What a year it’s been for Jordan Pacheco! Last spring, he received a new opportunity in his professional career: To play baseball for the Long Island Ducks. Then in the fall, he became a father for the very first time. Now, he has the chance to return to a Major League clubhouse.
The catcher, who played 42 games with the Ducks in 2017 and has 377 games of big league experience, signed a contract with the Minnesota Twins organization on Monday. He will be with the club during spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., with the plan to spend time in both minor and Major League camp. Though it remains unclear where he will begin the season, Pacheco is simply ecstatic to have a shot at getting back to “The Show”.
“It’s definitely awesome,” the 31-year-old exclaimed via telephone this week. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better especially after only playing a little bit last year. I’m definitely ready and excited for it.”
When asked about the Twins’ expectations for him, Pacheco replied “They’re just expecting me to play well and show my versatility. I hope to be able to help that organization out, whether I’m in Triple-A or the big leagues. ”
That versatility was certainly on display in 2017. After being released by the Cincinnati Reds following surgery the year prior to repair a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, Pacheco needed another avenue to continue his road back to a roster spot. Enter the Ducks and the Atlantic League. Long Island signed him on May 26, giving him the opportunity to join Alex Burg in a rotation behind the plate. At the same time, he also was able to showcase his ability at first and second base, playing 12 games at the former and one at the latter.
“I didn’t have too many expectations going in,” he noted. “I just wanted to be able to go where I could play and come back from my shoulder surgery, and that was a perfect spot.”
Pacheco’s first month-and-a-half with the Ducks was a bit of a struggle for the backstop. He entered the All-Star break batting below .200 and had just three multi-hit games. Despite this, manager Kevin Baez stuck with the ex-Major Leaguer and gave him the opportunity to rebound. Pacheco then coupled that confidence with plenty of extra work on the field and in the batting cage before games. While working on his own game, he also was commonly seen offering up his veteran experience to fellow teammates.
“From the start, I felt like I had spent a bunch of time not being able to hit after my surgery, and I felt like I needed to make some time up,” Pacheco recalled. “From then on, you enjoy your teammates and you feel like you’re not even working hard. You’re just hitting, taking ground balls and having fun. I do enjoy if I can help anybody out or if they can help me out. We were there to play baseball and be the best we possibly could be.”
All that hard work certainly paid off. The Albuquerque native appeared in 19 games during the second half of the season. He reached base safely at least once in every one, and he hit safely in all but four. He had multiple hits in three of his first five games and turned in a four-hit, four-RBI performance on July 29 in Bridgeport. Pacheco’s batting average skyrocketed from .188 to .273 and his on-base percentage rose from .235 to .351. At the beginning of August, the Ducks had won three consecutive games that would kick start a franchise record-tying 12-game win streak. However, on August 6, Pacheco’s season came to a crashing halt. An errant pitch from Bluefish pitcher Charles Brewer fractured his right wrist, ending his season prematurely.
“It definitely was disappointing,” he expressed. “I was there to play, and I thought we were playing well, winning and having a good time. Obviously when something like that happens, you can’t do anything about it.”
While the injury was a crushing blow for Pacheco, he was able to shift his focus positively from baseball to family.
“It did give me a lot more time to come home. My wife was pregnant, and she was just about due to deliver the baby. I guess the silver lining was that I got to spend more time with them instead of being out there playing. I took that as a positive, and I enjoyed every bit of that.”
Jordan and his wife, Jessica, gave birth to a baby girl named Joie (pronounced like Joey), on September 23. Coincidentally that same day, the Ducks defeated the Somerset Patriots to earn their second consecutive Liberty Division championship and fifth in seven seasons. Though the couple was entering the world of parenthood for the first time, there was a sense of calm and excitement among them both that they could all be together as a family for a while.
“I don’t think there were any nerves,” Jordan reminisced. “We had both been ready for it and were definitely excited to meet her and get her into this world. Obviously when she was born, there were a lot of things that changed for me as a Dad and your perspective on having to take care of somebody. Other than that, she’s just a great baby. Just watching her and how much she changes every week, those are things you can’t get back.”
If the birth of his daughter and watching her grow over the first three months of her life wasn’t enough joy for Pacheco, the news he received to kick off 2018 certainly had to make him smile. Despite his back-to-back injury-shortened seasons, the Twins saw value in what he did as a member of the Ducks and extended him a contract offer. While playing baseball will take him away from his new family, the thought of getting back to the game’s highest level was too enticing to turn away from.
