a breakout season to catapult him into MLB.
Philadelphia Phillies pitching prospect Nick Fanti was outstanding during his 2017 season with Single-A affiliate Lakewood BlueClaws, where he was involved in two no-hitters. The former 31st-round 2015 Phillies draft pick threw a no-hitter with 12 strikeouts on July 17, 2017, just two months after he pitched 8.2 hitless innings with nine strikeouts on May 6, 2017.The 21-year-old Baseball America Low Class A All-Star ended his 2017 campaign with an outstanding 9-2 record with 2.54 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 120.1 innings of work. In 2018 expect Nick Fanti to make his way from the Single-A Advanced Clearwater Threshers up the ladder to MLB.
CATCHERS: Team Italy is led by a dynamic duo of MLB veteran catchers, Francisco Cervelli of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Drew Butera of the Kansas CityRoyals, both known for being winners after calling quality games and coming through in the clutch. Francisco Cervelli was the hero on Pirates opening day at Detroit’s Comerica Park on March 30, 2018. Home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo called Tigers’ Nicholas Castellanos safe in a close play at the plate for a walk-off win in the 10th inning. While his fellow Pirates headed straight to dugout with their heads down conceding defeat in extra-innings, Francisco Cervelli knew he had tagged the runner out before Castellanos had touched the plate so he appealed to the umpires for a “courtesy review”. In what became MLB’s first controversial ruling of the 2018 regular season, the call was reversed and the game resumed. Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire went nuts, kicking dirt and getting ejected from his first game as Tigers skipper. Cervelli kept his cool and said, “In the past, we used to celebrate. Now, you’ve got to wait, especially on plays like that. It’s tough because they were celebrating. But I won, again.” The marathon contest lasted a Pirates opening day-record 5 hours and 27 minutes before Pittsburgh eventually beat the Tigers 13-10 in 13 innings. Francisco Cervelli orchestrated the barrage of pitchers from behind the plate while going 2-for-6 with 3 RBI. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle praised the Italian-Venezuelan catcher and said, “We’re a better team with Cervelli in the lineup and behind the plate. Truthfully, you have a pitching coach on the field. He and Yadier Molina are the two best I’ve seen. They have a good touch and feel for the pitchers, and they also have a Plan B or Plan C they can go to when Plan A doesn’t show up.”
With MLB All-Star Salvador Perez on the disabled list for four-to-six weeks, Drew Butera was in the 2018 opening day lineup as the primary catcher for the Kansas City Royals. He went 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored in the Royals 14-7 loss to the Chicago White Sox on March 29. 2018. Nick Leto, Manager of Arizona Operations for the Kansas City Royals is a believer in Team Italy catcher Drew Butera.He said, “I think he is great. I am a big Butera fan. I think he helps us win on a nightly basis.” A proven winner with a 2015 World Series ring to his credit, 34-year-old Drew Butera has caught two no-hitters in his career so far. Being able to handle pitches with grace rarely seen at the Major League level while producing a calming effect on his pitching staff, catcher Drew Butera kept lefty Francisco Liriano focused on every pitch which led him to a no-hitter while playing for the Minnesota Twins against the Chicago White Sox on May 3, 2011. Three years later as the Los Angeles Dodgers backup catcher Butera caught Josh Beckett’s no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies on May 25, 2014. As a result of the monumental accomplishments, he became only the fifth catcher in Major League Baseball history to catch a no-hitter in both leagues.
Italian-born and developed catcher Alberto Mineo was claimed by the Toronto Blue Jays (Triple-A affiliate Buffalo Bisons) in the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 draft from the Chicago Cubs (Single-A affiliate South Bend Cubs) on December 14, 2017. The Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) Academy graduate played in a Chicago Cubs Spring Training game against Team Italy at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona on March 7, 2017. He entered the contest in the fifth inning as a pinch-runner for Kyle Schwarber and made one plate appearance later in the game for the Cubs. Alberto Mineo was assigned to Single-A Advanced affiliate Dunedin Blue Jays on April 1, 2018.
Cesarre Astorri, a 19-year-old FIBS Academy graduate, signed a minor league contract with the Oakland Athletics on January 8, 2018. The Italian catcher from Parma was assigned to the Arizona Rookie League Athletics. With two MLB veteran catchers and two up-and-coming MLB prospects on the horizon prepared to go to battle for Team Italy in the 2020 Olympics, the Azzurri have the potential to make an impact in Tokyo. Let’s wish Francisco Cervelli, Drew Butera, Alberto Mineo and Cesarre Astorri the best so that they remain healthy and committed to the future of the game abroad.
