Aside

Overview of Ind…

17 Apr

Overview of Independent Baseball

Independent baseball is prevalent throughout North America as there are a number of leagues that employ a wide assortment of players. Each league has several defining characteristics, whether its rules or type of players, but the one thing they all have in common is instability. Almost all aspects of independent baseball are unstable and negative stereotypes are routinely formed which leads to low attendance and small chances of success going forward. However given all the negative aspects of independent leagues, there are good players in independent baseball and many can help Major League organizations.

There is a significant and growing need for unaffiliated baseball as a source of developing players for Major League organizations. Minor League Baseball, and in particular AAA, is evolving because of the increased pressure a Major League organization faces to produce players quickly and bring them up to the big league team. Because of this many players whose careers get off to a slow start are lost in the shuffle and end up playing in independent leagues when they are in their early to mid-twenties. Independent leagues are filled with players who have improved since they were released by a Major League organization and many work tirelessly on several aspects of their game including working on certain pitches; adding a pitch; improving fielding ability; altering swing mechanics; and developing a better plan at the plate. A lot of players have matured to the point where they realize natural talent is not the only thing needed to succeed and many players are in a better personal situation than they were when they were first signed.

On average, the better independent leagues have twenty players get their contracts purchased by Major League organizations over the course of a season. This number can improve significantly with a stronger focus by Major League organizations and increased stability among independent teams and leagues. Since there are several independent leagues throughout North America it is important to identify and focus on the leagues and teams that are successful and continually employ highly skilled players that can help fill out minor league rosters.

Independent Leagues

North American Baseball League

The North American Baseball League (NABL)[1] began play in 2011 and consists of teams from three former leagues (Golden Baseball League, Northern League and United League). The league is based in the west coast of North America with teams in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Texas and Western Canada. Although there is a high amount of instability among NABL teams, it is one of the premier independent leagues in North America. There are limited roster restrictions including no maximum salary so many teams attract very good veteran players who have had experience in AAA and in the Majors. The NABL is known as a veteran’s league but because of a luxury tax and organizational budget limitations many teams need to employ younger players to complete their rosters. Many of the younger players are in their early to mid-twenties and have recently been released by Major League organizations after spending time in A or AA. It becomes clear early in the season which of the young players has the ability and potential to help an affiliated team as they are facing a level of competition they have not been exposed to throughout their careers.

Several NABL players had their contracts purchased by Major League organizations during the 2011 season including OF Joey Gathright who saw time with the Red Sox in September; RHP Jim Paduch who was assigned to AA in the Rays system and was promoted to AAA; LF Chris Lubanski who was assigned to AA in the Phillies system; and LHP Jason Stevenson who was assigned to AA in the Giants system. Three NABL players were named to Baseball America’s 2011 Top 10 Independent Prospects List[2] and two players made Baseball America’s 2011 All Independent Team[3]. Several alumni of the forming leagues have played in the Major Leagues including Bobby Cramer (Athletics), Chris Jakubauskas (Mariners, Pirates and Orioles), Daniel Nava (Red Sox), Scott Richmond (Blue Jays) and Tom Wilhelmsen (Mariners).

Stability is the number one issue facing the NABL as several of the teams that played in 2011 are facing uncertain futures because of financial and stadium issues. However, there are several cities and prospective ownership groups that are interested in joining the league with the ultimate goal of having a sustainable independent league in the western part of North America. Even with the current level of uncertainty, the league is the highest caliber of unaffiliated baseball in North America because of the players it attracts. The majority of players have been drafted and have spent time in the Minor Leagues before being released. Although it is considered a veteran’s league, the advantage of following the NABL is it provides the best opportunity to see how younger players fare against competition that is significantly better than anything they have faced in the past and it goes a long way in identifying the players that could help an affiliated team

Frontier League

The Frontier League[4] was formed in 1993 and is the oldest independent league in North America. It is based in the Midwest of the United States with teams in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Southern Ontario. The Frontier League has strict roster limitations and limits the number of veteran players a team can employ. Each team must have at least eleven rookies with no professional experience and may carry a maximum of thirteen players with unlimited professional experience. Roster limitations have loosened in the past few years and teams are employing more veteran players compared to previous seasons but because of a strict salary cap many rookies play vital roles for many teams.

