Known best for his excellent defensive prowess and as a pitcher’s catcher calling games behind the plate, Drew Butera has been experiencing an offensive renaissance for the 2016 Kansas City Royals. Making the most of his 47 at-bats, the 32-year-old Italian American is hitting .298 with six doubles, two homers, four walks and eight RBI. Royals manager Ned Yost has rewarded Butera with more playing time this season by putting regular backstop Salvador Perez in as DH. The Florida-native is the son of Sal Butera—a journeyman catcher who played 359 MLB games for the Blue Jays, Twins, Reds, Expos and Tigers from 1980-1988. Drew was selected by the Blue Jays in the 2002 MLB Draft but instead opted to play at the University of Central Florida. After throwing out 48% of potential base-stealers and hitting .325 in his last season at UCF, Butera was a 2005 fifth-round draft pick by the NY Mets.
A big opera fan who used to listen to Andrea Bocelli and Luciano Pavarotti in the clubhouse before games while in the Mets’ minor league system, Drew was named Florida League All-Star and subsequently promoted to AA in 2007 before being traded to the Twins—where Butera family history was made as Sal and Drew became the first father-son combination to play for Minnesota when he made his MLB debut on April 9, 2010. Being able to handle pitches with grace rarely seen at the Major League level while producing a calming effect on his pitching staff, Drew Butera kept lefty Francisco Liriano focused on every pitch which led him to a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox on May 3, 2011. While playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 25, 2014, Butera caught Josh Beckett’s no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies and became only the fifth catcher in Major League Baseball history to catch a no-hitter in both leagues.
Butera was a big hit for Team Italia in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Delivering a two-run home run that helped defeat Mexico and a two-run double that buried Canada, Drew was instrumental in each of Team Italia’s victories to earn la squadra Azzurri the right to advance with Team USA to the second round of play.
Drew Butera is playing well over in Arizona. Just laced a two-run double and Team Italy is up 9-4 over Canada. Hit a HR yesterday. #MNTwins
Drew Butera cannot wait to suit up for Team Italia in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He spoke enthusiastically about playing for manager Marco Mazzieri’s eclectic mix of talented Italian-born players and MLB-affiliated Italian American passport holders. Butera said, “It was a great experience for me personally. To experience it for myself, there’s really no word that could describe it: the intensity, the passion of the games, just the amount of fun that we had. It was really great.”
It was a hot California summer night four years ago on September 7, 2011 when a twinkle of Disney magic lingered over nearby Angel Stadium. The European baseball kingdom glowed when news flashed that ambassador Alex Liddi had made his MLB debut and had become the first born-and-developed Italian player to reach the major leagues. Yet after his 2005 signing and eight subsequent seasons of developing into a promising prospect, the Seattle Mariners cut bait on Liddi in 2013. Having since traveled through revolving doors between the Orioles, White Sox and Dodgers organizations, the Kansas City Royals signed the infielder to a minor league contract this year. Citing the virtually untapped potential of this powerful weapon, the Royals are committed to making sure Liddi reaches his peak to help their major league club. Moving his wife and newborn daughter close to the Royals Spring Training Facility in Surprise, Arizona during the offseason, the 27-year-old slugger worked with coaches and trainers so that he may reemerge in MLB as advertised as the face of European baseball.
Signing Europe’s top prospect Marten Gasparini for a record $1.3 million bonus just two years ago was only the beginning for the Kansas City Royals. During this past off-season, the 2014 World Series runner-up was once again at work acquiring the first Italian-born and developed player to make the Bigs–Alex Liddi. Known for his power stroke at-bat and defensive prowess on the diamond, the 26-year-old slugger is on the cusp of a comeback after making his initial MLB splash for the Seattle Mariners in 2011. Nick Leto, manager of Arizona operations for the Kansas City Royals, is largely responsible for why both Gasparini and Liddi now wear similar colors to their native blue Italia jerseys. The trio could not be happier working together with the same goal of making an impact on the the major league level. Prior to Opening Day, Nick Leto gave an exclusive interview and some invaluable insight as to where the Italians fit in the Italian family.
