American Association Well Represented as Minor League Baseball Takes to Diamond
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, the Minor Leagues finally get underway, and Robert Pannier looks at the list of former American Association players who will be taking to the field in the minors today.
It’s Been a Long Time Coming, But It’s Here at Last
After a two-year hiatus, minor league baseball finally gets underway today. The newly contracted system will have 120 teams taking to the diamond, as baseball finally gets back to some level of normalcy.
The exciting part is that American Association baseball will be well represented today, as no less than 30 players who have played in the league will be a part of a Major League organization playing in the minors this season. In fact, 10 of the current teams in the league and two former teams have players on minor league rosters as the season gets underway. Here is a look at 30 former American Association stars beginning the 2021 season on a minor league team roster.
Note: Player name is listed first, followed by the team they will begin the season with. The level of affiliation is listed in parenthesis, followed by the Major League organization the team is associated with, also listed in parenthesis. Finally, the American Association team or teams they played with are listed.
Tim Adleman – Louisville (AAA) (Cincinnati Reds), Lincoln/El Paso
The right-hander spent two seasons in the Majors (2016, 2017), pitching for the Cincinnati Reds. He started his career and the Baltimore Orioles organization before being released in 2012, joining Lincoln and El Paso for a season before moving to the Can-Am League. A year later he was back in affiliate ball and reached the Major Leagues just two seasons later. Adleman last pitched in 2019 for Long Island (Atlantic League)
Anthony Bender – Jacksonville (AAA) (Miami Marlins), Sioux City/Milwaukee
Bender will start the season with Jacksonville. He pitched in 2019 for Sioux City, making two appearances, then pitched last year in Milwaukee where he was 2-1 in 22 appearances. The right-hander joined the Kansas City Royals organization before moving to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2019. He will likely be up with the Marlins sometime later this season.
Aaron Brown – Midland (AA) (Oakland Athletics), St. Paul
Brown pitched for St. Paul last season, making 11 appearances while going 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA. He spent three seasons in the Philadelphia Phillies organizations before joining St. Paul, and will start this season at the AA level for the Athletics.
Chris Chinea – Pensacola (AA) (Miami Marlins), St. Paul
The catcher was a star for St. Paul last season, hitting .293 with four homers and 37 RBI in 57 games. Chinea started out in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, reaching AAA in 2019 after just five years in the St. Louis system.
Ryan Court – Las Vegas (AAA) (Oakland Athletics), Sioux City
After beginning his career in the Arizona Diamondbacks system, Court moved to the Explorers in 2015, hitting .331 and 99 games. He was signed by the Boston Red Sox the following season and spent a year with the Chicago Cubs organization (2018) before moving onto Seattle in 2019. He made his major-league debut that year, appearing in 12 games. Last season he played in the Sugarland summer league, but now returns to affiliated ball with the Athletics, joining AAA-Las Vegas.
Dugan Darnell – Fresno (Low-A) (Colorado Rockies), Gary Southshore
Darnell is an interesting story. He has spent his entire professional career in independent ball, starting the 2019 season with Gary before joining East Side in the USBL. He pitched in 22 games there last season, but now joins the Rockies organization where he will begin at Low-A.
Andrew DiPiazza – (Rockies organization), Kansas City
DiPiazza will be playing in just his second professional season. He joined Kansas City in 2019, posting a 2.16 ERA in six games. Last season he sat out but was signed by Colorado in the off-season. He has not been officially assigned to a team.
James Dykstra – New Hampshire (AA) (Toronto Blue Jays), Sioux City
Dykstra started his career in the Chicago White Sox organization before moving onto Texas. He reached AAA Around Rock in 2017. In 2018, he signed with Sioux City and helped the team to the top record in the American Association, going 9-4 in 19 starts. In 2019 he pitched in the Atlantic League, but now returns to affiliated ball with Toronto.
Brett Eibner – Jacksonville (AAA) (Miami Marlins), Texas
Eibner played two seasons at the Major League level, playing for Kansas City, Oakland, and Los Angeles. After being released by Texas in 2018, he joined the AirHogs, playing in 36 games, both as an outfielder and relief pitcher. He was signed by Miami and will start the year at AAA.
Ryan Fitzgerald – Portland (AA) (Boston Red Sox), Gary Southshore
Fitzgerald signed with Gary out of college and hit .239 in 84 games back in 2017. The following season, he was signed by the Boston Red Sox organization, and moved up to High-A in 2019. He will begin the season at their AA team in Portland.