INFIELDERS: Sending a pitch from Los Angeles Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw over the swimming pool in right field at Chase Field in Phoenix, Team Italy infielder Daniel Descalso gave the Arizona Diamondbacks an early 1-0 lead with his homer in the second inning on April 3, 2018. The D-backs went on to beat the 2017 National League Champions 6-1, and 31-year-old second baseman Daniel Descalso could not have been happier to have taken the three-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher deep. “I think lefties are still allowed to get hits off him,” said Descalso. Last year in the World Baseball Classic (WBC) at Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Guadalajara, infielder Daniel Descalso was also an early catalyst for the Team Italy offense as he drove in each of the Italians’ first three runs against Venezuela on March 11, 2017. Two days later in the WBC tiebreaker rematch game against Venezuela, Daniel Descalso was once again responsible for Team Italy‘s go-ahead run with his RBI single in the first inning. Having been on the same 2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals team that Team Italy coach Nick Punto played on under the leadership of Italian American manager Tony La Russa, Daniel Descalso is a proven winner and a consistent run producer. He can be effective off the bench as a pinch-hitter under pressure and come through in the clutch. In 35 pinch-hit plate appearances during the 2017 season, Daniel Descalso hit .231 (6-for-26)/.429 OBP/.462 SLG with two home runs and nine RBI, ranking fifth in the National League in on-base percentage and sixth in OPS (.890). At Chase Field, he hit .271 (49-for-181)/.371 OBP/.453 SLG with 7 home runs and 29 RBI in 69 games. Daniel Descalso had 2 walk-off hits, including his first career game-ending homer against his former team the Colorado Rockies on April 30, 2017. He also logged his first career inside-the-park home run against eventual World Series Champion Houston Astros on August 17, 2017. The nine-year MLB veteran is a tough out for pitchers in do-or-die situations because he is able to keep his at-bats alive by being patient at the plate until he gets a pitch he can do some damage with. As a dependable utility position player with versatility, Daniel Descalso can be put in the starting lineup as a second baseman, shortstop, third baseman, or left fielder. He can even be called upon for mop-up duty as a relief pitcher when a game is out of reach, and the team wants to rest its bullpen. During the course of his three career appearances on the mound, Daniel Descalso has retired all seven MLB hitters he has faced. In fact, he is about to set the record for the most career batters faced without allowing a baserunner. Only four other pitchers in major league history have faced more batters without allowing a hit or walk than Daniel Descalso.With a career 0.000 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched), he needs one more out to tie the record and two more outs to become the most perfect pitcher in baseball history.
Opting to get a major league baseball contract instead of returning to the minor leagues, Team Italy first baseman Chris Colabello remains an unsigned free agent. After being invited by the Chicago Cubs and the Texas Rangers for pro ball try outs, 34-year-old slugger Chris Colabello joined the 2018 Major League Baseball Players Association Free Agent Spring Training at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The proud Italian American has since authored a new book with hitting instructor Bobby Tewksbary entitled Be A Hitter. Should Chris Colabello not sign a major league contract in the near future, he will reunite with Team Italy pitcher Alessandro Maestri and play for T&A San Marino. Both players spent their formative years competing against each other in the Emilia-Romagna region. While Chris Colabello returned to his native Massachusetts to play high school baseball, Alessandro Maestri remained in Italy to attend the Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) Academy and later became the first Italian-born and developed pitcher to sign a professional contract with the Chicago Cubs in 2006. Although Alessandro Maestri never pitched in the major leagues, Chris Colabello made his MLB debut (Minnesota Twins, 2013) and two years later led the Toronto Blue Jays to the 2015 American League postseason.
Azzurri third baseman Alex Liddi is the face of Italian baseball. With the opportunity to spur the growth of the game in Europe by competing at the sport’s highest level, he has inspired young Italian players including Marten Gasparini, who begins 2018 with Kansas City Royals Single-A affiliateLexington Legends. Alex Liddi traveled to New England during the offseason to work with Bobby Tewksbary on his swing, and it paid off as the first Italian-born and developed player to play in MLB (Seattle Mariners, 2011). The 29-year-old Italian hero was recently offered a minor league contact with the Kansas City Royals. In five 2018 Royals Spring Training games in Arizona, he hit .333 (2-for-6) with one home run. Alex Liddi will begin at Double-A affiliate Northwest Arkansas Naturals with hopes of returning to the Big Leagues in September when the 40-man roster kicks in.
