Sydney Blue Sox player Zac Shepherd is going from stride to stride with the West Michigan Whitecaps after being selected for 2015 Midwest League All-Star Classic to be held at Dozer Park in Peoria, Illinois on Tuesday, June 23.
Shepherd has been a product of the Baseball NSW youth system being a state team player for five years during his development. He was a member of back to back National Championships in the under 18 age group and progressively represented the Sydney Blue Sox.
Regarded as a big hitter, his successes on the diamond in Australia led to him signing with Major League side the Detroit Tigers.
Sydney Blue Sox High Performance Coach Glenn Williams aided Shepherd’s rise and admits his determination is what led to his success.
“The kid has natural talent there’s no denying that, but it’s his determination and ambition that has led to his success,” said Williams who doubles as a scout for the Tigers.
“He has tremendous hitting ability and is a really smart baseball player.”
Shepherd finished his third season with the Sydney Blue Sox in January, hitting .227 with 16 RBI, six home runs and a .365 on-base percentage in 37 games.
Last summer, he played 51 games for the rookie-class Gulf Coast League Tigers, hitting .301 (12th in the GCL), with 29 RBI, four home runs, 12 doubles, five triples, and a .373 OBP in his first season in the Minors.
Zac was a junior Hills member playing his entire junior career in Western Sydney. He represented Australia in 2012 and 2013 in the under 18 age group and 2014 in the under 21 age group.
His progress has been consistent over the past two years and as a result is now playing for the West Michigan White Caps who are the Mid-West League affiliate of the Detroit Tigers.
His transition to the Whitecaps has been smooth with former Blue Sox catcher and fellow Aussie Andrew Graham there as the manager. The two have developed a strong relationship which Shepherd credits as an influence of his success.
The 19-year-old prospect is tied for fifth in the league with 15 doubles. He entered play on Friday second on the team in RBI with 31 is batting .263 with two home runs.
Shepherd celebrated his All-Star selection in style with a homerun in the seventh inning giving the Whitecaps the lead and ultimately against the victory over the league-leading Quad Cities Riverbandits.
Source: Baseball NSW
Former Blue Sox manager returns to the ABL
By Paul Morgan / Perth Heat
The Perth Heat have announced that current Boston Red Sox AAA manager, Kevin Boles, will be managing the Heat for the 2015/16 season.
Known in the industry as one of the best brains in Baseball and a manager on the rise, the 40-year-old Chicago native is a huge coup for a team looking to become the first team in Australia Baseball League history to achieve a Hat-trick of championships.
In his role with the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox, Boles led his team to a record of 79 wins 65 losses last season and Pawtucket currently sit in second place behind Rochester this season.
Boles’ other role in Pawtucket is to develop players to a level of excellence that deems them worthy to don the famous B cap and run out under lights at Fenway Park full of Boston faithful.
With Boston being one of the most storied teams in all of sports and having players such as Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Cy Young, Carl Yastrzemski and current day stars: Ortiz, Pedroia, Ramirez, Bogaerts, Sandoval & Vasquez just to name a few, the pressure and expectation to get it right in the Boston Farm requires the highest level of excellence to be successful.
It’s this level of excellence, preparation and determination to succeed that made Boles the stand out candidate to take the helm at the Heat.
Boles also has the opportunity to work alongside Baseball WA’s High Performance Manager, Steve Fish to help develop, mentor and teach young WA talent who are striving for their shot at one day playing affiliated or college ball.
Baseball WA Operations Manager, Lachlan Dale backed this up by saying “Kevin will be working not only with the Perth Heat as Manager, but also with our State players and coaches, clubs and staff as he shares his valuable experience and knowledge. This appointment will develop baseball across the board in WA, not just the Heat.”
Boles has a reputation for getting the best out of his players and his resume to date in doing just this is impressive. During his time in the Boston Red Sox organisation, Boles has managed and developed current Boston Red Sox MLB stars such as: Christian Vazquez, Xander Boggerts, Will Middlebrook and Junichi Tazawa to name a few. Boggerts, Middlebrook and Tazawa all went on to become members of the 2013 Boston Red Sox World Series champions.
Boles is no stranger to life in Australia or the ABL having managed the Sydney Blue Sox in 2011/12 and said “It’s an honor to have the opportunity to come back and manage in Australia, especially with a first class organisation like the Perth Heat.”
