J.J. Cooper will chat about independent leagues beginning at 3 p.m. ET.
For the eighth year, Baseball America is ranking the top unsigned players in the independent leagues.
Several former indy ballers turned in big seasons in the big leagues this year, including Daniel Nava (No. 1 on this list in 2008), who was a regular with the Red Sox, and Dane De La Rosa (No. 6 on that same list), who pitched quality innings with the Angels.
Will any members of this year’s class join them in the majors? Read on:
1. K.C. Serna, ss, Amarillo (American Assoc.)
Born: Oct. 15, 1989. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 185.
True shortstops don’t end up in indy ball. A shortstop in the independent leagues is usually a second baseman or third baseman in affiliated ball at best, because major league organizations simply don’t release legitimate defenders at short.
Serna is the exception, but with good reason. A three-year starter at Oregon, Serna’s junior year was clouded by a suspension for violating team rules. He fell in the 2011 draft, getting picked by the Indians in the 42nd round. They released him in the spring of 2012 because of makeup issues. Serna bounced around to the Freedom League before landing in Amarillo this spring.
Amarillo manager Bobby Brown told Serna that he was joining the club with two strikes against him because of his previous problems. Brown said he’s now convinced that the shortstop has matured.
“I tell everyone I’m not standing at the table, I’m standing on top of the table for this kid. He doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke. He gave me no problems. He’s been a model citizen,” Brown said.
Serna hit over .300 while playing the best defense in the league.
“His range, arm strength and instincts are second to none,” Brown said.
2. Pete Perez, rhp, Southern Illinois (Frontier)
Born: Dec. 8, 1990. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 225.
An all-conference starting pitcher as a senior at Division II Tarleton (Texas) State, Perez jumped right from Tarleton’s rotation to Southern Illinois’ bullpen. It was an easy transition for the short righthander, as he pumped 90-93 mph fastballs, touching 95, an average to tick above-average changeup and a useable curveball by Frontier League hitters. Perez ran out of gas late in the season, allowing 8 of his 13 runs allowed in a five-outing stretch in late August, which is a reminder that he could tighten up what was generally described as a soft body.
3. Tim Adleman, rhp, New Jersey (Can-Am)
Born: Nov. 13, 1987. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 200.
A 24th-round pick of the Orioles out of Georgetown, Adleman was released after the 2011 season, then struggled in his first independent leagues action in 2012. There were no such problems this year, as he shut down everyone as New Jersey’s closer.
Adleman throws a 92-95 mph fastball, although his velocity did sit more frequently at 91-93 later in the season after touching 94-95 consistently early on. He pairs his fastball with a solid 12-to-6 breaking ball.
4. Jeff Shields, rhp, Trois-Rivieres (Can-Am)
Born: Feb. 22, 1990. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 205.
A seventh-round pick of the Diamondbacks in the 2010 draft, Shields took his sinker-heavy approach up to high Class A Visalia before being released in 2012. Shields’ release came after he suffered a neck injury that sapped his velocity. After a layoff to recover, Shields showed he was healthy in a bounce-back year in the Can-Am League.
Shields doesn’t touch 95 mph consistently like he did coming out of Chattahoochee (Ala.) CC. He now sits 87-90 mph, touching 92-93 with a heavy sinker that creates ground ball after ground ball. In a complete-game win against New Jersey in his season finale, Shields allowed just three balls out of the infield.
Shields relies primarily on the sinker, but he’s also added a cutter this year that is vital because it gives him a chance to work to both sides of the plate, especially against lefthanded hitters. He has a useable slider and changeup, but he throws them infrequently.
5. Nathan Kilcrease, rhp, Fargo-Moorhead (American Assoc.)
Born: Aug. 17, 1989. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-6. Wt.: 170.
If Kilcrease were 6-foot-1 instead of 5-foot-6, it’s likely that he would have never ended up in independent ball. Kilcrease was released twice despite never really getting roughed up in two affiliated seasons. Released by the A’s during a season where he was posting a 1.46 ERA, Kilcrease was picked up, then released by the Pirates after going 0-2, 1.22 with low Class A West Virginia. He was then released by Wichita coming out of spring training this year.
The short righthander who goes by the nickname Peanut responded by posting 4-2, 1.67 numbers with Fargo-Moorhead while striking out a batter an inning. Kilcrease has a 90-92 mph fastball and an excellent breaking ball.
6. Race Parmenter, rhp, Southern Illinois (Frontier)
Born: May 24, 1991. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 185.
Frontier League hitters simply didn’t have a chance against Parmenter’s split-finger fastball. Parmenter would get ahead of hitters with his 88-90 mph fastball that touches 92 and then he’d put them away with the split.
“You can’t lay off of it,” Southern Illinois manager Mike Pinto said. “He can throw it for a strike and he can throw it where you can’t hit it. He’s got great command of it.”
Parmenter served as UC Irvine’s closer this year and quickly moved into the same role with the Miners. He began his Southern Illinois career by not allowing an earned run in nine straight outings stretching over 14 innings. He finished it by throwing nine more scoreless outings stretching 12 ⅔ innings.
