American Association Alum Thriving Playing Baseball Down Under
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 success that American Association players are having playing in the Australian Baseball League this ‘summer.’
The Boys of Summer?
There may be bitter cold temperatures across much of the United States this winter, but it is summer in Australia. That means residents are enjoying time at the beach, a 90° Christmas, and the Boys of Summer have taken to the diamond as the Australian Baseball League is in full swing.
It has been an exciting start to the season, as two teams have established themselves as the clear favorites to battle for the league championship. The Adelaide Giants (19-10) lead the Southwest Division while the Brisbane Bandits (23-6) hold a commanding lead in the Northeast Division. Adelaide holds a four-game advantage over the Perth Heat while Brisbane is enjoying an eight-game edge over the Auckland Tuatara. They seem destined to meet in the championship when the playoffs get underway in late January.
Making American Association Proud
The league has seen several spectacular individual performances as well, as 13-year Major Leaguer Josh Reddick has six homeruns and Brisbane’s James Meeker, Canterbury’s Ryosuke Miyaguni, and Auckland’s Chase Walter each have appeared in more than 10 games without yielding an earned run. There is definitely some great baseball being played down under.
However, the American Association is making its presence known as well, as several recent players, many of whom will return to the league next year, are making an impact on the pennant races. Here is a look at current and former American Association players competing for each of the teams in the ABL.
The Brisbane Bandits enter play this weekend with the top record in the ABL. The Bandits are third in team batting average (.264) and lead the league with 46 homers and 182 runs scored.
At the heart of that offense is Lake Country DockHounds infielder T. J. Bennett, who leads the league in RBI (33) and homeruns (15). Bennett has been an absolute beast, hitting .325 with a 1.100 OPS. He also leads the league in runs scored (29) and slugging percentage (.733). The infielder has starred in the American Association over the last four seasons, hitting a combined 49 home runs in 288 games with four teams.
Logan Trowbridge is playing his final games as a professional ballplayer, declaring his intent to retire a couple of months ago. He has starred in the American Association in his six years in the league, scoring 316 runs and driving in another 237 while stealing 134 bases. Trowbridge is coming off a season where he hit .256 with 69 runs in 95 games, and has carried that momentum into the ABL season, hitting .280 with eight runs scored and 13 RBI in 24 games.
Brisbane is not just about sensational hitting, as they have the top ERA in the ABL (2.89), more than a full run better than the Melbourne Aces (4.08). Lincoln Saltdogs right-hander Carter Hope has been a big part of the team’s bullpen, appearing in 15 games where he has gone 2-0 with a 1.14 ERA. Hope has been absolutely dominant, allowing 17 hits and five walks in 23.2 innings while striking out 24.
The other team in the top of their division has three American Association alumni on the club, all working primarily out of the bullpen. That is Josh Tols, Sam Street, and Todd Van Steensel. Of the three, Van Steensel is having the best season, appearing in 10 games where he has four saves for the Giants. Street has appeared in just one contest while Tols has made nine appearances, one as a starter.
No former American Association players are with the Auckland club. Knowing this, it is not surprising they’re 8.0 games out of first place.
Canterbury has two American Association players on the club. James Reeves played for the Chicago Dogs last season where he was 1-1 with a 3.42 ERA in 22 appearances working out of the bullpen. Reeves has great stuff, and has appeared in 10 games for the Cavalry, going 1-1 with a 7.00 ERA.
Anyone who has watched American Association baseball over the last few seasons is familiar with Nick Belzer. Belzer started for the St. Paul Saints in 2019 before his contract was purchased, and played for Sioux City in 2021 and for the Kansas City Monarchs in 2022. Last year he was 6-2 with a 4.32 ERA. Belzer has moved into the starting rotation for the Cavalry as well, where he is 2-2 with a 3.72 ERA.
The Korea team is made up solely of South Korean baseball players.
The Aces have three American Association alumni on their roster, but only one who has played recently in the league. That is right-hander Jack Fox, who starred for the Kane County Cougars last season, leading the American Association with 11 victories while posting a 3.04 ERA. Fox appeared in 18 games, starting 16 of them, where he struck out 73 in 91.2 innings. It has been a rough going for Fox in his first trip abroad, going 1-1 with a 6.28 ERA working primarily out of the bullpen.
Two blasts from the past also are on the Aces staff. That includes Cody Mincey, who dominated for the Kansas City Monarchs back in 2021 (3-0, 1.13) before his contract was purchased by the Miami Marlins. Mincey has been solid for Melbourne, going 1-2 with a 2.41 ERA in six starts. He has given up 24 hits and walked 10 in 33.2 innings.
It has been quite a while since American Association fans heard the name Evan Rutckyj, as he played for Winnipeg in 2017, going 2-0 with a 5.57 ERA in 22 appearances. The last three seasons he has played in the Can-Am/Frontier Leagues. In 11 games, Rutckyj is 1-1 with a 5.54 ERA for the Aces.
The Heat are one of just three teams in the league with a record above .500, and it is no surprise that they have the most number of American Association players on their team – five. That includes one in the everyday lineup and four in the pitching staff.
The biggest of those names may be Kansas City infielder Pete Kozma, who spent eight years in the Major Leagues before joining Kansas City last season. Kozma had an impressive season, hitting .291 with 44 runs scored and 53 RBI in 84 games, and he has carried that into the Australian Baseball League, hitting .296 with 15 runs and 15 RBI in 28 contests.
Kozma’s teammate with the Monarchs, Jordan Martinson, is also on the club. Martinson went 5-2 with a 3.39 ERA in 45 appearances last season for Kansas City. He has been lights out in the ABL the season, going 1-1 with a 1.06 ERA in 16 appearances. Martinson has allowed just two runs off nine hits and seven walks in 17.0 innings, striking out 20.
Kansas City is well represented on the club, as Brock Gilliam also mans a spot on the pitching staff. Gilliam was 6-4 with a 4.80 ERA in 27 appearances for the Monarchs last year, and has been a key fixture in the starting rotation for the Heat, going 3-1 with a 3.05 ERA. Gilliam has been stingy with the walks, allowing just four in 38.1 innings pitched.
Tyler Beardsley made 11 starts for the Sioux City Explorers last season, going 2-4 with a 6.75 ERA. He has appeared in just one game for Perth, tossing three shutout innings. Saltdogs right-hander Tucker Smith is also on Perth. He was 1-3 in eight appearances last season and has made just one appearance for the Heat so far.
Sydney Blue Sox
There are no former or current Mayor can Association players on the Blue Sox.
Let Us Not Forget
The American Association is having its impact on the Australian Baseball League this season, as many former and current players are impacting the pennant races. However, I would be remiss if I ignored other contributions being made in the ABL beyond the playing surface.
In the broadcast booth, the Chicago Dogs outstanding broadcaster, Sam Brief, and former Kansas City Monarchs great Dan Vaughan are calling games this season. Dan has been an integral part of ABL broadcasting for nearly a decade now and continues to shine for the Heat. Sam is broadcasting for the Bandits, his first season with the club.
There is a bit of a role reversal in Brisbane, where DockHounds Manager Jim Bennett is the hitting coach while Lake Country hitting coach Dave Nilsson manages the Bandits.
The Australian Baseball League is down to its final two weekends of regular season play, and you can enjoy getting in on the action, watching current and former American Association players and coaches, while also listening to broadcasters by watching games on AABaseball.tv.
By Robert Pannier