Great to see Alex Liddi and Marten Gasparini in @Royals camp today. KC is the favorite baseball team of Italy. Great colors too. #Azzurri
Roberto: How are you feeling today here at the Kansas City Royals Spring Training camp in Surprise, Arizona? Nick Leto: Excellent. It’s been a long haul here in Spring Training. We’re cruising along pretty well now. Roberto: With 17-year-old shortstop prospect Marten Gasparini and proven MLB success story Alex Liddi in the Royals organization, you have two of the finest Italian baseball players in history. How do you feel about leading the Italian baseball revolution? Nick Leto: I think it is great, and I think it’s great for the Royals to have those two guys here. I think it is good for our brand to have two of the best players out of Europe and Italy. Alex is a man, and Marten is kind of still a kid growing up. But they are excellent ambassadors for European baseball and excellent ambassadors for Italy in the way they go about their business. They are two very professional hard-working players that really represent really well. And they are excellent players too. Roberto: When the Royals clinch their division and the 40-man roster opens up, it would be a dream come true to bring Alex Liddi and Marten Gasparini up to the major league level together. I know it is a little premature for Marten to ascend up to the Bigs, but the time is now for Alex Liddi to return to Major League Baseball. Nick Leto: There is no doubt. You know Alex has a special gift–a right-handed power gift. I think his makeup fits what we try to do around here. You know the skies the limit. He is still developing. You know players like that…guys out of Europe and different countries like Brazil and other places in the world. He may be 26 or in his mid-20’s, but he is still developing. He hasn’t reached his ceiling as a player, and we’re going to keep trying to push him to the higher levels. That is why we brought him in. I think he can help our major league team. That’s why he’s here…he has a gift of power. You know he is here to potentially impact our major league team…that’s what we’re hoping for.
Roberto: Alex is an exciting player to watch. Having just stepped off the plane after playing his last minor league game for the Dodgers organization, a sleepless Liddi flew over the Atlantic to join Team Italia in the midst of the 2014 European Baseball Championship in Germany. Considering that he had not slept for a couple days and then hit three home runs against England, it was quite an impressive display of athleticism. Nick Leto: He is a guy I have known of for a long time, and I have kind of admired him from afar. But being in camp with us and really getting to see how he goes about his business day-in and day-out, he truly is a special kid. He goes about his business very professionally. He is in here early. He is getting his extra swings in. I mean he does everything the right way. He works hard in the weight room. He is very disciplined in his approach, and he is a very hard worker. He is everything you want in a player for sure. Roberto: He is a consummate professional. Nick Leto: There is no doubt about it. You know he is great with his teammates. He has fun playing the game. He jokes around out there, but when it comes time to get to work he is all business. He is locked in, he is focused and he is concentrating. His makeup is excellent. There’s no doubt about that. Roberto: Once he was no longer part of the LA Dodgers organization, who as responsible for signing him with the Kansas City Royals? Nick Leto: Everything around here is kind of a collective effort. You know he’s had a good run with Seattle and coming up. He has had some excellent years in the minor leagues. So we’ve had some scouts that have had the opportunity to watch him as he has gone through the system and see him at different levels. So we had reports in. He is a player that we have sought before. We have tried to get him earlier, and unfortunately we were unable to acquire him. And it just felt right this off-season to get him here into camp. We are very happy to get him, and we are very excited to have him here in our system. Roberto: He doesn’t have the added pressure to travel with the Royals on a daily basis because he’s taking care of business in developing. Did he have an invite to Royals Spring Training camp? Nick Leto: He did not have an invitation to Major League Spring Training camp. But he was in here early, and he’s been working out with that group quite a bit. I don’t know if I could speak for him on this, but I think he’s kind of happy to be here with us. Last year was kind of a tough year for him. I think he is trying to bounce back. Fortunately, he lives here in the area and so he was able to spend a big chunk of this off-season coming here to the facility. He was in here every day working out with our coaches, building relationships with our staff. He was able to work with our strength and conditioning staff and all of our coaches here. He went out with the major league team as backup player for a couple of games, but was on a regular routine of playing basically just about every day for our Triple-A team. He filled in for the major league club. He got a few good at-bats here before the end of the spring. He will continue to make an impression and show the organization, the coaches and everybody else what we know he’s capable of doing.