Even with strict roster regulations the Frontier League continues to produce players who can help Major League organizations. Fifteen Frontier League players had their contracts purchased by Major League organizations during the 2011 season and most were placed on A or rookie ball rosters. The only exceptions were second baseman Ryan Khoury who had his contract purchased by the Red Sox and saw time in AA and AAA and right handed pitcher Aaron Shafer who had his contract purchased by the Braves and saw time in AA. Former Edmonton Capital Todd Privet (LHP) had his contract purchased by the San Diego Padres and was assigned to A ball after three very successful years in independent baseball. Privett showed potential (see attached scouting report) in Edmonton in 2009 and is the perfect example of a player who has the ability to help an affiliated team and is working hard for another chance. Three Frontier League players were named to Baseball America’s 2011 Top 10 Independent Prospects List and four players were named to Baseball America’s 2011 All Independent Team. Several alumni of the Frontier League have played in the Major Leagues including Chris Jakubauskas (Mariners, Pirates and Orioles), George Sherrill (Mariners, Orioles Dodgers, Braves), and Joe Thatcher (Padres).

The Frontier League is the most stable independent league in North America and has continually produced players that can help fill out affiliated rosters. Although Frontier League players are extremely raw, the league provides an excellent opportunity for players to play professional baseball and improve their skills with a real opportunity to move on to the next level.

American Association of Independent Professional Baseball

The American Association League[5] was formed in 2005 and is based in the Northern, Midwestern and Southeastern parts of the United States and in Manitoba. The league is very stable as several teams have very good facilities and more than half of the league averaged over 3 000 in attendance in 2011 which is a very good number for independent teams. Similar to the Frontier League, there are significant roster limits that restrict the number of veterans a team can have on its roster. Teams can only have four veteran players on the active roster and must have a minimum of four rookies. The rest of the rosters are made up of players with various amounts of professional experience but trends towards players with limited experience.

2011 was an extraordinary year for American Association players as twenty three players had their contracts purchased by a Major League organization which was a significant increase from thirteen in 2010. The players were assigned to a wide range of levels depending on previous experience with the majority being assigned to A or AA teams. Of the 2011 class, the most notable player to have his contract purchased was outfielder Blake Gailen (contract purchased by the Angels) who spent his entire career in independent baseball after a very good career at UNLV. Gailen was a standout in the Golden Baseball League (2009-10) and is another example of a player who developed his skills and abilities in independent baseball and is now getting a chance to play at an affiliated level for the first time. Two players from the American Association League were named to Baseball America’s 2011 Top 10 Independent Prospects List and three were named to Baseball America’s 2011 All Independent Team. Former American Association pitchers Aaron Crow (Royals) and Dane De la Rosa (Rays) both saw time in the Major Leagues in 2011.

The American Association League is quickly emerging as the best independent league at developing players that can help affiliated teams. It has found a perfect balance between younger and older players which provides excellent competition for players as they further develop their skills. The talent that exists in the league can be traced back to the sustainable structure and stability each team has been able to create and will continue as organizations continue to solidify their marks in each community.

Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball

Closely connected to the American Association League is the Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball[6] (Can-Am League) as they share the same commissioner and the two leagues will play an interlocking schedule in 2012. The Can-Am League is located in the Northeastern United States and in Quebec and has the same roster rules as the American Association League. The league is rather unstable as several teams struggle with stadium issues and attendance problems. The connection to the much stronger American Association League will help in 2012 but the league’s long term outlook is uncertain at best.

In 2011, twelve players had their contracts purchased by Major League organizations with the majority being assigned to A or AA teams. Two Can-Am were named to Baseball America’s 2011 Top 10 Independent Prospects List and two players were named to Baseball America’s 2011 All Independent Team. Cam-Am alumni Steve Delabar pitched in six games with the Mariners during the 2011 season.

Atlantic League of Professional Baseball

The Atlantic League[7] was founded in 1998 and it located in large metropolitan centres throughout the Northeastern United States. It is a veteran’s orientated league and primarily consists of players who have significant experience in AAA and the Major Leagues. Several Atlantic League players have had their contracts purchased by Major League organizations as they are widely known throughout the baseball community.

It is not considered a developmental league as players do not enter the Atlantic League with aspirations of self-improvement. There were no Atlantic League players listed on Baseball America’s 2011 Top 10 Independent Prospects List.

 Scouting Process

The first step in scouting independent baseball is to identify the leagues and teams who have the players with the highest potential on their opening day roster. This can be done by closely following the roster construction of teams in the spring and identifying players who had good seasons the year before. Because of the high number of players who spend time on an independent roster in any given season, it is important to identify players to follow before the season starts.

