Blue Jays prospects head Down Under to hone their skills

Toronto Blue Jays catcher Jack Murphy catches a bullpen session during baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., on Feb. 23, 2015. (Nathan Denette / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Toronto Blue Jays catcher Jack Murphy catches a bullpen session during baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., on Feb. 23, 2015. (Nathan Denette / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

By Neil Davidson/The Canadian Press

DUNEDIN, Fla. – A former collegiate football player, Anthony Alford is new to pro baseball. But the Blue Jays prospect has already taken his bat and glove Down Under.

Toronto minor leaguer Jack Murphy, meanwhile, is somewhat of a baseball celebrity in Australia.

While both are currently in spring training with the Jays, Alford and Murphy have used the Australian Baseball League to hone their skills playing winter ball for the Canberra Cavalry.

“A great experience,” said Alford, a soft-spoken outfielder who spent three months playing in Australia over the winter.

The Jays have sent prospects to Canberra the last four years with the 26-year-old Murphy enjoying three stints in Australia.

“I love the league there,” he said.

“You learn how to play to win,” he added. “And it gives the chance for some of the Blue Jays minor league guys to come down and develop and work on their skills so when they get back here, they’re better off and farther down the road.”

The 20-year-old Alford played quarterback at the University of Southern Mississippi before transferring to University of Mississippi to play safety. A third-round Jays pick in 2012, he told the team last fall that he was going to focus on baseball.

The timing was perfect for the Australian league.

“I was excited about it,” said Alford. “I left football in the middle of the season, I didn’t want to just sit around in the house and do nothing. I’d rather be playing somewhere, training.”

Fellow Toronto prospects L.B. Dantzler and Christian Lopes also suited up for the Cavalry.

Lopes ranked second in the league in batting average at .371 last season. Murphy was third at .353.

Canberra is joined in the six-team league by the Adelaide Bite, Brisbane Bandits, Melbourne Aces, Perth Heat and Sydney Blue Sox.

“It’s a bit in its infancy, I would say, but I’ve seen it grow substantially over the last three years that I was there,” said Murphy, a catcher and Princeton graduate.

The teams play a 48-game schedule that runs late October through early February.

Murphy estimates the league is split 50-50 between Australians and imports from Canada, the U.S. and Latin America.

He says it’s close to Class-AA ball, with a wide spread of talent.

“They’ve got a lefty down in that league who might not throw over 83 (miles per hour) but is in the league leaders for ERA (earned-run average) every year because he just knows how to pitch. He pitched up to Triple-AAA in the U.S. but hasn’t been over there for five to six years. That doesn’t mean he can’t pitch any more. That’s kind of the way the league is.”

He says it’s like a college baseball environment, with a Canberra full house at around 2,500.

“I’ve played in front of 20,000 and you’re just as amped up in front of their 2,500 as you would be in front of 20,000 because they’re right on top of you there. And they don’t stop serving beer after the seventh inning like we do in the States, so those last couple of innings things are getting pretty rambunctious out in the crowd.”

No stranger to minor-league bus rides, Murphy appreciates that his Australian team flies everywhere with the exception of Sydney, which is a 3 1/2-hour bus ride away.

Murphy was named the Cavalry’s MVP in January. He also picked up the club’s Player’s Player and Silver Slugger awards. At six foot four with a hard-to-miss moustache, the charismatic Murphy has a little of the young Tom Selleck in him.

An MLB.com profile in December 2013 was headlined “Blue Jays prospect Murphy a cult hero Down Under.”

He believes each level of baseball has its lessons.

In a rookie league, it might be learning to hit the fastball. In some of the upper levels, you have to adjust to throwers who can mix their pitches.

Australia, he says, offers a mix of pitchers to have to adapt to, as well as a foreign environment.

“Each league serves its own purpose as far as development,” said Murphy. “I can say I’ve definitely gotten a hell of a lot better playing in that league. Each year, I come back and I’m a better player.”