Versatile Team Italy utility player Rob Segedin can handle first and third base as well as left and right field. Acquired by the Los Angeles Dodgers from the New York Yankees in 2016, Rob Segedin performed well for Team Italy in the 2017 WBC. He displayed excellent defense in right field and hit .375 with a double, home run and two RBI in the international competition. Due to injuries which plagued him in 2017, Rob Segedin played in only 27 games between his short time for a quick espresso in Los Angeles and his limited stint with Triple-A affiliate Oklahoma City. He and Team Italy switch-pitcher Pat Venditte will both wear Oklahoma City Dodgers uniforms at the start of the 2018 season as they patiently await for Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts to call them up to the major league level.
Team Italy shortstop Gavin Cecchini played second base for the New York Mets during 2018 Mets Spring Training. He also learned how to become a third baseman so that he would be more valuable to the team while working to improve his swing. Based on his two home runs and two extra-base hits at 2018 Spring Training, it appears Gavin Cecchini has added some pop to his stroke. He will continue to make progress under the guidance and supervision of Triple-A affiliate Las Vegas 51s hitting coach Joel Chimelis at the start of the 2018 season. There is no doubt Gavin Cecchini will make his way back into MLB soon and join Team Italy outfielder Brandon Nimmo on the New York Mets roster.
Drew Maggi signed a minor league contract with the Cleveland Indians last November and never looked back. Hitting at a remarkable .342 clip (13-for-38) with 11 runs and four RBI during 2018 Indians Spring Training in Arizona, the 28-year-old Team Italy utility player with eight seasons under his belt in the minor leagues made a favorable impression on manager Terry Francona. With a stacked lineup and an all-star cast infield, the Tribe’s skipper has no room on his Big League roster for third baseman Drew Maggi at this time. He was placed on the restricted list for the Triple-A affiliate Columbus Clippers on April 4, 2018.
During a Spring Training minor league game against the Chicago White Sox at the Cincinnati Reds minor league training facility in Goodyear, Arizona on March 17, 2018, Team Italy’s Leonardo Seminati went 2-for-4 with a single and a double, “Grande Leo” Seminati lived up to his name. “He’s going to be big,” said Billy Hamilton when asked about the promising 19-year-old Cincinnati Reds prospect. Fast forward from the moment FIBS Academy graduate Leo Seminati signed a professional contract with the Cincinnati Reds on July 2, 2017, and most would agree that “Grande Leo” has traveled light years ahead of expectations. Just ask MLBPipeline.com reporter Jonathan Mayo, who wrote “Italy’s Seminati exceeding expectations at Reds instructs”. MLB scouts scratched their heads in disbelief when Team Italy first baseman Leonardo Seminati stole the show by hitting several bombs over the Marlins Park wall in the 2016 Power Showcase Home Run Derby. It was not long after his command performance in Miami that scout Sal Varriale made the call to the Cincinnati Reds front office. Baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, who served as MLB International Ambassador and currently works in player development for the Cincinnati Reds, was well aware of Seminati’s power potential and approved of the signing of “Grande Leo”. Working with Cincinnati Reds minor league coach and former MLB first baseman Donald Lutz, Team Italy slugger Leo Seminati looks to become the complete ballplayer offensively and defensively in the 2018 Arizona Rookie League.
