Wednesday Winter Hot Stove – Edition 6

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The hot stove is heating up as the official start of winter draws closer and closer. The Major League Baseball winter meetings start up soon, which usually signals the height of the baseball offseason for player signings and trades. However, a week prior, many big names are starting to come off the board. Yankees fans saw their team make a splash by signing Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury while Mets fans are eager to see if their team is able to land Curtis Granderson.

One name that’s familiar among Atlantic Leaguers also earned a big contract this week. Left-hander Scott Kazmir was signed by the Oakland Athletics for a two-year deal worth a reported $22 million. This is a dramatic turnaround for a guy who in 2012 was pitching on mounds around the Atlantic League with the Sugar Land Skeeters.

Kazmir

After being released by the Angels following 2011, he signed with the Skeeters in hopes of resurrecting his career and returning to the Majors. The southpaw made 14 starts with mixed results, he earned a contract with the Cleveland Indians in 2013 and began the season on their Opening Day roster. Kazmir also saw dramatic improvement, posting a 10-9 record with a 4.04 ERA and 162 strikeouts in 29 starts. Now he’s cashing in, and it’s thanks to the opportunity he received from the Atlantic League to continue his career.

The League has seen several players earn contracts with Major League organizations already this offseason, and the first Duck to earn one following the 2013 Championship Series is catcher Ralph Henriquez. Today, the catcher confirmed to “Quack of the Bat” that he was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates and earned an invitation to Spring Training. The excitement in his voice was evident, as he will have a chance once again to live out his lifelong dream of reaching the Major Leagues. Even 2013 teammate Ray Navarrete was excited to hear about Ralph’s new opportunity:

 

Henriquez spent eight seasons in affiliated baseball after being drafted by the Houston Astros during the second round of the 2005 draft. He played in the Astros, Mets and Mariners organization, reaching as high as Triple-A with the Mariners in 2011 and 2012. However, he was released by Seattle following the 2012 season and hooked on with the Ducks in 2013 to try and get back into affiliated ball. The switch hitter alternated starts for the majority of the year with Ramon Castro, playing in 79 games total with the Flock. He hit .242 for the season with seven homers, 28 RBI and 13 doubles and provided strong defense behind the plate. In fact, he became the primary catcher for former big leaguer Dontrelle Willis and developed a strong relationship with the southpaw pitcher.

“We always worked hard together in the bullpens, and in the game it just showed and we got along good,” Henriquez told Newsday in an interview earlier this year. “From Dontrelle, it was just: Go hard. Every out, every inning, just go hard, you don’t know what can happen.”

Now, the Florida native will be joining an organization whose Major League team shocked baseball in 2013 by earning a postseason berth as one of the National League’s Wild Cards. They even reached the National League Division Series before falling to the St. Louis Cardinals in five games. The Pirates have been building up their young talent from within while suffering through countless losing seasons during that stretch. Last year, they finally saw their long wait pay off with their first playoff appearance in 21 seasons. Now, Henriquez has a chance to be a part of that same organization and the potential success they could have.

As for his experience with the Ducks, Henriquez said in that same interview with Newsday, “I don’t even know where to start. It’s been interesting, not knowing what to expect coming here but being able to play with guys that I watched play, and now I have guys like Bill Hall. I’m talking to him every day to get different ideas of hitting. And having guys like Buddy [Harrelson] on the bench, hearing these guys talk is pretty cool.”

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We want to wish Ralph the best of luck as he pursues his opportunity with the Pirates. Be sure to follow him on Twitter by CLICKING HERE. Last offseason, the Ducks had three players signed by Major League teams:

-Mitch Canham: Was signed by the Kansas City Royals and spent the majority of the season with Double-A Northwest Arkansas. He eventually joined Triple-A Omaha during the playoffs and helped them to the 2013 Triple-A National Championship.

-Eric Niesen: Was signed by the Seattle Mariners and invited to Spring Training. After being released by the team, he signed with the Ducks and went 4-0 with a 3.23 ERA in 35 games. He was signed by the Boston Red Sox organization in July and spent time at the Double-A and Triple-A level with them. He’s now pitching with Santurce in Puerto Rico this winter.

-Matt Way: Was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks and invited to Spring Training. He was released by the team and joined the Flock to start the 2013 season. He started 16 games, going 4-5 with a  4.04 ERA before suffering a season-ending arm injury in September.

During the 2013 season, the Ducks had five players signed by Major League organizations:

-Danny Perales: Was signed first by Monclova in the Mexican League and then eventually Double-A Arkansas in the Los Angeles Angels organization. Batted .288 with a 11 homers and 41 RBI in 49 games with Long Island.

-Ben Broussard: Earned a contract with the Royals organization and reported to Triple-A Omaha after batting .302 with eight home runs and 20 RBI in 44 games with the Ducks. He eventually hit .295 with 14 doubles and 24 RBI with Omaha, helping lead them to the Triple-A National Championship.

-Eric Niesen: Pitched in an aforementioned 35 games with the Ducks before he was signed by the Red Sox. He appeared in two games with Triple-A Pawtucket and 12 with Double-A Portland.

-Dontrelle Willis: Dominated on the mound for Long Island, going 5-4 with a 2.57 ERA in 14 starts and earned the start in the Atlantic League All-Star Game for the Liberty Division. Was signed by the Angels and pitched for Triple-A Salt Lake, leading the Bees to the Pacific Coast League Championship Series against Omaha. He was 2-1 in five games (four starts) with the Bees.

-Joash Brodin: Was the Ducks most consistent hitter in 2013 before he was signed by the Diamondbacks, his first ever appearance in affiliated baseball. He batted .307 with 11 home runs, 48 RBI, 79 runs and 21 doubles in 106 games before reporting to Single-A Visalia. He also earned the starting left field spot at the Atlantic League All-Star Game. In Visalia, he played in eight games and will receive an invite to Spring Training with the Diamondbacks in 2014.

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Posted on December 4, 2013, in Winter Hot Stove and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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