“They always say ‘It’s easy to get there, but it’s tougher to stay there,’ and I truly agree with that statement,” Pacheco asserted. “Being at the highest level and in that atmosphere is something that you almost get addicted to. The stadiums are gorgeous, the lights are bright, and those are the things you kind of miss. That’s definitely something that drives me.”
Not only does he want to achieve those Major League aspirations once again. He wants to show himself, and others in his life, that he can complete the comeback story he is writing.
“Playing again after my shoulder surgery, I want to prove to myself that I can get back no matter what,” he said. “Obviously when you have a little daughter, you want to show her that Dad didn’t give up when he got hurt a little bit. That’s kind of my motivation right now.”
In the end, Pacheco is able to sit back and appreciate how the events of 2017 have transformed his life. Thanks to the Ducks and the Atlantic League, he was able to continue playing ball after being released from a Major League organization. Although his time on Long Island was cut short, it was instrumental in providing him the forum to continue his rehab and get back on the path to the big leagues.
“I think the Ducks were amazing,” Pacheco proclaimed. “They allowed me to go at my own pace and still be able to get on a baseball field and play some good competition. I thoroughly thank them for that opportunity, and it definitely was a big help as far as where I was at in my rehab and my career to just get out there and work and do whatever I needed to.”
Baseball continues to remain as unpredictable as ever. Fluke injuries can happen at any time. Organizational needs can change in an instant. While there is no way of knowing for sure what lies ahead for Pacheco, should the road lead him back outside of Major League Baseball, there is no doubt in his mind about where he would like to continue his career.
“I would always consider the Ducks, no matter what,” he asserted. “It’s a great organization, the people there are awesome, the fans were great, and the baseball definitely exceeded my expectations.”
Happy New Year, Ducks fans! We at “Quack of the Bat” hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday season and was able to enjoy this festive period as 2017 officially came to a close. With that, the 2018 calendar year has now begun, and with it, the drive towards Opening Day of Long Island’s All-Star Summer. Surely, teams will begin to build their rosters over the coming weeks and news about games, promotions and other events will be announced. However, there is already plenty of news surrounding the team as the 19th season of Ducks baseball gets underway.
MELVILLE JOINS THE ORIOLES
It appears as though 2017 Ducks starting pitcher Tim Melville will be adding another Major League organization to his resume. The right-hander signed a minor league contract with the Baltimore Orioles on December 22, making them the sixth MLB club that he has been a part of (Royals, Tigers, Reds, Twins and Padres).
Melville was one of the biggest success stories among the Ducks roster last year. He joined the team after having pitched in the Majors with the Reds in 2016. The 28-year-old started nine games over the first seven weeks of the season, compiling a 3.45 ERA and 48 strikeouts. 14 of those punch outs came in a win at New Britain on June 7, which tied a single-game franchise record. It was no surprise that Melville’s contract was purchased by the Twins three days later.
He would excel with Triple-A Rochester, posting a 4-3 record, a 2.70 ERA and 64 strikeouts over 11 games (10 starts). That performance was worthy enough of a promotion to the big leagues on August 21, just over two months after his contract was purchased from the Ducks. Although he would struggle in three combined appearances (one start) between the Twins and Padres in the big leagues, he proved his value to MLB organizations during the 2017 campaign. Melville is certainly hoping to break spring training with the big club in Baltimore, but for now, the team has assigned him to Triple-A Norfolk of the International League.
WADDLE-OFF MAGIC FOR FORMER FLOCK MEMBERS
Down in the Caribbean Winter Leagues, the playoffs have begun for a number of teams. One of those, Aguilas de Mexicali of the Mexican Pacific League, has earned a pair of walk-off victories to begin its postseason. In Game One of their series against Venados de Mazatlan, 2015 Duck Ryan Kussmaul pitched a scoreless eighth inning before 2014 Duck C.J. Retherford won the game in the bottom of the ninth. Retherford’s two-out RBI double put Aguilas ahead in the series. Former Patriot and Skeeter Roy Merritt started on the mound for Venados and was lifted from the game following eight innings of one-run ball.
The pair of former Ducks teamed up again in a 3-2 walk-off win the following day. Kussmaul tossed a scoreless eighth inning once again to keep the score tied at two, and Retherford stepped up to the plate to begin the bottom of the 11th. 2015 and 2016 Duck Nick Struck had tossed three scoreless innings of relief for Venados but gave way to Marcos Rivas to begin the inning. Retherford launched a walk-off homer to send the crowd of over 16,000 at Estadio B-Air into a frenzy. Aguilas finished the regular season in first place with a 26-7 record, a full six games clear of Mayos de Navojoa, who finished second.