Perth Heat CEO Tony Adamson says he’s excited about luring Boles to Perth, “it will be great to increase the level of baseball knowledge among the coaching staff, and I’m certain that this will contribute to another excellent season.”
The era of Kevin Boles at the helm of the Heat commences on Friday October 23rd when the Heat have a Championship series rematch against the Adelaide Bite here in Perth, which will give Boles and the Heat the opportunity to take the first step into Australian Baseball folklore.
by Robbie Knopf/rayscolouredglasses
It is always sad when the Tampa Bay Rays need to get rid of a player. For some, like Grant Balfour, he has to wonder whether his successful career has reached the end of the line…
Grant Balfour was doing fine at Triple-A Durham. He registered a 2.79 ERA in 9.2 innings pitched, striking out 11 while walking 4. When a major leaguer puts up numbers like that on a rehab assignment, his team knows that he is ready to return. For Balfour, however, his numbers did not matter nearly as much as the stuff he was using to record them. His fastball was still more 90-91 MPH than 93-94. He didn’t show the arsenal to be an effective major league pitcher, especially given that command was never his strong suit.
It would have been something if Balfour had come back to the Rays after heading to the minors. If he had returned to the Rays, resumed their closer role, and led them to the World Series, it would have been the stuff of movies. We always knew, however, that the likely outcome was that Balfour’s minor league stint would just delay the inevitable. Balfour’s two-year, $12 million deal was only better than Pat Burrell‘s two-year deal because the Rays paid $4 million less. Despite Balfour’s best intentions, he simply didn’t have it anymore after joining the Rays.
Travis Blackley is now with the Marlin’s AAA New Orleans, where he gave up five runs in five innings in his first start of the season.
A few players are still on the D/L including Peter Moylan, Allan de San Miguel and Daniel McGrath.
Sam Gibbons has been promoted to the Cedar Rapids Kernels from Extended Spring Training
Matt Kennelly has been moved down to AA to get him more ABs.
Other players continue at extended spring training which will conclude next month when short season A and rookie seasons will commence.
Players in full season teams
Majors: Liam Hendriks (Blue Jays),
Players at Extended Spring
Short Season A: Aaron Sookee [D’Backs],
Rookie: Dean Aldridge (Tigers), Jack Barrie [Twins], Beau Bishop [Brewers], Jake Bowey [Astros], Jared Cruz (Astros), Ryan Dale (Royals), Josh Guyer (Twins), Elliott Hargreaves [Reds], Nick Hutchings (Pirates), Sam Kennelly (Pirates), Ben Leslie [Giants], Connor MacDonald (Astros), Lachlan Madden (Astros), Todd McDonald (Rangers), Dakota Mitchell (Reds), Aaron Sayers [Tigers], Brad Simon (Rangers), Brandon Stenhouse (Yankees), Jake Turnbull [Reds], Aaron Whitefield (Twins), Lachlan Wells [Twins]
Peter Moylan [Braves] – Rookie League Player/Coach
Rehab: Lewis Thorpe (Twins),
Ryan Battaglia [Indians],
John Hussey (Padres),
Travis McDonald (Reds)
James Philibossian (Tigers),
Adam Silva [Yankees],
Hayden Timberlake [Astros],
By Mike Berardino/twincities.com
Liam Hendriks has been in touch with Twins pitching prospect Lewis Thorpe, a fellow Australian who underwent Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow on April 10.
“I’ve spoken to him a couple of times,” said Hendriks, now working out of the bullpen for the Toronto Blue Jays. “He seems to be doing all right. He’s a good kid. He’s going to continue to work hard. Hopefully this doesn’t deter him too much from that.”
Thorpe, a hard-throwing left-hander, rocketed up the prospect charts after his Twins system debut in 2013 in the Gulf Coast League. A sprained ulnar collateral ligament knocked him out of the Midwest League playoffs in 2014, but he opted for rest and rehab over surgery at the time.
He doesn’t turn 20 until late November, so there’s still plenty of time for him to overcome this setback.
“There’s never really a perfect point for it,” Hendriks said. “It sucks because he had a good year last year. He was kind of on the verge of being one of those guys that runs through the system pretty quickly. Hopefully (Twins officials) take into account his age and don’t stick him back where he was and make him sit there.”
