With the American Association playing a large number of games against Can-Am League teams, it makes sense to see what it going on in this independent league as well, so the Minor League Sports Report will do a monthly look at each of the off-season moves of the six teams in this league. When the season begins there will be a weekly recap for each team.
2014 was a season of success and disappointment for the New Jersey Jackals. The team was an impressive 55-41, but losses to the Rockland Boulders in the final two games of the season gave Rockland the regular season crown, and relegated New Jersey to second place. That gave the Boulders home field advantage in their best of seven series, and Rockland took four of the six games to become champs, leaving the Jackals as runner-ups.
Regardless of how the season ended, no one can dispute that it was quite a year for New Jersey. They won seven of their final 10 games to put themselves in a position to take the league title, and their 55 wins continued a streak of four successive seasons with at least that many victories. This is a team built to compete and they always find a way to add quality talent to make them one of the tougher teams Can-Am League each and every season.
Just three days after the season came to an end the New Jersey Jackals made their first move when RHP Salvador Sanchez was traded to Somerset of the Atlantic League for a player to be named later. Sanchez had pitched in 42 games for the Jackals, going 4-2 with an outstanding 2.40 ERA. The righty allowed just 45 total runners in 41.1 innings pitched (33 hits and 12 walks), while striking out 46. Sanchez’s departure did not last long, as less than three weeks later he was reacquired. The right-handers stay was not long as he was traded to the St. Paul Saints on November 25. (Sanchez signed with the Miami Marlins organization on January 15 – Hope he didn’t unpack.)
One day later, speedster Alonzo Harris was traded to the St. Paul Saints of the American Association to complete an August 22 deal. On September 18, New Jersey traded infielder Jose Cuevas to Trois-Rivieres, also to complete an August 22 trade.
The month of October was a fairly quiet one in the Garden State. On October 3 the Jackals exercised their option on RHP Chris Balcom-Miller. The right-hander had sat out the 2014 season, but had pitched well for the Boston Red Sox organization in 2013 before getting hurt. Between High-A Salem and AA-Portland Balcom-Miller was 0-1 with a combined ERA of 3.42 in 13 appearances. At Portland his arm showed some real life, striking out 18 in 19.2 innings pitched. Balcom-Miller would find himself on the move about four months later.
On Halloween day New Jersey dealt LHP Anthony Ferrara to Joplin of the American Association in exchange for a player to be named later. The left-hander had appeared in 15 games in 2014, 11 as a starter, and was 5-5 with a 4.84 ERA.
New Jersey remained relatively quiet until January 9 when Tony Caldwell was re-signed. The catcher was a defensive whiz behind the plate and added a little pop as well. He hit .257 with 4 home runs and 32 RBI in 77 games. He led the league in putouts as a catcher and had a .990 fielding percentage.
Manage Joe Calfapietra was thrilled to have Caldwell behind the plate for another season. “The Jackals are very excited to have Tony back for the 2015 season. He was a key player in the success of the 2014 season and we look forward to that same success in 2015.”
On January 22, RHP Anthony Claggett left the St. Paul Saints rotation to become the new pitching coach for New Jersey. Claggett replaced Ed Ott, who retired. The move is a bitter sweet one for the manager who loses one of his key confidants, but adds a quality teacher to guide the staff. “We are very excited to have Anthony as our new Pitching Coach. It was very difficult for me both professionally and personally to replace long time Pitching Coach and friend Ed Ott following his retirement. I feel like we were able to find the perfect fit with Anthony.”
January 27, they signed RHP Carlos Ruiz. The right-hander had been with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization in his first five professional seasons. Last season he pitched with the Pirates rookie league team, where he was 0-2 in 14 appearances with a 4.15 ERA. Ruiz has good command of his pitches, and should be a big plus in the bullpen.
On February 3 New Jersey added Jerod Edmonson to the coaching staff. He is a career .286 hitter, and is a great instructor on the art of hitting. “We are very excited to have Jerod joining our coaching staff this year. He brings a lot of experience with him and will help us get back to the championship series again,” explained Calfapietra.
Three days later the team announced that they had sold the contract of catcher Dwight Childs to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Childs had come from St. Paul late in the 2014 season and was one of the best defensive catchers in independent baseball.