7. Marquis Riley, 2b, Joliet (Frontier)
Born: July 26, 1990. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 205
Riley was the toughest player in Division I baseball to strike out during his junior year at North Carolina A&T in 2011. He carried that approach into the Frontier League, walking more than he struck out (41 walks, 35 strikeouts) as a rookie. Riley has a short stroke, an opposite-field approach and the mindset of a top-of-the-order hitter. He’s a 60 runner who was one of the better second basemen defensively in the Frontier League.
8. C.J. Ziegler, 1b, Wichita (American Association)
Born: Nov. 27, 1985. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 245.
A few years ago, Ziegler wouldn’t have qualified for this list because he’ll play next season as a 28-year-old. But Chris Colabello’s quick jump from Independent Leagues Player of the Year in 2011 to the big leagues after signing his first affiliated deal as a 28-year-old is a reminder that even some older hitters can be worthy of a look.
Ziegler was drafted by the Giants in the 16th round of the 2008 draft and made it to high Class A in 2009 before being released. He survived being part of the disastrous North American League team in Lake County that folded, and found his line-drive stroke along the way. Since 2011, he’s belted 74 home runs in three seasons while hitting for average (.297 as an indy leaguer) with fewer strikeouts than you would expect from a slugger (18 percent of plate appearances this year).
“His pitch recognition is now outstanding,” Gary manager Greg Tagert said. “He picks his spots to be aggressive, he works his counts. When I first saw him, with that big swing you wonder if he can catch up to a plus fastball. Over the past few years we’ve tried to beat him with it and he’ll hit that fastball out to center field or right field.”
9. Junior Guerra, rhp, Wichita (American Association)
Born: Jan. 15, 1985. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 215.
A former catcher in the Braves system who moved to the mound because of his excellent arm, Guerra made it to high Class A with the Mets, but was released in 2009 after he was suspended 50 games after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
Guerra spent the next two years pitching in Italy before coming back to the States in 2011. He was Wichita’s ace this year while showing some of the best stuff of any independent league starter.
“He’s got the best stuff in the league hands down,” Wichita manager Kevin Hooper said. “He’s flat out electric.”
Guerra’s fastball sat 92-95 mph, touching 97, and he showed he could maintain that velocity even when he pitched on short rest, as he did in the playoffs. When he gets ahead of hitters, he turns to a split-finger fastball to put them away. He also throws a biting slider, although he sometimes struggles to stay on top of it, and an improved changeup he tweaked this year.
Guerra’s age and previous suspension works against him, but his kind of stuff could get him another shot at affiliated ball either as a starter or a power reliever.
10. Lucas Irvine, rhp, Kansas City (American Assoc.)
Born: Dec. 1, 1988. B-T: R:R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 200.
A 27th-round pick of the Rays in 2011 who was released after 16 appearances with Rookie-level Princeton that year, Irvine has put in two years of solid work as a starter in the independent leagues. He went 6-5, 2.96 with 94 strikeouts and 21 walks allowed in 122 innings this year.
Irvine works with a 90-93 mph fastball, a solid breaking ball and a good changeup. Manager after manager raved about his ability to use all three pitches, his composure on the mound, his ability to limit the running game, field his position, hit his spots and generally keep hitters off balance.
Best Of The Rest
|11. Brian Ernst, rhp, Fargo-Moorhead (American Assoc.).||Short RHP with good velocity (91-93) and changeup|
|12. Travis Bradshaw, rhp, Southern Illinois (American Assoc.).||Big (6-7) RHP with velocity (91-94) but rough delivery|
|13. Wes Alsup, rhp, Southern Illinois/Fort Worth (United/Frontier).||Will keep getting chances because of his 95-100 mph fastball|
|14. Joe Weik, of/1b, Amarillo (American Assoc.).||Can really hit, but lack of plus power or speed hinders him as corner bat|
|15. Patrick Mincey, rhp, Grand Prairie (American Assoc.).||Dominated indy ball with deceptive 87-89 mph fastball, breaking ball|
|16. Eric Draxton, rhp, Amarillo (American Assoc.).||Dominant velocity (94-95) for successful closer|
|17. Kyle Regnault, lhp, Quebec (Can-Am).||Solid lefty with 91-93 mph fastball and good curveball|
|18. Michael Schweiss, rhp, Normal (Frontier).||Strikethrower with heavy sinking fastball and OK curveball|
|19. Can Kneeland, 3b, Trois-Rivieres (Can-Am).||Strong arm, solid defender at third who needs to add strength|
|20. Jon Dziomba, 2b, San Angelo (United).||Dominated United League as hitter, but rough at 2B|
|21. Josue Peley, c, Quebec (Can-Am).||Great arm, but inconsistent receiver who has hit|
|22. Joe Harris, lhp, Fargo-Moorhead (American Assoc.).||Deceptive 88-90 lhp lefty with good changeup|
|23. Taylor Stanton, rhp, Fargo-Moorhead (American Assoc.).||Sinker, slider, changeup righty with good deception|
|24. Marshall Schuler, rhp, El Paso||Stuff took a step back this year, but still has solid velocity|
|25. Chris Cox, rhp, Quebec||Medical concerns have kept him from signing, but 91-93 with good slider|