Three-time defending Italian Baseball League champion T&A San Marino is loaded with seasoned MLB players and prospects selected by Orioles’ scout and San Marino GM Mauro Mazzotti, who was named 2012 Coach of the Year by the European Baseball Coaches Association and was instrumental in leading underdog Team Spain to its first-ever appearance at the World Baseball Classic. T&A San Marino features an international all-star cast including starting pitcher Júnior Guerra–a former catcher in the Braves and Mets organizations–and relief pitcher/closer Jesus Delgado–who made his MLB debut for the 2008 Marlins–both of whom are veteran Venezuelan hurlers who bolster the dominant San Marino pitching staff.
Adding pitching depth to San Marino’s roster is 35-year-old Italian American Chris Cooper, who was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 35th round of the 2001 MLB amateur draft. Cooper, who hails from Pittsburgh, explained that his original family name was Cocchiararo. “It’s alphabet soup,” Cooper said, smiling as he elaborated on the scenario. “They changed my last name when my great-grandfather came over in 1911. They misspelled his name about three times, and the story was, supposedly, he pointed at somebody’s nametag when he was getting his papers here in the U.S. They just said, ‘Okay, we have Cooper.’” Cooper is joined by fellow Italian national team member Lorenzo Avagnina as well as Canadian-born Paul Macaluso. Both San Marino outfielders Avagnina and Macaluso are the unsung heroes of the squad as they emulate general manager Mazzotti’s true grit style of play and “Never Say Die” approach to the Italian Baseball League.
Standing in the path of T&A San Marino’s path to the European Cup is a very dangerous Rimini Pirates baseball team. Their pitching arsenal is led by MLB veteran/Oregon native Mike Ekstrom and Cuban-born southpaw Enorbel Márquez-Ramírez along with former Mariners’ minor leaguer Jose Escalona serving as Rimini’s closer. Should the Rimini Pirates defeat T&A San Marino in the upcoming Euro Cup, they will be the European representative in the 2014 Asia Series–an international competition featuring the champions of the Australian Baseball League, Korea Baseball Organization, Nippon Pro Baseball in Japan, Chinese Professional Baseball League and the European Cup. Having already earned himself a ticket to the Asia Series as the pitching ace for the 2014 Australian Baseball League (ABL) Champion Perth Heat (5-1, 0.72 ERA, 50.1 IP, 10 BB and 57 K), Ekstrom could potentially have a difficult decision to make on whether to play for the Aussie or Euro Cup Champs. Team Italia pitcher Nick Pugliese was faced with similar circumstances when he played for last year’s European Cup Champion Unipol Bologna and the 2013 ABL Champion Canberra Cavalry. Because Pugliese was committed to the Italian team, it opened up a roster spot on the Cavalry pitching staff for Ekstrom. Despite being a member of the Perth Heat, Ekstrom was granted temporary pitching privileges for rival Canberra Cavalry so that Australia could put their league’s best players out on the field in the international spotlight. The strategy paid off big as Ekstrom led the longshot Cavalry to the 2013 Asia Series Championship, and the ABL was subsequently awarded the winner’s $500,000 prize money. Should Rimini win the Euro Cup, let’s hope that Ekstrom chooses to share some amore by bringing home the loot to benefit Italian baseball.
Based on what he has been written in his blog “Baseball Round The World”, Ekstrom has nothing but love for Italia. How could he not when Italian American teammate Jack Santora, a 19th round Arizona Diamondbacks draft pick in 1999, has shown him the ropes after having spent the last eight years playing the infields of the Italian Baseball League. The Monterey, California native Santora, along with Rimini hometown hero and Italian national team captain Mario Chiarini–who played for the 2000 Arizona League Mariners and competed in the 2004 Summer Olympics–are the elder statesmen of the squad. These veterans have been both critical to Rimini’s success and inspirational to newcomers to the team like Ekstrom. However, nothing means more to the players right now than the EU Champions Cup and the right to represent European baseball in the 2014 Asia Series.
Although the battlegrounds for the European Champions Cup Finals will take place nearby, Rimini and San Marino had to travel great distances to play the other EU Championship teams and win their respective Qualifier Champions Cup bracket to get here. Rimini defeated the best from the Netherlands, Germany, France, Ukraine and host Brno, Czech Republic, while T&A San Marino beat a similar group of international squads which included Italy’s Nettuno and home team Vaessen in the Netherlands. Italian Baseball League favorite T&A San Marino may have the edge over Rimini, but the Pirates are not to be underestimated. Rimini outfielder Leonardo Zileri‘s hitting frenzy in the European Champions Cup Qualifier garnered him a .591 batting average (13-for-22) and awards for MVP and Best Hitter in the tourney. T&A San Marino will counteract with Venezuelan slugger Jairo Ramos, whose performance in the European Champions Cup Qualifier (.500 BA, 2-2B, 2-HR, 9 RBI) yielded similar MVP and Best Hitter accolades in the competition.
With the much anticipated best of three-game series between T&A San Marino and Rimini for the 2014 European Champions Cup taking place beginning August 7th, baseball fever is at its all-time high in Italy. The Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS)website will provide up-to-date details and links to the live internet streaming broadcasts. More than a local rivalry between San Marino and Rimini, the ramifications of winning the European Champions Cup extend internationally as the EU representative in the 2014 Asia Series. May the best team win and go on to turn heads in Taiwan. Lord knows an injection of winners’ prize money earned abroad would help nurture the growth of the game in Europe.
After agreeing to take Manny Ramirez’s roster spot midseason on the EDA Rhinos, 2005 Arizona Diamondbacks #1 draft pick Matt Torra embarked on an overseas baseball journey he will never forget. After pitching for Team Italia in 2013 World Baseball Classic, it appeared the right-handed hurler’s curiosity and appetite for international competition and world-class cuisine had peaked. With wife Jessica and daughters Isabel and Mia in tow, the young Torra family flew from Boston to Tokyo before landing in Taiwan to begin their adventure in Kaohsiung City, where the EDA Rhinos played their home games. In his 12 starts in the Chinese Professional Baseball League, Torra was one of the league’s finest best control pitchers–allowing just five walks in 78 innings of work. In his final start for the EDA Rhinos in the 2013 Asia Series against the Canberra Cavalry, he once again demonstrated his control of the strike zone by issuing only one walk in 8.2 innings pitched. Canberra slugger Michael Wells spoke of Torra and said, “The guy throwing up there threw some very good pitches, it was tough at times.” Yet the toughest walk for Torra was the one back to the airport, where Torra and his family had time to organize their thoughts before heading back to America. Facing an uncertain future ahead with the season now over, Torra’s agent Jim Masteralexis still aspires to get his once highly-prized client to join the game’s elite and make it to MLB. With over 578 innings pitched in Triple-A ball under his wing while playing in the Diamondbacks, Rays and Nationals organizations, Torra has been on the cusp of the big leagues. With his recent success on the EDA Rhinos, this 29-year-old Italian American is poised to follow the footsteps of Team Italia teammate Chris Colabello in getting to the show. After speaking with current free agent Matt Torra, it is apparent that he is more than ready. Roberto: You were a 2005 MLB first-round draft pick alongside Ryan Braun and Jacoby Ellsbury. You must have felt pretty good knowing you were the Diamondbacks #1 selection. Matt Torra: That day was a great experience. It was a day I will never forget. The only thing close to that was pitching for Team Italia in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Roberto: You pitched at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where you led the Atlantic 10 Conference with 111 strikeouts and the entire country with the nation’s lowest 1.14 ERA in 2005. What was the transition like from college ball to professional baseball? Matt Torra: For me it was a big transition. I went from college ball, only got 10 innings of pro ball before I got hurt and had to have surgery on my shoulder. And then coming back not only was I trying to adjust from college ball to pro ball, but I also had to try to figure out and learn how to pitch again after surgery. For me it took me about half
of a season in 2007 to try to start getting a feel again
for the ball. Once I started to do that, I found success
again, and every year I have just continued to build
on it. Just take stuff that I have learned every year
and try to apply it into my pitching repertoire.
#Rays acquire RHP Matt Torra from Arizona for cash considerations, send him to Triple-A Durham
Roberto: You were dealt to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011 and worked under the guidance of Italian American manager Joe Madden. How was that experience? Matt Torra: I got to meet him for the first time at 2012 Rays Spring Training. He was a great person to be around. He’s polite to everybody. You know, he said hello to everybody. He never singled-out anybody. So to be around him and to be around that organization at the time was great. Everybody welcomed you from the top to the bottom of the organization. And they treated you very well. It was definitely a good experience for me. They treated everyone with respect. Obviously someone in my position as a non-roster invitee coming into camp, you definitely show respect to the more veteran guys and everything. But everyone said hello to you. It was nice just being in there. They all wanted you around the guys. It was a good experience.