OUTFIELDERS: When New York Mets manager Mickey Callaway pulled Team Italy outfielder Brandon Nimmo aside and told him he would be the leadoff man for the Mets on 2018 Opening Day, the 25-year-old Wyoming native could not have been afforded a better opportunity to make a name for himself in Major League Baseball. ”He’s a worker. He’s so prepared, and he works,” said NY Mets skipper Mickey Callaway. ”You get a player like that and the results are going to come. I’m really proud of him for the way he goes about his business. Very impressive. He’s locked in every pitch. Those are the type of players you need to win.” Brandon Nimmo has certainly paid his dues to gain entry to compete with the game’s elite in MLB. Last year he hit .260 with five home runs and 21 RBI in 177 at-bats for the New York Mets. During 2018 Mets Spring Training in Florida, Brandon Nimmo auditioned for the leadoff hitter position and made the strong case for an Opening Day roster spot. Batting .306 with 11 extra-base hits, three home runs and 11 RBI in Grapefruit League play, he earned the right to be the first name listed on the New York Mets lineup card. Brandon Nimmo has not disappointed so far this young 2018 regular season. He is currently htting .375 (3-for-8) with one double, three walks and four runs scored. Brandon Nimmo was a first-round draft pick by the New York Mets in 2011. Scouts admired him for being a very patient hitter at the plate and for rarely swinging outside the strike zone. His selective approach to hitting continues to this day in MLB as witnessed by his 15.3% walk rate and .379 OBP in 2017. The Team Italy outfielder fits the mold of a perfect leadoff hitter candidate, and he should relish in that spot should he be given the chance to play every day.
Chicago Cubs Italian American manager Joe Maddon knows how special a player Team Italy outfielder John Andreoli truly is. Despite successful campaigns at the upper level of the Chicago Cubs minor leagues from 2013-2017, he was always cut short of making the Big League club as a result of being overshadowed by a star-studded Cubbie outfield and eclipsed by up-and-coming prospects. John Andreoli spent his final three years playing for Triple-A affiliate Iowa, where he hit .258 with 65 doubles, 21 triples, 31 homers, 142 RBI and an incredible 101 stolen bases. Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon praised John Andreoli in the 2017 World Baseball Classic (WBC) after Team Italy scored five runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat host Mexico, 10-9, at Estadio de Beisbol Charros de Jalisco. John Andreoli was the difference in the game as he drove in the winning run with a walk-off single and hit a home run earlier in the first inning. Maddon said, “I’m so happy for him, he’s such a good kid. He works so hard, he cares so much. A few days before the WBC I saw him bear down in front of one of our video computers looking at pitchers he might face in the tournament. So I give him a lot of credit. It’s absolutely great.” Playing for Team Italy in the 2017 WBC, John Andreoli went 6-for-16 with five runs, seven RBI and three home runs. With little chance of making the MLB roster in the Cubs organization, the 2011 Chicago Cubs 17th-round draft pick elected free agency on November 6, 2017. Despite having to leave the team that drafted him out of the University of Connecticut, John Andreoli enjoyed his time talking with veterans Ben Zobrist and Anthony Rizzo about hitting with two strikes and playing with the likes of Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell. Cubs manager Joe Maddon told the team’s TV broadcasters that John Andreoli “plays with his hair on fire.” No doubt the Chicago skipper hated to see him leave the organization, but in the end it was the best thing for the Italian American grinder. In January the Seattle Mariners signed John Andreoli to a minor league contract with an invite to 2018 Spring Training. He played in 19 Cactus League games before being assigned to Triple-A affiliate Tacoma Rainiers. John Andreoli was the leadoff hitter in his first game playing for the Tacoma Rainiers on April 5, 2018. The 27-year-old prospect stands to have a chance for a promotion to the Seattle Mariners for his MLB debut when the 40-man roster takes effect on September 1, 2018.
Team Italy switch-hitter Marten Gasparini, who signed for $1.3 million with the Kansas City Royals in 2013, is the key player baseball insiders believe will follow in Alex Liddi’s footsteps as the second Italian-born and developed player in the Big Leagues. He is still heralded as Europe’s top MLB prospect and is progressing every day up the ladder in the minor leagues. Nick Leto, Manager of Arizona Operations for the Kansas City Royals, was instrumental in the Royals’ signing of Marten Gasparini. Leto said, “There’s great belief in Marten’s ability. It’s a process. All players develop differently. There’s no question about Marten’s ability, it’s just time and reps. Switch-hitting is a really difficult skill to develop. Marten has experienced a lot of things for the first time since signing a professional contract. His intelligence, maturity, and awareness are going to allow these lessons to stick and be applied. There’s no doubt Marten will be a major league player, not a just a player, a special major league player, a championship player.” Adapting to his new position in the outfield from shortstop, Marten Gasparini played for Single-A affiliate Lexington Legends in 2017. He got a taste of the Big Leagues when he made two appearances in 2018 Royals Spring Training games alongside Team Italy slugger Alex Liddi, who homered against the San Francisco Giants on March 23, 2018. Marten Gasparini began the 2018 season playing Single-A ball in Lexington, where he was sandwiched between Kansas City Royals top prospects Michael Gigliotti and Nick Pratto in the lineup on April 5, 2018. As the team’s designated hitter in the two-hole, Marten Gasparini went 1-for-4 with a triple. Look for big things to come for the talented and promising Team Italy outfielder.