STARTERS REUNITED IN VENEZUELA
The two pitchers were teammates for three seasons together on Long Island, and they have now been joined together once again down in the Caribbean. John Brownell and Jared Lansford are both playing postseason baseball with Caribes de Anzoategui in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League. Brownell has typically been spending his winters in Puerto Rico with Criollos de Caguas, but with some uncertainty surrounding their season following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the righty took advantage of an opportunity to pitch in Venezuela. Lansford has recently been spending the year overseas in the Chinese Professional Baseball League.
Caribes finished fourth in the league with a 32-31 record. Brownell threw four innings of two-run ball in his lone start on December 21, while Lansford struggled, yielding 13 runs in 12 innings of work over five games (four starts). Caribes has jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the playoff series with Navegantes del Magallanes. Blue Crabs veteran pitcher Daryl Thompson, who ranked fourth in the Venezuelan League with a 2.79 ERA and second in strikeouts with 50, started Game One and earned the win with six scoreless innings. Brownell is slated to start Game Four on Saturday.
PITCHING PAIR IN DOMINICAN PLAYOFFS
Two more Ducks alumni are also part of a postseason bound team in the Dominican Republic this winter. 2017 starting pitchers Rafael Perez and Alfredo Simon have been teammates with Gigantes del Cibao in the Dominican Professional Baseball League. The club finished the regular season with a 29-21 record, good for first place by two games over a pair of other teams.
Perez pitched out of the bullpen and did quite well, allowing just two runs over 17 and two-thirds innings across 22 appearances, good for a 1.02 ERA. Simon totaled eight games, starting seven of them, and was 2-0 with a 4.03 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 29 innings. Thus far, Gigantes is out to a 1-3 start to the four-team round robin playoffs that are going on now through January 18. Neither Perez nor Simon has yet to appear in the playoffs. Tigres del Licey leads the league at 4-0 to this point and features several recent Atlantic League alumni (Alexis Candelario, Somerset; Bryan Evans, Lancaster; Patrick McCoy, Southern Maryland; Kevin Munson, Lancaster; Kyler Newby, Somerset; Angelys Nina, Bridgeport).
Be sure to keep an eye on the blog over the next few months for a variety of content. As the roster takes shape, we will have features on the players that will make up this year’s team. In addition, we will have further updates on winter league action and much more regarding the All-Star Summer festivities.
Ruben Gotay and the island of Puerto Rico persevere amid disaster
When a baseball player steps onto the field of play, he is expected to perform. It is his job to be completely immersed in the game at hand and to compete by making positive contributions that result in victories. The bat must meet the ball, the pitch must be in the strike zone, the glove must snare the liner and the throw must be on point. The expectation is for them to perform almost as if they’re robotic.
When push comes to shove though, these ballplayers are human. They make errors, they allow walks and they strike out. They all have lives outside of the white lines, the clubhouse and the ballpark. Each has a family and friends thousands of miles away, whom many don’t see for months at a time. It is near-impossible for a ballplayer to go through the grind of a season without thinking about life back home.
That way of life took on a new meaning for Ducks infielder Ruben Gotay this past year. As he helped the Ducks to a third consecutive playoff appearance and sixth Division Championship, his native homeland of Puerto Rico was being ravaged by an unforgiving hurricane season. First, it was Irma in early September. Then, it was Maria just two weeks later. As Maria churned its way towards the island, his hometown of Fajardo was preparing to take the storm’s first punch.
“I was born and raised in Fajardo on the east side of Puerto Rico,” said Gotay by telephone from his home this week. “I love the town. It’s where I started my career, and my whole family is over here. It’s where the whole hurricane basically entered Puerto Rico…one of the first areas that got it.”
Fajardo is still home for Gotay during the offseason, and his parents still live there as well. In the month of September though, he was playing crucial games for the Ducks some 1,600 miles away. The team needed his veteran presence in the clubhouse and the lineup, and he knew the stakes riding on every game, especially once the postseason began. However, with family and friends back home riding out a pair of major storms, it became increasingly difficult for Gotay to keep his focus on the field.
“I tried to hide it a little, but it wasn’t easy,” he recalled. “Once I saw all the images and the aftermath, it was kind of hard to comprehend that this just happened to the island where I come from. It was kind of hard to concentrate on the game and not think about my family and everyone back home.”