The #Nats have signed RHP Matt Torra and 3B Mike Costanzo to Minor League deals. #MLB
Roberto: How was your experience with the Washington Nationals? Matt Torra: I was really excited to getting back on with Mike Rizzo, who drafted me with the Diamondbacks as the scouting director. And jumping on with Mark Scialabba, who is the head of the minor leagues there. I thought it was going to be a great opportunity with a great organization. I was in the best shape of my career coming out of the World Baseball Classic. But it was frustrating because I got hurt with an oblique strain coming off the WBC. I missed the first couple of months. By the time I reached Triple-A Syracuse, I was more than a month behind the other pitchers in the Chiefs’ rotation. I jumped into the season quickly, without much prep.
Roberto: When you finally got healthy and got into stride, it looked like you had turned the corner and were on the rebound. But all of a sudden you were let go when least expected. Matt Torra: To get released after I think I finally got my groove going was unexpected. In the long run, it was for the best and it allowed for the Taiwan opportunity to come up. Roberto: Coming off the heels of paying tribute to your Italian heritage by playing for Team Italia in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, it doesn’t get better than that. Matt Torra: Yeah, that was a great experience. I began working with the team on February 20th to prepare for the WBC, which began in early March. Everybody was very welcoming. Manager, pitching coach, players, everybody–they were all polite and energetic about the game. It was a great experience. Roberto: Do want to pinch yourself to make sure that you are not dreaming as you make an imprint in the Italian baseball history books as a contributer to Team Italia in the WBC? Matt Torra: You try to take it all in and experience it. But you also don’t want to get overcome by it. You need to stay focused when you get a chance to pitch in a game. You don’t want it to overwhelm you, but at the same time you want to remember every single second of it. And know that it was a blessing to come and do this. I started two years ago tracking my ancestry to obtain dual citizenship and everything. For some reason, I just happen to start that and the fact that I could jump on the team was great. Everything just came together for a reason. It was just an amazing trip.
Roberto: You must be a proud Italian American ballplayer. Matt Torra: I felt like everybody on the Italian team was definitely playing for the team on the front of the jersey. They were playing for Italia. I think that is why we had success in the first two games (defeating Mexico and Canada) and why Italia will continue to have success in the future. But at the same time for a lot of guys it was a great opportunity to showcase what they had. To come out and compete I want to help this team as best I can–whether it’s one batter or three innings–whatever they need me for. I want to go out there and do that. As you know, there are some of us that have not been in the big leagues that don’t get that much exposure on TV. So to have a tournament like the WBC is great for a lot of people. We just got to go out there and stay focused. Once again, don’t let it overwhelm you and know that as you go out there and make a good pitch or as a hitter go out there and execute what you are trying to do. Try not to do too much, and you are going to be successful. Roberto: As a pitcher, you then have to wipe the slate clean after every at-bat regardless if you just gave up a home run or struck out the hitter. You must remain focused on the pitch you are about to deliver. Matt Torra: Every pitch matters, especially in a short tournament like the WBC when it matters even more. No matter what happens you can’t change what has already happened. You need to bear down, focus and just execute every pitch. And just worry about that next pitch you are going to throw. Have a good game plan, stick to it and trust the stuff. Trust all the hard work you’ve put into it and know you have the ability to get guys out. Roberto: So by staying in the present moment and not living in the past? Matt Torra: What has happened in the past or what will happen in the future doesn’t matter. It’s really one pitch at a time on offense and defense. The team that executes, the team that makes the least amounts of mistakes is going to come out on top. I believe with the talent that I have seen on Team Italia that we have the ability to come out on top in the very near future.
I am proud to be part of team Italia. Tough way to go down but it was an honor being part of the team. #italia.
Roberto: Having a coach like future hall-of-famer Mike Piazza on Team Italia must have been inspirational for all the ballplayers? Matt Torra: It was… When you get to be around guys like that, you pick their brain as much as you can. With Mike Piazza as a hitting coach and a catcher for all those years, as a pitcher you want to pick his brain. What did he see when he was calling a game? As a hitter, what was he looking for going up to the plate? So anytime you have the opportunity to gain some knowledge from a coach, you should definitely take it. You write it down, or you just remember it. And then it will be there and you’ll be on the mound at some point and all of a sudden you’ll remember–hey, so and so said this, let’s apply it and boom–it works! So you have got to take any time you have a chance to pull information, you have got to do it. Roberto: It’s obvious that the coaching dynamic duo of Mike Piazza and Frank Catalanotto helped Team Italia players offensively to be very productive at the plate. Matt Torra: They were outstanding. From one to nine and even guys coming off the bench, they all did an excellent job. Mike and Frank brought a lot of confidence to Team Italia. We were on a roll and had the type of energy of being aggressive to execute on both sides of the game to make something good come out of it. Roberto: So would you consider your time with Team Italia to be your most memorable moment of your baseball career to date? Matt Torra: In my career so far, participating in the World Baseball Classic with Italia was pretty amazing. Seeing a team come together in a way Team Italia did was unbelievable.
I think me getting that call up to the big leagues will be a great moment for me as well.
I haven’t experienced it yet so I can’t tell you what it feels like. But I know the feeling on the field celebrating after beating Mexico and Canada was something special. It was a special group of guys. We had the right combination of players and the heart and desire to win. Yes, we had some big league players on Team Italia, but we had a lot of guys people didn’t know about. Even myself…where there are some people who know about me, but I am not a big name guy in Major League Baseball. We left our hearts out there. It was big for us. When you’re on the field celebrating, I don’t know if you can get that feeling anywhere else. It was up there. Obviously when my kids were born, you have a great feeling. Getting married and stuff…but that feeling you have celebrating with 28 guys on the field is unbelievable.
Third only to my son's birth and yesterday's #TeamItaly's comeback win in the #WBClassic, today was one of the best days of my life. #Italia
Roberto: I couldn’t agree with you more…I remember tweeting something like: third to my son’s birth and Team Italia’s upset over Mexico, it was one of the best days of my life. Matt Torra: It was pretty amazing…to celebrate twice too on the field back-to-back. I think family events as far as marriage, birth, stuff like that…relationship with God–that’s in one category. I don’t think stuff outside of that can really surpass that. But as far as baseball stuff, what I experienced with Team Italia was unbelievable. It was a great experience, and
I think a lot of the guys on the team felt the same way. Roberto: Team Italia demonstrated their heart and soul in the WBC. Every person wearing an Italian uniform wore it proudly each game. Matt Torra: Everybody was in sync and in tune and watching every single pitch. We were focused and ready to go every game. We wanted to do something special. Roberto: You had a special chemistry and a ‘never say die’ fighting spirit on Team Italia. Matt Torra: Yeah, you could say we were the underdog. But it came down to who wanted it more. You could definitely see the heart, the will and the desire. You could see it on every single one of the Italian players. It made us persevere and confident. We were focused and determined to make something happen. Roberto: How proud are you to be an Italian American and a part of Team Italia? Matt Torra: It’s a great honor for me. It started two years ago when I began to research and find my great grandfather Giuseppe Torra’s birth certificate from Valenza, Italy and my great grandmother’s birth certificate. And find their marriage license from 1920, and then find the ships they came over on and everything. Once you start researching, you start seeing where you are from and everything. It’s an incredible feeling. It’s a great honor, and I’m very proud to have represented Italia in the WBC. Roberto: It shows and I wish you the best in your career. Rest assured I will be there when you make your MLB debut. God bless you and your family. Thank you for your time today.
I look forward to meeting up with you again soon. Matt Torra: Anytime…let me know. Thank you very much.
Italian bloodlines run deep in Australia and Asia. In recent years, ballplayers of Italian descent have been making their impressions felt in the Australian Baseball League and in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League. Alex Maestri–a Cesena, Emilia-Romagna native and former Chicago Cubs prospect–served as the ace of the Brisbane Bandits pitching staff during the 2011-12 Australian Baseball League season. He finished third in the ABL in innings pitched (63.2) and in strikeouts (53). With an impressive ERA (3.25) and WHIP (1.16), the first Italian-born pitcher ever signed by an MLB franchise also led the Bandits in wins (4). After a very successful stint in Australia, Maestri was recruited by the Kagawa Olive Guyners in Japan’s Independent League. Maestri dominated hitters and soon moved up the ladder to face the game’s elite in the Nippon Professional Baseball League when he was signed by the Orix Buffaloes. Maestri still continues to enjoy success in Japan. Adam Buschini was awarded the first-ever ABL Triple Crown for his heroic 2012-13 ABL regular season. The Triple Crown–awarded to a player who has the highest batting average, the most home runs and driven in the most runs in a season–is one of the game’s rarities. The Triple Crown has only been achieved 16 times in over 130 years of MLB history. The Northern California Italian American slugger claimed the ABL Triple Crown with a .363 batting average, a league record-tying 15 homers, and an ABL record-breaking 50 RBI in just 45 games. He was named ABL Player of the Week twice. In ABL Round 10 action, Buschini went 8-for-17 (.471) with a double, three home runs and 9 RBI. He exploded in ABL Round 13 when he went 9-for-15 (.600) with four homers and 9 RBI to help the Canberra Cavalry claim the top playoff spot and eventually win the ABL Championship. Adam Buschini’s success continued as he led the Padres AA affiliate San Antonio Missions to a 2013 Texas League Championship.
