Moderator: J.J. Cooper will answer independent league questions beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET.
- Jon (Peoria): J.J., thanks for the Indy Leagues
chat! How much franchise movement do you expect this offseason? Any word on if Schaumburg will have a team in operation next year?
J.J. Cooper: Hi everyone. Thanks for coming out to our one and only indy ball chat of the year. With that being the case, I’m happy to answer any kind of independent league questions. As far as franchise movement, I expect we’ll see a pretty normal amount, and yes, I
expect we’ll see a team in Schaumburg. The market is too good and the demand for solid indy ball markets with stadiums is great enough that it’s almost impossible for that market to go without baseball for multiple years. From everything floating around, it sounds like you should expect to see them in the Frontier League this year.
- Harvey (Normal, Ill.): How have the Cornbelters been so effective in finding talent?
J.J. Cooper: The Cornbelters Director of Player Development is Nick Belmonte, one of the names to know in indy ball. Nick runs multiple preseason showcases that draw potential indy ball players from around the country. Those players end up getting signed to teams all around indy ball in all kind of leagues, but it means that he knows who are the young players to watch, and he’s going to make sure Normal gets a good supply of them.
- Steve (Tallahassee, Fla.): If you had to rank the top independent prospects ever (at least players you are familiar with), who would the top 3 be?
J.J. Cooper: Interesting question. If you’re talking about the players as prospects, No. 1 is Bobby Madritsch and I don’t think there’s anyone close. When Madritsch was pitching at Winnipeg in 2002, he put together a dominating season (11-4, 2.30 with 153 strikeouts in 125 innings) and more importantly he did it with great stuff—a 92-94 mph fastball that would touch 96. The Mariners won a bidding war for him, signing him and putting him on their 40-man roster.
It’s the only time, I’ve ever heard of an indy player getting a signing
bonus. Madritsch ranked No. 22 on the Mariners Top 30 Prospects list that offseason, before he’d ever thrown a pitch for the Mariners. He did
make the big leagues, but injuries shortened his career. The fact that Madritsch was in Winnipeg for the entire 2002 season illustrates how differently indy ball was scouted back then compared to now. I promise there is no chance that he would last two months as an indy baller today.
- Kevin (Winston-Salem): Were there any guys who were above your age cutoff who are still decent prospects?
J.J. Cooper: The three guys I mentioned at the end of the story — Santo Luis, Kyle Dahman and Ruben Flores are three of the best arms in indy ball, they just were too old to put on the list. Chris
Colabello in Worcester has produced every year, but he’s a righthanded first baseman, which is a position where affiliated clubs are rarely looking for indy ball guys.
- Darren (StL): I know a player in the Frontier League and he claims a team from the AL West has a scout at every River City Rascals home game..why would this be?
J.J. Cooper: That is true. There’s a scout who lives there and has been attending Rascals games for years.
- Melissa (Reno, Nev.): I know the North American League was bogus operationally, but was there any talent there?
J.J. Cooper: The NAL definitely had some issues as far as geography. It was essentially two separate leagues, as the Texas clubs didn’t play anyone else all season. As far as the talent, it was down from previous years as the Golden League. The Golden League was arguable the best league in indy ball as far as having young intriguing talent—something that has been shown by the success of some former Golden Leagues in affiliated ball (Daniel Nava and Reynaldo Rodriguez to
name two). But from reports of scouts, the talent level didn’t match up
to that this year.
- Slammer Fan (Joliet): What about Joliet closer Ryan Quigley, who led the independent leagues in saves? I believe he's past the 25 year old cut off but I've heard he sat 91-95. Joliet 2b Hector Pellot a former 3rd rounder should also be included in the mix position player wise.
J.J. Cooper: That sounds a little hot on Quigley’s fastball, but he is one of the best relievers in indy ball. Pellot is pretty much a known commodity at this point—he has a whole lot of affiliated time, but he did have a very solid season in Joliet.
- Ben (DC): Do you think the Gulf Coast Baseball League will play in 2012? and how does it compare to other new leagues such as the Pecos League?