When following from a distance it is important to identify the players who show
success in certain statistical categories. For pitchers, true outcome statistics such as HR/9, BB/9 and K/9 should be closely followed and analysed. For position players, statistics that should be considered and followed include extra base hit percentage, strike outs per plate appearance, walks per plate appearance, on base plus slugging percentage and any available defensive metric. There is no replacement for seeing a player in person and watching mechanics but following players through statistics is a good first step in identifying capable players before a scout is deployed. Finding reliable statistics from independent leagues is challenging but Baseball Reference and The Baseball Cube have strengthened their websites in the last few years and independent league stats are more readily available then they have ever been.

Players twenty five and under who have had some experience in affiliated baseball or significant success in independent baseball are the ideal players to follow. Almost every independent league can be categorized as a hitter’s league so pitchers who show the ability to succeed are often the ones in highest demand. The vast majority of players who have their contracts purchased by a Major League organization are pitchers with outfielders being in a distant second. Many pitchers further develop their pitch repertoire and gain better control of their pitches which results in more positive outcomes. Pitchers who have good statistics need to be seen in person to identify any mechanical flaws, velocity and movement on breaking pitches. Most pitchers in independent leagues do not possess more than two above average pitches and are better suited to be relievers. However, because of the lack of pitching depth many teams have their most successful pitchers starting no matter their make-up or mechanics. Successful independent pitchers can succeed as middle and late inning relievers on affiliated teams with successful scouting and development from coaches.

Finding position players in independent leagues is a challenging process as the competition varies from game to game and many ballparks are not up to Minor League standards. It is important to identify hitters who have had success in more than one independent league to go along with good peripheral statistics. After capable hitters are identified it is vital to watch them in person to get a firsthand account of swing mechanics, hitting game plan, baseball intelligence, speed and defensive ability. Generally, fielding in independent leagues is very poor and often neglected by players and finding a player that is a capable defender and hitter is rare. However, when those players are identified they become a hot commodity among Major League organizations who are trying to improve their Minor League rosters.

There is significant potential for a Major League organization to find players in independent baseball that can improve Minor League rosters with limited risks. As the Minor Leagues continue to evolve, the presence and need for independent baseball will grow and better players will be forced to play unaffiliated baseball. Elite players will never end up in independent baseball but players that can help all levels of an organization can be found if enough research and time are put into the process. The competition in scouting and developing players is now even fiercer than on field action and the organization that can successfully find players out of independent leagues and develop them will hold a small advantage at every level.

 

 

Todd Privett, LHP Pitcher

Born: April 22, 1986 (25 in 2011)

Height: 6’0      Weight: 185

Drafted: Selected by the New York Mets in the 14th round of 2006 amateur draft

Scouting Report (written in 2009) 

2009 Stats- Edmonton Capitals, Golden Baseball League

W

L

ERA

IP

R

ER

H

BB

SO

SV

HRA

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

4

2

3.33

51.1

22

19

50

20

52

1

3

1.36

0.53

3.51

   9.12

*Statistics provided by The Baseball Cube

 

Privett pitched in 32 games out of the bullpen during the 2009 season and his 51.1 innings were the most by a relief pitcher on the team. With a twenty two man roster, the members of the bullpen pitched in many different situations with no real roles ever defined. At times, Privett was the first man out of the bullpen (going as many as four innings), he was a lefty specialist who faced only a few batters a game, he served as the primary set up man and even had the opportunity to close some games. He throws a fastball that ranges between 90 and 93 miles per hour and a very effective change up that he can throw to both left and right handed hitters and in any count. He also throws a slider occasionally but was effective out of the bullpen with just the two pitches. In a hitter’s league like the Golden Baseball League, his 3.33 ERA was very good along with his one strike out per inning rate, which he has been close to his whole career. He was voted the team’s unsung hero in 2009 based on pitching in many different situations and was the go to guy when an out was needed.

He has a very compact delivery and uses his lower body very well to get the most out of his 185 pound frame on each pitch. He throws between straight over the top and three quarters which allows him to get some late movement on his fastball. His delivery is very deceptive as he throws slightly across his body which can fool left handed hitters and gives the appearance that the ball is coming in faster. At times during the year he struggled with inherited runners and pitching out of the stretch when he entered a game. At this point, he is best suited to start an inning instead of coming in with runners on base. He did not look comfortable with inherited runners on and was wild within the strike zone. He seemed too comfortable with his changeup, at points throwing it too much. Privett has a good fastball that is deceptively fast given his arm action and needs to trust it more.

He spent portions of just two seasons in rookie and low A ball with the New York Mets registering a 2-8 record with a 4.28 ERA. He started 17 of his 25 appearances in the Mets organization. Todd Privett is better suited for the bullpen and showed great potential last season with the Edmonton Capitals. He has redefined himself as an effective reliever and is striving for another chance to get back into affiliated baseball and given his age there is still room for improvement and growth in many areas.

