Anthony Barone Has Milkmen Poised to Return to Championship Series
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 moves that Milwaukee Milkmen Manager Anthony Barone has already made, looking to lead his team back to the American Association Championship Series.
Anthony Barone Establishing Himself as League’s Top Manager
Pop quiz time. Nothing better than starting out an article with a quiz. However, to make a point, one must dive into the recesses of our knowledge to see how deeply we know the American Association.
Question 1: What manager has the most victories since 2020?
Ah, this seems like a trick question. Kansas City Monarchs Manager Joe Calfapietra has the best record over the last two seasons, but the team did sit out the 2020 campaign. Still, he has the fourth most victories in that time.
Chicago Dogs Manager Butch Hobson has the third most amount of victories. He has 143 wins and lead his team to the top record in the division the last two seasons.
That just leaves two choices: Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks Manager Chris Coste and Milwaukee Milkmen Skipper Anthony Barone, the two managers who led their teams to the American Association Championship Series last year. Coste slightly edges Barone, winning 153 to 146 for the Milkmen Manager.
Question: How many teams have made the playoffs in each of the last three seasons?
Kansas City, Chicago, and Fargo-Moorhead have rode big win totals into the postseason in each of the last two seasons, but they both fell short in 2020. In fact, only two teams made the playoffs that season, Sioux Falls and Milwaukee. That makes the Milkmen the only club in the league to make the playoffs in each of the last three years.
This article begins with this pop quiz because it is important to understand that Barone has quickly ascended to become one of the top, if not the best manager in the American Association. That is high praise, especially considering that there are four managers who have earned at least 1000 victories in their career (Hobson, Calfapietra, Kane County Cougars’ Skipper George Tsamis and Winnipeg Goldeyes’ Manager Greg Tagert), but one cannot deny the success that Barone has had.
The club has had a winning campaign every year since he took over the club, going a combined 146-114, a winning percentage of .562. Some may consider him just a notch below the Monarchs and RedHawks Skippers, but the numbers cannot be ignored. At the very least, he is in the top three.
It is with this understanding of his success that one must then look at the acquisitions that the Milkmen Skipper has already made less than three weeks into January. While some clubs have yet to sign a player for 2023, Barone has brought in four since the beginning of the year and already has eight players under contract. That is far ahead of any other manager as he prepares to lead his team back to the American Association Championship Series for the third time in the last four seasons.
Before the Year Ended
In early November, November 9 to be specific, Barone signed outfielder Rudy Martin. Martin was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 25th round of the 2014 draft, and worked his way up to AAA-Omaha in 2021. Last season, he joined the Washington Nationals organization, playing primarily at AA-Harrisburg, hitting a combined .233 in 51 games at three different levels. Martin has seven years of minor league experience under his belt, hitting a combined .244 in 450 games. He has lots of speed, stealing 155 bases while being thrown out just 37 times, and is an excellent outfielder, making just 12 errors during his career.
Seven days after signing Martin, the club inked a deal with right-hander Josh Agnew. Agnew graduated from Loyola Marymount where he went 19-12 with a 4.21 ERA during his college career. The last two seasons he pitched in Grand Junction (Pioneer League) and was absolutely dominant last year, going 10-3 in 17 appearances. He needs to lower his hits/innings pitched ratio (117/103.0), but walked just 15 batters while striking out 98. He will definitely benefit from being mentored by pitching coach José Rodriguez.
On November 18, the team signed catcher Dean Nevarez. Barone had already exercised his option on Hector Sanchez, who had a monster season after joining Milwaukee (19 games, .386, 5 HR, 14 R, 18 RBI), but Nevarez should be a solid backup for this team if Sanchez returns. He played three seasons in the Seattle Mariners and Chicago Cubs organization, hitting .232 in 111 games. This off-season he played in the Mexican Winter League and the Mexican Independent League, hitting a combined .305 in 62 games.
An early Christmas present came when right-hander Gregori Vasquez signed with the club on December 20. Vasquez pitched for Kansas City and Gary SouthShore in 2021 before being signed by the Baltimore Orioles organization. He pitched primarily at High-A Aberdeen last year, posting an impressive 2.35 ERA in 20 appearances. Vasquez made seven starts for Gary and Kansas City in 2021, but may find himself battling for the closer’s role with the Milkmen.
Happy New Year and Welcome Back to Milwaukee
Over the last two days, the team has re-signed three hurlers from last year’s staff, left-hander Jack Mahoney and right-handers A.J. Jones and Christian Young. Neither of the three had a particularly impressive regular season. Jones finished with a 7.01 ERA in 22 appearances, giving up a whopping 126 hits in 86.0 innings pitched. Mahoney made 28 appearances, primarily out of the bullpen, posting a 5.40 ERA, while Young had a 5.09 ERA in 15 relief appearances and 10 starts.
None of those numbers looked particularly impressive, but the three came to life during the run to the championship series. Young was absolutely dominant, starting two games without allowing a run in 8.2 innings pitched. He struck out 12. Mahoney became a key cog in the bullpen, posting a 3.37 ERA in four playoff appearances, while Jones tossed just one scoreless frame.
There is little doubt that the three blossomed at the time that mattered the most, and it would not be surprising to see them carry that momentum into this season.
The signing of the three pitchers came after Barone added outfielder Michael Crouse on January 18. Crouse was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 16th round of the 2008 draft, then worked his way up to AA-New Hampshire in 2014. An injury cost him a full season before returning to the diamond in the Atlantic League in 2016. He spent four seasons there before joining the Chicago Dogs in 2020. Crouse has been a solid player in independent baseball, hitting .270 with 375 run scored, 70 homers, and 301 RBI in 561 games. Two aspects of the outfielder’s game that likely mattered most to the Milwaukee Skipper was that Crouse has 406 career steals and is excellent defensively. He should combine with Martin to make two-thirds of what could be the top outfield in the East Division.
You Can’t Deny Success
There is no denying that it is a long way until Spring Training gets underway, with players not reporting until the beginning of May. However, the track record is there. Anthony Barone has proven that he will get top talent and will find ways to win even after key pieces of the puzzle have been signed by affiliate or foreign clubs.
Some will say it’s a little too early to get excited about the moves that Barone has made. The better thing to say would be that he is just getting started.
By Robert Pannier