Hayden “Big Dog” Beard, a member of the 2012 San Antonio Missions and local resident mentor of the Canberra Cavalry pitching staff, now serves as pitching coach for the 2013-14 Canberra Cavalry. With over four years of experience in the Mets and Padres organizations, Beard knows talent when he sees it. The Big Dog is thrilled to have Nick Pugliese on the team roster after watching the former LA Angels prospect pitch for Team Italia in the 2013 World Baseball Classic as well as his stellar ABL debut performance.
“It was good to get Nick in there during the first game of the year and get him a feel for the league,” said Beard. “He had a solid outing punching out two without yielding a hit. He threw both his sinker and slider for strikes from different arm angles with good life on his pitches. We project him as a back end of the bullpen arm at the moment.” Pugliese did not disappoint in his second ABL lights out appearance.
He struck out three more in 1.1 innings of relief, placing him third in the league in strikeouts (5 K’s
in 2.1 innings pitched). Pugliese is enjoying his time playing in a Cavalry uniform knowing full well that he could come face-to-face with his Aussie teammates in the upcoming Asia Series when he suits up for the European Cup Champion Fortitudo Bologna squad. Nick said, “So far everyone is awesome, and the country is super nice. It’s a strange scenario for the Asia Series because I play the first two weekends here in Australia then join Bologna in the same tournament my Canberra team will be going to.” Although Pugliese may be conflicted on the real prospect of facing his Aussie teammates in the Asia Series–which features the champions from Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Australia and Europe–Canberra pitching coach Beard looks forward to the opportunity of his team facing its own relief pitcher. He said, “Our boys would relish the opportunity to play against him in Taiwan. It’s always fun playing against your mates!” Despite the loss of Pugliese’s services in the Asia Series, the Cavalry charge abroad will be mighty indeed with the addition of Toronto Blue Jays prospect Jon Berti–who he led the Single-A Advanced Florida State League in games played (128), at-bats (505), runs (85), hits (126), triples (5), walks (57), and stolen bases (56). Replacing Adam Buschini at second base, Berti is up for the challenge. Voted the Florida State League’s top base running prospect by Baseball America and Team MVP by the Dunedin Blue Jays, Michigan’s Jon Berti is a welcome addition to head coach Michael Collin’s international all-star lineup. In the case of Florida’s Nick Pugliese, who rubbed shoulders with Collins in the LA Angels organization when both aspired to play MLB, it’s a reunion of two grinders who desire to keep the ABL throne in Australia’s capital. “We started last season with the goal to bring the Claxton Shield to Canberra,” Collins said. “Our goal hasn’t changed coming into this season. This year we will be defending the Shield from the top and not chasing from the bottom. Cavalry General Manager Thom Carter is proud of his team and coaching staff as well as the baseball supporters in Canberra. “This is a milestone to be celebrated,” said Carter. “It shows just how much baseball has grown as a sport within the capital city. Each coach brings strong expertise to the table and as a team we couldn’t be more excited.”
The first Italian-born pitcher signed
by MLB is experiencing a renaissance. The two-time MiLB All-Star spent five seasons in the Chicago Cubs system. Alex Maestrilater ventured Down Under, where he would be named 2011 Australian Baseball League (ABL) Team World All-Star and given the inaugural ABL Fan Choice Award. When I first met the 27-year-old right-hander at the Italian MLB Academy near Pisa last year, he told me that the Kagawa Olive Guyners wanted him to pitch in Japan. He took on the the role of the team’s closer and was a knock out from day one. In each of the two months he played for Kagawa in 2012, he was named the indy league’s pitcher of the month.
On July 9, 2012, Maestri’s contract was purchased by the Orix Buffaloes of the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) League. He worked diligently to advance from the farm team to the top-ranked league in Japan. In his NPB debut for the Orix Buffaloes, the international baseball ambassador from Italy pitched 6.1 innings to earn his first victory while allowing just one run with four hits and striking out five. He went on to dominate in the NPB and made seven more starts for the 2012 Orix Buffaloes. Posting a 4-3 record with a 2.17 ERA,
Alex Maestri averaged nearly one strikeout per inning
(49.2 innings/40 K). He was equally impressive during his 2011/12 ABL campaign. The Brisbane Bandits pitcher finished third in the ABL in innings pitched (63.2) and strikeouts (53), fourth in WHIP (1.16) and sixth in ERA (3.25). In Round Eight of the regular season, he earned Australian Baseball League Pitcher of the Week honors after throwing a stellar complete game two-hitter against the Canberra Cavalry. Team Italy starting pitcher Alex Maestri faces Team Puerto Rico today at 7pm (EST) in a win-or-go-home showdown televised live on the MLB Network from Marlins Park in Miami. He and his fellow Italian teammates are ready to show the world that the defending European Champions are loaded with talent ready to lock and load in the competitive 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Roberto: Welcome back to the USA! Alex Maestri: How are doing Roberto? It’s nice to talk to you. I’m feeling good. It’s been a long journey coming here. Everything is good. I’m glad to be with the Italian national team now. I’m looking forward to this WBC tournament and this year coming up.
Roberto: After your successful campaign for the Japan Professional League’s Orix Buffaloes, the team has really stepped up its efforts in recruiting players from overseas. Alex Maestri: Yeah, you know, every year the team signs foreign players. This year we got seven so we’re probably going to have to rotate. That’s stuff that I can’t control, but it’s going to be fun. The team looks very good. We have a lot of Japanese players that are pretty good and young so I think it’s going to be an exciting year.
Roberto: Did you enjoy the food in Japan? Alex Maestri: The food there is great. It’s so good. I heard good things about Japanese food before I went there, and when I got there I really appreciated it. Their cuisine is not all about sushi like we think. That’s what I thought too before I went there, but they actually have a huge variety of good food. It’s all very, very good.
Roberto: Did you find a good plate of pasta there? Alex Maestri: Actually, you know what, they are very good at cooking pasta too. They can reproduce everything very well. They are very good at learning about other cultures and making it theirs.
Roberto: The Japanese have the longest life span. So they must be doing something right. Alex Maestri: They are doing a lot of things right.
Roberto: Your Japanese YouTube video is amazing. Have you ever been in the spotlight like that before? Alex Maestri: Not at all. That was like the first time. After the game, the player of the game gets interviewed in front of the fans in the stadium and put on the big screen. My debut was actually a great game. I got to do that right on the field. It was cool. This fan had this Italian flag with him, and he came all the way close to the dugout. He passed the flag to one of the reporters who gave it to me. So it was good, it was good seeing the colors of Italy in Japan.
I was very proud too to represent those colors in a good way.
Roberto: It almost had an Olympic feel to it. Alex Maestri: Yeah, you see those gold medal runners walking around the track with their flags. I was just standing around though. It was a really a weird day. I really didn’t feel uncomfortable. I really didn’t know what was going on.
Roberto: It must have been an adrenalin rush. Alex Maestri: It was during the game. Afterwards, I was just relaxed and happy. I was done pitching, and we won the game.Roberto: Tell me about what you remember most about playing Minor League Baseball. Alex Maestri: I was here in the states for six years, and five of those six years were with the Cubs. I have a lot of great memories with that team. The game that I remember the most was a Cubs Spring Training game, and I was with the big league team against the A’s. They gave me one inning, and it was pretty good. Roberto: And you got to face Italian American Jason “Giambino” Giambi. Alex Maestri: Actually Giambi is the only one who actually got a hit off me. I faced four guys, and three (Orlando Cabrera, Matt Holliday and Eric Chavez) of the four were strikeouts. Roberto: Since he is Italian, were you giving him a free pass to first base? Alex Maestri: (Laughing) Yeah, I guess so. Roberto: Let’s talk about the development of baseball in Italy. Is playing on Team Italia like serving in the Italian military and serving your country? Alex Maestri: Yeah, I mean in Italy we have a lot of good players. It’s a shame that there is not much money supporting baseball so it’s not easy to develop guys. But we have the Italian MLB Academy now, and you know it’s doing very good. There are some young players that are doing some really nice work. And there’s more and more scouts going down there to look at them. It’s a pleasure for me to represent the country all over the world. And even if I just play for myself on the team that I play with, I always play for my colors, I’m always proud of that.Roberto: Forza Italia! Forza Azzurri! Alex Maestri: Yeah, per sempre Forza Azzurri!
Roberto: You don’t take any prisoners when you pitch, and you proudly wear your colors on your sleeve. It shows that you pour your heart and soul every time you step on the mount to throw. Alex Maestri: Yeah, I think that’s what you have to do on the mound. You’re not always going to succeed. But that’s the attitude you’ve got to have to pitch.
Roberto: Italy pitching coach Bill Holmberg has changed the mindsets of many on this staff for the better. Alex Maestri: Bill has been my pitching coach forever. He has known me since I was a kid And you know I started working with him when I was 18-year-old and started to go to the Italian MLB Academy. But even before that he was working with me. He’s my main pitching coach. I always try to go the Academy during the offseason and have a few workouts with him. I really like the way he teaches pitching. I think everybody, all the pitchers that get to work with him, they appreciate his work.
Roberto: He was the one who wrote your name on a scouting report for the Chicago Cubs, and the next thing you know you were signed to MLB. Alex Maestri: At the time he was an international scout for the Chicago Cubs, and you know I was doing pretty good. I was young and I was doing good for my team. And he said that he was going to take a chance and sign me. He said that I could make the Big Leagues. He really believed in me. He gave me a great opportunity to come over and gave me a chance to play in the states. Roberto: Mike Piazza could be doing else, but instead he chooses to with you as the hitting coach for Team Italy. Alex Maestri: We really love that. It’s great to have him around in the dugout. He’s like doing this for fun. He enjoys working with us… That’s why we appreciate it so much. I think he is positively influencing the program that we have. The fact that the team is winning and improving proves it. So that’s why he keeps coming back.
Roberto: Coach Piazza helps pitchers as well, right? Alex Maestri: Oh definitely. We always have meetings in the morning.. He comes in with Bill and always says his opinion on our pitching. He was one of the best catchers in the game so he obviously knows a lot about pitching too. It’s just great having him around.
Roberto: Being the underdog, Team Italy plays like there is no tomorrow. Alex Maestri: I guess it’s kind of normal since baseball is not so developed in Italy. People don’t really respect Italian baseball, but you know it’s kind of like the fun part of playing. Nobody really thinks that we are strong. But I think we are a very good team actually, and we should again surprise a lot of people around the world.
Roberto: It this also an opportunity to play on the world’s stage to show MLB what they missed out on? Alex Maestri: I don’t think I have to have any sort of revenge, I just want to play good for myself and my country. I was here in the states, and they gave me a great opportunity to play here. I had a lot of great experiences here so it’s not like I’m mad at anybody. Things just went that way. I had a tough year in 2010 so it’s normal that I got released. You know I’m still playing baseball. I’ve got a great opportunity now in Japan. I just love what I do so like I said before I am just going to play for my country and not for anybody else.
Roberto: You look healthy and happy. With this Italian team playing to win, I know you are going to give it your all. Alex Maestri: Yeah, I think a few years back, the Italian national team just went out playing a few tournaments to kind of like participate. But now with manager Marco Mazzieri, you have a very good attitude and it rubs off on all the players. Now you have a very strong group that won two European Championships back-to-back. And now everybody is starting to feel confident about themselves. And in baseball that’s what is about—confidence. You know we got ability so we need to be confident and just go out there and play baseball.Roberto: You have a wicked slider which was once regarded as one of the best in the entire Chicago Cubs organization. Alex: I’ve got my pitches like everybody else. I just got to keep working on them and make them as confusing as I can for hitters.
Roberto: In prior in WBC competitions, you have been stellar. I hope that you will continue to shine in the upcoming 2013 WBC. Alex Maestri: Yeah, you know, that’s the plan. We always try to do our best. And that’s what I’m trying to do this time around. Right now I’m getting ready and going day-by-day. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and I’ll definitely give my best effort.
Roberto: Are there any players in the WBC that you know from you days in MiLB? Alex Maestri: The only guys that I remember is catcher Chris Robinson from Canada. We were in the same organization. We never really played together. I have played against many of the USA players like Mike (Giancarlo) Stanton and Jonathan Lucroy. It’s cool facing them again in the World Baseball Classic.
Roberto: Every pitch has to count with the WBC pitch limits in place. Alex Maestri: Yeah, that’s kind of like the plan every time you go out. You know it’s a team sport so everybody is going to have do his own thing. I know that I will do my part with my pitching, but once I’m done with my pitches then there is someone else coming in to take over. We just all have to do this together, and it’s going to be touch. We’re playing the best teams in the world, and it’s going to be hard work. So we’re going to have to be really focused.
Roberto: You have to execute. Alex Maestri: Yeah, you’ve got to be able to execute and if you don’t you just lose games. That’s why we play this game. You know, we enjoy that part of it.
Roberto: What does it mean to be an Italian playing baseball? Alex Maestri: I just started to play baseball because of my brother. At the time I wasn’t really watching any baseball on TV. I started doing that later on, but it was cool seeing all those guys with Italian names written on the back of their jerseys. I just grew up hoping that one day that I would be able to take their place.
Roberto: With the influx of MLB players now joining Team Italy, how will it change the personality of La Squadra Azzurri. Alex Maestri: I think it’s going to be the same. We have a good personality now. Those players are going to definitely improve the level. Because obviously they are Big League players and they have more experience than we do. It’s going to make the team better, but I don’t think it will change the personality of the team.
Roberto: You are representing Italy on all corners of the earth wherever you compete. Alex Maestri: I feel like it. I always travel the world and play baseball in different countries. But my roots are always with me so I feel very proud of that. I’m sure all the other guys feel proud of that too—even the Big League players that are going to play for us. We already had a bunch of them in the World Baseball Classic, and they play as hard as we do. They want to win, and it’s just going to be great to do it all together.
Roberto: Any favorites? Has the Dodgers’ Nick Punto lived up to his name as the shredder by tearing the jersey off walk-off heroes after Team Italy victories? Alex Maestri: I don’t know about Punto, but another guy who had an unbelievable WBC tournament was Chris Denorfia. At the tournament, he really gave everything he had. He made some great plays defensively and had some clutch hits so it’s going to be good to see him again. Jason Grilli has been with us for the first two World Baseball Classics. He’s just a great guy. He loves to come and play for us. Alex Liddi, of course, is one of my best friends.
I haven’t seen him in a long time. I saw him the other day, and it was just great seeing him again. He’s really family. I feel like his brother. And all the other guys that are going to come are going to be very welcome.
Roberto: You will be in the capable hands of catchers Drew Butera from the Minnesota Twins and Tyler LaTorre from the San Francisco Giants. Have you ever worked with them before? Alex Maestri: Actually not. I haven’t had the pleasure to work with them yet. It’s going to happen in the WBC.Roberto: Since you were in the same organization as the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo, it will be sort of a Cubbie reunion with two Italians on the same team. Alex Maestri: Yeah, I heard really a lot of good things about him. We both played for the same organization so it will be good.
Roberto: Anything else you would like to say before we sign off? Alex Maestri: I’d like to say hi to everybody. I would like to thank the great people all over the world. I really enjoy what I’m doing now. I might not be enjoying this for the past seven years if it had not been for them. Thanks!
Roberto: I really enjoyed meeting you at the Italian MLB Academy and talking with you today here in Arizona prior to the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Thanks for your time! Alex: Thank you very much, and thank you for the work you do for Team Italy. It’s good to have somebody who really cares about this team and tries to promote the team as much as you do. Thank you for doing that. Roberto: Thank you. It’s my pleasure. I believe in you and Italian baseball. God bless Italia!
In the final installment of the Top 40 Americans in the ABL series, we now feature the very best import players (#1-10) hailing from the U.S.A. It has been a rewarding experience interacting with players, coaches, scouts, front office staff, media representatives and baseball fans to put together this rather ambitious undertaking. Congratulations to 2013 ABL Champ Canberra Cavalry!
By clicking above, witness the resilience of Top 40 American in the ABL Honorable Mention Antonio Callaway and the thrilling comeback of 2013 ABL Champion Canberra Cavalry in the regular season against former MLB reliever Dae-Sung Koo of the Sydney Blue Sox. Special thanks to Canberra’s CHARGE TV for streaming live coverage all season long with
the excellent play-by-play commentary of ABC Grandstand’s “Strike Zone” host Chris Coleman and his team of supporters including Top American GM in the ABL Thom Carter.
#10 Brian Grening of the Canberra Cavalry has always kept MLB caliber talent close by his side. The former 2008 Cleveland Indians draft pick was teammates with ABL Triple Crown winner and recently signed San Diego Padres prospect Adam Buschini as well as St. Louis Cardinals prospect and Top 40 American in the ABL Adam Melker (#23) in 2007-08 at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. More recently the 27-year-old Newport Beach, California native was teammates with fellow Cavalry pitchers and Top 40 Americans in the ABL Sean Toler (#32) and Dustin Loggins (#40) along with one-time Atlanta Braves/Kansas City Royals prospect Steve Kent while playing independent ball for the 2012 Kansas City T-Bones. As a starter in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball last year, he registered a career-high 113 strike outs–while picking up ten wins with a 3.69 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. He was equally as impressive in the ABL last season, making 23 relief appearances and striking out 43 batters in 43.2 innings of work.