Peyton Gray – Northwest Arkansas (AA) (Kansas City Royals), Milwaukee
After spending two seasons in the Colorado organization, Gray was released before the 2020 campaign, and put together what may be the best relief pitching performance in American Association history, going 3-0 with 14 saves and a 0.00 ERA in 32 innings. Gray struck out 56 batters and allowed just 24 total runners, including just 10 hits. That kind of season garnered a lot of attention, and he signed with Kansas City in the off-season and is assigned to their AA-Northwest Arkansas team to begin the year.
Drew Hutchison – Toledo (AAA) (Detroit Tigers), Milwaukee
Hutchison has reached the top level in baseball, pitching five seasons at the Major League level. He has a career 32-23 mark in 98 appearances. Last season he joined the Milkmen, going 2-2 in six starts. He signed with Detroit in the off-season.
Mike Kickham – Oklahoma City (AAA) (Los Angeles Dodgers), Kansas City
Kickham pitched for San Francisco in 2013 and 14, but was released during the 2016 season. He joined the then T-Bones, going 3-5 with a 2.83 ERA in 14 starts. The following season he was signed by Miami and moved up to AAA in 2019. Last season he pitched for Boston, but this year started the season in the Dodgers organization. He has made one start in the Majors this year, but will return to Oklahoma City as they begin their season.
Parker Markel – El Paso (AAA) (San Diego Padres), Sioux City
The right-hander started his career in the Tampa Bay Rays organization before an injury wiped out his 2017 season. He pitched with Sioux City in 2018, making 37 appearances before having his contract purchased by Seattle the following year. He made five appearances for the Mariners in 2019, then was dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates where he appeared in 15 games. Last season Markel did not pitch, but this year he joined the San Diego Padres organization. He will start at AAA-El Paso.
Kevin McCanna – Reno (AAA) (Arizona Diamondbacks), Sioux City
McCanna is a great American Association success story. He pitched one season in the minors for the Houston Astros before being released, then signed with Sioux City where he went 5-0 with a 3.18 ERA in 27 appearances. That led to the purchase of his contract by the Arizona Diamondbacks, and he has moved up the system, reaching AAA-Reno in 2019. He will begin there this season as well, looking to make that final step.
Ian McKinney – Arkansas (AA) (Seattle Mariners), Sioux City
The left-hander spent six seasons in the St. Louis Cardinals organization before being released in 2018. He then signed with Sioux City, going 2-2 with a 3.19 ERA in 10 appearances. In 2019 his contract was purchased by Seattle, and he reached AA-Arkansas that year. He will begin the season at AA with the likelihood of moving up to AAA sometime during this year.
Jose Mesa, Jr. – Pensacola (AA) (Miami Marlins), Kansas City
Mesa has all the talent in the world. He has a live arm, and spent five seasons in the Yankees organization before being released in 2019. He was signed by Kansas City, and went 3-2 and 12 appearances, striking out 63 batters in 49.0 innings. He sat out last season but joined Miami late in spring training. He will begin at AA-Pensacola.
Roy Morales – Wichita (AA) (Minnesota Twins), Kansas City/Winnipeg/Sioux Falls
Morales has proven to be a guy everyone wants in their locker room. He began his professional career in 2014 with the Marlins organization, but was released in 2019, joining Kansas City where he hit .310 in 60 games. Last season he was chosen by Winnipeg in the dispersal draft and appeared in 19 games, hitting .333 before being dealt to Sioux Falls. In 26 games with the Canaries, he hit .330 and was an integral part of the team that reached the American Association championship series. That led to his contract being purchased by the Minnesota Twins organization where he will begin at AA-Wichita.
Colby Morris – St. Lucie (Low-A) (New York Mets), Gary/Milwaukee
Morris is another independent baseball success story. After graduating from college, he pitched in both the Can-Am League and the American Association, pitching for both Gary and Milwaukee. Now he gets a shot at affiliate ball.
Vinny Nittoli – Tacoma (AAA) (Seattle Mariners), St. Paul
Nittoli spent three seasons in the Seattle Mariners organization before being released at the end of the 2016 season. He joined St. Paul where he went 2-3 with a 3.33 ERA in 34 appearances. He returned to St. Paul in 2018 and got off to a fast start before his contract was purchased. In 2019 he pitched for both the Arizona Diamondbacks and Toronto Blue Jays organizations. He will start the season at AAA-Tacoma for the Mariners.
