Each year every major league baseball team signs a small number of player who performed well during the previous year while playing baseball for a them in an independent league. Some are simply signed for organizational depth, while others are signed with the hope of finding a "nugget". This is, of course, rare but the price is cheap so why not take a flier.
Interestingly, the Orioles have dipped into this well repeatedly this offseason, signing 12 (so far) players from independent league teams. With the number of signees so high, it's possible some of the drafted minor leaguers may be in trouble for a roster spot. Competition is a good thing....
Listed below are the 12 players from the independent leagues, which I have ranked. I feel the top three or so may actually help the Orioles at some point down the road in filling a niche role which may arise. To be clear, I don't see any Lew Fords - who played several years in the majors before finding a way back last year (the closest would be Dan Meyer). But, there are some interesting stories.
1. Mike Recchia (RHP) - Recchia came up in the Yankees organization, exclusively as a reliever. The righty actual performed well in the Sally league in 2011 after which the Yankees surprisingly parted ways with him. At just 23 years of age, Mike came back with the Windy City Thunderbolts of the Frontier League as a starter and pitched very, very well (1.084 WHIP, 10.6 K/9, 3.4 BB/9). I see him going back to the bullpen, in Frederick, perhaps as high as Bowie. Great pick up.
2. Tom Boleska (RHP) - Originally drafted in 2007 in the 35th round by Pittsburgh, Tom was with them for five year. In 2011, he performed poorly in Altoona (AA) and was let go. The reliever quickly rebounded with Edmonton for the remainder of the season. After not being able to find an offer for his services in 2012, he turned to a team based in Fargo, Minnesota (now, that's dedication). Boleska became the closer for the Redhawks and dominated the competition (1.76 ERA, 11.3 K/9, 5.3 K:BB) Boleska will be in the pen somewhere. Best case would be as the closer for Norfolk, but it could be Bowie.
3. Buddy Sosnoskie (OF) - what an interesting story. Buddy went to Virginia Tech and was drafted by Kansas City in 2010, but did not sign. He then transferred to Francis Marion University and was not drafted again. Refusing to give up on his dream, the outfielder landed a spot on Fargo's team (yes, the same one that had Boleska). At Fargo he batted.339 with an 841 OPS. It will be a very interesting year for the soon to be 24 year old. Best case is he does well in spring training and lands with a full season squad like Delmarva (he needs to at 24) although they may hold him back and have him at Aberdeen.
4. Kyle Mertins (RHP) - A product of the Atlanta Braves system, Kyle was drafted by them in 2010 (28th round). Mertins is another signee who has been exclusively used as a reliever. He has a good year in 2011 in the Sally League as a 22 year old. Last year was his best. Playing for the Sioux Falls Phesants, Mertins had a 1.00 ERA over 45 innings while averaging a strikeout per inning pitched. Mertins will compete for a bullpen spot, probably in Frederick.
5. Chase Johnson (RHP) This reliever was drafted by Philadelphia in 2009 (21st round). He pitched well in the Phillies system for three years, each year his K:BB rate was more than two and he usually had more IP than hits allowed. However, his ERA began to creep up and he was let go. Last year, he pitched for the Amarillo Sox and put up respectable numbers, similar to his minor league career averages. Best case, he lands a spot in Frederick's pen.
6. Chris Wade (SS) - Wade was drafted by the Florida Marlins in 2009 (11th round) out of the University of Kentucky. He played in the Marlins system for just two season, reaching high-A. In both 2011 and 2012, he played for Windy City (same team as Recchia, go Thunderbolts!!)). Last year, he greatly improved his number batting .301 with a 758 OPS. Wade will be 25 next season, I see him at Delmarva competing for a bench spot.
7. Marcel Prado (RHP) - Marcel came up in the Dodger's orgainization from 2006-2009. In 2010, he pitched 10 innings of independent ball and that was it (injury?). He did not pitch at all in 2011. In 2012, he reappeared as the close for the El Paso Diablos and pitched well. Prado will try for a bullpen spot at Frederick or Delmarva, but the pens are getting crowded.
8. Dan Meyer (LHP) - Dan was drafted in the first round of the 2002 draft by Atlanta and is the only one of these 12 players to have seen the big leagues. In 2004 and 2005 Meyer was rated in Baseball America's top 100 prospects. Over his 10-year career, Meyer has played for 15 different teams and pitched reasonably well. Finally, in 2011, it looked like the tank ran dry in Indianapolis (AAA), where he had a 7.45 ERA and 1.810 WHIP in limited innings. Not one to give up, Dan went to independent ball last year at age 30. However, pitching for the Long Island Ducks, the results were similar (7.02 ERA, 2.073 WHIP). He'll get a look for Norfolk's bullpen, but I don't think he'll make it.
9. David Quinowski (LHP) - David was drafted by San Francisco in 2004 (46th round). The soon-to-be 27 year old is a study in perserverance. In 2010, he reached Richmond (AA) and in 2011 he played there exclusively and put up decent numbers. 2012 saw him pitch for three separate INDY teams, for which he was OK but certainly not great. Quinowski's age and experience point to a placement somewhere around the Bowie level, but I can't see him cracking the roster.
10. Luis Pardo (RHP) - Luis was drafted by Houston in 2007 (9th round). He only pitched in their system for two season. In 2009 and 2010 he did not pitch at all. In 2011, he pitched for two INDY teams. Last year, he pitched for the Trinidad Triggers of the Pecos League. In a league geared for offense, he stats look bad at first glance. It will be interesting to see if we have anything here.
11. Logan Mahon (LHP) - Logan was drafted by Colorado in 2011 (22nd round), but they parted was after only six innings of work. In 2012 he came back for the Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League and pitched decent, although his walk rate was high (5.3 BB/9). He is destined for the GCL or maybe Aberdeen, but he'll be 24 next season so he has to perform well quickly.
12. Jim Vahalik (C) - Attended the University of Toledo, was never drafted. Played for the Washington Wildthings and the London Rippers/Road Warriors (both of the Frontier League) last year. He hit great for London and terrible for Washington. Best case for the 24 year old would be a bench spot on a short season team, although he may have been brought in just to be a bullpen catcher.
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