Flipped on @mlbnetwork and saw my old teammate Brian Grening dealing on the mound for the Canberra Calvary in the Australian Baseball League
In addition to his critical postseason victory in ABL Championship Series Game 1 against former two-time champ Perth Heat, the hard-throwing right-hander posted a 4-2 record in regular season action with a 2.87 ERA. The ABL Team World All-Star pitcher was a mentor for the slew of first-time American imports to Canberra. First-year Cavalry manager Michael Collins praised Grening for developing into the team’s top starting pitcher and taking on a leadership role with the club’s rookies. Collins said, “Brian’s been huge. He came here last year as a bit of everything. He came back strong and was our number one starter this year. He really led these new guys and was comfortable in everything he did.” Grening felt home field advantage with the Canberra fans suffocated Perth’s chances of a Heat three-peat. He said, “When you get it on, the place erupts, it makes you feel like you’re on top of them. It’s way more detrimental to the other team when the whole place is right on top of you, so awesome crowd, the best I’ve ever seen in Australia,
best fans in the ABL…”
Upon the recommendation of Sydney Blue Sox recruiter and ex-Minnesota Twins third baseman Glenn Williams–who was was inducted in the Baseball Australia’s Hall of Fame and won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens–#9 James Robbins from
the Detroit Tigers Single-A Advanced affiliate Lakeland Flying Tigers was summoned to play in New South Wale’s capital city. He was the most prized and highly-touted player of Sydney’s five American imports, including Top 40 Americans in the ABL J.D Williams (#29) and Tyler Herr (#23) as well as Zach Penprase (#20) and Geoff Klein (#13).
Thank you to everyone in Australia! You guys were awesome! So much support! We all loved our time here! Thank you for the hospitality!
Robbins, alongside former Sydney Blue Sox and 2012 Top 20 American in the ABL Tyler Collins (#9), led Lakeland to a Florida State League Championship after appearing in 124 games last year. The left-handed hitting DH and first baseman made his pro debut at 18 when he played for the Rookie Gulf Coast League Tigers and was ranked the 29th best prospect in the Tigers organization by Baseball America. A 30th round pick by Detroit in the 2009 draft out of Shorecrest High School in Shoreline, Washington, the 22-year-old was third for Sydney in batting average (.298), slugging (.461) and RBI (26).
#8 Jack Murphy of the Canberra Cavalry was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 31st round of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft from Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey. Excellent behind the plate, the 24-year-old Sarasota, Florida-born catcher possesses a .993 fielding percentage (better than any catcher in the MLB Hall of Fame). Throwing out 29 of 76 baserunners (38%) while finding his power stroke and hitting 10 home runs in 2012 at Single-A Advanced Dunedin, Murphy had a breakout season prior to joining the Canberra Cavalry. He caught fire against the Melbourne Aces in ABL Round Four action–during which he went 9-for-17 with a home run, a double and five RBI–and was subsequently chosen to represent Team World in the 2012 ABL All-Star Game. Third on the 2012-13 Cavalry staff in doubles (11), home runs (5) and RBI (24), the Toronto Blue Jays prospect posted a respectable .304 batting average and a .480 slugging percentage.
#7 Michael Ohlman of the Perth Heat received a $995,000 signing bonus after being chosen by the Baltimore Orioles in the 11th round of the 2009 draft out Florida’s Lakewood Ranch High School. Ohlman finished the 2012 season with the Single-A Delmarva on a roll. He batted .304 with 16 doubles, two home runs and 28 RBI in 51 games. He reached base in 47 of his 50 starts and led the team with a .411 on-base percentage. The MLB prospect will likely start 2013 at Single-A Advanced Frederick, where Perth teammates–Top American in the ABL Brenden Webb (#18) and Aussie Alan de San Miguel–played last year. Hoping to lead Perth to its third-straight ABL Championship title, the
22-year-old Ohlman and San Miguel split time between first base and catcher with the Heat. Having the best overall ABL campaign of the three Baltimore farmhands, Ohlman hit .317 with six home runs and 27 RBI in 43 regular season games and hit .467 in the postseason.
Wanted to thank the @perthheat family for welcoming me with open arms this year. I had the time of my life and hope to see everyone soon!
#6 Ryan Stovall of the Canberra Cavalry signed on with ACT Baseball club Tuggeranong Vikings after a try-out with the Arizona Diamondbacks aspiring to make it in the ABL and eventually to MLB. Cavalry manager Michael Collins learned of the 25-year-old Florida native in no time and officially added him to the Canberra roster after making an impression in the New Zealand national team exhibition series. It was the second time an import playing for a local club has made an instant impact for the Cavalry as fellow Top 40 American in the ABL Kody Hightower had been recruited by Canberra from the Ainslie-Gungahlin Bears in 2011. Originally selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 19th round of the 2009 draft out of Georgia’s Thomas University, he played for Single-A Advanced Wilmington Blue Rocks in two of his three seasons in the Royals organization before being delisted in 2011. Appearing in 80 games for the American Association of Independent Baseball 2012 Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, Stovall was a very well-seasoned utility player who saw time at first, second, and third as well as all three outfield positions.
The Team World ABL All-Star was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks after a few weeks of ABL action. He was also named ABL Player of the Week for Round Nine during which time he led the league with the best batting average. While playing away against the Perth Heat, Stovall went 9-for-20 (.450) with two home runs, two doubles, a triple, and seven RBI. His off-the-charts performance spurred a big momentum swing for the Cavalry as they took three of four games from the league’s 2011 and 2012 Claxton Shield champions to move into clear sole possession of first place. While sporting a .320 batting average in the ABL, Stovall
was the leader in triples (4), runner-up in slugging percentage (.582), and third in runs (32). He was rewarded for his hard work in Australia and in indy ball by getting his contract purchased by a Major League Baseball franchise. “Ryan does a lot of good things on the baseball field,” said RedHawks manager Doug Simunic. “He can play all over the field, swings the bat well and is a plus runner. Hopefully he can go to Arizona and work his way up in their organization.”
Just turned on mlb network and first person I see on the Australian League championship @ryanstovall9
#5 Kody Hightower of the Canberra Cavalry is an unsung American hero, who after being disregarded by U.S. professional baseball retreated to the European leagues and has since been a fixture as one of the continent’s most adored and cherished elite superstar players. Here’s the lowdown on MLB’s MIA Kody Hightower. After being selected as a
NAIA All-America Honorable Mention at Brevard College in North Carolina, he was named to the 2008 Southern States Athletic All-Conference team, NAIA Region 13 team, and the NCCAA All-South team in addition to being an All-American and the NCCAA South Region Player of the Year in his final two seasons at Southern Wesleyan University in South Carolina. He posted a .427 batting average with six home runs, seven triples,
16 doubles, 61 runs scored and 64 RBI in 58 games during his 2008 collegiate campaign. Despite his stellar year, he was completely ignored in the 2008 MLB June Amateur Draft.
The leadoff home run from Kody Hightower in the 1st inning of the ABL championship game clocked in at a brisk 20.62 secs. @ableague
Witness the speed of #5 Kody Hightower when he legs out this inside-the-park home run off #14 Anthony Claggett (of Top 40 Americans in the ABL fame) in 2013 ABL Championship Game 1 by clicking HERE and when he sprints around the bases after launching a leadoff homer off Detroit Tigers prospect Warwick Saupold in ABLCS Game 2 by clicking HERE.
Winner of the Cavalry ABL Fan Choice Award two years straight, Hightower ended the 2011-12 season with a .361 batting average (third in the ABL) and was equally as impressive this past season with a .325 batting average (fourth in the ABL). At the time he was named ABL Player of the Week for Round Seven, Canberra’s 27-year-old spark plug was leading
the Cavalry and the ABL with a .406 batting average. Igniting the league’s best offense–which finished nearly thirty points higher (.295 batting average) than second place Perth (.267 batting average), the Cavalry shortstop went 11-for-17 (.647) with two doubles, two home runs, three runs scored and six RBI in four games against the Melbourne Aces during ABL Round Seven competition.
Isn’t Virgil Vasquez great?! He’s thrown 3 straight scoreless innings. Bonomi coming up in the bottom of the 3rd #ZenMaster#ABLHeatCavalry
#4 Virgil Vasquez of the Perth Heat credits qigong–an ancient Chinese regimen of body, breath, and mental training exercises–for transforming his career and the reason for his second chance in the Bigs. “It’s an opening to find out more of who I am. With the qigong and the meditation, I’m just living life with a different attitude–without fear and trying to enjoy every moment,” said the Heat pitcher and recently signed Minnesota Twins minor leaguer. “It’s made me realize you never really know how you’re going to end up with the dream you hold in your mind. Just allow the path that you’re on to keep going and know that you’re going to end up where you’re supposed to be.” His path led him to Minnesota via Melbourne, where his zen-like pitching sent a renowned Twins scout into nirvana. Vasquez said, “The story is I was pitching in Melbourne. There’s a guy called Howie Norsetter over there who signed Luke Hughes and a few other Perth boys. He watched me pitch and liked what he saw. He turned my name in,
and it happened just a few days later.”