Gotay went on to add, “It was the first time that I’d been through something like this in my whole career, and believe me, it was not easy. I think it might have been a little bit easier when actually playing the game because you’re concentrating so hard and adrenaline is flowing, but once you leave the field, and I’m not talking about the clubhouse I mean from between those two white lines, it’s kind of hard not to think about anything else but your family.”
Aside from the physical damage caused throughout Puerto Rico by the hurricanes, several other aspects of life were greatly altered. Gotay mentioned that many residents, especially those in the mountain regions, had a great deal of trouble getting access to food, water and first aid. Several bridges and roadways were damaged from the storm, and clean water was hard to come by. Much of the island lost power during and following the storm, and regaining that electricity would not come swiftly. With no power and communications down, it became very difficult for Gotay and others affected to maintain contact with one another.
“I talked to my parents about a day or two before the hurricanes hit Puerto Rico, but once it hit, I lost touch with them for like three or four days,” he noted. “All of the communications went down. I was fortunate that I was able to talk to my parents so soon. Some of my friends that were on other teams didn’t get to talk to their families for a week or two. It was very hard for them to play a game without thinking about what was going on back home.”
Gotay’s extensive experience in professional baseball often put him in the position where he could help support younger players on the roster. He was able to make communication easier for them and put their minds at ease during slumps or intense games. However, the challenge of being far from home during a disaster like this and difficulty of staying in touch put him in the opposite role. In this case, Gotay’s teammates were the ones who provided the support he ultimately needed.
“I really have to thank each and every one of those guys because they talked to me every day to see how I was and how my family was back home,” he reminisced. “It’s good and bad because sometimes you’re trying to concentrate and do something, but at the same time, they’re worrying about me and my family. That is something I will always appreciate about my teammates with the Ducks. There were a couple of my teammates from winter ball that we were playing against [in the Atlantic League], and every time we got on the field, we were talking about the storms and wondering how everybody was.”
Thankfully for Gotay, his and his parent’s homes were relatively spared. They suffered minimal damage, though the same could not be said for the rest of Puerto Rico. The former New York Met mentioned how roofs were torn off homes, cars were badly damaged and that most of the land was flooded from heavy rainfall. Recovery and relief efforts began as the Ducks were playing postseason baseball, and Gotay was juggling his goal to win an Atlantic League championship with determining how he could help out his homeland.
While in the playoffs, he urged fans at Ducks games to donate to the Red Cross as well as to the Go Fund Me effort started by his close friend, St. Louis Cardinals All-Star catcher Yadier Molina. Following the season’s conclusion, he met up with Molina in Florida and expressed a great interest in helping him give back to his fellow Puerto Ricans. Molina was all-in on having Gotay join him and his foundation’s efforts.
“I flew with [Yadier] to Puerto Rico and made a few stops around the island giving food and other supplies to the community,” Gotay explained. “We got together to do everything we could so that people had something to eat. A few of our other friends and their family members joined us also. Yadier really did all of the hard work to make it happen, and I was there to help him out. It was good to come back over here and help some families around the island.”
Following his assistance in relief efforts, Gotay was able to make his way back home to Fajardo and reunite with his family. He was beyond thankful to see first-hand that his parents were okay and that their homes had not sustained the damage originally predicted. He also was able to realize that while others were also as fortunate as him, many weren’t and needed support in one way or another. The people of Puerto Rico used this as an opportunity to unite with a collective spirit and provide each other with whatever was needed, be it some water to drink or a shoulder to lean on.
“When you see people giving generators and food for those who don’t have it, you can see how people are coming together to get better and help each other,” Gotay stated. “Many people are sharing food and water and other things, and that’s when you know our people on the island are getting stronger.”
He also noted, “You don’t just want people to help each other when there is a tragedy like this. You want to see it on a daily basis. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for everybody to get together daily and help each other out.”
Much of Fajardo has regained power, at least 75% according to Gotay, and Puerto Rico as a whole is continuing to recover from the storm. However, the work is not nearly complete. Repairs from historic storms such as Irma and Maria would take extensive time in any location, and the island is not as easily equipped to respond to such devastation as other areas would be. As the holiday season approaches, Gotay, who turns 35 on Christmas Day, remarks that his fellow residents are all trying to regain a sense of normalcy.
“Are things getting better? Absolutely,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean that the whole island is better. We still need water, food and first aid to some people in Puerto Rico. Some towns still have no power. It’s still tough for us to feel happy when you know of some families around the island are still not getting the stuff they need.
“It’s not easy to concentrate on celebrating Christmas when you know others aren’t. We are trying to have as normal of a Christmas as possible, but it’s tough to do. You have to keep going and help other people as much as you can.”
Another way Puerto Rico is trying to return to normalcy is through baseball. Many of its stadiums that host Caribbean Winter League baseball were badly damaged by the storms. The inability to repair them quickly enough prevented the season from beginning on its originally scheduled date of October 27. However, rather than cancel the season outright, the Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente decided it would shorten its season to 21 games, begin it on January 6 and not charge any admission to fans. When asked about the decision, Gotay expressed a range of emotions.
“It was a tough choice to have the season because it’s not that easy for people to make it to the field,” he opined. “It is not easy to have a league in this situation, but at the same time, I’m happy that this is happening so that people can get away from everything that’s been happening in their houses and on the streets, go to the field and enjoy a good game. When the directors and baseball people in Puerto Rico got together, they said they needed to do this to show that Puerto Rico is strong.”
Much like Houston’s response to Hurricane Harvey this year, Puerto Ricans have displayed tremendous resolve and spirit during one of the worst times in its history. The Astros brought Houston a World Series championship in the wake of Harvey, which, in turn, brought the city even closer together. Perhaps Puerto Rico will follow suit and keep the Caribbean Series title, which it won last winter, on the island.
You won’t find too many ballplayers stepping on a baseball diamond this time of year in the northeast. Even with temperatures still reaching into the 50’s as we reach late-November, the weather is simply not favorable for those looking to stay in shape during baseball’s offseason. With that in mind, several Long Island Ducks and Atlantic League alumni have received opportunities to make the trek south and play ball outside of the United States this winter.
The Caribbean Winter Leagues have begun in three of the four countries thus far: Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Mexico. Due to the impact of Hurricane Maria earlier this year, Puerto Rico has yet to see the start of winter baseball. The league, which was slated to begin on November 15, has elected to delay the start of its campaign until January 6 and will hold an abbreviated schedule for this year. In addition, this past week marked the beginning of play “down under” in the Australian Baseball League, where several 2017 Atlantic Leaguers are participating.
Let’s go country by country to highlight those who are taking part in this year’s winter baseball leagues:
Venezuela features eight teams spread out across the country. Since the league opened play back on October 10, each team has played between 30 and 35 games thus far. Leones del Caracas currently maintains a three-and-a-half game lead for first place at 23-12, which can be partially attributed to a terrific pitching staff. 2008 Long Island Duck Jason Simontacchi is the team’s pitching coach, and among those he is watching over are three members of the 2017 Somerset Patriots. They are right-handed pitchers Lucas Irvine and David Kubiak, along with left-hander Efrain Nieves. In addition, outfielder Trayvon Robinson is also on the squad after having spent this past year with the Lancaster Barnstormers. Robinson previously was with the Ducks in spring training prior to the 2015 season before being signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He would go on to play with Somerset and Lancaster in 2016.
Two other former Ducks are also coaching in Venezuela. Tiburones de La Guaira features Luis Rodriguez as its bench coach under manager Ozzie Guillen. Rodriguez was part of Long Island’s 2004 championship team and most recently served as manager of the Bridgeport Bluefish. York Revolution alumnus Liu Rodriguez is also on the staff as the third base coach. The roster includes eight players who were in the Atlantic League during the 2017 season. Henderson Alvarez, a starting pitcher for the Ducks before making his way back to the Major Leagues with the Philadelphia Phillies, is one of them. The others include Atlantic League Player of the Year Alonzo Harris and Post-Season All-Star Isaias Tejeda (York), 2016 ALPB Pitcher of the Year Jonathan Albaladejo and Ozney Guillen (Bridgeport), 2017 All-Defensive Team selection Jake Hale (Sugar Land), Dustin Antolin (Somerset) and Brad Bergesen (Lancaster). The other squad is Navegantes del Magallanes, which currently has 2008 Duck Richard Hidalgo on staff as an assistant hitting coach. Their roster includes Hassan Pena (Somerset), who leads the league right now with 11 saves, and Jerome Williams (Somerset), who previously went from Lancaster to the big leagues.
Only one other 2017 Duck is playing in the league currently. Right-handed pitcher Wanel Mesa, who made a brief appearance with Long Island in August, is on the roster for Tigres de Aragua. He is teammates with infielder Alberto Callaspo, who began 2017 with Bridgeport and whose rights are now owned by Somerset.
The Venezuelan Winter League’s other four teams combine to include 18 players who spent time in the Atlantic League during the 2017 campaign. Here is a list of those players:
|Aguilas de Zulia||Bravos de Margarita|
|Julio DePaula (York, Sugar Land)||Manny Corpas (York, Sugar Land)|
|Cody Hall (Lancaster)||Logan Darnell (Somerset)|
|Reinier Roibal (Bridgeport)||Jay Gause (York)|
|David Vidal (Somerset)||Scott Maine (Sugar Land)|
|Dayron Varona (York)||Anthony Marzi (New Britain)|
|Felipe Paulino (Sugar Land)|
|Cardenales de Lara|
|Ricardo Gomez (York)||Caribes de Anzoategui|
|Chase Huchingson (York)||Daryl Thompson (Southern Maryland)|
|Ryan Kelly (Somerset)||Edwin Garcia (Southern Maryland)|
|Gustavo Molina (Bridgeport)||Michael Crouse (New Britain)|
The Dominican Republic has a league that is a bit smaller than Venezuela, hosting just six teams in total. However, the decrease in teams does not represent a major off in terms of Atlantic League talent. A total of 17 Atlantic League alumni from the 2017 season are now playing baseball this winter in the Dominican. The league began play back on October 13, and with approximately 25 games played thus far, the race is tight at the top of the league. Estrellas de Oriente sits in first at 16-9, but they are only ahead by a half-game.
Right behind Estrellas is Gigantes del Cibao at 16-10 thus far. Much of their success thus far has been due to a sparkling team ERA of 2.76 and a league-high 189 strikeouts. Sure enough, their roster includes two members of the 2017 Long Island Ducks. Former Major League pitchers Rafael Perez and Alfredo Simon, who were both in Long Island’s starting rotation, are off to strong starts with the team. Perez has been pitching out of the bullpen and has made nine scoreless appearances, spanning six and one-third innings of work. Simon has pitched in three games (two starts) and has a 1-0 record with a 3.00 ERA over nine innings of action. Also on the club is pitcher Patrick Johnson (Somerset).
Leones del Escogido currently has a member of the 2017 Ducks on its roster along with another pitcher that could potentially be on next year’s roster. Lefty pitcher Dustin Richardson, who began the year with Sugar Land before eventually signing with the Flock, is included on the roster but has yet to appear in a game. Another southpaw, Wander Perez, spent time last year with the Bluefish but now has his rights owned by the Ducks following the Bluefish Player Dispersal Draft. He has walked the only batter than he has faced thus far. Among their teammates are former York Revolution pitcher Edward Paredes, who reached the big leagues with the Dodgers this past year, Yankees outfielder Tyler Austin and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
The following are the remaining 2017 Atlantic Leaguers who are playing in the Dominican Republic:
|Aguilas Cibaenas||Toros del Este|
|Angel Franco (York)||Bryan Evans (Lancaster)|
|Pat McCoy (Southern Maryland)|
|Estrellas de Oriente||Elvin Ramirez (Bridgeport)|
|Dustin Molleken (Somerset)||Cory Riordan (Bridgeport)|
|Luis Cruz (York)|
|Tigres del Licey||Jonathan Galvez (Bridgeport)|
|Keith Hessler (Somerset)||Sean Halton (Lancaster)|
|Kevin Munson (Lancaster)|
|Angelys Nina (Bridgeport)|
Our last stop in the Caribbean takes us south of the border to Mexico. Just like Venezuela, the league features eight teams across the nation. Only nine members of the Atlantic League’s 2017 rosters are currently down in Mexico, but there are four Ducks alumni from previous years playing and two others that are coaching. A three-way tie exists for first place 35 games into the season, which began back on October 10.
Tomateros de Culiacan are one of the three squads sitting at 20-15 thus far. Among their coaching staff is Robinson Cancel, the former big league catcher who put together an excellent season offensively with the Flock in 2010. The roster also includes two players who were in the Atlantic League this past season. Outfielder D’Arby Myers, who ended the year with the league’s highest batting average at .337, is joined in the outfield by Andy Wilkins. Wilkins began the year with Sugar Land before having his contract purchased by the Minnesota Twins in June.
The other two teams tied with Tomateros are Venados de Mazatlan and Naranjeros de Hermosillo. The roster for Venados currently includes former Ducks pitcher Nick Struck. After spending two seasons with Long Island, the righty pitched in Mexico during the 2017 campaign for Sultanes de Monterrey and went 3-0 with a 2.09 ERA in 41 relief appearances. He has a 1.17 ERA and one save thus far in seven relief appearances with Venados. Naranjeros currently has former Bees pitcher Casey Coleman, who began the season with New Britain before having his contract purchased by the Houston Astros in May.
One game out of first place with a 19-16 record is Charros de Jalisco. Their staff includes 2010 and 2011 Duck Javier Colina as hitting coach. Their roster also includes three Atlantic League alumni from this past season. Joining 2017 ALPB Pitcher of the Year Gaby Hernandez (Southern Maryland) are pitcher Will Oliver (Somerset) and infielder Rico Noel (Lancaster).
Aguilas de Mexicali does not have any players from this past ALPB season but does have two former Ducks on the roster. Right-handed pitcher Ryan Kussmaul, a 2015 Duck who nearly won a championship with the Wichita Wingnuts this past year, has a 1.72 ERA and 10 saves in 16 games thus far. Infielder C.J. Retherford, a 2014 Duck that played in Mexico and for the Sussex County Miners in 2017, has five homers and 18 RBI in 35 games.
Mayos de Navojoa has a roster which includes outfielder Quincy Latimore, who joined the Ducks for spring training back in 2014 before his contract was purchased by the Washington Nationals. Also on the club are infielder Jovan Rosa (New Britain) and pitcher Daniel Moskos (Lancaster). Rounding out the Atlantic League alumni playing in Mexico is infielder Olmo Rosario. He is currently on Caneros de los Mochis, joined by former Patriot and Skeeter Roy Merritt, who pitched in Mexico this past regular season.
We’ll close out our first look at this year’s winter baseball roster by heading around the world to Australia. The league has just begun for the six teams that make up the circuit, and two squads are out to perfect starts. The Sydney Blue Sox lead the way at 4-0, and although they do not feature any ALPB alumni, the defending champion Brisbane Bandits do. Among the squad, which has started out 3-0, is right-handed pitcher Zac Treece. He won a championship with the club last year and has gone to the Atlantic League Championship Series with the Ducks in each of the past two seasons as well. The side-armer has recorded a strikeout and a walk to this point with Brisbane.
Right behind Brisbane in the standings is the Perth Heat, who jumped out a 3-1 start this year. Their roster includes right-handed pitcher Kyle Simon, who led the Atlantic League with six complete games as a member of the New Britain Bees in 2017. He allowed four runs (two earned) in two and two-thirds innings of relief but struck out five during his only outing thus far.
The roster featuring the most ALPB alumni is that of the Canberra Cavalry. Three players on that squad were in the Atlantic League last year. They include pitchers Frank Gailey and Michael Click, who won a championship with York, and pitcher Brian Grening, who collected the win for the Freedom Division at the Atlantic League All-Star Game while representing Southern Maryland. Finally, pitcher Mark Hamburger is currently with the Melbourne Aces in Australia. The right-hander joined Somerset late in the year and earned the win in Game One of the Liberty Division Championship Series.
That will do it for this look around the winter baseball leagues currently taking place. If you know of any player currently playing abroad that we may have missed in this report, please let us know in the comments section or by filling out a contact form. As the seasons all progress, we will be sure to provide further updates here on the blog. Stay tuned!
It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving has just about arrived, and the holidays are right around the corner. It seems like just yesterday that the Ducks were playing in their second consecutive Atlantic League Championship Series and fifth in the past seven years. The offseason is officially in full swing for Long Island’s hometown team, as season ticket packages, 10-game mini plans and group ticket outings are all now on sale for the upcoming All-Star Summer.
In short order, the Waddle In Shop will be re-opening for the holiday shopping season. Shortly thereafter, the Ducks Street Team will be heading to local hospitals to hand out donated toys to children in pediatric units. More information on all of that is soon to come on LIDucks.com. For now though, let’s get you caught up on some other news that has surfaced among some Ducks alumni as well as around the rest of the Atlantic League.
2009 DUCK ADDED TO MLB COACHING STAFF
Though his time win the Flock was short, Jim Brower is still a part of the Long Island Ducks alumni family. The right-handed pitcher joined the Flock during the 2009 season and would appear in seven games out of the bullpen. He earned one save and pitched eight innings without yielding a single earned run. Brower allowed five hits and three walks while striking out five and helped the Flock to the Second Half Liberty Division title under manager Gary Carter. Prior to joining the Ducks, he had accrued nine seasons of Major League experience with eight different teams, including the New York Yankees in 2007.
After his playing career ended following the 2010 season in Italy, Brower moved into the coaching ranks. He joined the Kansas City Royals organization as a pitching coach in the minor leagues, where he remained through 2015. In 2016, he joined the Chicago Cubs as their Minor League Pitching Coordinator. Now, he has made his return to the big leagues!
The Seattle Mariners announced their Major League coaching staff this week and have brought on Brower as an assistant coach. He will be joining a staff led by manager Scott Servais and featuring former Mariners slugger Edgar Martinez (hitting coach), Mel Stottlemeyer Jr. (pitching coach) and 1998 World Series MVP Scott Brosius (third base coach). He joins the likes of several former Ducks who are coaching in MLB, including Jamie Pogue (Cardinals bullpen catcher), Kimera Bartee (Pirates first base coach) and 2009 Ducks teammate George Lombard (Dodgers first base coach).
JANNIS KEEPS KNUCKLING PAST COMPETITION
We have highlighted 2015 Long Island Ducks pitcher Mickey Jannis at length here on the blog previously. Two years after his impressive first half with the Flock earned him a contract with the New York Mets organization, the right-hander is continuing to impress the baseball world. He has earned another opportunity to represent the Mets in the Arizona Fall League, and he has made six starts thus far with the Scottsdale Scorpions. The soon-to-be 30-year-old has compiled a 2.33 ERA, yielding just seven earned runs in 27 innings. He has given up just 23 hits and five walks as well while striking out 24 batters and holding opponents to a .223 batting average. These numbers come after making 21 starts during the 2017 season with Double-A Binghamton and going 8-7 with a 3.60 ERA, two complete games and 83 strikeouts to 38 walks over 122 and one-third innings.
The on-field success hasn’t been the only news of note for Jannis either. The Nevada native also got married this past weekend to his fiancée, Emily. In a bit of a coincidence, Andrew Barbosa, his teammate with the Ducks in 2015 and with the Mets organization in 2016, also tied the knot this offseason. He was married back in October to his fiancée, Mallory. Barbosa is still continuing his baseball career, as he spent 2017 with Triple-A Colorado Springs in the Milwaukee Brewers organization, appearing in 36 games (four starts). Take a look at the happy couples:
TWO NEW ATLANTIC LEAGUE MANAGERS HIRED
Though we are still a ways away from players being signed for the 2018 Atlantic League season, a pair of teams have already made managerial changes. First, the Sugar Land Skeeters announced at the end of September that Gary Gaetti, who had managed the team since its inaugural 2012 season, would be stepping down from his role. Last week, the team unveiled that his replacement would be 12-year Major League veteran Pete Incaviglia. The new skipper played at the game’s highest level from 1986 through 1998, spending the majority of his time with the Texas Rangers (’86-’90) and reaching the World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1993. He had a brief stint with the Yankees as well in 1997. During his 12 years, he played in 1,284 games and compiled a .246 batting average with 206 homers, 655 RBI, 546 runs and 194 doubles. Since his playing career ended, Incaviglia has gone on to coach and manage for over a decade. The 53-year-old served as the inaugural manager of the Grand Prairie AirHogs in the American Association from 2007-2010 and was the manager of the Laredo Lemurs in the same league from 2012-2016, earning a championship in 2015.
This week, the New Britain Bees also announced a change in their manager’s seat. Stan Cliburn, who had led the team in its first two seasons of existence, will be replaced by none other than Wally Backman. The fiery skipper had a lengthy 14-year Major League career, highlighted by a World Series championship with the Mets in 1986. He is now the third member of that team to become a full-time Atlantic League manager, joining Bud Harrelson (Ducks, 2000) and Gary Carter (Ducks, 2009). Backman’s MLB career saw him play 1,102 games and accrue a .275 batting average, 240 RBI, 482 runs and 117 stolen bases. He has since become a long-time manager in the professional baseball ranks, spending 19 years in that role. The 58-year-old has been a skipper in the Chicago White Sox, Arizona Diamondbacks and Mets organizations as well as in several independent leagues. He has won three championships as a manager, earning titles with the 1999 Tri-City Posse (Western Baseball League), the 2002 Birmingham Barons (Southern League, AA, White Sox) and the 2007 South Georgia Peanuts (South Coast League).
Welcome to the Atlantic League, Pete and Wally!
Stay tuned to the blog for upcoming news regarding which Ducks and Atlantic League alumni have taken the field to play more baseball this winter. We will have a full report in the coming days.