Justin O’Conner – Somerset (AA) (New York Yankees), St. Paul
O’Conner started out in the Tampa Bay organization and is an outstanding defensive catcher. After being released at the end of the 2017 season, he joined St. Paul where he became an all-star. In 2019 he looked to move out from behind the plate, joining the Chicago White Sox organization as a pitcher. He went 2-0 in 14 games at two levels. It has not been specified how the Yankees will use him.
Blake Grant-Parks – Round Rock (AAA) (Texas Rangers), Cleburne
BGP, as Railroaders fans affectionately refer to him, played three seasons with Tampa Bay before being released. In 2017 he signed with Cleburne and became an instant success with the team, spending two years there where he hit .261 in 2017 and .312 in 2018. The following season he joined Rockland of the Can-Am League before returning to the American Association in 2020 with Fargo-Moorhead. Grant-Parks finally earns a well deserved return to affiliate ball and will begin the season at the AAA level, quite a remarkable feat for a player who had never been beyond rookie league prior to this year.
D.J. Snelten – Tennessee (AA) (Chicago Cubs), Chicago
Snelten reached the Major League level with San Francisco in 2018. He pitched for Chicago in 2019, going 7-3 with a 3.12 ERA in 20 starts for the Dogs. He joins the Cubs organization, starting out at AA.
Peter Tago – Birmingham (AA) (Chicago White Sox), Sioux City/St. Paul
Tago started his professional career in 2011 with Colorado, joined the White Sox organization in 2015, and was signed by Seattle in 2017. After an arm injury wiped out his 2018 season, he joined Sioux City for the 2019 campaign, going 6-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 11 starts. Last year he pitched briefly in St. Paul and had his contract purchased for this season, joining the White Sox.
Dillon Thomas – Tacoma (AAA) (Seattle Mariners), Texas
Thomas was going to be the MVP of the 2018 American Association season before his contract was purchased by the Milwaukee Brewers. The outfielder hit .333 in 80 games for the AirHogs, blasting 13 homers and driving in 54 runs to go along with 37 doubles. He played in 2019 in Biloxi (AA), but now joins the Mariners organization where he will start the season at AAA-Tacoma.
Josh Tols – Jersey Shore (High-A) (Philadelphia Phillies), Kansas City
The Australian-born Tols played for Kansas City in 2016, going 5-4 in 27 appearances. He joined the Philadelphia organization in 2017 and reached AAA in 2019. An arm injury has him recuperating as he starts the season at High-A Jersey Shore.
Damek Tomscha – Wichita (AA) (Minnesota Twins), Sioux Falls
Tomscha was an MVP candidate for Sioux Falls last season, hitting .320 with 10 homers and 49 RBI in 55 games. This after he spent seven seasons in the minors, reaching AAA in 2018 and 2019. Tomscha was signed by the Twins in the off-season and begins the year at AA-Wichita, joining last year’s teammate Roy Morales.
Matt Tomshaw – Charlotte (AAA) (Chicago White Sox), Fargo-Moorhead
Tomshaw was one of the top pitchers in the American Association last season after going 5-3 with a 2.69 ERA in 12 appearances, 11 of which were starts. The left-hander began his career in 2011 with the Twins organization, moving to Miami in 2015 before joining the White Sox in 2018. He would have remained with the Chicago organization in 2020, but was allowed to play in independent baseball. He has reached AAA level in each of the last four seasons and will begin there this year as well.
Justin Vernia – Amarillo (AA) (Arizona Diamondbacks), Sioux City
Vernia is another great American Association success story. He signed with Sioux City after graduating from Gonzaga in 2017. The right-hander went 3-2 in six starts in 2017, but was an absolute beast in 2018, going 12-2 with a 3.32 ERA in 20 starts. He was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks organization the following season and moved to AAA by the end of that year. He will start the season at AA-Amarillo.
Drew Ward – Erie (AA) (Detroit Tigers), Fargo-Moorhead
Ward was a Washington Nationals prospect for seven seasons, reaching AAA in both 2018 and 2019, but was released for the 2020 season. After a slow start, he wound up leading the American Association in batting, hitting .335 with 17 homers and 45 RBI in 58 games. Ward had his contract purchased by the Detroit Tigers and will start the season at AA-Erie.
By Robert Pannier