Starting for the Perth Heat in nine games, the ABL Team World All-Star hurler recorded four victories and 55 stikeouts in 61.2 innings of work with
a 2.77 ERA. Picked by the Detroit Tigers in the 7th round of the 2003 MLB draft out of the University of California, Santa Barbara, the Southern Californian spent three years in the minor leagues before making his MLB debut in 2007. After signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009 and making seven starts, Vasquez was dealt to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010. At Triple-A Durham, he went 6-2 with a 4.88 ERA in 12 starts. Signed by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the winter of 2010, Vasquez was subsequently released at 2011 Angels Spring Training. He pitched for the indy Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in 2012 before heading to Perth. Now in his 11th pro baseball season, the 30-year-old veteran hopes to start at Triple-A Rochester before gravitating toward his imminent return to MLB in Minnesota.
Hearing #Pirates in minor — very minor — trade talks with #Rays. Possibly Virgil Vasquez.
“You always hear there are scouts and
affiliated coaches in Australia. There’s
always people watching you, and that’s
what I’ve always known and told people.
No matter where you play, just go and play
and enjoy yourself and love the game. There’s
always someone watching you, so if you play
with Heat and play with passion, if it’s meant
to be, it’s meant to be. I’m very excited, it’s
been a long fun road and I’ve enjoyed every moment. I’ve just got to thank the Heat, the organization and especially my teammates.
They’ve been behind me all the way and
without them I can’t get any outs as they
make all the plays. Fish, Lloydy and all of
the guys, even my family back home as
well–it’s been a real privilege to be here.”
#3 Jeremy Barnes of the Canberra Cavalry was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 11th round of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. The infielder spent four years in the minor leagues and reached as high as Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Former Cavalry manager Steve Schrenk, a pitching coach in the Phillies organization, recruited Barnes to play in the ABL and become Canberra’s third baseman after the Phillies released Barnes at the conclusion of the 2012 season. The Texas-born slugger’s stats were among the best in the ABL: 16 doubles (1st); 32 RBI, .423 on-base percentage and .989 on-base plus slugging (2nd); 57 hits, seven home runs, .343 batting average and .566 slugging (3rd). Barnes has focused on producing rather than worrying about being picked up by another MLB team. “I can hit .350, but if there’s no spots or no interest, I can’t control that,”
he said. “All I can do is put up numbers, and hopefully it happens. It can drive you crazy, but it’s all part of the business.”
Experience firsthand the power of ABL All-Star Jeremy Barnes‘ bat by clicking HERE.
Named ABL Pitcher of the Week for Rounds Seven and Nine, #2 Chris Smith of the Brisbane Bandits crushed hitters in Australia. The Kentucky native threw seven innings of one-hit ball with 11 strikeouts on December 14th against the Adelaide Bite, and returned just two weeks later for a memorable encore performance by pitching a complete shutout with a new ABL record 15 strikeouts versus the Melbourne Aces. In his nine starts for the Brisbane Bandits, the 24-year-old right-hander had the ABL’s lowest WHIP (.85)–while posting a 3-3 record with a 2.31 ER and a 65:7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 50.2 innings. The former Kentucky Wesleyan College outfielder and closer set a Panther season record with eight saves during his senior year. Ranking in KWC’s all-time Top 10 in six pitching and hitting categories, Smith broke college records for most games played and starts (187). As a 2012 indy Frontier League Washington Wild Things starting pitcher, the Yankees prospect led the team in starts (19), wins (nine), innings pitched (129) and strikeouts (116).
Ironically, our top American in the ABL– #1 Adam Buschini of the Canberra Cavalry–was not named to Team World in the 2012 ABL All-Star Game. Yet, Buschini was awarded the first-ever ABL Triple Crown for his heroic 2012-13 ABL regular season. The Triple Crown–awarded to a player who has the highest batting average, the most home runs and driven in the most runs in a season–is one of the game’s rarities. The Triple Crown has only been achieved 16 times in over 130 years of MLB history. The 25-year-old Northern California-based slugger claimed the ABL Triple Crown with a .363 batting average, a league record-tying 15 homers, and an ABL record-breaking 50 RBI in just 45 games. He was named ABL Player of the Week twice. In ABL Round 10 action, Buschini went 8-for-17 (.471) with a double, three home runs and 9 RBI. As if that was not impressive enough, he exploded in ABL Round 13 when he went 9-for-15 (.600) with four homers and 9 RBI to help the Cavalry claim the top playoff spot.
See ABL Triple Crown Winner and #1 Adam Buschini in action by clicking HERE and HERE. Buschini was selected in the fourth round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft by the Phillies out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In his final season for the Mustangs, Buschini hit .422–which is the school’s Division I record. He was a career .336 hitter in college from 2006-09 despite missing the 2008 season due to Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Canberra general manager Thom Carter said, “Here’s a kid who was drafted high in the fourth round by the Phillies, had some injury problems and got cut. He played two years of excellent independent ball, came out here hoping to get seen and was seen.” Recommended to the Padres by Canberra manager Michael Collins–a former Padres minor league catcher who manages the organization’s Dominican League and Arizona League teams–San Diego picked up the remaining three years of the contract Buschini originally signed with the Phillies in 2009. San Diego vice president of player development and international scouting Randy Smith said, “Quite frankly, he tore it up. He had very good numbers, runs well, is a good athlete. So we gave him a Spring Training invite. We’ll see what he can do.”
Thank you to all my teammates, coaches, and FANS from @canberracavalry. Had an amazing experience and loved my time down under. #CHARGE
While America’s exports to Australia amounts to over $27.5 billion, baseball is a priceless Aussie favorite. No matter how many machines, engines, pumps, vehicles, aircraft, spacecraft, gems, precious metals, coins, pharmaceuticals, plastics, rubber and chemical goods make their way Down Under, these were some of the Top 40 American imports (#11-20) in the thriving
2012-13 Australian Baseball League.
After being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 13th round of the 2006 MLB June Amateur Draft from Mississippi Valley State University, #20 Zach Penprase spent the following three years honing his skills in Single-A ball within the Phillies and Red Sox organizations. Despite being released from MiLB in 2008, the talented infielder was determined not to give up playing baseball professionally. When the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks offered refuge from the minor league madness, he gratefully accepted the invitation and has since become a leader and fan favorite in the Independent American Association League for the past three seasons. Making waves across the U.S. that were felt as far as Bondi Beach, Penprase got the attention of Sydney Blue Sox GM David Balfour. Given the opportunity to redeem himself in front
of MLB scouts while experiencing unrivaled Aussie hospitality in the ABL, the 27-year-old Southern California native signed up to play ball in the state capital of New South Wales.
Representing Team World in the ABL All-Star game at the end of round six of ABL action, Penprase was one of the top three hitters in the league with the second-best batting average (.370) and the third-best on-base percentage (.469). Setting new team records in games played (45) and stolen bases (16), the Sydney Blue Sox second baseman and shortstop proved to be a valuable American import with a respectable season-ending .282 batting average and
.365 on-base percentage.
One last thank you from all the way across the globe to all Aussies and especially to @sydneybluesox for never saying a bad word about me.
#19 Quincy Latimore replaced injured Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Justin Howard on the Adelaide Bite roster shortly after Christmas. He was a welcome addition to the team’s ailing line-up after an impressive 2010 ABL campaign in which he played in 31 games for Adelaide with a .313 batting average and was sixth in the ABL in both slugging percentage (.548) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.923). Selected in the fourth round of the 2007 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Middle Creek High School in Apex, North Carolina, Latimore competed in rookie ball until 2010. While at Single-A Advanced Bradenton, the left fielder crushed 19 homes runs with 100 RBI and earned Florida State League post-season All-Star honors. In each of his last two seasons at Double-A Altoona, he has hit 15 homers, while exercising more plate discipline by taking more walks and cutting down on strikeouts. With a minor league career .255 batting average, Quincy Latimore was recently acquired by the Cleveland Indians in exchange for the MLB-experienced right-handed pitcher Jeanmar Gomez. The 24-year-old put together a .286 batting average and a .400 on-base percentage in 16 games for the 2012-13 Bite.
Finally off to Australia! Lets hope this flight goes by fast! 😒
#18 Brenden Webb was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles as a 19-year-old in the 30th round of the 2009 amateur draft out of Palomar Community College in San Diego County. Ranked #31 by Orioles Nation in their 2013 Top 50 Baltimore prospects feature article, lefty outfielder is a five-tool player with potential to make a positive impact on the major league level. His aggressive defensive prowess is demonstrated in this youtube video of him throwing out Canberra’s Kody Hightower at the plate. Featured in last season’s Top 20 Americans in the ABL article after hitting .270 and ranking fourth-best in walks (25) with only 100 at-bats, Brenden Webb returns again in this season’s Top 20 despite having only joined Perth in early January. In 2012 between his stints at Single-A Delmarva and Single-A Advanced Frederick, the 23-year-old power-hitter had career-highs in both walks (98) and home runs (14) while greatly increasing his on-base percentage.