Hendriks also was 19 when he missed the entire 2008 season following spine surgery. He came back to reach the majors by the end of 2011, which also was the season he was named Twins minor league pitcher of the year.
“As long as I continued to pitch well, they weren’t afraid to move me,” Hendriks said. “I hope they can do the same thing for (Thorpe). He’s got unbelievable stuff. I know his stuff is going to play anywhere.”
Dunedin, Fla.–Hannah Wellman, strength and conditioning coach for the ABL Canberra Calvary has been at the Toronto Blue Jays Mattick Training Center for the past two weeks getting a look see at their operation.
She spent time with Darold Knowles who is the Blue Jays minor league rehab pitching coach and is the only pitcher to ever pitch in all seven games of a World Series with the Oakland A’s – 1973.
By Andrew Pantini / Cedar Rapids Kernels
Cedar Rapids, IA – RHP Sam Gibbons has been promoted to the Cedar Rapids Kernels from Extended Spring Training. Brad Steil, Director of Minor League Operations for the Twins, announced the move.
The Twins signed Gibbons as a non-drafted free agent on July 2, 2011. He spent last season with Elizabethton, posting a 4-5 record and 3.88 ERA in 12 starts. In 65 IP, he allowed 63 hits and 29 runs (28 earned) with 18 walks and 63 strikeouts.
By Bob Sutton / Times-News
DURHAM — Curiosity about his glove tended to be one of the lasting on-field impressions provided by Grant Balfour during his brief time with the Durham Bulls this month.
He left behind his professional career along with chatter of his considerable goodwill when he walked away from the game this week.
The one-time flame-throwing reliever was granted his release, perhaps calling it a career at this stage after what amounted to a tryout of sorts with the Bulls.
“I’d say he still wants to pitch,” Bulls manager Jared Sandberg said. “I rooted for him for a long time. I’m still going to root for him.”
Balfour was designated for assignment and released by the Tampa Bay Rays last month. Then he tried to resurrect his career with the Bulls, who are Tampa Bay’s top affiliate.
Across about 2½ weeks, he made eight appearances with Durham (six on the road). He didn’t record a decision and he was never in a save situation, logging a 2.79 earned run average in 9 2/3 innings. He allowed nine hits, walked four and struck out 11.
But there were other things he was aiming to achieve, and apparently the radar guns weren’t cooperating.
His fastball velocity once blew away batters. But he wasn’t able to maintain that, with hitting the 90- mph mark no guarantee.
“I don’t know whether his so-called good velocity was there,” Bulls catcher Luke Maile said. “Every time he came into the game, we felt good about it.
“I thought his fastball was enough. To me, his actual velocity plays out higher than it says. It just carries. It has that upward tilt to it.”
There were accounts of Balfour checking stadium scoreboards to see what his fastball registered (though those sometimes calculate slower than the actual speed).
Either way, there seemed to be something missing.
“One of his goals was to get his velocity up,” Sandberg said, “and it wasn’t there.”
Tampa Bay released Balfour, 37, last month, though the Rays must pay the right-hander the remainder of the $7 million that was due him this year as part of a two-year, $12 million deal signed prior to the 2014 season.
After he was nixed from the Rays’ 40-man roster, he was re-signed to a minor league contract within the organization, giving him another chance to sort things out — this time, with the Bulls.
He had an opt-out this week on that minor-league arrangement.
Sandberg said Balfour, who pitched 15 games for the Bulls in 2008, told him he intends to go home to Australia and assess his options.
He had been popular with Durham teammates, particularly with the veteran players.
Stories about his generosity circulated among the Bulls. He had an inclination to give back, wanting to assist in any ways he could.
“He was tremendous, a great clubhouse guy, a fierce competitor,” Sandberg said, pointing out that Balfour picked up the tab for the postgame team spread for an entire series.
That was at least three days he aided his less-affluent minor-league teammates.
“I lost count (how many times), so that’s a good thing,” Maile said.
The glove issue surfaced during one of his Durham appearances. The home-plate umpire told him it didn’t meet specifications because of the gray laces.
Balfour said it wasn’t an issue he wanted to bother discussing, figuring it was an isolated application of a rule. He said he had used the same gray-stringed glove in the big leagues earlier in the season.