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COLLEGE WATCH – Sydney’s Max Brennen stars for West Texas A@M

Buffs Sweep Tarleton State with 4-3 Victory Sunday

 

Max Brennen

Max Brennen

CANYON, Texas – Three runs in the sixth and a go ahead run in the eighth sparked West Texas A&M to a 4-3 victory over visiting Tarleton State Sunday afternoon at Wilder Park. With the win, the Buffs swept the four game series and improved to 18-10 on the year and 10-6 in Lone Star Conference play, while Tarleton State fell to 9-12 and 3-8 in league play.

The wins marked the first four game series sweep of the Texans since April 21-22, 2006, also in Canyon. The Buffs tallied four runs on 12 hits with one error, while TSU had three runs on seven hits with two errors. WT had balanced hitting as four players had two hits each. Senior Max Brennen went 2 for 4 with a run scored and two RBI with a double, while junior Trace Hansen was 2 for 5 with a RBI and a triple. Jonathan Schmitz led the way for TSU going 2 for 3 with a RBI.

WT junior Brooks Trujillo pitched six innings, allowing six hits, two earned runs, with two walks and three strikeouts as he didn’t factor into the decision. Senior Sean Michel (1-0) earned the win in relief, while senior Paul Lujan picked up his sixth save of the season. Kyle Gottardy went 5.1 innings for TSU, allowing seven hits, three earned runs and fanned five, while also not factoring into the decision. John Kresta took the loss in relief going the final 1.1 innings allowing three hits, one earned run and struck out two.

Max is currently hitting .263 whilst West Texas are 18-10 on the season.

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Season Stats

 

COLLEGE WATCH:- Sydney’s Andrew Riddell leading his conference pitching stats

Andrew Riddell pitching against

Andrew Riddell pitching against the Butler Grizzlies this week

Andrew Riddell is at Dodge City Community College in Kansas along with fellow Aussie, Tim Wakefield, both from Baulkham Hills Baseball Club in Sydney.

Dodge city is currently coming 2nd in their Conference in Kansas, the state is broken into two conferences. Dodge City is currently 19 Wins, 7 losses. A great start to the season.

Tim Wakefield

Tim Wakefield

Andrew is also leading the pitching stats for his whole conference.  The 6-foot-6 former Oakhill College student is currently 4-1 throwing 23 innings with an incredible 0.78ERA

  • Last week, Dodge city played against Cloud County Community College where another Aussie from Sydney, Zac Horton goes, and the week before played Colby Community College where Queenslander, Austin Ihle plays.Further_Reading_Header-1024x185

Life in jail for teenager involved in murder of baseball player Chris Lane

Michael Jones after his arrest.

Michael Jones after his arrest.

By Samantha Landy/Herald Sun

ONE of Melbourne baseball player Chris Lane’s killers has been sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to a second-degree murder charge.

The Duncan Banner is reporting that Michael Jones, 19, admitted to being in a car with co-accused Chancey Luna and James Edwards “with the knowledge a gun was in the car”.

Jones — 17 at the time of the August 2013 murder — also admitted seeing a shot fired, the Oklahoma local paper says.

Jones was originally charged with first-degree murder over his involvement in Lane’s fatal shooting in August 2013.

But he pleaded guilty to an amended second-degree murder charge, receiving a sentence of life in jail.

Chris Lane

Chris Lane

He will not testify in Luna’s upcoming trial for first-degree murder, due to begin on April 13.

Edwards has been charged as an accessory to first-degree murder and is also due to face court next month.

He has testified that he was in the back seat of a car, driven by Jones, when he heard a shot fired from where Luna was sitting.

A fourth man, Oddesse Barnes, 23, has also been sentenced to 25 years after pleading guilty to being an accessory to first-degree murder for helping hide the gun used to kill Lane.

He will serve 12 years of the sentence, which was handed down in January.

Lane, 22, was shot dead while jogging near his girlfriend Sarah Harper’s family home in Duncan, Oklahoma.

Jones, Luna, then 16, and Edwards, then 15, were arrested shortly afterwards.

James Beresford to start season in AAA

Beresford 2James Beresford will start the 2015 season in AAA after being invited to Major League camp for the first few weeks of Spring Training.   The Twins cut him today and returned him to the minor league camp.

