American Association Daily provides insights and features on the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions going on with teams around the league. In today’s edition, we look at the recent signing of two more former Major Leaguers – Luis Durango and Miguel Gonzalez – something that is becoming a common occurrence in the league.
The Big Leaguers Are Coming
It wasn’t but maybe four or five seasons ago where if a team in the American Association had a former Major Leaguer playing for them, that was a pretty big deal. The St. Paul Saints have always had a knack for attracting players who have reached the highest levels of the sport, including Jack Morris, Darryl Strawberry and, most recently, Caleb Thielbar and Mark Hamburger, but this was not always the case with many of the other teams in the league.
Those days are changing, as the signings of Luis Durango by the Sioux City Explorers and Miguel Gonzalez by the Winnipeg Goldeyes are the latest additions of former big leaguers to the league. It continues a trend where these players are finding the competition in the league to be of such a quality that they can continue to hone their skills, while maybe earning another chance to return to affiliate ball.
Making a Smart Choice in Sioux City
Luis Durango is an outstanding centerfielder, who first reached the Majors with the San Diego Padres in 2009. He was out of baseball last year with an injury, playing last in 2016 with Tabasco in the Mexican League.
Durango has had a solid professional career after signing with the San Diego Padres organization in 2004. The Panamanian native has played nine seasons at the AAA level, and three times moved up to the Major Leagus. At the AAA level, the outfielder is a career .287 hitter who has 164 stolen bases in 510 games.
That the centerfielder signed with the Sioux City Explorers is not a surprise. Manager Steve Montgomery has had quite a pipeline to affiliate clubs over the last three seasons, including RHP James Needy signing with the Miami Marlins and being added to their 40 man roster near the end of last year. In 2017, the Explorers had the most players in the American Association whose contract was purchased by a Major League organization, and Durango could be looking to make his name the next to be called.
The Right Man to Handle the Staff
There are a lot of changes in Winnipeg this season, so Goldeyes Manager Rick Forney will be leaning on his pitching staff if he is going to make a run at a three-peat. What better person to entrust that staff to than Miguel Gonzalez, who reached AAA at the age of 18, and has had six seasons at the highest minor league level.
The catcher saw his dream come true in 2013 when he was called up to the Chicago White Sox, and he has always been viewed as one of the best backstops in the game. He not only knows how to call an amazing game, but base runners will not find attempting to steal off the catcher to be an easy mark, as he has four times thrown out better than 40 percent of would-be base-stealers.
It is amazing that Gonzalez has already played 10 seasons of professional baseball, and he is only 27. His age and skills may make his stay in Winnipeg a short one.
The Trend Is Becoming a Common Occurrence
It is getting to the point that there is at least one former Major League player on nearly every roster in the American Association. Reggie Abercrombie has long been the dean in the category, continuing to defy Father Time for the Winnipeg Goldeyes, and new Wichita Wingnuts Manager Brent Clevlen could have added his name to that list, had he not opted to put aside his bat and glove and take over as the team’s manager.
However, they are far from the only two. The Wingnuts added 1B Luis Jimenez to their roster in late February. Jimenez most recently played in the Majors in 2015, but has been playing in Korea the last three seasons. Zach Walters is expected to return to the Kansas City T-Bones. Walters was most recently in the Bigs in 2016, and it would not be a shock to anyone if an affiliate club signs him before May.
The Saints were expected to have Thielbar back, but his contract was already purchased. Hamburger may be back for the team. There are still others and there will be more former Major Leaguers before the season begins on May 18.
Major League organizations have recognized that the American Association in particular and independent ball in general have outstanding talent that could compete in most levels of affiliate ball. In fact, this may seem like pure blasphemy to say, but the reality is that if the Winnipeg Goldeyes and Wichita Wingnuts would have been dropped in any AA league together last season, they would have still met for the league championship. They would likely have even been at least .500 teams in either the Pacific Coast League or International League.
Organizations have hired scouts specifically to monitor the independent leagues, and players are starting to see that they can get their career back on track by joining the American Association, Can-Am League, Atlantic League, or Frontier League. It also gives them the opportunity to do the thing that athletes love to do most – play to win – which they are rarely afforded the opportunity to do in the minor leagues.
Former Major League players clearly see the value in playing independent baseball. It is just too bad that one city in Kansas doesn’t see that value.
American Association Daily Notes
The St. Paul Saints re-signed outfielder Kes Carter. Carter began the 2017 season with the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, where he struggled but, after coming to St. Paul, he regained his form, hitting .271 in 60 games with 9 homers and 32 RBI. He also played outstanding defense, and will likely be the team’s center fielder come opening day… The Wichita Wingnuts signed infielder Ryne Willard, who they acquired from the Texas AirHogs last Wednesday. Willard hit .210 in 76 games for Texas and can play just about everywhere but catcher and first.
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA