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Independent Leagues Player Of The Year

J.J. Cooper -

Two years ago, Patrick Breen thought he was just one good season away from the big leagues. A year later, he was released. But you won't find Breen moping or complaining about being cut loose. Breen may be the only independent leagues player who's actually happy he was in an independent league this year.<br/>

Minors | #2008#Independent Audit

Second Chance?

J.J. Cooper -

Just 13 months after the Red Sox drafted Abe Alvarez in the second round in 2003 out of Long Beach State, he was pitching for Boston, making an emergency start. The lefthander allowed five runs and eight hits while walking five in five innings in an 8-3 loss to the Orioles, but at the time, it was thought to be only a minor setback in what had been a rapid rise.

Minors | #2008#Independent Audit

Landing A Bargain?

J.J. Cooper -

When the Giants drafted Jason Jarvis in the 23rd round of June's draft, it looked like the team was taking a flier on a talented arm, but one surrounded by plenty of question marks. Two months later, the Giants may have gotten a steal.

Minors | #2008#Independent Audit

Always A Chance

Everett Merrill -

If you ever wonder why players will spend years playing independent baseball holding out hope of a future big league career, Alberto Castillo is proof that those dreams can come true. Just a year ago, it would have seemed delusional to even suggest that Castillo might end up in the big leagues. It's along way from independent ball to the majors, but it's even further form the Road Warriors, Castillo's team for much of 2006 and 2007. The Road Warriors were a travel team that spent the entire season on the road, bouncing from hotel to hotel and bus ride after bus ride.

Minors | #2008#Independent Audit

A Rare Swap

J.J. Cooper -

Usually when Southern Illinois (Frontier) manager Mike Pinto loses a player to affiliated ball, it's a case of good news and bad news. While he is helping a player fulfill his dream, which is one of his jobs, it usually leaves a gaping hole in Pinto's lineup. "If I do my job too well (of helping players move on to affiliated ball), I'll get fired," Pinto explained. But this year, Pinto managed to make a deal where it worked out well for everyone involved. He was able to sell one of his players to the Diamondbacks, but get a middle-of-the-order hitter in return.

Minors | #2008#Independent Audit

Second Chance

J.J. Cooper -

For a guy who was moved to the mound because he couldn't hit, Brandon Taylor sure is crushing the ball. Two years after the Cubs moved him to the mound to take advantage of his 92-94 mph fastball, Taylor ranked in the top five of the Golden League in most offensive categories. He was hitting .422/.472/.798 with 10 home runs, 11 doubles and only eight strikeouts in 109 at-bats. With numbers like that, and a rediscovered love of the game it's safe to say that Taylor's days as a pitcher are long gone.

Minors | #2008#Independent Audit

Always On The Run

J.J. Cooper -

Justin Christian hasn't had much of a chance to get settled anywhere during his baseball career. In college, he played a year at Skyline (Calif.) Junior College, a year at Auburn and a year at Southeast Missouri. He hasn't been able to get settled at a position, moving from second base to shortstop this season. He earned the position switch by showing improved arm strength during spring training.

Minors | #2005#Independent Audit

A Learning Experience

J.J. Cooper -

Harlingen's Kenny Evoniuk has one of the best arms in the United League. What he doesn't have is experience pitching. But his 91-92 mph velocity could make him an interesting prospect if he can clean up his delivery and improve his hard slider.

Minors | #2008#Independent Audit

Learning In Lincoln

J.J. Cooper -

When righthander Jason Jarvis arrived in Lincoln, he brought with him a couple of suitcases, a glove and a whole lot of baggage. There have been questions about his maturity and his decision-making that have followed him since his high school career. It's not possible to say that all of the makeup questions that surrounded him are behind him after just a couple of weeks with the American Association's Saltdogs, but there are signs that the professional life suits Jarvis pretty well.

Minors | #2008#Independent Audit

Upping The Ante

J.J. Cooper -Premium Content

This July, it counts. Usually independent league all-star games are rather tepid affairs, most notable for bringing most of the league's best players together as a one-stop shop for affiliated baseball scouts. But league bragging rights will be in play on July 15 when the United League's all-stars play host to the Golden League's best at San Angelo's ballpark.

Minors | #2008#Independent Audit

Needles In The Haystack

J.J. Cooper -

Feel like playing the odds? You can go put a dollar down on a Powerball ticket, or you can try to make the jump from independent baseball to the major leagues. There may be nothing more inspiring than Chris Coste's story. Undrafted out of college as a third baseman, he went to the Northern League, where Fargo-Moorhead manager Doug Simunic helped make him a catcher. After five years in independent ball, he made it to affiliated ball. After six more years in the minor leagues, he got the call to Philadelphia, where he's now in his third year as a catcher for the Phillies. He carries a career average of .314 in 363 major league at-bats, so it's clear that he's a case of a true talent who had been overlooked. It's a great story, but it's also about as rare as a big league knuckleballer.

Minors | #2008#Independent Audit