J.J. Cooper: It’s a very tough economic environment for
any new independent league to get off the ground. What we’re seeing now
is there almost needs to be a name for a different kind of league. We have indy leagues where players get paid, other leagues where players play for free just for the exposure, and other leagues where players pay
to play (again for the exposure). I guess technically all three categories are “independent” baseball, but we’ve limited our coverage to
leagues where the players get paid. As far as new leagues, it’s hard to
find much of anywhere that offers a fertile area for a new independent league. The Northeast is already close to saturated with baseball—just look at the Can-Am League’s hard work to find enough solid markets. The Midwest is well covered by the Frontier League and the American Association and Texas/the West Coast has the North American League. That
leaves the Southeast as the area without indy ball, but there hasn’t been any independent league that has ever had lasting success trying to put teams in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina or anywhere else in the “deep South.” One of the main reasons for that is the large number of affiliated clubs in the area, and the other reason is that many of the available cities that could house indy ball just aren’t very
good markets. As far as Florida, take a look at the attendances of the affiliated Florida State League clubs. It’s very hard to see how indy ball can succeed in Florida when affiliated ball struggles to draw anyone. In addition to crowd-depressing rainshowers on a regular basis, that market gets so much spring training baseball that the regular season is a constant fight to draw fans. Beyond that, many of those markets see many of their fans leave town to head back North for the summer.
- Adam (Chicago): Wes Alsup looked impressive last year..Do you seem him getting another chance in affiliated ball?
J.J. Cooper: He’s got enough arm to get another shot, but delivery issues have kept some scouts wary.
- Randy Curless (St Charles, MO): Since the River
City Rascals had the best winning percentage of any team in Frintier League history, how would they stack up with the better teams in the other independent leagues?
J.J. Cooper: Steve Brook and the Rascals had an amazing
seasons. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t add a Frontier League title to cap off one of the most dominating indy ball seasons we’ve ever
seen. Because of that, it’s hard to say they match up with the 1998 Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks. That year the Redhawks went 64-21 in the regular season (a .753 clip) then won the Northern League title.
- Mike Pinto (Chicago Area): Was the name Sean Harrell mentioned to you this season. Following an early season injury,
as a rookie he fell 30 AB's short of being the league batting champion.
He hit .345 with a .441 OBP, stole 16 bases and played almost a flawless CF with only 2 errors.
J.J. Cooper: Hi Mike—Mike’s manager of the Miners and he knows of what he speaks. Harrell had a standout career at Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville before coming to Southern Illinois. At 25, it’s going to be a little tougher for him to latch on to an affiliated job, but the fact that he plays center field should give him a decent shot.
- jon (New Jersey): How do you compare the Can-Am
league to other indy ball leagues? Also, what are your thoughts in regarding the Newark Bears and their ownership?
J.J. Cooper: The Can-Am League has spent the last several seasons working very hard to try to establish a stable six franchises. It’s still working on that. But it’s a constant struggle because they are in an area with a lot of affiliated minor league teams,
plus the Atlantic League and the Can-Am League share the same footprint. For a while the Can-Am League has tried to see if struggling Atlantic League clubs will fit better in the lower costs and shorter season of the Cam-Am League, but that hasn’t worked out as well as they may have hoped.
- Jon KK (Elkhart, Ind.): Just curious — Besides players, do coaches ever get signed to organizations based on their work in the independent leagues?
J.J. Cooper: Yes they do. Mark Parent was Daniel Nava’s
manager in Chico. Now he’s managing very successfully in the Phillies’ organization. That’s just one example, but there actually are a number of examples of managers and coaches making the move to affiliated ball.
- Randy Curless (St Charles, MO): How can I download the 2011 All Independent League Team?
J.J. Cooper: It will be posted on the site before long.
It’s going into the issue we’re currently finishing up. And that’s a good question to end on. Thanks again for the questions and thanks for the interest in indy ball. It’s a niche part of the minors, but a fascinating one.