Heading back to the states. Thanks @perthheat for the amazing time. The great fans and people is what makes Perth so special to me.
Named ABL Player of the Week for Round One of 2012-13 action, #17 K.C. Hobson of the Canberra Cavalry absolutely raked at the plate by going 6-for-10 and hitting two home runs in three games. Named to the ABL World All-Stars roster after being Canberra’s most consistent bat as well as their clean-up hitter from the moment he set foot in Australia’s capital city at the start of the season, the aspiring 22-year-old Toronto Blue Jays prospect’s time in the ABL was cut short by a calf injury which prevented him from playing against Team Australia in the 2012 ABL All-Star game and sent him home early before Christmas. Picked up by the Jays in the sixth round of the 2009 draft out of Stockdale High School in Bakersfield, California, Hobson had a breakout year in 2012 for Single-A Lansing–where he hit .276 and set a single-season franchise record 43 doubles. The Cavalry first baseman’s injury cost him a possible ABL batting title as his average plummeted from a league-leading .600 to a season-ending .271.
#16 Jim Schult of the Brisbane Bandits was named the 2011 Division III National Player of the Year while playing at Eastern Connecticut State University. A First Team All-American Collegiate Pitcher, Schult joined the Can-Am NYSL Federals in 2011 and the Frontier League’s Joliet Slammers in 2012. With unlimited potential and a bright baseball future ahead, the 23-year-old New Yorker made a great debut pitching in the ABL with a superb 4-2 record and will be welcome back.
#15 Zachary Arneson of the Melbourne Aces was drafted by the San Francisco Giants out of Cal State Bakersfield in the 21st round of the 2010 draft, but chose to return to college and transfer to Lewis-Clark State in Lewiston, Idaho. After posting a 2-1 record with a 2.82 ERA and 46 strikeouts in his senior year, he was drafted by his favorite team–the New York Yankees–in the ninth round of the 2011 draft. The hard-throwing relief pitcher signed immediately
and has since moved up the ranks
rapidly to Single-A Charleston.
Marred by nagging injuries throughout his brief minor league career, Arneson was used primarily in a setup role out of the bullpen during 2012 and pitched two scoreless innings in his last outing for the Single-A Charleston RiverDogs to earn his only victory (1-0) before heading to Australia. The day news got out that the Melbourne Aces had scored the first American import affiliated with one of the most prestigious MLB franchises to play in the ABL, the entire Australian state of Victoria buzzed with anticipation. Melbourne Aces general manager Windsor Knox said, “It’s a fantastic day for the Aces and our fans to be associated with the New York Yankees. We look forward to seeing Zachary’s contribution to the team’s success this season.” Aces manager Phil Dale commented that it was great for the ABL to have the biggest team in the world willing to send out players. With opponents failing to connect with the 24-year-old flamethrower’s fastball early on, Arneson rightfully earned a spot on the ABL World All-Star team roster and continued to dominate with a 1.77 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 20.1 innings.
@zacharneson In Melbourne 3 months and already know who runs this City. You just claimed your Victorian citizenship mate!
Originally selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 11th round of the 2005 draft out of the University of Califoria, Riverside, #14 Anthony Claggett of the Perth Heat was acquired by the New York Yankees in the 2006 Gary Sheffield trade. Equipped with a sinking 92 mph fastball and a 85 mph slider, the Southern California hurler came into 2009 Yankees Spring Training as the 26th-ranked prospect in the franchise and the third-ranked right-handed relief pitching prospect. Five months after making his MLB pitching debut on April 18, 2009 against the Cleveland Indians, Claggett was claimed off waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was designated for assignment by the Pirates when Octavio Dotel was acquired in 2010 and was granted free agency at the conclusion of the 2011 season. Prior to signing on with the Perth Heat in the ABL, he pitched for the Somerset Patriots and the St. Paul Saints. The 2012 ABL Team World All-Star (4-5, 3.31 ERA) was second-best in strikeouts (77) and was also named ABL Pitcher of the Week for Round Five after throwing 6.2 innings of shutout ball against the Aces with seven strikeouts and no walks allowed.
#13 Geoff Klein of the Sydney Blue Sox was drafted by the Saint Louis Cardinals in the 15th round of the 2010 draft from Santa Clara University in Northern California, where the switch-hitting 2009 West Coast Conference batting champion was named a 2010 preseason All-American. The 24-year-old Huntington Beach catcher and first baseman has fared well in the Cardinals minor leagues. He set career-highs in games played (102), home runs (7), RBIs (34) and walks (30) in his second season for Single-A Advanced Palm Beach prior to joining the Blue Sox in the ABL. Klein was the unsung hero calling games behind the plate for Sydney as
the Blue Sox pitching staff was the ABL’s best with the league’s lowest ERA (2.91) and WHIP (1.20). He also produced offensively for the squad–ranking third in doubles (10) and walks (20) and fourth in hits/runs (43) and RBI (21).
Last day in Oz. Bittersweet, leavin behind a lot of good mates and great experiences but can’t wait to get home and back to the grind #2013
#12 Carlo Testa of the Melbourne Aces beat out 29 other players for this year’s ABL Fan Choice Award. The Kansas City Royals’ selection in the 18th round of the 2008 draft out of Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee was a 2012 Texas League Mid-Season All-Star as an outfielder for Double-A Northwest Arkansas with career-highs in home runs (15) and RBI (54). Playing in all 46 games for Melbourne this season,
the 26-year-old Midwestener was the driving force behind the ABL’s last place offense by leading the Ace’s regulars in nearly every category including: doubles (11), home runs (6), stolen bases (10), batting average (.294), on-base percentage (.394), and on-base plus slugging percentage (.835).
Big homer by Cody Clark to send the storm chasers to another win!!
#11 Cody Clark came to Brisbane, Australia after spending the 2012 season with the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers. Bouncing between the Texas, Atlanta and Kansas City franchises, the 31-year-old journeyman has played 10 years in the minor leagues. The veteran catcher needed an outlet such like the Australian Baseball League to show-case for international MLB scouts as he entered free agency. The Arkansas native ventured over 8,600 miles to get Aussie baseball love. Taken in the 11th round of the 2003 draft by the Texas Rangers, Clark moved over to the Atlanta organization in 2006 before signing with Kansas City
in 2007. A fixture at the Triple-A level ever since, the versatile catcher got a lot of action in 13 games at Royals Spring Training last year. Clark was 6-for-18 for a .333 average, and he drew four walks to give himself a healthy on-base percentage of .435. Despite rubbing shoulders with the elite and handling major league pitching at camp, his MLB debut still eludes him to this day. However, his seasoned level of play in the ABL would make one think he had broken into the Bigs
a long time ago. In addition to being an ABL Team World All-Star, the Brisbane backstop was named ABL Player of the Week for Round Four. During the four-game series against the Adelaide Bite at the Norwood Oval, Clark went 8-for-15 with two home runs, two doubles, two walks, two runs scored and nine RBI. There was nothing bush league about the Bandits’ leader in hits (50), runs (25), doubles (13), and RBI (28) or nothing minor about his .299 batting average.