On February 5, New Jersey dealt RHP Shaun Ellis to Quebec in exchange for OF Matt Helms, plus the rights to RHP Dan Moskovits and LHP Kyle Regnault. Helms had an outstanding season last year in Quebec, hitting .315 with 3 home runs and 32 RBI. He scored 56 runs in 87 games and also stole 9 bases. Moskovits was 2-2 in 2014 with a 3.03 ERA. Regault was 4-6 in 22 appearances, posting a 4.47 ERA. He has a lively fastball, striking out 90 in 86.2 innings pitched.
On February 16, Balcom-Miller’s stay in New Jersey came to an end when he was dealt to Amarillo of the American Association for 1B Matt Padgett and INF Cory Morales. Padgett will be entering his 18th season in professional baseball in 2015. Last season he split time between AAA Moncolva of the Mexican League and the Kansas City T-Bones of the American Association. Combined he hit .304 with 16 homers and 87 RBI in 120 games. Padgett is a career .275 hitter and has spent several seasons as a AAA player.
Morales split time between Fort Worth of the United League and Amarillo in 2014. He hit a combined .290 in 54 games with 20 RBI and 32 runs scored. Morales did not last as a Jackal for very long, being traded on March 8 to Sussex County.
Two days later Isaac Pavlik was signed for his 11th season in New Jersey. The right-hander was 9-5 last season in 19 starts with a very respectable 3.74 ERA. Pavlik holds several team records, including career wins (81), complete games (17), and strikeouts (852). The team is thrilled to see him return. “It is great to have Isaac back for the 2015 season. His leadership will help guide the Jackals back to the championship series,” added Manager Joe Calfapietra.
On February 26 came the blockbuster deal that sent slugger Joe Dunigan to Fargo-Moorhead of the American Association for infielders Frank Salerno and Jared Schlehuber, and RHP Brian Ernst. Dunigan led the Can-Am League in home runs in 2014 with 27 and was third in RBI with 99. His bat will be sorely missed.
The move gave the Jackals some needed depth however. Ernst was 9-6 with a 4.72 ERA for the RedHawks in 2014. He is an impressive 16-8 in two professional seasons, and adds a quality arm to the top end of the New Jersey rotation.
Schlehuber played for the Kansas City Royals High-A Wilmington team and AA-Northwest Arkansas in 2014. He combined to hit .214 with 8 homers and 32 RBI. He can play six positions on the diamond with skill.
Salerno played in just 12 games in his first professional season, but was impressive. He hit .327 in 52 at-bats with a home run and 10 RBI.
In March the Jackals have been very active in making roster moves. On March 3, OF Chevy Clarke was signed. Clarke played for Inland Island in 2014, the Los Angeles Angels High-A team, and for two levels of the Chicago White Sox organization. Combined he hit .195 with 12 home runs and 39 RBI. He also scored 53 runs and stole 13 bases.
One day later RHP Ty Kelley was traded to Fargo-Moorhead for a player to be named later. Two days after that infielder Jeremy Barnes was released.
Looking to add some quality infield depth to the roster Anthony Phillips was added on March 6. Phillips will be playing in his ninth professional season in 2015, his first in independent ball, however. He is a longtime Seattle Mariners prospect, who played with the Phillies organization last season. At three levels he combined to hit .230 with 2 home runs and 24 RBI in 90 games.
On March 11, RHP Brady Adamek was re-signed by the team. Adamek split time between New Jersey and Aberdeen, the Baltimore Orioles Low-A team. Combined he was 0-1 with a 7.62 ERA in 12 appearances. Control is a big issue for the right-hander, who walked 11 and gave up 18 hits in 13 innings pitched, however, Adamek has good stuff, and if that can be harnessed he could be a huge addition to the staff.
On March 16, RHP Shawn Sanford was signed. Sanford pitched for Quebec last season, and had an outstanding season. The righty was 9-4 with a 4.97 ERA in 17 starts and one relief appearance. Sanford walked just 18 batters in 108.2 innings pitched.
Two days later OF Leandro Castro was signed. Castro spent his first eight professional seasons with the Phillies organization, playing last season with their AAA-Leigh Valley team. Castro hit .307 in 117 games, with 6 home runs and 48 RBI. His bat should be a huge addition for the Jackals.
On March 24 the team added two right-handers. Ryan Fennell was re-signed for his third season in New Jersey. Last season he was 1-0 with a very impressive 1.63 ERA. He allowed just 30 hits in 49.2 innings pitched, while striking out 50. His problem is that he walks way too many batters, allowed 39 free passes in 2014.
RHP Hector Nelo split time between the Cincinnati Reds AA team and the Los Angeles Dodgers AA team last season. The righty was a combined 1-0 with a 6.98 ERA.
By Robert Pannier