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.
The San Francisco Giants have never been big in the larceny department. The 1986 team holds the franchise record with 148 stolen bases. After guiding Giants’ baserunners to a 67.5% success rate in swiping bags during his first four seasons, first base coach and baserunning instructor Roberto Kelly turned up the heat to 75% in 2012. Now as manager of host Panama in the World Baseball Classic Qualifier, Kelly hopes to parlay his World Championship magic to lead Panama’s best to a ticket to the WBC competition beginning March 7, 2013. The 2012 Giants ranked tenth overall in MLB with 118 stolen bases, a vast improvement from last year’s 24th ranking and 85 steals. The team identified baserunning as an area that needed work this past season after their NL-low 2011 run total of 570. Led by outfielders Angel Pagan, Gregor Blanco, Hunter Pence and shortstop Brandon Crawford, instincts and speed made a difference when taking an extra base or advancing from first to third. Reflecting on winning the 2012 World Series and the sudden increase in offense, coach Kelly said: “First of all, we had the guys to do it with. Second, we had to score more runs.” Despite having a more mobile lineup than ever, third baseman Pablo Sandoval and catcher Buster Posey possessed less than optimal speed on base. “Obviously we’re not going to ask those guys to steal 20 bases,” Kelly said. “But they can get bigger leads and let the pitcher know they’re there. Getting a bigger lead’s going to allow you to have a better chance of going from first to third.” San Francisco skipper Bruce Bochy recalled why the Giants recruited the two-time MLB All-Star and successful minor league manager Roberto Kelly in 2008. “The teams he managed had a lot of speed and used it well,” Bochy said. “He has a great way about him, he’s very professional, and he had a successful career in the big leagues. He’ll help the runners to read pitchers, work on their jumps, their secondary leads — all the things that help you take an extra base.” Kelly also has worked with Giants outfielders and helped them post a .989 fielding percentage–third-best in MLB since 2008. Gregor Blanco credits his aggressive outfield approach in making web gem catches throughout the season and his precise bunt stop mere inches fair on the infield dirt in the World Series to coach Kelly. Blanco said, “I was joking with Roberto Kelly when I got to first base. We practiced that. That was a perfect bunt.” When the Hall of Fame asked for the glove that saved Matt Cain’s perfect game, he obliged. Blanco said, “I’m happy to be able to accomplish that, and I’ll be able to see my glove in Cooperstown. It’s a great deal for me. That comes from hard work and working with the guys, with Angel Pagan, with Roberto Kelly. I have to give credit to them.” Coach Kelly also likes Pagan. “He’s a great talent and has been great for us on both sides of the field,” Kelly said. “He’s been fine for us and in control. He’s very aggressive.” Switch-hitting Luis Durango is Panama manager Roberto Kelly’s answer to Pagan. The speedy outfielder recently signed with the Kansas City Royals after hitting .289 with a .352 OBP and 46 steals for Triple-A Gwinnett Braves in 2012.
Leadoff hitter Luis Durango was one
of the few bright spots in Panama’s two losses during the 2009 World Baseball Classic Pool D competition in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In game one against host Puerto Rico, Durango singled, walked twice and stole one base. In Panama’s follow-up contest
in which they were eliminated by the Dominican Republic, he went 2-for-3. Hitting .600 in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Durango was second in the international games in batting average and on-base percentage. Panama’s 48-year-old manager will use Durango’s ability to get on base, steal a bag or two and ultimately score to win the 2012 WBC Qualifier games beginning November 15th at Panama City, Panama’s Rod Carew Stadium. A positive role model for Panama’s next generation of MLB stars, Roberto Kelly is committed to the growth of baseball in his native homeland and is looking for ways to teach the youth about the game and life’s lessons. After enjoying a solid 14-year Major League playing career and compiling a lifetime .290 batting average with 241 doubles, 124 home runs, 585 RBI and 235 stolen bases over 1,337 games, Kelly is now a two-time World Champion MLB coach and manager of Panama’s national team. An inspiration for many on how hard work and dedication can bring success, Panama looks to Kelly
to lead the country to greatness by advancing to the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He will not be alone in this special assignment as former MLB outfielder Rubén Rivera (1995-2003) will be there by his side every step of the way. Although his cousin–New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera–has never participated in the World Baseball Classic, Rubén will be making his third WBC appearance for Panama. Still playing ball and in excellent shape at age 39, Rubén is very much the heart and soul of this Panama squad. With over 3.5 million Panamanians cheering on their national baseball heroes in the World Baseball Classic Qualifier, there’s a good chance that the sense of excitement in Panama City will equal that of the recent enthusiasm at the 2012 World Series Champion Giants celebratory parade in the streets of downtown San Francisco. The common link to key both of these teams is Giant coach and Panama manager Roberto Kelly. With his expertise and his roster of very talented players, Panama is destined to party hard after a win of the
WBC Qualifier Final on November 19th.