It is believed that baseball was introduced to Australia by American gold miners in the Victorian gold rush of the 1850s. Back then miners would play baseball on the gold fields when they received time off for rest. The first reports of organized baseball teams appeared in Ballarat, Victoria in 1857. So it should come as no surprise that Americans are still playing
ball in places like Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and Perth as participants in the Australian Baseball League. Let’s look at some of the Top 40 Americans in the ABL.#30 C.J. Beatty was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 26th round of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft after all-star play at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina. He progressed rapidly up the ranks in 2010 to Single-A Advanced Palm Beach in the Florida State League before the Cardinals farm system released him after discovering an irregular heartbeat during his 2011 camp physical. Although he was cleared to play after an EKG, the red birds acted on the side of caution with his release. That didn’t stop him from pursing his dream. After Independent ball stints
in the North American League (San Angelo, Edinburg, and Fort Worth)
and the American Association League (Lincoln), the 24-year-old North Carolinian relished his time in the ABL playing third base for the Brisbane Bandits. He earned the ABL Round 11 Player of the Week title after a multi-home run game in which he drove in five of the Bandits’ six runs. The former St. Louis Cardinals farmhand had hits in all four games of the Bandits’ Round 11 series, going 6-for-11 (.667) with three homers and eight RBI. Beatty led Brisbane in both slugging percentage (.483) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.845) while batting .252 during 2012-13. #29 JaDamion “J.D.” Williams played in his first year in the ABL after spending three seasons in the Minnesota Twins minor league system. A 10th round draft pick by the Twins in 2010 out of high school, J.D. inked a $125,000 signing bonus and spent the first two years at the rookie level before jumping to Single-A in 2012. He struggled in his pro debut, hitting just .214 while playing primarily second base in the Gulf Coast League in 2010, but switched to the outfield while moving up to Elizabethton in 2011 and thrived. He batted .317 with 17 extra-base hits, 25 walks, and 10 steals in 50 games. Williams demonstrated that beyond tools and projection there was a talented baseball player beneath all the speed and athleticism. With the Beloit Snappers in 2012, the Florida native batted .234 and stole 23 bases in 32 attempts. The 21-year-old’s power numbers have also gone up every year, hitting one in his first season and six in 2012. Playing 37 games for the 2012-13 Sydney Blue Sox in the ABL, the switch-hitting outfielder contributed greatly to the team’s second place finish in the standings despite a lackluster .218 batting average. Drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 19th round of the 2008 MLB June Amateur Draft after graduating from South Carolina’s York High School, #28 Zac Fuesser chose not to sign in favor of attending college. Yet, the left-handed hurler was snagged as a 2009 34th round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates after receiving a $125,000 signing bonus. Since embarking on his professional baseball career at age 18, Fuesser has appeared in 83 games for three different minor league teams in the Pirates system and has a career 3.73 ERA. He spent his 2011 and 2012 campaigns pitching for Single-A West Virginia Power prior to joining the Adelaide Bite in the Australian Baseball League. Named to Team World in the 2012 ABL All-Star game, the 22-year-old southpaw contained Team Australia and pitched one scoreless inning. Second on the Adelaide pitching staff in strikeouts (57) in 57.1 innings of work, starter Zach Fuesser appeared in 11 games during the 2012-13 ABL season and posted a 4-4 record with a 3.61 ERA. He held opponents to a .259 batting average and had a strong 1.44 ground outs per fly outs ratio. #27 Jonathan Jones was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 29th round of the 2010 draft after a successful collegiate career for the Long Beach State Dirtbags. Prized for his speed, strong throwing arm and defensive prowess in the outfield, the 22-year-old Northern California native played in 90 games for the 2012 Single-A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays and posted a .266 batting average before venturing down under in the Australian Baseball League. The Canberra Cavalry center fielder was promising in the early going (.258 BA, 1 HR, 2 SB), but unfortunately had to return home after only eight games due to a hamstring issue that shortened his ABL experience.
@abuschini Thanks bro. Give me a call when you get back to the Bay.
“I believe that Twitter is a great tool. It gives the fans access to follow their favorite players and see what they are doing, learn their likes and dislikes, and even get to see photos. It allows fans to feel like they have a personal relationship and for the athletes, and in return, it allows us to see all the fans’ love and support.” After a stellar high school baseball career, #26 Andrew Kittredge–a Spokane, Washington-born right-handed pitcher–was taken in the 45th round of the 2008 draft by the Seattle Mariners. Kittredge began his pro ball career after playing at the University of Washington in Seattle. He completed his first full season in the Mariners organization by splitting time between three different leagues within the farm system in 2012. Starting at Single-A Clinton before jumping up to Double-A Jackson, the 22-year-old Mariners prospect spent most of the season pitching for Single-A Advanced High Desert Mavericks. During the course of his brief 2012 elevator ride up-and-down, Kittredge made 25 appearances in 42 innings of relief and went 3-1 with a 4.07 ERA while striking out 43. Working as the 2012-13 Adelaide Bite closer in the ABL, Andrew saved six games and compiled a 3-1 record with a 4.73 ERA while striking out 25.
#25 Nathan Melendres was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 17th round of the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft from his hometown University of Miami Hurricanes in Florida. The 22-year-old outfielder was one of three Adelaide Bite imports to have finished the 2012 season with the High Desert Mavericks of the California League. Having only played in 23 games in 2012 during his second season in the Mariners organization, Nathan put together a .307 batting average with two home runs and 15 RBI between
his time at Single-A Advanced High Desert, Single-A Clinton and the Arizona Rookie League. However, he got his work in this off-season in 26 ABL contests. With a .245 batting average, five extra-base hits and five homers to his credit while in an Adelaide Bite uniforn, Melendres made his impression felt
in Australia and excited the Mariners’ faithful. #24 Carlos Alonso was selected in the 32nd round of the 2010 draft by the Philadelphia Phillies after playing for the University of Delaware. The Los Gatos, California native began his collegiate baseball career at Santa Barbara City College, where he was a two-time First Team All-Western State Conference third baseman. Hitting over .360 two years straight for the Vaqueros, he started 88 consectutive games at Santa Barbara City College and led his team to the playoffs twice. Leaving the West Coast in search of more playing time, Alonso transferred to the University of Delaware and was under the guidance of head baseball coach Jim Sherman. Upon being drafted by the Phillies in 2010, Sherman was supportive
of Alonso regardless of his chosen career path. “Wherever Carlos goes, whatever he decides to do beyond baseball, whether he plays baseball for a career professionally, or goes into the business sector of the world, no matter what part of the country he’s in, he’s always going to be perceived as a class individual,” Sherman said. “I think people are just going to gravitate towards him.” Ranked #25 in Bleacher Report‘s 2012 Phillies Top 25 Positional Prospects, the righty infielder played 93 games for Single-A Advanced Clearwater and racked up a respectable .278 batting average.
A versatile utility player who can play any infield or outfield position,
the 25-year-old Phillies farmhand is valuable commodity for any team manager. While in Australia, Alonso anchored the Brisbane Bandits infield at third base. Bandits manager Kevin Jordan said, “Like a lot
of guys, Carlos got out here and you’re learning the whole league overnight, literally. You get thrown in the fire. For him, it is what
it is. I told him what was going to happen, that he was going to be thrown into it, that he was going to have to pretty much learn all
the pitchers; where to play guys defensively, on the fly and he’s starting to come around, especially with the bat.” Alonso ended the 2012-13 ABL season with a .209 batting average and seven doubles. #23 Adam Melker was selected by the
St. Louis Cardinals in the 44th round of the June 2010 Amateur Draft from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. After completing his third season
in the Cardinals organization and putting up good 2012 numbers (126 games, .278 batting average, 10 home runs, 35 RBI) at Double-A Springfield, Melker was reunited with former Perth Heat manager and current Corvallis Knights skipper Brooke Knight–who took his 2011-12 Aussie champion Heat to South Korea to represent Australia in the 2012 Asia Series. Prior to arriving in mid-October to play for Perth in the ABL, the left-handed hitting slugger exuded excitement. “I’m really excited,” said Melker. “I’ve heard baseball in Asia is extremely good so I’m looking forward to the challenge. Some time off this winter would have been nice, but I couldn’t turn down and opportunity to play baseball on two other continents…”
Melker remained with the Heat until mid-December and then
returned to the United States. “I would have liked to have stayed longer,” he said. “But I needed some time off that
I could dedicate to strength training and get 100% healthy before I headed off to spring training in March.” During
the 22 ABL games Melker played in the Perth outfield,
he contributed to the Heat’s early season offensive attack
with a .247 batting average–including two doubles, two
triples, one home run, six RBI and one stolen base.#22 Tyler Herr of the Sydney Blue Sox was selected by the Minnesota Twins in 44th round of the 2009 draft. Launching his pro ball career in 2010 at age 19, the intimidating right-hander from Texas now has three seasons under his belt in the Twins’ minor league system with a career 8-4 record and a 3.38 ERA. Through 90 innings pitched, Herr has allowed just 87 hits while striking out 74. Making 21 appearances for the 2012 Appalachian League champions Elizabethton Twins, the six-foot-eight hurler went 3-0 with a 2.56 ERA. After coaching the 2012 Minnesota Twins extended Spring Training rookie ball club, former Twins minor leaguer and current Sydney Blue Sox manager Jason Pospishil liked what he saw and invited Herr to join his squad in the ABL. The first-year Sydney skipper said, “He has a power sinker in the 93-95 mph range with a good slider and developing change-up. More importantly, he has a tremendous work ethic.” Herr was summoned out of the 2012-13 Sydney Blue Sox bullpen in 16 games and went 3-2 with a 3.57 ERA.#21 Justin Howard of the Adelaide Bite was both a newsreel highlight and a major letdown in Australia after the ABL Player of the Week for Round 6
(4 games played, 9-for-14 for a .643 batting average, 4 doubles, 4 RBI, and 6 runs total) sustained an elbow injury and had to return to America for surgery. In his last nine games prior to his departure, the left-handed hitting 25-year-old Bite first baseman/ DH was on a roll–going 15-for-35 with five doubles and five RBI–but left with a down-to-earth .266 batting average.
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in
the 24th round of the 2010 MLB June Amateur Draft from University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, Justin Howard has successfully been promoted each of his three seasons for the Buccos. The native Texan hit .283 with two homers and 29 RBI in 83 games for Single-A Advanced Bradenton prior to playing in the ABL. He will certainly be welcome to return to the Adelaide Bite next season.
It’s been amazing Adelaide. Sorry for the early departure but gotta get the elbow cleaned out. Back to the great state of Texas in 15 hours