Roberto: This organization has really come along way from the Cinderella story to the 2014 World Series and the expectation that you’ll bring home a World Championship title to Kansas City this year. Nick Leto: It’s really special and it really starts at the top and we have a very. very special world class leader in GM Dayton Moore, and it’s kind of been his vision. And he stuck with it and never wavered. There was a lot of criticism, and a lot of people talking about him early on. It was hard, and there were a lot of points where he had to see it through. Yesterday was a culmination of a lot of work from a lot of different people. It is a family. It is a cliché, but it is true around here. It is a family organization around here, and we are all together. Watching the team perform nationally, there was a lot of surprise. A lot of people didn’t see it coming, but the cool thing for us was it was exactly what we thought our players could do. It was exactly what the plan was. It was fun. It really wasn’t a surprise, but we were very proud. It was a vision. It was exactly what it set out to be. It really just came together. It was beautiful. Roberto: You do have a long-range vision for Marten Gasparini. What have you noticed about his maturity as an individual and a player since signing him two years ago? Nick Leto: You know Marten is a very special kid. There is no way to overrate how intelligent, how mature he is. He is a very, very smart kid. It is a very hard transition going from Italian baseball, European baseball. Any 16 or 17-year-old kid trying to transition into the United States, you know not only culturally and everything else, trying to play baseball and every single day…it’s tough. Going from kind of a game or kind of a hobby and transition over to a career or a profession is a very difficult thing. It is very fast-paced. Marten handled it well. I mean it was up-and-down. It was a little bit of a roller coaster at certain points with some highs and some lows, but he really managed it really well. We are hoping this year he is a little more comfortable and a little easier for him. We are really trying. It is cliché, but for Marten it is every day. It is staying healthy, not trying to get ahead, not trying to get ahead, not trying to think about level jumping, not getting worried about this or that, what kind of prospect he is, when he is going to get into the Bigs, or those types of things. He has all the ability in the world. He is an excellent athlete, and it is just going through the process. It is every day coming out here with the same mindset, working hard, trusting the coaches, trusting the people around here, doing his work in the weight room and in the training room. It is really just a process every day, being healthy and being able to get his at-bats. And you know we think he is going to take off at a point when he gets settled, gets comfortable and gets enough time in. We think he is going to explode.
Marten Gasparini. Remember the name. Europe will be a baseball factory, and a lot sooner than you might think.
Roberto: It was encouraging last season to see Marten step it up from Burlington to Idaho Falls, where he got his first home run. That must have been pretty exciting for you to watch and see him develop on different levels. Nick Leto: Yeah, there is no question. Getting a chance to go to Idaho at the end of the season, I really think it was beneficial. I don’t know where he was at with his confidence. But he had a tough August and giving him the opportunity to finish up in Idaho Falls and finish on a strong note really kind of had catapulted him into our fall camp, our instructional league last year. He came into instructional league with a little more confidence than maybe what he maybe would have had. It allowed him to have a good fall, and we have been able to build off of that week or so he had in Idaho Falls. He is doing just fine. Marten wants things to come a little quicker, but the organization is very happy with him. We think that he is an excellent player. He is going to have a very, very bright future and a very good career. There is no doubt. Roberto: I congratulate you on picking Marten out from the slew of players in Europe and landing in here at Royals camp in Arizona. I think you’ve done a great job nurturing him. I have seen him grow and develop naturally. You have not pressured him to turn into superstar status overnight. However, you have supported him in achieving his goals and expectations. Nick Leto: There is a lot of failure and a lot of things to deal in baseball. Our goal for Marten is just to get him to his ceiling. We can do whatever we can do, give him all the tools and resources necessary to get Marten to his ceiling and create a great man. His parents have already molded him into a great human being, and it is our job to continue what he what they started. You know, we want to develop him fully as a man. Someday he is going to be a husband and all those things. We want to make him not only a great baseball player, but round him out and give him all the tools he needs for the rest of his life. Roberto: I think he couldn’t have landed in a better spot right here with you. I commend you and thank you for giving us the opportunity to get front and center with Marten again. I wish you, Marten, Alex and the entire Kansas City Royals organization all the best now and in the future. Nick Leto: Thank you very much. And we are going to try to finish the deal this time, bring home the World Series and be World Champs! Roberto: Thank you Nick!
Nick Leto, manager of the Kansas City Royals’ Arizona Operations, is worth his weight in gold for not only signing 17-year-old Italian MLB prospect Marten Gasparini but also for his outstanding work as a minor league affiliate leader. The recent recipient of the organization’s Matt Minker Award after eight years of dedicated service, Leto is critical to the success of the Major League Spring Training in Surprise and the Kansas City’s Rookie League affiliates. It was Leto who recommended Gasparini to the organization after seeing the speedy switch-hitting shortstop in Italy. Having spent much time working at the Italian MLB Academy in Tirrenia in 2006 and 2007, Nick had close connections with former Chicago Cubs’ international scout and FIBS Academy director Bill Holmberg. So when word got out that a very special player was training and developing under Holmberg’s watchful eye, Leto had a distinct Italian famiglia advantage over all MLB suitors.