The situation seemed to be an example of how he didn’t want to become a distraction during this last-gasp attempt to rekindle his career.
So he had to use an alternative glove for that outing.
“Except for that one inning, that one game,” Sandberg said of the glove flap, almost an amusing scenario for a player who had become such an accomplished big-league closer a few years earlier.
By Aaron Gleeman/nbcsports.com
Last month the Rays released right-hander Grant Balfour from his $7 million big-league contract and then re-signed him to a minor-league deal, but now the veteran reliever has opted out of that contract and been granted his release from Triple-A.
Balfour pitched well at Triple-A, throwing 9.2 innings with a 2.48 ERA and 11/4 K/BB ratio, but he was apparently convinced the Rays had no plans to call him back up to the majors and at age 37 he didn’t want to keep playing for Durham.
Balfour has lost a lot of velocity since his peak as a shutdown late-inning reliever, leaving him with mediocre raw stuff and poor control, so it’s possible he’ll simply decide to retire rather than fight for a middle relief gig somewhere else.
Sydneysider set to make decision on future with Tampa BayBy Alexis Brudnicki / Special to the ABL
BUFFALO, NY – There’s not much that is familiar about the territory that Grant Balfour is in.
As the 37-year-old anxiously awaits his Wednesday fate, when he can exercise the opt-out clause of the contract that he signed with the Tampa Bay Rays after being designated for assignment and returning to the Minor Leagues with the Triple-A Durham Bulls, he’s had time to think about everything that has gone on in his life of late.
“It’s been a little crazy this year; it’s definitely been different,” Balfour said. “Going all the way back to spring training and trying to prepare for the season, and then [going home to Australia] and having my father pass away, and then come back and get a handful of innings leading into the season…
“I’ve got an out on the 27th of May so I chose to come back here for three weeks and see how I’m throwing, and see if they want to bring me back up, or if someone else out there decides that they need some relief help in the bullpen, maybe I’ll get a shot. So that’s where we’re at right now.”
A most difficult year
Balfour began his year with the Rays like any other, reporting to spring training in Port Charlotte, Fla., with the rest of the pitchers and catchers, and beginning his usual routine to get his 12th Major League season underway.
The right-hander’s work was quickly interrupted by the news that the condition of his cancer-stricken father David had worsened. Balfour flew across the world to Sydney to get as much time with his dad as he had left, but there wasn’t much to be had.
Between the trip that Balfour had last taken down under in December – working as an ambassador to the Australian Baseball League and travelling to baseball parks, games, and events across the country with his father – and when he returned in February, David had taken a turn for the worse.
“He was pretty gone,” Balfour said. “It wasn’t like you were able to talk to him. He changed a lot. He had a fall at the house. He had a lot of bleeding in his head. He fell and split his head and had a lot of bleeding to his brain and his brain was swelling, so his whole left side of his body was paralyzed and he couldn’t talk anymore. It got to the point where basically when I would talk to him, he would just blink his eyes for yes or no.”
David’s passing was a devastating loss, not only for his family but for the baseball community in Australia, where he had been incredibly active as an advocate for the growth of the sport around the country. His passion for the game was unmistakable, and his pride for his son – the longest-tenured big league player from Australia – was obvious.
Baseball Australia opted to induct Grant Balfour into the Australian Baseball Hall of Fame this spring, in the hopes that David might be able to attend. Usually such an accolade is awarded when a player is finished their career on the field, but the national organization figured Balfour was a worthy exception to the unwritten rule. Unfortunately, the former general manager of the Sydney Blue Sox had fallen even more ill at the time, and while both Grant and David were on Aussie soil, neither could accept the honour.
“I was actually there, but I was with my dad, beside his bed in hospital,” Balfour said. “That was only a few days before he passed away. I guess I could have gone to the presentation, but I felt like if he had passed away that night and I was there…”
Balfour didn’t finish his sentence, but he didn’t need to.
He was grateful for the time he was allowed with his father of late, returning to Sydney three times this offseason from his residence in Florida, and especially for the memories David was able to create with his grandchildren in his last months.
“We had a good time [in December],” Balfour said. “I went back in November too with my wife and kids, and that was even better. The best time was probably when he came over here in July last year, and spent a month with my family. It was good.”
