Expect Flurry of Moves on Eve of American Association Spring Training
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 transactions. In today’s edition, Robert Pannier looks at the fact that many teams still have holes to fill as American Association Spring Training begins tomorrow.
American Association Spring Training Begins Thursday
Are you ready for some baseball?
It has been 226 days since the Kansas City Monarchs hoisted the American Association Championship trophy over their heads, finishing off one of the most exciting seasons in league history.
Now it is time to put that memory in the rearview mirror, as spring training in the American Association will begin tomorrow. This is a time where fans know that they are just 10 days away from the regular season getting underway, but there are a number of clubs with huge question marks to answer as spring training gets underway.
Lots of Holes to Fill
The American Association allows teams to bring in 28 players for spring training. A number of teams are within a few of that number, if not already reaching it. However, there is one club who is still looking to fill their roster so that they can even have a full spring training.
What this means is that you were going to see a bevy of transactions over the next 48 hours. It is likely that many of these clubs have offered contracts to players and they are just waiting on a signature or for the league to announce the signing, but it still leaves fans a little nervous about who will fill these missing spots.
Kane County Cougars
No team has more official vacancies at this point than the Kane County Cougars. According to the American Association transactions, Kane County only has 12 players that are currently signed and ready to appear in spring training on Thursday.
No need to stress, however. For those who have been around manager George Tsamis for a long time, they have come to understand that the Cougars Skipper is notorious for bringing in players at the very last minute. From 2016-18, he did not sign his starting catcher until spring training began. However, in all three of those seasons his team had the All-Star catcher.
Still, there are only seven position players currently under contract and five pitchers. No left-hander has been officially signed at this point so expect George to have a lot of names appearing across the transaction sheet tomorrow and Thursday.
Sioux Falls Canaries
Sioux Falls currently has the second fewest players under contract, 21. In past seasons, Manager Mike Meyer usually was around 24 or 25 at this point, waiting until the last moment to see if he could find a couple of gems to add to the club. When catcher Charlie Valerio was released, that was a huge loss for this club. However, Mike has already signed much of his everyday lineup, as he has 10 position players under contract.
The starting staff looks like it is pretty well set as well, as Tyler Garkow, Ty Culbreth, Angel Ventura, and Cesilio Pimentel should anchor the first four spots in this rotation. That leaves the Canaries Skipper looking to fill that bullpen. The closer role is the biggest hole to fill, as it does not look like he currently has the guy he can count on to close out games on this roster. That is something for Sioux Falls fans to be watching.
Sioux City Explorers and Kansas City Monarchs
Three teams are at 24 players right now, with the Winnipeg Goldeyes being the third. It is not surprising to see Sioux City and Kansas City with the same number of players at this point. These heated rivals have become baseball chess masters, not only battling against one another on the field, but in the boardroom as well.
For Sioux City, much of their roster is set. Manager Steve Montgomery loves to have a number of live arms in his spring training, and he has a rotation that looks very good especially after Kevin McCanna signed with the club. He still may be looking for a closer right now, so there could be some key additions coming.
One place the team needs to make a serious improvement upon is finding a catcher. Steve has not officially signed a catcher at this point, clearly leaving a huge hole. The starting staff is great, but they will need someone to throw to.
There are no concerns about the everyday lineup for Kansas City. Manager Joe Calfapietra has the most potent lineup on paper in the league right now. He currently has 11 pithers under contract, and will be looking for a lot of bullpen help at the backend of his rotation. Worst case scenario is that former closer Carlos Diaz will handle the closing duties to begin the season. He has done a great job in the past for this club, but they are going to need a little bullpen help and at least two more starting pitchers.
In many ways, this is a completely overhauled Goldeyes team. There were only five or six players at most who will return from last year’s club, and Manager Rick Forney looks like he has all the pieces for his everyday lineup in place. Like Calfapietra, he is looking for help in the backend of his rotation as well as in the bullpen.
Currently, there are only two pitchers from last year’s club. Forney has 12 pitchers under contract, and it would not be surprising to see him go with 12 position players and 13 pitchers to start the season. That means he is looking for at least one more arm, but do not be surprised if he has at least three arms added to the staff when spring training gets underway.
The Chicago Dogs have 25 players under contract on the eve of spring training. Manager Butch Hobson has his everyday lineup in place, as he has 12 position players signed. This is an outstanding group, so no one should expect many moves by this club prior to the season getting underway, at least in the lineup.
The pitching staff is a different story. While having 13 pitchers under contract, the loss of ace Jordan Kipper to Mexico leaves a huge hole in this rotation. Hobson acquired Kyle Murphy and Johnathan Tripp, and both will get an opportunity to make the starting staff. However, Chicago is still in need of a new closer and is going to need some set up help in the setup role beyond Justin Goossen-Brown.
