10 Things We Have Learned One Month into 2021 American Association Season
American Association Daily provides insights, features, and recaps of the action from around the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transaction, Sioux City Explorers,s. In today’s edition, Robert Pannier examines what we have learned one month into the 2021 American Association season.
It Has Been an Exciting First Month
On May 18, 2021, the American Association season got underway. It was going to be a great year, simply because there were going to be 12 teams playing after a year the league dropped to just six because of the concerns related to Covid-19.
It has been great to see a full American Association, and it is expected that next year will have even more teams. However, no sense looking ahead when there is a great 2021 campaign underway. Here are the 10 highlights of what we have learned so far.
1. MLB Thinks This League Is Pretty Good
Since the calendar turned to 2021, no less than 58 American Association players have already been signed by Major League Organizations. Just since the start of the season, 28 players have had their contracts transferred to an affiliate club. It is considered a remarkable season when half that many have their contracts purchased during the entire American Association campaign. That this number has been reached a month into the season tells us a lot about the level of talent and competitiveness the league has achieved.
It is also a moment for those out there who have looked at independent baseball as nothing more than a “beer league.” Clearly, the very best baseball league on the planet is recognizing how talented players are in this league as transfers are coming from every club.
2. They FINALLY Learned How Good He Is
For eight seasons, many American Association fans have been asking this question: “What does it take for Kevin McGovern to get signed?”
The left-hander has been nothing short of brilliant, winning 59 games in his independent career, but McGovern barely received a look from affiliate clubs. Not this season, however. Despite the fact that the left-hander is 32 years old, the St. Louis Cardinals simply could not ignore a 4-0 start and a 1.41 ERA. McGovern has finally been given the chance that he so richly deserves, and hopefully we will never see him on an American Association field again.
3. He Is Who We Thought He Would Be
When the 2021 season got underway, everyone expected the Kansas City Monarchs would run away with the South Division. With 13 former Big League players and five others who played at AAA, it was expected that this team would dominate. It was just another great example of how good Manager Joe Calfapietra is.
However, after a 4-8 start, some were wondering if the Monarchs would be all that everyone had envisioned. Maybe the team was slightly overrated. An eight-game winning streak and a stretch where the team has gone 11-2 has eliminated those doubts. Kansas City is rolling as their Manager has quickly righted the ship and they are the one team that looks like they can withstand a few more transfers.
4. RailCats May Be Tops in the North
During the most recent episode of This Week in the Association, Kansas City Monarchs broadcaster Dan Vaughan brought up an exceptional point. While nearly every club in the American Association has been pilfered by Major League Baseball, the Gary SouthShore RailCats have only lost one player. It is the youth and inexperience of many of the players on the team that will likely keep affiliate teams from snatching players away. That may be the difference that puts Gary on top.
For years, American Association fans have watched Greg Tagert build a club laden with rookies. The team usually struggled at first, but became the team no one wanted to face by midseason as they frequently competed for division titles. Until the recent sweep by Kansas City, the RailCats were above .500 and they are likely only get to get better. This is going to be a very scary club come August 1.
5. The Apollos Are Pretty Good
It seems hard to be overly excited about a team that is 4-23, but these Houston Apollos are pretty good. Like the 2017 Salina Stockade, Houston is a road team brought up from the Pecos League to give the American Association an even number of teams. However, unlike Salina, they did not start the season 1-27 and have been in a number of their contests thanks to the great job that Dave Pederson has done in managing and building this club..
The Apollos have lost 10 games by three runs or fewer and have lost six by a single run. One additional hit or one better pitch and this team could very easily be around .500 right now. This is a young ballclub that is going to get some help as the Pecos League gets further into their season. Teams should be warned not to sleep on Houston are they are going to pay the price.
6. Brett Jodie Lived Up to the Hype
After establishing himself as one of the best managers in the Atlantic League, Brett Jodie became the manager of the Lincoln Saltdogs with a little over a month before the 2021 American Association season got underway. He was hired after Jim Frisbie became the bench coach with the Detroit Tigers on opening day of the Major League Season.
With virtually no time to recruit his own players and with a roster built primarily by Frisbie, Jodie has found a way to win, going 15-11 through the first month. The Saltdogs Manager has already established himself as the early candidate for Manager of the Year, especially if he can get one or two more pieces to help out this pitching staff.
7. If the 2020 Season Would Have Been Longer, the RedHawks Would Have Won
The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks got off to a terrible start in 2020, going 6-15 to start the year. That doomed to the team, as that was too much of a hurdle to overcome in a 60 game season. This despite the fact that the team put together a winning streak of eight straight games and 10 of the last 11 near the end of the season.
This had many thinking that if the 2020 season had been 100 game campaign that the RedHawks would have had enough time to catch Milwaukee and potentially win the title. Now the team seems to be living out their reality, as they have jumped out to a 17-11 start and have been in first or near the top since the beginning of the season. Currently Milwaukee and Chicago are ahead of them, but they are right in the hunt despite losing their closer and their ace.
8. Maybe Cleburne Simply Cannot Win
It may be the heat. It may be the fact that their nearest opponent is an eight-hour drive away. Whatever the circumstance, the Cleburne Railroaders are struggling early on, and there is no sign that this team is going to turn things around.
The only thing keeping them out of the celler in the South Division has been the Apollos, and the Railroaders struggled against them, losing the first contest of their three-game series before earning narrow victories in the final two games of that series. Cleburne has lost some key pieces, but so has everyone else in the division. No time for excuses. The reality is that Cleburne just may be too hot and travel may be too difficult for this team to win.
9. Another Year Away from Winnipeg Is Too Much to Ask of Goldeyes
The Winnipeg Goldeyes were the only one of the six teams to spend the entire 2020 campaign on the road. Winnipeg had started out red-hot and was the best team in the league for about 40 games, but struggled over the final month.
This season, with the Canadian border closed, the Goldeyes were forced to vacate Shaw Park, moving to Jackson, Tennessee. While they finally get some form of stability, it is still not the same as sleeping in your own bed, having your own home fans, and playing at a park that provides a clear home-field advantage. Until sweeping Cleburne recently, Winnipeg was 7-14 and this was looking like it was going to be a very difficult 2021 campaign. It still may be so.
10. Milwaukee Can Repeat as League Champions
There was a lot of talk before the 2021 season that the reason why the Milwaukee Milkmen were able to win the title last year was because of the dispersal draft and the suspension of legal roster rules. After all, at one point Milwaukee had six former Major League pitchers on their roster and had selected a group of guys during the dispersal draft that made Milwaukee a very formidable team.
Many wondered if this team had the capability of repeating without these advantages, but manager Anthony Barone has done a magnificent job with this club. Working with management to sign key players, they have withstood several transfers to affiliate clubs and have moved to the top of the North Division. David Washington is living up to the hype expected from last season, and Adam Brett Walker could be the MVP once again, if Washington does not stand in his way. No one should be surprised if Milwaukee repeats.
By Robert Pannier