The Australian Baseball League’s 2012-13 season did not disappoint the sleep-deprived stateside fans and families of American ballplayers who stayed up all hours of the night to watch a slew of talent with MLB potential. MLBblogger salutes the many American volunteers that worked tirelessly behind the scenes long before the start of the ABL season so that Aussie baseball could prosper.
In addition to showcasing last season’sTop 20 Americans in the ABL, we have previously announced many of the 2012-13 Top 40 Americans in the ABL. Click on the highlighted player’s name to access the Top 40 American in the ABL feature article: #40 Dustin Loggins, RHP Canberra Cavalry; #39 Caleb Cuevas, RHP Sydney Blue Sox; #38 Greg Van Sickler, RHP Perth Heat; #37 Chuck Lofgren, LHP Brisbane Bandits; #36 Kevin Reese, RHP Melbourne Aces; #35 Gabriel Suarez, OF/INF Adelaide Bite;#34 Chris Motta, RHP Canberra Cavalry.
#33 Jack Frawley of the Perth Heat was the winning pitcher in last year’s 13-inning marathon ABL Championship title victory over the Melbourne Aces. He hopes to help the Heat go down in Aussie baseball history with a never seen before three-peat in the ABL Championship Series against the top-seeded Canberra Cavalry. The 27-year-old once again came through in the clutch on the regular season’s final day to clinch the Heat’s third straight ABL postseason berth. Making his first start and fifth overall appearance this season (3-1, 1.21 ERA), the Cleveland-born right-hander earned ABL Round 13 Pitcher of the Week honors by throwing eight shutout innings and limiting the Melbourne Aces to just three hits.
A 24th-round draftee by the Colorado Rockies in 2005, #32 Sean Toler was signed by Canberra after playing with Cavalry teammates Steven Kent, Brian Grening and Dustin Loggins on the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball’s Kansas City T-Bones in 2012. The Missouri State baseball star was one of seven Cavalry players represented in the 2012 ABL All-Star game. Recently voted iiNet relief pitcher of the year, the 26-year-old Canberra closer was also named ABL Pitcher of the Week for Round Six play. Toler (2-0, 2.84 ERA) was second in the ABL with 11 saves. The six-foot-five hurler loves closing games out for a team he believes could be the next ABL champion. ”Yeah, I think we can (win the title),” Toler said with confidence.
#31 Ryan Khoury of the Perth Heat spent two seasons playing shortstop for AAA Pawtucket in the Boston Red Sox organization before being released at the age of 27. Allowing Canadian Arizona Diamondbacks prospect Carter Bell to move over to his usual third base position, Khoury rounds out an experienced Heat infield which includes MLB’s Luke Hughes. Showing signs of life after Major League Baseball with 37 stolen bases and only 12 errors committed at shortstop through 103 games for the Indy American Association’s Wichita Wingnuts last year, the 2006 Red Sox 12th-round draft pick still possesses plenty of speed and athleticism. The Utah native has made the most of his limited action in the ABL (19 games, 67 AB, .224 BA)–including a towering right field home run blast in his first Heat plate appearance. While contributing at the bottom of the line-up, the 28-year-old also solidified Perth’s defense.
Last day in Perth. Thanks to @perthheat fans and especially my teammates for welcoming me to Australia. Gonna miss my Aussie family.
Nostradamus could have predicted the end of the Melbourne Aces season when Perth sidearm specialist Jacob Clem went head-to-head against fellow American and MLB veteran Jason Hirsh on November 13th. For nine innings the Aces were blindsided and shell shocked by the six-foot-four Burlington, Washington native, who threw a complete game in which he allowed only six hits and one earned run. Up until the final week of the regular ABL season, Clem (2-1, 3.91 ERA) was used sparingly when he was needed most. Former MLB World Series reliever and current Perth Heat Pitching Coach Graeme Lloyd knew exactly what he was doing when Clem was inserted in the ninth inning of a tied game against the Sydney Blue Sox on January 20th. Not only would this outing serve as a final tune-up entering the postseason for Clem, but also reestablish his critical role as the defending champion Heat’s saving grace in battles of long relief. He pitched seven stellar innings on the mound and gave up just two hits. Clem eventually earned the win after 2011-12 ABL MVP Tim Kennelly hit a walk-off home run in the 15th inning. History would repeat itself in the Heat’s most critical moment of the season in the deciding game three
of the Australian Baseball League Championship Series against the Melbourne Aces last Sunday at
Perth’s Babagallo Ballpark. At the end of the day, two members of last season’s Washington Husky baseball senior class–Geoff Brown and Jacob Clem—along with Heat relievers Brenden Wise and Jack Frawley would ultimately determine if the ABL defending champions would repeat in the final do-or-die contest that would last 13 innings and turn out to be an enduring manager’s no holds barred strategic tug-of-war chess match.