When the disease eventually took David’s life in March, his son returned to Florida and attempted to be ready to begin the regular season with the rest of his teammates. His spring training had been significantly shortened, he had fallen out of his routine, and understandably, he had some other things on his mind.
“You think about things all the time,” Balfour said. “It’s one of those things where you find yourself drifting off and thinking about it sometimes. And that’s a good thing. You don’t want to forget. You’ll never forget something like that, but it may get a little easier as time goes along.”
Back to business
Over the first 12 days of the season, the righty appeared in six games for Tampa Bay. Five outings were scoreless, being used for only one out in each of his first two appearances and then coming in for an inning of work in each of the next three. Balfour wasn’t as sharp or effective as he or the organization would have hoped, but he was still getting the job done.
Until he wasn’t. Against the New York Yankees on 18 April, the reliever came into a game at Tropicana Field with the home team down by four, one out, and runners on first and second. After a walk, a sacrifice fly and a hit batter, Balfour gave up a grand slam to allow the visitors a nine-run advantage. He added two walks and a wild pitch before getting out of the inning. The veteran was designated for assignment that night.
“I didn’t have the best stuff to start out the year but I threw up five scoreless outings and felt like I was able to get a little bit of a groove on, and then I went out and had a bad outing against the Yankees,” he said. “It was a horrible outing, one you’d like to forget. Since then I’ve obviously been designated, and then it was either am I going to stay at the house and retire? Or am I going to come back here and pitch in Triple-A?”
While Balfour sat in the baseball purgatory that is a DFA. Waiting to be traded, released, or to pass through waivers, he had some time to let the previous few months catch up with him and to think about what he wanted to do next.
“I’m not going to lie, it was kind of nice for a little bit, just because I relaxed and gave myself a chance to think about what just happened in the last couple months,” Balfour said. “It was pretty hectic, and normally you don’t get that time. But I got to sit back and look at a few things and think about a few things, and regroup and realize that I do want to keep playing and I feel like I still have something to give to the game.”
Released by Tampa Bay, the hurler passed on tentative offers from a couple of other clubs to return to the Rays organisation on a Minor League contract – with the franchise still on the hook for the rest of his $7 million salary – joining the Bulls in Durham for a set period of time in the hopes that he would return to form.
“You could go and play other places but I chose to stay here,” Balfour said. “They did have an investment in me – quite a large investment still – so I figured I would come here. If they feel I didn’t get the spring training or if they feel I wasn’t where I needed to be, then I was going to come here and put in the time and show that I’m making the commitment to want to be there to play with them.
“We’ll see if they still want me or not and then I’ll know from [May 27], from that date on, if we’re going to part ways or what’s going to happen. I’m basically doing everything I can – coming down here and trying to do my best – to put the ball in their court.”
Balfour has made the most of his time in the Minors, his first real stint down on the farm in seven years.
“It’s alright,” he said. “I mean I don’t want to stay in Triple-A, I don’t want to finish my career in Triple-A. I didn’t picture myself being back here, ever I suppose, after [being in for] the long haul in the big leagues. But it’s been fine, I buy the spread for the guys, there are some good guys here and good teammates, so I’m enjoying myself and having fun.
“I know I have a cut-off date and I know I’m not [going to be] sitting here for the rest of the year. It might be a little different story, it might not, but I’m going to enjoy my time while I’m here. There are a good bunch of guys and we’re winning ball games and having fun, and I’m still playing a game that I love.”
Balfour has appeared in eight games for the Bulls, posting a 2.79 ERA over 9 2/3 innings with four walks and 11 strikeouts. His first six outings were one inning apiece. His last two stretched a little further to two frames and 1 2/3, respectively and have showcased what Balfour feels is an improving arsenal of pitches.
“My stuff’s getting a lot better,” he said. “My breaking stuff is really sharp and [my fastball] is starting to come…I’m throwing anywhere from 90 to 92 right now and that’s what I was doing last year. I’m getting my breaking balls over for the most part [and] they’ve been sharp actually, my curveball and my slider. The curveball’s the best it’s been in years and my slider, I’ve done a couple different things and I feel real good about it. I’m looking forward to another chance, I’m just hoping that someone will give it to me.”
Alexis Brudnicki is a contributor to TheABL.com.au. Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis.