“El Duque” Orlando Hernandez (center) watches the Florida Winter Baseball League tryouts Saturday at Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium in Sanford, Florida.
The Florida Winter Baseball League held its second of two tryouts on Saturday. The first was two weeks ago in Miami. Demand was so high, a second tryout was scheduled.
The FWBL is an attempt to create a viable professional winter league here in the United States so players won’t have to go to the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico or Venezuela. The season begins October 30 and has a 60-game schedule.
League officials tell me they have verbal commitments from 13 of the 30 Major League Baseball organizations to provide players, mostly from the lower minor league levels. The league itself is independent of MLB, so right now it’s scouting and signing players from the independent leagues, or those who have been released.
Space Coast Surge general manager Sean Boudreaux (left) and Global Scouting Bureau president James Gamble evaluate players during Saturday’s workout.
Some players have been signed without a tryout, based on past performance or scouting reports. The FWBL has partnered with the Global Scouting Bureau, an independent outfit out of Louisiana, to find and sign players.
Although they’ve been reluctant to tell me who are the investors behind the league, some prominent baseball names have publicly associated themselves with the effort. Ken Griffey Sr. is the league commissioner, and it’s been made very clear to me he’s more than a figurehead. Former Cincinnati Reds slugger George Foster will manage the Lake County team. And former major league star pitcher “El Duque” Orlando Hernandez is apparently one of the investors.
Hernandez was quite actively involved in Saturday’s tryouts. He was all over the field injecting his opinion into how things should be run, offering advice to the tryout players, and acting as a mentor for the Latin players.
I haven’t seen any former Angels minor leaguers yet, although I was told two former players are possible signees.
As for the stadium used for the tryout, it sounded awfully familiar. A visit to the stadium’s web site reminded me that Sanford is the home town of popular former Angels infielder David Eckstein.
Saturday’s tryout was supposed to be limited to 100 players, but about another 20 walked up. They had to wait until everyone who pre-registered showed (or didn’t show), and then they were allowed to sign up. Some guys showed up by prior arrangement. A couple Latin players were referred by Hernandez.
Everyone was fed at lunch time with cheese pizza from a local pizzeria while the scouts made the first round of cuts. An afternoon game was played, nine innings, with 18 pitchers given one inning each. No one scored, as base runners weren’t allowed past third base, and the batting cage was kept in place so the scouts could stand behind it and watch. (The cage was a major buzz killer for photography …)
I’d guess that about a half-dozen players were offered contracts at day’s end. The scouts made it clear that others might be offered contracts later, or might be on a depth list if a player is needed later in the season. I saw a couple pitchers I thought had decent enough stuff, although few came close to, say, Tom Kotchman’s Rookie-A Orem Owlz talent.
If you’re thinking these guys sound like the bottom of the barrel … you’re right. But every once in a while, the independent leagues help to resurrect a player’s career. It’s more common for major league organizations to reach into the independent leagues to acquire players to fill out rosters, especially at the Double-A and Triple-A level, to surround top prospects with experienced players.
If nothing else, I would expect this league to help place some players with major league organizations for the next minor league spring training. After that, their talent will take them as far as it can.
Players stretch at the beginning of Saturday’s workout.
Click Here to watch an interview with Jake Leonhardt, an independent player who signed at Saturday’s workout. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection are required. A Houston native, Leonhardt formerly pitched in the Astros system and travelled here from Texas to qualify for the league.
You probably know that baseball is played during the winter in Latin and South America. Fall and winter leagues have been tried over the years in Hawaii, California and Maryland, but none lasted long because Major League Baseball wouldn’t provide funding.
No problem, say the people with the Florida Winter Baseball League.
The FWBL will begin play October 30 in four Florida cities. Each team will play a 60-game schedule.
I recorded an interview today with Sean Boudreaux, general manager of the Space Coast Surge, which will play out of historic Cocoa Expo Stadium. Click Here to watch the video interview. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection to watch.
Most of the players will probably be from the independent leagues, although a number of major league organizations have said they’ll consider sending players from their lower minor leagues. Apparently the Angels are not one of those teams, although I wouldn’t be surprised if former Angels minor leaguers from Florida who were released surface in the league.
For history buffs, Cocoa Expo Stadium was the spring training home for the Houston Astros until the early 1980s, then the Marlins in 1993 in their inaugural year.
|On the left, Martin Maldonado catching for the Orem Owlz in August 2005 at age 19. On the right, Martin catching today for the Brevard County Manatees in the Florida State League.|
I worked my first photo shoot today for the Brevard County Manatees (Brewers affiliate). They were playing the Jupiter Hammerheads (Marlins affiliate). Both teams are in the Advanced-A Florida State League, the same level as the California League where Rancho Cucamonga plays.
“Fear the Sea Cow” is the Manatees’ slogan for 2009. Manatees are sometimes known as a sea cow. They are the most docile creatures you’ll meet, so I’m not sure what there is to fear, but I digress …
One aspect of minor league baseball I love is running across old friends.
The stats sheet for Jupiter showed Alfredo Amezaga, who was in the Angels system from 1999 through 2004. He’s now with the Marlins; he did a rehab stint in April with the Hammerheads, so he wasn’t here, but that would have been neat to see him again after all these years.
The Manatees catcher looked familiar. When his name was announced, “Martin Maldonado,” I realized he’d been in the Angels system from 2004 through 2006, then released. I didn’t have a chance to talk to him today but I’m sure we’ll sit down before the season is over and renew our acquaintance.
The starting pitcher for the Manatees was staff ace Evan Anundsen, who entered the game with a 1.85 ERA and a team-leading 87 1/3 innings. Selected in the fourth round of the June 2006 draft by the Brewers, his career ERA entering the season was an unremarkable 4.46. But this year, the 21-year old leads the league in ERA and is among its strikeout leaders.
Jupiter third baseman Matt Dominguez got ejected at the plate for arguing balls and strikes after striking out to end the first inning. For a 19-year old, that was a veteran move to get a day off when the weather is hot and it’s a day game after a night game. 🙂
The Hammerheads took the field and began to warm up for the bottom of the first but, before Logan Schafer led off, Manatees manager Mike Guerrero and Jupiter manager Tim Leiper began jawing at each other. The two umpires finally had to separate them after Guerrero left the third base coach’s box and confronted Leiper at the visitor dugout railing.
Now there’s something you don’t see every day.
The Manatees eventually won, 7-4, helped by five Jupiter errors. Anundsen gave up two runs in six innings, striking out nine and watching one. I need to bring my camcorder next time he pitches to tape him.
In addition to Maldonado’s photo above, here are some more photos from today’s game.
Manatees starting pitcher Evan Anundsen is one of the top starting pitchers in the Florida State League.
Manatees manager Mike Guerrero jaws with Hammerheads skipper Tim Leiper in the middle of the first inning. Apparently Leiper said something about one of the Manatees players and Guerrero took exception.
Manatees center fielder Logan Schafer doubles to lead off the bottom of the first.
Manatees left fielder Lee Haydel entangles with Jupiter shortstop Osvaldo Martinez after he doubled. An errant throw allowed Haydel to advance to third.