Perth righty back in big leagues; veteran stars in Triple-A
By Tyler Maun / TheABL.com.au
The ABL’s reigning champions – and winners of four of the league’s five awarded Claxton Shield premierships – continue to turn out some of the nation’s best homegrown and imported talent. The core group of Heat veterans who have led their team to a nearly unprecedented run of success continue to climb toward the highest levels internationally.
Among them, catcher Allan de San Miguel is back with his original Major League team, signed by the Minnesota Twins and now working with Triple-A Rochester at the highest level of the Minor Leagues. Key imports like 2014/15 relief pitcher Jorge Marban are back in affiliated ball as well. Marban is pitching for the Class A Advanced Salem Red Sox after his breakout season in Western Australia.
Here are three more current or former Heat players to watch during this year’s Northern Hemisphere season:
One of Western Australia’s most talented exports is hoping a change in role will bring about his long-forecasted Major League success. Now a relief pitcher with the Toronto Blue Jays, Hendriks pitched his way onto the big league roster to open 2015 with a strong showing in Spring Training, registering a 3.72 ERA and limiting opposing hitters to a .237 average in 10 Grapefruit League outings. Through his first three outings for Toronto during the regular season, Hendriks has allowed zero runs on just two hits while striking out seven and walking one.
The ABL’s back-to-back Rawlings Gold Glove winner, Wong is getting a taste of Triple-A for the first time in his professional career. The Colorado Rockies prospect and 2013-15 Perth shortstop is playing for the Albuquerque Isotopes of the Pacific Coast League after two strong Double-A seasons. Wong has become one of the most reliable defensive presences in the ABL in his two campaigns and could return for a third fixture with the Heat in 2015/16. In Albuquerque, he is teammates with two other former ABL players. Catcher Ryan Casteel played for Melbourne during the 2013/14 season, and outfielder Brandon Barnes was with Sydney in 2011/12.
A member of Perth’s legendary baseball-playing Kennelly family, 26-year-old Kennelly is knocking on the door to the Major Leagues. Like Wong, Kennelly is also playing at the Triple-A level for the Gwinnett Braves in the Atlanta Braves Minor League system. Signed by the Braves at 16, Kennelly has climbed their Minor League ladder and made himself a valued part of the organisation during his time behind the plate at a host of stops in the Minors. Kennelly, the second of four brothers on the Heat roster in recent seasons, is one of the ABL’s most experienced veterans, having played in 179 games primarily at catcher and first base. For his career with the Western Australia powerhouse Heat, Kennelly is a .295 hitter, has bashed 16 home runs, and has driven in 100.
Tyler Maun is an ABL staff writer and a contributor to MiLB.com, the Official Site of Minor League Baseball. Follow him on Twitter @TylerMaun.
The Patriots play in Bridgewater Township, New Jersey which explains this twitter from Travis about a long road trip
Former Aussie Major Leaguers Chris Oxspring and Justin Huber also played for the Somerset Patriots.
Following Saturday’s game, the Tampa Bay Rays made a surprising move when they designated Grant Balfour for assignment, the first step in ultimately releasing their highest-paid pitcher without getting anything in return.
The move was a bit surprising, not only because the Rays will have to eat what’s left of Balfour’s $7 million salary this season, but also because Saturday’s implosion was his first really bad outing of the season.
Prior to walking three and giving up the grand slam, Balfour had made five appearances covering 3.2 innings and allowed just 2 hits, 1 walk, and no runs. He had also inherited two runners and stranded both.
Balfour had not been dominant, but he also had not been bad, that is, until Saturday.
Cash took the high road, saying the release was about the team needing somebody to come in and give the team innings (Brandon Gomes pitched more than an inning 11 times in 2014).
“It was kind of out of need for our team going forward,” Cash told Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune. “We were getting a little short. We need innings, so that was kind of the deciding factor.”
But Saturday wasn’t just a bad outing. It was more than that. It was a bad outing that wasn’t unexpected and it was a sign of things to come.