Last year he spent the whole season at Rochester AAA appearing in 131 games and hitting .276, 47RBI, .351 SLG, .674OPS. In his 8 yr minor league career with the Twins he is hitting .282.

 

Aussie/NZ Player List For 2015 Spring Training

Grant Balfour is our most succesful Major Leaguer  Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Grant Balfour, our most succesful Major Leaguer, was inducted into the Baseball Australia’s Hall of Fame last month
Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Here are your links to the Aussies and New Zealanders currently at Spring Training.   We have listed them as much as possible in the teams they finished the 2014 season with.   Obviously this will change once the 2015 season gets underway and we will bring you regular updates as that occurs.

oOo

Majors:  Grant Balfour (Rays), Liam Hendriks (Blue Jays), John Holdzkom (Pirates)

Triple-AJames Beresford (Twins), Travis Blackley (Giants), Allan de San Miguel [Twins]

Double-AJohn Hussey (Padres), Matt Kennelly (Braves), Warwick Saupold (Tigers),

High-ATim Atherton [A’s], Ryan Battaglia [Indians], Todd Van Steensel [Twins]

Low-ADaniel McGrath [Red Sox], Lewis Thorpe (Twins), Logan Wade [Twins],

Short Season A:  Sam Holland (Padres), Robbie Perkins [Rockies], Aaron Sookee [D’Backs], Sam Street [Pirates].

Rookie: Dean Aldridge (Tigers)Jack Barrie [Twins],  Jared Cruz (Astros), Ryan Dale (Royals), Sam Gibbons [Twins], Josh Guyer (Twins), Nathan Hass (Braves), Elliott Hargreaves [Reds], Nick Hutchings (Pirates), Sam Kennelly (Pirates), Ben Leslie [Giants], Todd McDonald (Rangers), Dakota Mitchell (Reds), James Philibossian (Tigers), Aaron Sayers [Tigers], Zac Shepherd (Tigers), Brandon Stenhouse (Yankees)

Dominican Rookie League: Jake Bowey [Astros], Connor MacDonald (Astros), Lachlan Madden (Astros), Adam Silva [Yankees], Hayden Timberlake [Astros]

    

Lewis Thorpe could be headed for Tommy John surgery

Thorpe7By Mike Berardino/twincities.com

JUPITER, Fla. — Australian left-hander Lewis Thorpe, one of the top pitching prospects in the Twins’ system, left his most recent outing with elbow pain and could be headed for Tommy John surgery.

Thorpe, 19, is scheduled to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging [MRI] exam this week. Thorpe was shut down for the Midwest League playoffs last September with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow.

“Obviously it’s a hard thing for a 19-year-old to deal with,” said Twins infielder James Beresford, a fellow Australian. “You don’t wish that upon anyone. I’ve spoken to him, and he’s obviously very disappointed as you would be.”

Thorpe sent a text message to Beresford after the setback, which happened just a few days ago.

“He said he felt it on one pitch,” Beresford said. “That’s usually the sign” of a ruptured ligament.

Armed with a mid-90s fastball and impressive secondary pitches, Thorpe had climbed the charts in the past two seasons since the Twins signed him for $500,000 in July 2012. Baseball America ranked him as high as seventh in the Twins system after the 2013 season, and he has been included in multiple listings of the game’s top 100 prospects.

The decision was made last fall to rehabilitate the injury rather than perform Tommy John surgery. Thorpe skipped the Australian league this winter and reported to the Twins spring complex early, where he was throwing bullpens and showing no ill effects.

“I talked to him daily,” Beresford said. “All the reports he gave me was that it was feeling great. Obviously that kind of injury can happen at any point, even if you rehab to the best of your ability. If the arm’s not right, it’s not right.”

Thorpe, who had packed on 35 pounds of muscle since signing, stayed in Fort Myers into early December to strengthen his elbow as much as possible before returning to Australia for six weeks or so.

“He was ready to go,” Beresford said. “He was excited about the season. He said he was fully healthy in terms of how (the elbow) felt. The ball was coming out great. He said the curveball was really good, the fastball had life on it.”

Depending on what the MRI shows, Thorpe figures to receive multiple opinions from orthopedic surgeons before taking the next step. Thorpe doesn’t turn 20 until late November.

“He’s a really good kid, and I think it’s just going to make him better if he’s got to fight through something like that,” Beresford said. “If it turns out that he has to have surgery, then I’m sure he’s going to do everything in his best interests to get back to full health. If it turns out he has to go down that path, I’m sure he’ll bounce back from it.”

The 26-year-old Beresford, a friend and mentor to Thorpe, spoke with the talented young pitcher after his late-season scare but did not offer advice on whether he should rehab the injury or undergo surgery at that point.

“I asked him how it felt,” Beresford said. “I don’t know whether it was his decision or the Twins’ decision. He said they were going down the rehab path, and to all accounts, he felt great. He did all the rehab. I know he was throwing back in Australia. Obviously he would have felt the rehab worked and he was back to full strength. Even up to before it happened, he was throwing great. There was no pain.”

In 28 pro outings (24 starts), Thorpe has posted a 2.96 earned run average while striking out 11.2 batters per nine innings. He was penciled in for the rotation at Class A Fort Myers this year.

 

Trip down under put O’Conner over the top

Rays think backstop broke out in part thanks to Australia swing

Justin O'Conner posted a .486 slugging percentage in 80 games with Class A Advanced Charlotte in 2014. (Arizona Fall League)

Justin O’Conner got extra at-bats, extra reps behind home plate in Australia. (Arizona Fall League)

By Jake Seiner / MiLB.com

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — When Justin O’Conner fell behind in his development as a prospect, Tampa Bay had an odd remedy to catch him up — a couple of trans-Pacific flights and some time in a foreign capital.

The Rays’ catching prospect is now at Spring Training, readying himself for an Opening Day assignment to Double-A Montgomery. After batting .282 and throwing out 50 percent of basestealers with Class A Advanced Charlotte last year, he has the attention of the Minor League community — MLB.com recently named him the top prospect in the Rays’ farm system.
The breakout was a long time coming for the 2010 first-rounder (31st overall). A product of Cowan High School in Indiana, he didn’t catch until his senior year and entered pro ball a novice behind the dish. He required reps but couldn’t get them because of injury. After playing 96 games combined in 2010 and 2011, O’Conner required surgery on both hips due to bone spurs and was relegated to designated hitter duties in 2012.

In 2013, O’Conner finally jumped to the full-season level with Class A Bowling Green. He struggled offensively, striking out 111 times and hitting .233 in 102 games. He improved defensively, though, throwing out 55.6 percent of basestealers.

That’s when the Rays decided it was time to rev up O’Conner’s learning curve. Prior to the 2014 season, Tampa Bay shipped O’Conner to Australia to play with the Brisbane Bandits in the Australian Baseball League.

The Rays were enamored with O’Conner’s baseball tools — particularly his right arm — but wanted to see him mature off the field. Some time Down Under did the trick.

“It’s not the comforts of home,” Rays director of Minor League operations Mitch Lukevics said. “The conditions are different, more challenging.”

O’Conner’s Australian teammates were generally older. Many of them held day jobs in addition to their baseball careers to make ends meet. The Rays hoped the experience would give O’Conner an appreciation for what it means to be a Major League prospect and what it would mean if he weren’t.

“We come to the ballpark as our living,” Lukevics said. “I think being in that environment and seeing these men over there, how they do that — that can really help our players get an appreciation for the game of baseball and what they have to do.”

The 22-year-old responded with an outstanding 2014 campaign fueled by the mental gains made in the ABL. Charlotte manager Jared Sandberg — since promoted to Triple-A Durham — raved about how O’Conner’s makeup allowed him to improve his receiving and communication with the pitching staff. O’Conner is now considered among the best defensive catchers in the Minor Leagues.

He also posted an .806 OPS with 10 homers in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League.

“He’s come a long way,” Sandberg said. “he had some raw tools, but he’s come a long way. It just shows the work ethic he has to turn himself into the type of player he is now.”

After the season, Tampa Bay found O’Conner even more work by sending him to the Arizona Fall League. The experience allowed him to practice building rapports with new pitchers and continue to get repetitions in all facets, helping further close the developmental gap created early in his career.