Scouting Grade for Todd Privett

Fastball: 50/55

Change up: 50/60

Slider: 30/40

Delivery: 50/60

Control: 50/55

 

 

Joey Gomes, First Baseman

Bats: Right      Throws: Right

Born: November 2, 1979 (32 in 2011)

Height: 6’2      Weight: 210

Drafted: Selected by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 8th round of the 2002 amateur draft

Scouting Report (written in 2009) 

2009 Stats- Edmonton Capitals, Golden Baseball League

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

XBH%

BB%

SO%

241

51

83

20

0

12

63

18

33

.344

.391

.577

38.6

6.8

12.4

*Statistics provided by The Baseball Cube

Gomes joined the Edmonton Capitals in early June and solidified the lineup by batting cleanup most of the season. He protected Darryl Brinkley (.297 AVG, 13 HR, 82 RBI) in the lineup and recorded 63 RBI in just 59 games. He is very comfortable at the plate against both right and left handed pitchers and is very capable of hitting the ball to the opposite field. He thrived playing in a big ballpark like Telus Field (340 to left, 420 to centre, 320 to right) in Edmonton and routinely found both gaps in the outfield. Before he arrived in Edmonton, the team struggled to produce in clutch situations but everything changed when Gomes was placed into the lineup. The rest of the team seemed more relaxed and played up to their capabilities knowing there was an experience hitter like Gomes in the middle of the lineup.

He has a very quick swing given his size and this can be attributed to how silent his head and hands are as the pitch is being delivered. There is no wasted movement during his weight transfer and his hands go back with almost no extra movement. This helps him hit all types of pitches to all fields without being fooled and getting caught out on his front foot.

The knock against Gomes is that he does not have middle of the order power but 12 homeruns in 59 games while playing home games in the biggest field in the GBL is not bad. Like his brother, Jonny Gomes, he strikes out a tad too much and does not walk a lot but you cannot argue with a .391 OBP. He is a well-rounded hitter who would really benefit from more information being available about opposing pitchers. Throughout his career his defense has come into question and before this year he spent most of his time in the outfield. However, with the Capitals he was moved to first base and did not look out of place. He recorded only three errors with the Capitals and with more work and repetition he can become an average first basemen.

He has spent the last three seasons in independent baseball playing in the Atlantic League, Northern League and the Golden Baseball League. His highest level in affiliated baseball was AA with Montgomery (Tampa Bay) of the Southern League in 2004 and Mobile (San Diego) in 2006. He is a career .300 hitter in professional baseball and has shown he can hit at every level. Gomes is the prototypical veteran independent league player as he produces at a high level every year but has not shown enough ability to be considered for an affiliated team.

Scouting Grade for Joey Gomes

Hitting: 40/45

Power: 40/40

Fielding: 30/35

Arm: 35/35

Speed: 35/35

Steve Brown, Outfielder

Bats: Right      Throws: Right

Born: September 6, 1986 (24 in 2011)

Height: 6’0      Weight: 180

Drafted: Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Columbia by the Houston Astros in 2005

Scouting Report (written in 2010)

2010 Stats- Edmonton Capitals, Golden Baseball League

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

XBH%

BB%

SO%

183

38

49

8

0

4

30

17

42

.268

.340

.377

24.5

8.1

20.0

*Statistics provided by The Baseball Cube

Brown came to Edmonton in 2010 after spending parts of 4 seasons in the Houston Astros farm system. This highest level he played was a short stint with high A Lancaster of the California League at the end of the 2009 season. He spent most of the 2009 season with single A Lexington of the South Atlantic League where he posted a .247/.298/.394 with 45 runs scored and 43 RBI in 88 games. He came to Edmonton as a fourth outfielder with the idea of using him as a late inning pinch hitter and pinch runner in the Golden Leagues first year of using National League rules. He filled this role very well, as he was very comfortable as a pinch hitter coming in for key at bats late in games.

He had a very good approach at the plate during the first part of the season and was very adept at keeping his hands back and taking outside pitchers to right field. He was very good at keeping his hands and head silent and did not miss many mistake pitches. He was a perfect example of the type of hitter whose power numbers were deflated by playing home games at Telus Field (340 to left, 420 to centre, 320 to right) where the ball does not travel well especially at night. He showed a good ability to turn on fastballs but was a victim of the circumstances of playing in a huge ballpark with very thick evening air where homeruns turn to doubles and doubles turn to fly outs often. Brown had a very inconsistent stride length, sometimes taking a big exaggerated step and being caught on his front foot and losing all bat speed and power. Like many hitters at this level, he had trouble lying off of breaking pitchers that were not strikes.