In an era when pitchers are throwing harder than ever, a right-hander with a 90-mph fastball is a soft-tosser.
Then there was something else that stood out after Balfour gave up the grand slam on Saturday, something that certainly didn’t go unnoticed in the offices at The Trop.
Balfour is a pitcher who thrives on intensity and this was how he reacted to the grand slam.
No intensity whatsoever. That’s the look of a defeated pitcher.
Ultimately, the Rays decided to cut ties with Balfour. The move is eased a bit financially as $2 million of his salary this season is deferred to the future. But it is still a big hit for a low-revenue club.
Balfour may rediscover his swagger and his fastball. But the Rays have no room for error this season and they can’t afford to keep Balfour around hoping he does.
Shortstop in Triple-A; left-hander Thorpe to miss 2015 season
By Tyler Maun / TheABL.com.au
Despite a last-place finish in the ABL’s 2014/15 season, the Aces are producing heaps of talent on the international stage. One of Australia’s heralded baseball factories is currently grooming some of the top young players in the nation.
Left-handed pitchers Lewis Thorpe and Daniel McGrath headline the group, but young position players such as Jared Cruz and Ryan Dale aren’t far behind climbing the Minor League ladder. The Aces have welcomed in a group of promising imports in recent seasons.
Reigning ABL single-season home run king Kellin Deglan, who hit 16 round-trippers a season ago, is beginning his 2015 season with Class A Advanced High Desert. Former Nippon Professional Baseball imports Hirotaka Koishi and Isamu Sato are plying their trade with the Seibu Lions of Japan’s Pacific League.
Here are three more current or former Aces’ players to watch during this year’s Northern Hemisphere season:
One of Australia’s smoothest glove men, Victorian infielder Beresford is back at Triple-A for the third season in a row and could make his Major League debut in 2015. The defensive wizard saw action in 131 games for Triple-A Rochester last seasons and performed admirably at the plate, as well, batting .276 with 65 runs scored and 47 more driven in. The 26-year-old is Rochester’s primary second baseman and has kicked off his 2015 campaign on a strong note, batting .357 through his first five games this season. Beresford has played 28 games in parts of two ABL seasons, last taking the field for the Aces during the 2012/13 fixture.
Arguably the nation’s most talented current export to the United States, left-hander Thorpe will unfortunately be out of action for the 2015 season. The Victorian southpaw and Minnesota Twins prospect underwent ulnar collateral ligament replacement surgery – also known as Tommy John surgery after the former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher who first underwent the operation – in April and will require roughly a year of recovery time. Thorpe entered the 2015 season as MLB.com’s 10th-ranked Twins prospect on the strength of a 3-2 record and 3.52 ERA in 16 outings for Class A Cedar Rapids last year. Over eight career ABL appearances, the Aces lefty has gone 3-2 with a 2.36 ERA, last pitching for his hometown side during the 2013/14 season.
The other half of Melbourne’s fast-rising left-handers, McGrath is debuting at the Class A Advanced level of Minor League ball in 2015. The 20-year-old Melbournian was impressive last year at Class A Greenville, making 19 starts and going 6-6 with a 4.07 ERA. McGrath made his first ABL appearance at just 16 years old in the 2010/11 season, pitching in four games for the Aces. Through 32 games in his Minor League career, McGrath has registered a 9-11 record while posting a 3.97 ERA and limiting opponents to a paltry .215 batting average. He’ll be tested this year at a difficult level in the revered Carolina League.
Tyler Maun is an ABL staff writer and a contributor to MiLB.com, the Official Site of Minor League Baseball. Follow him on Twitter @TylerMaun.
By Thomas Lawrence/Record Staff Writer
STOCKTON — The Ports couldn’t have asked for a better night from Tim Atherton.
Atherton, Stockton’s 6-foot-2, 200-pound right-hander, all but shut down Bakersfield through seven innings. But as they’ve done recently, the Ports failed to muster offense to back him.
The Blaze won 5-1 after an eighth-inning, first-pitch grand slam from No. 9 hitter Brock Hebert off reliever Tyler Hollstegge, clinching a series win over the Ports Tuesday at Stockton Ballpark. The three-game set finishes with a 7:10 p.m. matchup today.
“He just gave us an outstanding performance,” Ports manager Rick Magnante said of Atherton. “It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t find a way to get a win for him tonight.”
Atherton, a native of Australia, allowed one earned run on two hits, with 11 strikeouts and a walk. Yet, with a single and two walks, Hollstegge (0-1) loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth, and Hebert made him pay with a no-doubt blast to left.
Before that, Atherton had yielded a solo shot to Tim Lopes, and that was it.
“He’s just competing with his arsenal. He’s mixing pitches, he’s changing speeds, he’s locating, he’s keeping hitters off-balance,” Magnante said.
Atherton spent time in Triple-A Sacramento a year ago, an invaluable experience for the 25-year-old.
“Any time that you’re exposed to something that’s a higher level of anything, whether it be the business world or the sports world … it only enhances your learning experience,” Magnante said, “and hopefully accelerates your development as a player.”
Tampa Bay top prospect O’Conner leading way for Brisbane
By Nina Zimmerman / TheABL.com.au
The Brisbane Bandits, proudly presented by Welldog, have a lot to look forward to between seasons at AFA Stadium at Holloway Field. Through relationships with clubs such as MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays and the EDA Rhinos of Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League, Bandits alumni can be found across all corners of the globe.
Italian pitcher Alex Maestri, an All-Star for Brisbane in 2011/12, returns to Japan for the Orix Buffaloes in Nippon Professional Baseball. Maestri joins Akira Nakamura, Ayatsugu Yamashita, and Kenta Imamiya, who all play for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, in NPB for 2015.
Fan favourite C.J. Beatty is back in the Chicago White Sox organisation, starting the season with Class A Advanced Winston-Salem in his hometown in the US state of North Carolina. Brisbane pitcher Samuel Holland advanced a level in the San Diego Padres organisation, playing for the Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore Storm, where he is managed by Canberra Elite Cavalry skipper Michael Collins.
Here are three more current and former Bandits to watch during this year’s Northern Hemisphere season:
O’Conner made headlines when MLB.com named him the Rays’ No. 1 prospect and the No. 62 prospect overall in MLB last offseason. The 23-year-old has come a long way since his stint with the Bandits in 2013/14, when he hit .200 in 32 games divided between designated hitter and catcher. He credited his accelerated development in the Rays’ system to his stint in the ABL. Last year, O’Conner split the 2014 Minor League season between Class A Advanced Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery before earning a spot in the prestigious Arizona Fall League and being named to the AFL’s All-Prospect team. The Rays’ first selection in the 2010 MLB Draft has a combination of defensive skill behind the plate and raw power from the right-handed batter’s box. He started the 2015 Minor League season in Double-A, just two levels below the Major Leagues
After hitting .221 between Class A and Rookie ball last season, Queenslander Wade earned an accelerated promotion to Class A Advanced Fort Myers this year, where he joins Sydney Blue Sox pitcher Todd Van Steensel on the Miracle roster. Wade has proved steady in the early days of the season, hitting .227 with a home run and four RBIs while playing in both the outfield and the infield. Wade’s Minor League promotion comes on the heels of his best ABL season to date in 2014/15, in which the switch-hitting utilityman posted a .282 batting average while driving in 27 runs over 45 games.
Though Leonard’s ABL season was less than stellar, the Texan’s career has been on an upward climb ever since. After batting .228 for the Bandits in 2013/14, Leonard had his best Minor League season to date, posting a .284 batting average for Class A Advanced Charlotte and earning a spot on the Florida State League All-Star team. That October, he played in the prestigious Arizona Fall League, a showcase circuit of the best young prospect talent across all 30 MLB organisations. Leonard’s path continued when MLB.com named him the Tampa Bay Rays’ No. 28 overall prospect, based largely on the raw power the 22-year-old possesses at the plate. The Rays promoted Leonard to Double-A for the 2015 season.
By Melanie Dinjaski/FOX SPORTS
Liam Hendriks has impressed early for the Toronto Blue Jays.
After spending time last season with the Kansas City Royals as well as pitching in the Dominican Republic during the US winter, Hendriks was picked up by the Blue Jays as the eighth pitcher on their packed roster.
Despite being one of the last men brought on after spring training, he has been doing a good job convincing coaches he should keep the gig in the bullpen for the rest of the season.
The former Minnesota pitcher’s career fastball average was 145km/h, but the West Australian has been averaging 148km/h for Toronto so far this year, and has also noted the development of his slider pitch too.
“The biggest thing I’m happy about is I’m getting a little bit more depth with my slider,” Hendriks told TSN.
By Gary Shelton/saintpetersblog.com
In the last ride of Grant Balfour, there were runners everywhere.
A deficit got out of hand. Gas was thrown on the fire. There was ugly all around. A game was lost.
You know, like usual.
One of the largest financial mistakes in Rays’ history came to an inglorious end Saturday night. Balfour, brought in as the team’s closer, was released after a miserable outing to the New York Yankees. He walked three. He gave up a grand slam. He turned a 4-0 deficit into a 9-0 loss.
Finally, the Rays decided that not even Balfour’s contract could save him.
That’s why he was here, you know. Balfour was awful a year ago, when he was brought in to replace Fernando Rodney as the team’s closer. It was a horrible decision. Rodney had 48 saves for the Mariners. Balfour struggled through a season in which he could not save, a season in which he lost the closer’s job, the front office’s trust and the fans’ affection.
But Balfour had $7 million coming this year, work or no work. So the Rays decided they would try to find work for him. Besides, Balfour was a sympathetic figure, with the death of his father back in Australia.
But it was obvious he was on thin ice. Balfour made five appearances, allowing a run in none of them. As spectacular as it was, this was Balfour’s first miserable outing, a 33-pitch going-out-of-business sale.
In other words, Balfour imploded, much as he did often last year. This time was the last time.
“It was a very difficult decision,’’ manager Kevin Cash said Sunday, “because of what he’s meant to the organization and the way he’s pitched in a lot of big games, big moments. But it was kind of out of need for our team going forward. We were getting a little short. We need innings, where we’re at with some injuries and situations like that. That was kind of the deciding factor.’’
Cash was being nice. Balfour was replaced on the roster by Brandon Gomes, another reliever. Clearly, if the Rays trusted Balfour, there were 7 million reasons to keep him. That’s a lot of money for a team on the Rays’ budget to eat.
Balfour had come in the 2014 season to be a turn-off-the-lights pitcher, replacing Rodney at the end of games. He had saved 38 games the previous year for the A’s, and his volatile presence was supposed to be a signature part of Rays’ games. But there were hints Balfour had lost velocity, and by trying to be too fine, lost control. He finished with a 4.91 era and a 1.44 whip.
After the game, Balfour admitted he did not have the same fastball as a couple of years ago. “The arm feels good,” he said. “But I threw and it’s 88 mph. I feel like it should be 92. I’ve been shying away from using it.”
In one signature moment late last season, Balfour came off the mound after blowing another save, and the fans let him have it. Sarcastically, Balfour tipped his hat to the crowd. He was still livid the next night.
“That was to the crowd,” Balfour said. “They were booing me, so I tipped my cap to them. I don’t expect anyone … they can do whatever they want to do. I’m not going to their work and standing there and booing them at their desk and stuff. I don’t care about them. It doesn’t bother me.
“I tipped my cap to say, ‘Go ahead. Do what you have to do. If that makes you feel good, go ahead and do it.’ If that’s the kind of person you are and that’s what you have to do to make yourself happy, then go ahead and do it.”