Lake Country DockHounds
The expansion Lake Country DockHounds also have 25 players under contract. That this roster is not full heading into spring training is a bit surprising. Manager Jim Bennett had over 20 players signed by mid-March, but must be waiting on a few key pieces to add to this club, necessitating the need to leave a few spots open.
There is some outstanding talent in this everyday lineup, especially after Jim added Aaron Takacs and Blake Berry from the Houston Apollos. Now he will be sorting out who will make his starting rotation and who he can count on to finish off games. A couple of late additions could help to clear up this situation, but look for the manager to be making a lot of determinations about who will have what role as spring training moves along.
Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks and Lincoln Saltdogs
Both of these clubs are officially one player away from having their spring training roster filled. The RedHawks look absolutely spectacular, and may not need an additional player added to the staff. They have a great starting rotation, maybe the best in the American Association, and have their closer from last season, Alex DuBord, returning.
The everyday lineup is great. This was the top hitting team in the American Association last season. They lost a couple of key pieces when Dylan Kelly and Kevin Krause were traded. However, this may still be the most dangerous lineup in the West Division.
The one piece Manager Chris Coste may be looking for is a backup catcher. Christian Correa will hold the No. 1 duties and, if the club does not want to use Manuel Boscan behind the plate, they will be looking for that final piece.
In his first season as manager and Lincoln, Brett Jodie did a great job. This is his first off-season building the club in the way that he desires. He has an outstanding everyday lineup, and may be satisfied with the 12 position players he currently has under contract. Brett had to replace Forrestt Allday and Saltdogs great Curt Smith but it looks like he has kept together a potent lineup.
However, like Bennett, Brett is going to have to figure out how this pitching staff is going to pan out. Kyle Kinman, John Richy, and Keenan Bartlett will likely be three of the starters in the rotation, but it is wide open from there. The Skipper will also be looking for his closer, and that final addition may be the guy he’s looking for.
Milwaukee Milkmen and Gary SouthShore RailCats
The fact that both of these teams already are at the 28-player limit is surprising. It is not that RailCats Manager Lamarr Rogers and Milkmen Skipper Anthony Barone are unable to find players. It is that each has faced a special challenge in molding their clubs, making it a little more difficult for the two skippers to put a team together.
Anthony Barone has established himself as one of the best managers in the league in terms of finding premium talent. He has been at near 22 players for months. However, he has already had seven players whose contracts were purchased or who headed to play in other parts of the world. This included last year’s league MVP, Adam Brett Walker, former Major Leaguer David Holmberg, and last year’s closer Nate Hadley. He has lost six pitchers already, and it would have been understandable if he entered spring training with 22 or 23 guys.
However, the Milwaukee Manager has continued to find outstanding replacements to fill the gap. With 17 pitchers under contract, he will likely cut that number to 13 while also adding a backup catcher. No doubt there will be a lot of competition in Milwaukee.
The RailCats situation is a little different. Former manager Greg Tagert, who had been a mainstay in Gary for over a decade, joined the San Francisco Giants organization. Lamarr joined the club in March and had over 20 players under contract.
However, he has wanted to mold the team a little bit more in his image and that meant making a number of moves. In fact, he has made five trades just in the last three weeks. For the RailCats Skipper, it would not have been surprising to see him at about 23 players looking to reshape this team. However, he will enter with a full roster and currently has no needs.
The Cleburne Railroaders are also at 28 players entering spring training. This is a new age in Cleburne as G.M. Josh Robertson is no longer putting the pieces together for this team. Instead, Manager Logan Watkins has been tasked with the job and he has done great with this team. This is a team that enters spring training with no glaring needs. They have 13 position players and 15 pitchers.
Logan will primarily be focused on determining the roles for his team, especially in the pitching staff. Who is the ace of this staff is up in the air as is the closer’s role. Michael Krauza returns and will definitely fill in as one of the setup guys. Garrett Alexander and Jalen Evans will both likely be back in the rotation. The big addition to the bullpen was Hunter Cervenka, who has nearly 80 games of big league experience and could even vie for the closer’s role.
The everyday lineup is going to score runs. The addition of Oswaldo Arcia going to make the 2-6 hitters in this lineup something to fear, especially in Chase Simpson continues to swing the bat like he did in the second half of last season.. This may be the best lineup in the East Division.
Finding the Right Blend
If all the available slots for teams were filled by Thursday, it will mean that 44 players will be added to spring training rosters in the next 48 hours. Once again, teams could already have contracts sent out and even signed. They are simply waiting for the league to officially announce the signing.
That means the American Association offices are going to be quite busy over the next two days updating the transaction wire to keep fans and media people (like myself) apprised of what is going on. Clubs will then have eight days to evaluate their talent before cutting the rosters down to 25 to begin the season on May 13. It is honestly not a lot of time, but each one of these managers has been through this before.
By Robert Pannier