“It was right in the lines that you want for his journey,” Lukevics said. “We got extra at-bats, extra reps behind home plate in Australia. The good season he had here, he earned the right to go to the Arizona Fall League, where he can have some better competition, handle better pitchers on a more consistent basis, see better pitching.

“That was the next step in line for him, to show what he really can do, and that skill came out.”

O’Conner is headed back to Double-A after a brief look there at the end of 2014. There, the Rays hope he continues to blossom as a hitter, as well as a standout defender.

“He’s always had the skill,” Lukevics said. “The difference is he’s starting to swing at the strikes and not at the balls, and that’s a big step for young kids.”

Drew Naylor off to Japan

Drew Naylor delivers a pitch during his first start of the season for Brisbane on Jan 4th. (SMP Images/ABL Media)

Drew Naylor delivers a pitch during his first start of the season for Brisbane on Jan 4th. (SMP Images/ABL Media)

Brisbane’s Drew Naylor has signed to play with the Kagawa Olive Guyners, a team in the Shikoku Island League of Japan. Established in 2005, the Guyners play at Olive Stadium in the Kagawa Baseball Complex in Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture.

Drew originally signed with the Phillies in 2006 and had 6 seasons with them compiling a 41-42 record with a 4.15ERA and rising as high as AA. In 2011, he started a Phillies spring training game against Florida State University, picking up the win in a scoreless outing.

He was also on the 2009 World Baseball Classic roster for Australia.Kagawa_Olive_Guyners

He played for the Brisbane Bandits in 2010 coming in late in the season and finished the season with a 3.21 ERA over 14 innings including two starts.

He missed the entire 2011 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and was designated for assignment by the Phillies on 16 September 2011. He was then released from the Phillies as a free agent in November 2012.

He returned to the Bandits this past season starting 3 games for an 0-2 record and 7.24ERA throwing 13.2 innings.

Rawhide hire Matt Cooper from Sydney Blue Sox

New baseball ops manager becomes first Australian front office hire

From the Blue Sox to Visalia

From the Blue Sox to Rawhide

Visalia Rawhide

With the excitement of Opening Day approaching, the Rawhide are proud to announce a ground-breaking addition to its front office staff.

Matt Cooper, who was previously the general manager of the Sydney Blue Sox of the Australian Baseball League, has joined the club as baseball operations manager. While multiple Australian-born baseball players have played professional baseball in America, Cooper is the first to become a full-time member of a Minor League front office.

“We’re very excited to welcome Matt to Visalia,” said Rawhide general manager Jennifer Pendergraft. “He’s proven his work ethic and passion for this industry in Sydney, and we know he’s going to be an outstanding addition to our award-winning staff.”

A lifelong baseball enthusiast who played the sport for 17 years, Cooper began working in the fledgling Australian Baseball League upon its inception in 2010 and worked his way up to the lead executive position with the Blue Sox. His experience culminated in his involvement with the 2014 MLB Opening Series in Sydney, which saw the Los Angeles Dodgers play the Arizona Diamondbacks at the historic Sydney Cricket Grounds.

In his new role with the Rawhide, Cooper will help oversee various aspects of ballpark operations, including clubhouse logistics, team travel coordination, serving as the D-backs’ point person for affiliate relations and assisting with player appearances in the community.

“I’m incredibly delighted to be working in Visalia, and I’m looking forward to getting to grips with Minor League Baseball,” Cooper said. “I’ve heard so many great things about the organization from people around the industry, and it’s an honor to join such a great staff. I’m also hopeful that more Australians will follow and become involved in baseball management as the sport continues to grow.”

Additionally, Cooper is good-naturedly hopeful that he can assist in breaking Chopper’s Curse, which has kept Visalia without a California League title since 1978.

“Like Steve Irwin and all Australians, I’m an expert with amphibious reptiles,” Cooper says with a laugh. “I plan to help create an even more welcoming habitat for his spirit and help break this hex for good.”

The Rawhide open their 2015 season (and the defense of their Northern Division Championship) on April 9th at Rawhide Ballpark against High Desert.

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