Cash, however, praised the way Balfour handled his release. No cap-tipping this time.
“The way Grant handled it, just kind of as expected, as a pro’s pro,’’ Cash said. “He was extremely appreciative, said some nice things, got to talk to all of his teammates and he was a big part of this clubhouse. I think it shocked some guys, but the way he handled it made everything better.’’
In all of baseball, the end comes quickly for a lot of relievers who are unable to adjust to the loss of speed.
Still, there are some cracks showing in the Rays’ blueprint in recent seasons. Designated hitter Pat Burrell was a waste of money, and Luke Scott didn’t work out. Nor did Balfour in his second stint with the team.
In the end, he walked away.
Just like a lot of hitters he faced.
By Alexis Brudnicki / Melbourne Aces
BUFFALO, NY – James Beresford had never been a part of anything like it.
When the middle infielder was promoted to the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings roster for the first time two seasons ago, he joined an unlikely group of playoff contenders. After the squad started the season 2-11, they took off and eventually sealed the wild-card spot in the post-season.
Last year, Beresford broke camp with the Red Wings for the first time and helped them to a second consecutive 77-67 finish in the International League’s North Division, batting .276/.323/.351 in 131 games. They fell just short of a playoff spot, but the 26-year-old cherished the uniqueness of the Triple-A clubhouse in Rochester.
“It’s pretty special,” he said. “I got called up to Rochester in June of 2013, spent three months here and we made the playoffs, and then last year we were a game from making the playoffs again. A big part of why the team’s done well is because we’ve got such a great group of guys. Obviously we’ve got a bunch of prospects on our team but the reason we do so well is because we gel together as a team.
“Everyone buys into the same philosophy. That’s why we’ve won so many games the last couple years…Obviously it’s hard because you want to get to the big leagues and you want to do well individually, but the last couple years have been something different. It’s nothing like I’ve ever been a part of.”
Not an entirely dissimilar experience, Beresford would also rank his time with the Australian national team right up there among his best baseball moments. He’s had the opportunity to don the green-and gold uniform on multiple occasions, and has also suited up for the Melbourne Aces of the Australian Baseball League for two off-seasons, getting to play right at home in front of family and friends.
“It’s a great thing,” the native of Mount Waverly, Victoria said. “A lot of guys who play over here love going home and playing. The last couple of years, with the circumstances it hasn’t really worked out for me to play at home, but the two seasons I played for the Aces were a lot of fun. When you go home it’s not as individual-based.
“Obviously you want to win over here and everything, but at the same time as an individual you’ve got to perform. When you go back and play at home, or when you go to a tournament and play for Australia, it’s just about the team. It’s about winning and doing really well. So it’s very special when you do get to go home and play.”
Beresford represented his country with Team Australia once as a little leaguer, once at the junior level, and then as a senior at multiple World Cup tournaments and two World Baseball Classics.
“The best thing about playing baseball is when you get to go away to the tournaments and represent your country,” he said. “I feel like the love for the game comes out a lot more because you’re a team and you’ve got one goal, to try and win. That’s pretty special.”
Into his ninth season in the Twins organization, Beresford still feels as though he represents Australia every time he steps out on the field, no matter where he’s playing.
“Obviously baseball in Australia is not a huge sport,” the 6-foot-1, 170-pound infielder said. “The fact that we are over here doing well is a big thing, because it’s hard to come over to a country where baseball is the No. 1 sport. It’s huge over here and back in Australia baseball doesn’t really get a look in. When he come over here, every Australian takes that in stride and wants to do well and get a name out for baseball back home.”
