23 Questions to Be Answered During 2023 American Association Season – Part 1
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 provides Part I of his 23 questions that will be answered during the 2023 American Association season, providing his thoughts on what the answers will be.
Almost Time to Play Ball!
The 2023 American Association season is just four days away from umpires in three stadiums shouting, “Play Ball!” for the first time this season. After an exciting 2022 season which saw arguably the best championship series in league history, this season gets underway with the promise of an even more exciting year.
There are a lot of great storylines for the 2023 season as well, and it is time to look at some of the more interesting ones that will be answered. Here is Part 1, answering the first eight questions.
Who Will Be the First Player Headed to Affiliate Ball?
Already, six players have had their contracts transferred to a Major League affiliate and 12 more have signed with clubs in Mexico. These are the first 18, but they will not be the last. There is a lot of talent in this league, and there will probably be 15-20 more headed back to affiliate clubs.
The likely first player to be returning is going to be left-hander Steffon Moore from the Lincoln Saltdogs. A hard throwing lefty with great stuff is gold to affiliate clubs, and Moore proved in the first half of last season that he is as good as it gets. The left-hander finished with a 0-4 record, saving 11 games while posting a 4.32 ERA. However, through the first two months of the season, Moore had an ERA under one. The left-hander still pitched very well over the remaining seven weeks of the season, but it was three of his final 17 outings that caused his ERA to balloon, giving up 11 total runs in 1.2 innings.
Moore spent three seasons in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, posting a 5.23 ERA in 59 career appearances. The left-hander will definitely need to reduce his number of walks, allowing 33 bases on balls in 41.2 innings, but let him get off to a fast start and his days and Lincoln will be short.
Where Will the All-Star Game Be Played?
Surprisingly, the American Association has not named where the 2023 All-Star game will be played. Last year’s contest in Chicago was a huge success, and it would not be surprising to see the game return to the Chicago-Milwaukee areas, as it drew fans from across the region to come and watch their hometown players compete in the mid-summer classic.
Because of that, do not be surprised if the Milwaukee Milkmen are the host of this year’s game. Milwaukee is within two hours of four other clubs, and Franklin Field would be an ideal location for this year’s game as well. While it would make sense to move the game to one of the West Division cities, the league may see Milwaukee as an opportunity to keep the All-Star game momentum going.
What’s Left in the Tank for McGovern, Samson?
Within a year or two of them choosing to hang up the cleats, you can be sure that both Nate Samson and Kevin McGovern are going to be in the American Association Hall of Fame. Both have had legendary, storied careers, and both are returning for the 2023 season, with McGovern turning 34 less than two weeks after the season begins and Samson entering the season at 34.
For those questioning McGovern, one need look no further than last season, when the left-hander went 10-3 with a 3.69 ERA in 21 starts. He set a single season-high for his time in the American Association with 141 strikeouts in 126.2 innings pitched. Some people simply get better with age, and McGovern is proving to be one of those people.
Samson is the interesting case. The infielder began last season with the Sioux City Explorers, then was released before signing with the Lincoln Saltdogs for the final week of the season. He hit a combined .239 in 71 games. This came a year after he appeared in just 31 games for the Explorers, hitting .259. Can Samson still deliver for his new club? The thing to consider is that the last two seasons he has battled with foot and leg injuries. Samson is a very proud and skilled player, who is not one to hang on and keep playing if he cannot put up solid numbers. The infielder looks healthy, so look for him to hit around .280 this season.
Will Josh Altmann Rebound?
It is hard to think that a player who hit 15 home runs and batted .269 needs to rebound, but Josh Altmann set a very high standard in 2021 when he hit .305 with 29 homers and was an MVP candidate. The infielder had a down year in comparison, but played in the lineup that struggled to score runs, finishing near the bottom in most offensive categories.
This season, Altmann joins the Chicago Dogs, a team playing in a park that is conducive to a lot of home runs and produce high-scoring games. The Dogs finished seventh in runs scored last season and were tied for sixth in home runs. They see Altmann as a big upgrade to this offense, and do not be surprised if he matches those numbers he put up with the Saltdogs in 2021.
How Will Greg Tagert Do in Winnipeg?
One of the biggest stories for this season is going to be how Manager Greg Tagert does with the Winnipeg Goldeyes. Tagert is a proven winner, one of just a handful of managers who have earned over a thousand victories in independent baseball. Tagert has been able to reinvent himself at times as well. In his time with the Gary SouthShore RailCats, he went from a team that had several veterans leading the club to one that was based almost entirely on first- and second-year players. He figured out a way to win with both types of teams.
In Winnipeg, he will have a team closing in on the high end of the salary cap and has several veteran players, including the returning American Association Batter of the Year (Max Murphy). Tagert knows how to get the most out of every player on his team, so look for a big season out of this club.
Are there Any Stadium Issues Entering the Season?
Entering the 2022 season, there was some issues with the Explorers and the city of Sioux City over seating repairs and replacements that needed to be performed at the stadium. Owner John Roost seemed adamant that the club would be sold, moved, or even folded if something was not done by the city to repair nearly a thousand seats. At the end of the 2022 season, it was revealed that the Kane County Cougars were in a dispute related to their lease and payments owed to the city.
After the Kansas City T-Bones eviction during the 2019 playoffs, there were clearly going to be American Association fans who were entering 2023 a little concerned about the state of the league and the viability of each of the 12 teams. Fortunately, there is no cause for concern. The city of Sioux City made the necessary repairs/replacements and an agreement has reportedly been reached between the Cougars and the city to keep the team there for the foreseeable future. There are no stadium issues for the other nine teams.
With So Many Players Returning, Will the Gary SouthShore RailCats Be Different?
There is an adage in sports that it is sometimes the move that is not made that helps to improve the club. It clearly appears that Gary SouthShore RailCats manager Lamarr Rogers has embraced that philosophy this season, as it could very well be the 20 of the 25 players from last season will return to the team.
For a club that finished 42-58, that would appear to be bad news. However, there is clearly a method to the badness for Rogers. This was a very talented club last season, who hit more home runs than any other RailCats team. They had their first 20 home run hitter in franchise history (Sam Abbott), and he will be returning this season as well. In fact, this lineup looks like it will have even more power.
The pitching staff is solid, and there are some additions that are going to make this group even better. Adam Heidenfelder not returning is a big loss, but this rotation is deep and Gary will battle. Rogers has had a year to learn his team, and knows with the American Association is all about. He will be better prepared and be ready to lead this team to the playoffs.
What Is the Deal with T.J. Bennett?
There have been a lot of very interesting moves in the off-season. A lot of players have moved from one club to another within the league, but the most intriguing of those is first baseman T.J. Bennett moving from the Lake Country DockHounds to the Kane County Cougars.
Bennett is the son of DockHounds Manager Jim Bennett, and played for his dad last season. In fact, he played for his dad back in 2019 as well when the elder Bennett managed the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks. No one should insinuate any bad blood between father and son. After all, Jim managed his son in Australia during winter ball. It just creates a very interesting dynamic for the upcoming season, especially when the DockHounds take on the Cougars.
By Robert Pannier