Each year, Baseball America ranks the top 20 prospects from Independent leagues. These names are some of the few who have turned heads with their performance. Typically, this list is populated with athletic positions players and pitchers who have one fringe plus pitch. With that in mind, you are generally looking at players whose ceiling is a fourth outfielder or a relief pitchers. Guys like Daniel Nava, the aforementioned George Sherrill, or Brandon Sisk should come to mind. In other words, Independent leagues have the potential to pipeline talent to the Majors, but that pipeline provides product that has a relatively low ceiling and few on Baseball America's rankings ever make a significant contribution to a big league club.
Below is the top 10 of Baseball America's list with the MLB teams that signed this this past off season.
- Kevin Gelinas, LHP, Amarillo (NA) - Miami Marlins
- Chris Cox, RHP, Quebec (Can-Am) - Arizona Diamondbacks
- Jonathan Kountis, RHP, Lake Erie (Frontier) - Unsigned*
- A.J. Nunziato, SS, Washington (Frontier) - Unsigned*
- Alfonso Yevoli, LHP, Washington (Frontier) - Atlanta Braves
- Jason Martin, OF, Abilene (Frontier) - Unsigned*
- Buddy Sosnoskie, OF, Fargo-Moorhead (A-A) - Baltimore Orioles
- Robert Coe, RHP, St. Paul (A-A) - Arizona Diamondbacks
- James Hoyt, RHP, (A-A / NA) - Atlanta Braves
- Brandon Sinnery, RHP, (Can-Am / A-A) - Unsigned*
* - I was unable to find any information on these players being picked up by any MLB affiliated clubs. However, this information is not always readily reported.Based on the listing above as well as transaction reports, it appears that the three most active teams in the Independent league market have been the Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves, and the Baltimore Orioles. I am unsure about the Diamondbacks and the Braves, but this is a new occurrence for the Baltimore Orioles. They had typically ignored Indy ball outside of the Lancaster Barnstormers where the organization has had a great number of former personnel employed over the years.
Based on my count, the Orioles have signed ten players who spent the past season in the Independent Leagues:
P Marcel Prado, El Paso
P Chase Johnson, Amarillo
P David Quinowski, Lincoln
P Kyle Mertins, Sioux Falls
OF Buddy Sosnoskie, Fargo-Moorhead
P Logan Mahon, Gateway
P Mike Recchia, Windy City
SS Chris Wade, Windy City
C Jim Vahalik, Washington Wild Things
P Luis Pardo, Trinidad Triggers
This article is the first of two. This one will focus on players signed from the American Association while the second will include those from the Frontier League and the Pecos League.
The American Association came together in 2005 with teams from the Northern League and Central League joining together. The vast majority of players in this league range from 26 to 30 years in age. Players coming from this league to the minors will often be younger than majority of players here and be players who at worst are above average. For pitchers, the typical pitcher making a move is someone who has a high strikeout rate. For position players, the typical player making a move will be athletic, playing a premium defensive position, as well as showing good contact and, at worst, good gap power.
More detail of the Oriole signees:
Marcel Prado RHRP
25 years old
|2010||22||2 Teams||2 Lgs||Ind||0||3||10.80||9||1||10.0||12.6||1.8||7.2||4.5|
|2010||22||Rio Grande Valley||UNLB||Ind||0||2||18.00||4||1||5.0||18.0||0.0||12.6||7.2|
|Ind (2 seasons)||Ind||2||6||4.60||53||1||60.2||9.2||0.4||4.2||7.1|
|FRk (2 seasons)||FRk||1||4||3.97||25||8||56.2||7.6||0.2||7.3||9.5|
|Rk (1 season)||Rk||1||1||4.86||21||0||37.0||9.5||0.2||6.1||9.7|
|A+ (1 season)||A+||2||2||4.06||41||0||44.1||9.7||0.4||5.7||4.1|
It is often difficult to find information about low level international signings as well as guys who have spent significant time in the independent leagues. His past history suggests a pitcher with some swing and miss pitches at low levels, but poor control/command over his career. The American Association is a pretty tough league for younger players, so Prado doing well in relief as a 24 year old suggests at the very least he should provide as decent filler in a pen. I would think he would be targeted for Frederick or Delmarva, whichever team needs more depth.
Chase Johnson RHRP
25 years old
Like Prado, Johnson spent his age 24 season in the American Association and performed well. I am unsure as to why the Phillies released Johnson last spring as it is quite obvious that he was not injured and potentially could have been good depth in their system. They drafted him in the 21st round out of South Mountain CC in 2009. Johnson flashed a fastball that was in the low 90s and was seen as a relief arm. Johnson is more accomplished than Prado, but also has shown some wildness.
David Quinowski LHRP
27 year old
|Ind (1 season)||Ind||3||2||4.43||43||0||40.2||7.5||0.9||3.8||8.6|
|AA (2 seasons)||AA||6||3||3.49||52||1||67.0||7.9||0.7||3.2||7.1|
|A- (2 seasons)||A-||4||2||2.14||41||0||54.2||6.9||0.5||5.3||11.9|
|A+ (2 seasons)||A+||4||4||2.74||49||0||75.2||6.4||0.4||3.4||10.2|
|A (1 season)||A||4||2||1.43||44||0||75.1||4.3||0.1||2.9||9.1|
Back when Qunowski was in the Giants organization, his success was in large part due to his deceptive delivery rather than his mid 80s fastball. Although he did quite well in the American Association, there is certainly some concern that as the level increases that the pitching style simply will no longer work. That said, he has shown some competence at the AA level, so he should be able to strengthen Bowie's pen or perhaps even Norfolk.
Kyle Mertins RHRP
25 years old
|A (2 seasons)||A||1||5||3.28||31||0||46.2||9.4||0.6||2.9||6.9|
|Rk (1 season)||Rk||0||1||3.57||11||0||17.2||5.6||0.0||3.1||5.1|
|Ind (1 season)||Ind||4||1||1.00||45||0||54.0||6.0||0.2||2.3||9.0|
Mertins was rated as Baseball America's 19th best independent league prospect. Although that is something none of the other acquired arms above can claim, that praise is somewhat faint. That main difference I can detect in old scouting reports and the numbers is that Mertins can match his average stuff with control. Mertins when he was with the Braves was a classic 4 seam fastball and slider pitcher who did well in the low minors, but will need to be diligent in keeping the ball lower in the zone as he progresses. Braves are often noted as a team that only gives up on prospects who will not become Major Leaguers though I think that praise is more of a forced narrative than reality. That said, Mertins is probably low minors depth.
Buddy Sosnoskie OF
24 years old
Sosnoskie is perhaps the only one from the Orioles incoming independent league players to be considered having a decent ceiling. Sosnoskie originally played for the Hokies. He red shirted as a freshman with shoulder surgery, played little his freshman year in 2009, and then made enough noise in 2010 to be drafted by the Royals in the 25th round. He decided to reject the Royals offers and then asked Virginia Tech to let him out of his obligation to permit him to transfer to DII school Francis Marion. He had mentioned at the time that he wanted to go to a program that treated the team more similarly to professional teams. A program that emphasized playing baseball instead of running drills. In 2011, he showed solid gap power and above average defense, but no one drafted him. The same happened in 2012, so he went to Fargo-Moorhead in the American Association where he once again showed good gap power and above average defense. He does not really do anything exceptional and his lack of walks is a concern, but he did very well as a first year player playing against guys many years old and more experienced than he is. I would expect him to sit in extended Spring Training if the transition is more difficult than expected. Otherwise, it would not be a surprise to see him in the outfield mix out in Delmarva.