Minnesota has the largest contingent of players from down under of any organization. Joining Beresford and his Red Wings teammate Allan de San Miguel (Perth, WA) at spring training in Fort Myers before the regular season began were Todd Van Steensel (Sydney, NSW), Logan Wade (Brisbane, QLD), Lewis Thorpe (Melbourne, VIC), Josh Guyer (Sydney, NSW), Sam Gibbons (Geelong, VIC), Jack Barrie (Kalgoorlie-Boulder, WA) and Lachlan Wells (Newcastle, NSW).
“Whether you don’t really know another Australian baseballer really well, or whether you’ve been mates with him for years, it’s great when you see other Australian kids over here,” Beresford said. “There are a lot of young guys with the Twins and I was with them all spring training.
“It was cool to see younger kids come over here and them doing well and getting their feet wet. It makes playing over here a lot easier.”
The hardest adjustment to life in professional baseball overseas for Beresford has been the distance from his family and friends on the other side of the world, so seeing familiar faces has been helpful, though he is becoming more and more accustomed to it as time goes on.
“I’m kind of used to it now that it’s my ninth year but the first couple of years were really tough, coming over here at 18 and being away from family,” he said. “But I look at is as you’re only going to be doing this for so long and while you’re young and enjoying it, baseball is a pretty cool game to be playing.”
In his third stint at Triple-A, Beresford has already reached an impressive level of the game that not a whole lot of Aussies have done before. Through 852 career minor-league games, the left-handed hitter has posted a .284 average with a .341 on-base percentage, with three home runs, 111 doubles, 13 triples, 61 stolen bases and a .965 fielding percentage.
“Working hard and keeping a level head,” he said of what he attributes to his success. “It’s very easy to get upset and angry and frustrated in this game, so keeping a level head and putting everything into perspective, taking it day by day, is a big thing when it comes to baseball. You can have great games and you can have some bad games so trying to stay even keel.”
Maintaining that balance is not something that Beresford adjusted to right away. It took a little time.
“That’s definitely something I got better at,” he said. “I used to get a lot angrier I guess you could say. I was a little hot-headed when I was younger. I would take every at-bat like it was do-or-die. Obviously every at-bat is important but the more even keel I can stay translates into better results throughout the season.”
Continuing to push forward in pursuit of his big-league dreams, Beresford’s everyday goals are simple as he looks to enjoy this season, wherever he might be.
“When I’m playing, I just want to play as hard as I can,” he said. “You never know if you’ll get to play every day. You might play every second day, or not at all. In the end, when I’m in the lineup I just go out there and do the best I can. In previous years the results have taken care of themselves.”
By Marc Topkin/Tampa Bay Times
ST. PETERSBURG — What started as a dazzling duel between Jake Odorizzi and the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka ended with an ugly 9-0 loss for the Rays and the dismissal of veteran reliever Grant Balfour.
After Balfour’s poor pitching played a key role in the Yankees’ seven-run seventh inning, the Rays designated him for assignment, a procedural step to likely releasing him and eating the remainder of his $7 million salary. Brandon Gomes was called up and will take his place in the bullpen.
“Tonight was embarrassing for me,” Balfour said.
Balfour, 37, said he was a bit surprised by the decision and that his arm feels good, but he acknowledged that he doesn’t “have the same fastball” and that some time off might help. He was 2-6 with a 4.91 ERA last season to start a two-year, $12 million deal. He had a 6.23 ERA this season through six games.
The Rays were down 4-0 when Balfour came in and made things considerably worse in the seventh, walking Alex Rodriguez to load the bases, allowing a sac fly, hitting a batter and, after starting 0-and-2, giving up a grand slam to Chris Young, then two more walks before getting out of the inning.
“You’re one pitch away from getting out of a tough situation and you sort of think to yourself, ‘Wow, you could have struck the guy out there, had him 0-2,’ and you walk out of there thinking you did a good job tonight, you haven’t given up a run all season, six outings,” Balfour said.
“Instead you have a terrible outing. You walk some guys, it wasn’t a good outing. It’s not really something I want to finish on. … I always told myself I wanted to be the one to leave this game, not someone else. So we’ll see, we’ll see where it goes.”