The irony of Jacob Clem in a Perth Heat uniform is still hard to believe. It took an injury to Heat pitcher Ben Moore, last year’s ABL Championship Series MVP and 2011-12 Round One ABL Pitcher of the Week, for Rockingham Rams import Jacob Clem–fresh out of college at the University of Washington–to be called up to the Heat as Moore’s replacement. Who would have guessed that last year’s playoff MVP would be substituted by what many insiders consider to be this year’s ABL Championship Series Most Valuable Performance by 24-year-old Jacob Clem? In the final and decisive game three, it appeared on paper that Perth starting pitcher Geoff Brown–who also happens to be the Huskies’ all-time pitching appearances leader–with his perfect 5-0 record and 1.88 ERA would dominate the pesky Melbourne Aces by himself. However, Brown was chased out of the game only after 1.2 innings. Jacob Clem came firing from the bullpen, despite having little time to warm up and bail his University of Washington Husky college buddy out of a jam and keep the Heat alive.
Once again, the tried and tested Clem–who had previously attacked the Aces’ Achilles heel in a complete game victory in November–would rise to the occasion and successfully hold his vulnerable opponent for 6.1 innings while only allowing one earned run and four hits. Coupled with another five innings of shutout pitching by Heat relievers Brenden Wise and Jack Frawley, the Mount Vernon-born Jacob Clem made the difference between Perth keeping and relinquishing the throne of the ABL Championship. The Heat would prevail at the end of a tightly contested
game that went on for 13 pressure-packed innings until James McOwen scored from third on a wild pitch. Son of Jim Clem—who was the longtime baseball coach for Burlington-Edison High School and is currently the pitching coach for the West Coast League Summer Collegiate Bellingham Bells baseball squad–and younger brother of Zach Clem–who was a two-time All-Pac-10 outfielder playing at the University of Washington for four years from 2003-2006 with the likes of Tim Lincecum, Brent Lillebridge and Sean White as well as a minor leaguer in the Milwaukee Brewers franchise before a series of concussions ended his career,
Jacob was surrounded by baseball fever all of his life. While playing for his father at Burlington-Edison as a high school senior, he was named the Skagit Valley Herald’s 2006 player of the year as well as to the first-team Washington All-State and All-Northwest League after a respectable 7-2 record with a 1.22 ERA and three saves. In 63 innings of work, Clem struck out 70 batters. He was equally impressive at the plate with a .354 batting average, five home runs and 26 RBI. While still in high school, Jacob led his summer league Burlington Sox to the league, district, state and regional titles. He was selected as the MVP of the state American Legion tournament and the American Legion Division I Player of the Year after going 10-1 on the mound, while batting .421 with 22 doubles, five homers and 43 RBI. Clem redshirted his first season at the University of Washington and played summer ball for the Bellingham Bells, a city deeply entrenched in a long baseball tradition along with an eager and loyal following in the Pacific Northwest.
From 1973 through 1976, the Bellingham team was an affiliate for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and later from 1977 through 1994 became the minor league affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. During this time, the squad was called the Bellingham Mariners, or “Baby M’s.” Perhaps the franchise’s most notable claim to fame came in 1987 when Ken Griffey Jr. hit his first professional home run wearing a Bellingham uniform. Other names that have come through Bellingham include Edgar Martinez, Omar Vizquel, Raul Ibanez, Dave Valle, Bud Black, Derek Lowe, Joe Nathan, Russ Ortiz, Mike Scioscia, Rick Sutcliffe and Mark Langston. Bellingham was the San Francisco Giants affiliate in 1995 and 1996 before eventually becoming the permanent home to the West Coast League Summer Collegiate Bellingham Bells with strong ties to Major Leaguers Jamie Moyer and Dave Valle. While playing for the University of Washington, Jacob Clem spent his summers in California with the Palm Springs Power and in Oregon with the Bend Elks. After a season-ending injury in 2008, the right-handed pitcher came back strong during his 2009 campaign. He was named Academic All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention after not allowing an earned run in seven of nine pitching appearances. Clem took it to the next level during his junior year by making 30 relief appearances and earning All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention as a result of stifling Pac-10 opponents to a .211 batting average (second-lowest in the league) and posting a 3.14 ERA (fourth-best in the conference). As a senior, he demonstrated outstanding command by walking only 15 while striking out 45 batters (averaging 5.42 strike outs per nine innings pitched). Jacob graduated in 2011 with a Husky career 3.86 ERA and an 8-10 record. Clem recently signed a professional baseball contract with the Independent Frontier League Traverse City Beach Bums. Director of Baseball Operations Jason Wuerfel is optimistic that his new pitcher will make a major impact in the East Division of the Frontier League. He said, “Clem is a big, strong, versatile righty that could help us in a lot of different roles. He was one of the Pac-10’s top closers his junior season, but also excelled as a starting pitcher his senior year. He went down to Australia this off-season and pitched at their highest level of baseball, facing a lot of current Double-A and Triple-A prospects. With that experience under his belt, he has the chance to be one of the top rookie pitchers…” As a former Minor League pitcher for the New York Mets and Houston Astros organization manager, Beach Bum pitching coach and manager Gregg Langbehn realizes the importance of a strong pitching staff more than most. He has been working particularly hard this off-season with Director of Baseball Operations Jason Wuerfel to sign as many pitchers for spring camp as possible. He may have just found his diamond in the rough with the signing of Jacob Clem. Despite Nostradamus’ dim prediction for 2012, the Washington state native and Perth Heat unheralded hero has aligned himself in a very good position to get the recognition he so wholeheartedly deserves with a future MLB contract.