A cattle rancher with properties outside Houston and also in his hometown of Aguadulce, Panama, MLB free agent Carlos Lee may not know where he is headed to play for the 2013 season. Yet he does know that home is where the heart is, and right now Panama is his immediate destination for the upcoming World Baseball Classic Qualifier at Rod Carew Stadium in Panama City beginning with host Panama’s opening game against Brazil on November 15th and culminating with the live
MLB Network televised WBC Qualifier Final on November 19th at 5 PM (PST). Home Sweet Home Panama will be Lee’s final outpost when he decides to gracefully retire at the end of his celebrated Major League Baseball career. “When I’m finished, I’m planning to go back home,” Lee said. “I’m from Panama. It’s pretty safe and nice there.”
Although 36-year-old Carlos Lee was last seen wearing a Miami Marlins uniform after a 2012 midseason trade, he has always been a fan favorite from early on in his career while playing for Chicago White Sox (1999-2004), Milwaukee Brewers (2005-2006), Texas Rangers (2006) and Houston Astros (2007-2012). White Sox TV announcer Ken “The Hawk” Harrelson–who witnessed firsthand Lee’s 2004 28-game hitting streak, which broke the franchise record and surpassed Rod Carew’s 25-game record for a Panamanian player–knew that the three-time MLB All-Star (2005-2007) and two-time Silver Slugger (2005 & 2007) was a special player and coined him “El Caballo”.
Despite his place in the White Sox records book, many think of Lee as a lifetime Texan. As the cleanup hitter for Houston, he drove in 100 or more runs in three of his five Astro seasons, averaged 26 homers and hit over .300 three times. Carlos Lee would rather be known for his comparison to Texas ranching icon Nolan Ryan–not for his seven no-hitters, 27 major league seasons, the all-time strikeout record, or his 324 wins–but rather for Ryan’s 2011 Golden Spur Award, which recognizes leadership and exceptional service to the ranching industry.
“El Caballo” lives up to his nickname as the owner of Slugger Ranch in Texas, where he raises prize-winning Brahman, and nine ranches in his native Panama. Lee instantly won credibility with his 2006 Brahman Grand Champion at the largest Brahman show in the world at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Two years later, he donated $25,000 and over 300 bales of hay to support Texas ranchers whose properties were ravaged by Hurricane Ike.
Growing up around his grandfather’s passion for cattle ranching, Lee is now passing down his love for baseball and cattle breeding to his own son, Carlos Alejandro. Jim Williams of V8 Ranch said of Lee: “Carlos is not only a good baseball player, but he’s also the most progressive breeder in Panama as far as importing top genetics. He probably knows the pedigree and bloodlines of his cattle like a sportscaster would know about statistics.”
Whether it’s the playing of the game of baseball, the breeding of cattle and quarter horses, or the roping of calf, Lee wants to leave behind the family legacy of being among Panama’s best. Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew, who was born in 1945 on a train in the city of Gatún–in what was then known as the Panama Canal Zone–currently holds the honorary title of Panama’s best all-time hitter. So it’s only appropriate that the country’s best–including “El Caballo” Carlos Lee–will be playing in the World Baseball Classic Qualifier under Panama’s legendary manager Roberto Kelly against Brazil, Colombia and Nicaragua at Panama City’s Rod Carew Stadiumbeginning November 15th. While handicappers are betting on
five days of modified double-elimination competition, insiders will be banking on plenty of horsepower from “El Caballo” Carlos Lee–who plans to lead Panama
from gate-to-wire en route to the WBC Winner’s Circle.