He showed some good speed with 17 stolen bases in only 21 attempts but this was somewhat deceptive given the lack of talented catchers and quick to the plate pitchers in the league. Although, he looks like a burner he is not as fast as you would think and takes several steps to get to top speed while trying to steal bases. He got very poor breaks on balls in the outfield but usually had enough closing speed to catch up to balls that hung up in thick air. His arm strength and accuracy were his best defensive qualities and in many ways covered the poor routes he would take to cut off balls in the gap.

By midway through the season, Brown had earned the right to play every day but was exposed regularly in this capacity. It seemed almost every game he made a mistake that full time players could not make such as an ill-advised stolen base attempt, playing a double into a triple, missing a cut-off man or giving at bats away. His numbers also began to drop as he played every day going from a .300 + hitter to a .268 average at the end of the season. By the end of the season, it was clear that you could not play Brown every day and he was better suited as a fourth outfielder. There is no question he can make a living in professional baseball but not within a Major League organization. He has some good skill and abilities but he is too inconsistent to be on outfielder on an affiliated team.

Scouting Grade for Steve Brown

Hitting: 25/30               Fielding: 30/35             Speed: 50/60

Power: 25/30               Arm: 40/40

Statistics After Scouting Reports Were Written

 

Todd Privett, LHP Pitcher

Year

Team

League

Level

Org

Age

W

L

ERA

G

GS

SV

IP

H

R

ER

HR

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

2009

Edmonton

Gold

Ind

23

4

2

3.33

32

0

1

51.1

50

22

19

3

1.36

0.53

3.51

9.12

2010

Joliet

Northern

Ind

24

8

5

4.06

20

20

0

113

110

57

51

12

1.31

0.96

3.03

8.04

2011

Windy City

Frontier

Ind

25

5

3

2.81

10

10

0

67.1

55

23

21

5

1.07

0.67

2.27

7.75

2011

Fort Wayne

Midw

A

SD

25

3

3

4.20

9

9

0

45

59

33

21

3

1.53

0.60

2.00

8.40

*Statistics provided by The Baseball Cube

 

Joey Gomes, First Baseman/ Outfielder

Year

Team

League

Level

Age

G

AB

PA

Runs

Hits

RBI

2B

3B

HR

SB

CS

AVG

OBP

SLG

XBH%

BB%

SO%

2009

Edmonton

Gold

Ind

29

59

241

266

51

83

63

20

0

12

3

0

.344

.391

.577

38.6

6.8

12.4

2010

Lake   County

Northern

Ind

30

11

45

48

4

9

8

2

0

1

0

0

.200

.250

.311

33.3

6.3

6.3

2010

Schaumburg

Northern

Ind

30

86

342

372

39

103

45

18

0

8

2

1

.301

.341

.424

25.2

5.1

14.0

2011

Grand   Prairie

AmerAssoc

Ind

31

26

106

114

10

33

24

3

0

2

1

0

.311

.342

.396

15.2

3.5

17.5

*Statistics provided by The Baseball Cube

 

Steve Brown, Outfielder

Year

Team

League

Level

Age

G

AB

PA

Runs

Hits

RBI

2B

3B

HR

SB

CS

AVG

OBP

SLG

XBH%

BB%

SO%

2009

Edmonton

Gold

Ind

23

80

183

210

38

49

30

8

0

4

17

4

.268

.340

.377

24.5

8.1

20.0

2010

Edmonton

NABL

Ind

24

50

183

218

50

58

39

5

4

11

15

3

.317

.410

.568

34.5

12.4

17.0

*Statistics provided by The Baseball Cube


[1] All league information and player information courtesy of the North American Baseball League’s official website: http://northamericanleague.com.

[2] Cooper, J.J.. “2011 Independent League Top 10 Prospects.” October 11, 2011. Baseball America. http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/minors/independent-audit/2011/2612459.html. Accessed January 21, 2012.  

[3] “2011 All-Independent Leagues Team.” October 27, 2011. Baseball America. http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/minors/independent-audit/2011/2612538.html. Accessed January 21, 2012.

[4] All league information and player information courtesy of the Frontier League’s official website:  http://www.frontierleague.com.

[5]All league information and player information courtesy of the American Association of Professional Baseball’s official website: http://www.americanassociationbaseball.com/.

[6] All league information and player information courtesy of the Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball’s official website:  http://www.canamleague.com/.

[7] All league information and player information courtesy of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball’s official website: http://www.atlanticleague.com/.

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