Marten Gasparini was the first European baseball player to sign a contract in excess of $1 million dollars when the Royals signed him in 2013. Heralded by Baseball America as “quite possibly Europe’s best prospect ever”, he is the real deal. After starting with 2014 Rookie League Burlington, Marten played his final four games with Idaho Falls and went 5-for-11 with a home run and three RBI. With six stolen bases in 23 games, Marten Gasparini is a natural-born athlete. Roberto: You have some Jamaican roots, with your mom being of West Indian descent living in London, and your father being Italian. In both cultures, family is very important and is the foundation for everything.
Marten Gasparini: Yes, it is. I don’t know know much about Jamaica because my mom and I have never been there. But in Italy…absolutely family is the biggest thing, and nothing is more important than family.
Roberto: You began playing stickball when you were eight-years-old and picked up your first baseball bat at age 10, correct?
Marten Gasparini: Yeah, like for fun with my friends. I used to watch baseball movies and read books and newspapers about the game. Everybody loves America, you know. America is famous throughout the whole world. American sports are famous…baseball, basketball, football. They are kind of attractive. I wanted to try it and see how it would turn out.
Roberto: Did you always play shortstop or with the speed you that you possess and are blessed with did you find playing centerfield gave you more versatility? Did FIBS Academy Director and Team Italia coach Bill Holmberg have a big influence on you while playing for the Italian National team at the various levels?
Marten Gasparini: He has been a positive influence on me and has put me at shortstop because he always thought that was the best position for me to play. I can play in the outfield and that’s where I played my first workout with the Italian National Under 18 team. That was because I was young and they needed players with more experience at that position.
Roberto: Playing with the Italian National team in Seoul, South Korea and Chihuahua, Mexico must have impacted you personally and professionally as you became a more confident and mature ballplayer.
Marten Gasparini: It was nice. It’s always nice to see different cultures, meet different people from other countries and see how life is over there. It was fun and interesting for me to get to see all these countries. It’s obviously been helpful for me to be a part of these international tournaments.
Roberto: The spotlights were on you.
Marten Gasparini: Exactly. It was exciting and a very important experience for me.
Roberto: Having been on that international stage, has that prepared you now ay you ascend up in the minor leagues with desire to become a major league ballplayer?
Marten Gasparini: I think it is different because when you play for your national team it just because of the pride you have got for the team. You want your team to win when you want your country to have success in these types of tournaments. But here (in Arizona) it’s obviously a game but you have to do if for a job. Any you look forward (to the future). It’s like a project. It’s a path you have to go into. It’s not that important to play hard now if you keep healthy, but maybe in some international tournaments you have to give all you got in a short period of time. I think this is the biggest difference.
Roberto: You have some personal favorite players in Derek Jeter, Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. What do these players have that has resonated in your heart to make you desire to be at their level?
Marten Gasparini: Derek Jeter is such a professional player and he is a legend. He became a legend for a team like the Yankees coming from the bottom. He was raised by them, and he became their captain. That’s something that everybody would like to be for their organization. I like the excitement that Kemp and Puig can bring to the table when they play. They are very athletic and explosive players. I like the way they play the game.
Roberto: After visiting the Italian MLB Academy and watching you play with some of the best European prospects, I came to realize the potential of baseball outside of the U.S. Do you think Italy cam be one of the best emerging markets for the game?
Marten Gasparini: We’ve been working a lot to make things possible. I think there are more players to come. There have already been some players that have been signed by professional teams, and I think that I can be a big part of it.
Roberto: Watching Team Italia in the 2013 World Baseball Classic must have been inspirational to you. Did you wear your pride on your sleeve during the competition?
Marten Gasparini: Yes. We were at the Italian Academy in Tirrenia watching the games. We were all watching the TV and not missing a minute or a pitch. We were all super excited when the games ended in our favor over Mexico and Canada. It was one of the most amazing feelings I have ever had.
Roberto: While working out at the Italian Academy, you had frequent visits from Team Italia hitting coach Mike Piazza.
Marten Gasparini: I didn’t really get to know him well. Just having him there with Bill Holmberg was amazing. I know that they are very close friends. Just having a person like him coming down to watch us play is an honor for me.
Roberto: Mike Piazza wants to give back to the game in Italy in honor of his heritage.
Marten Gasparini: He has pride in his origins and this is a good thing that everybody should have.
Roberto: What are your personal goals now that you have reached the professional level with the Kansas City Royals?
Marten Gasparini: It was my expectation and in my plan to go pro since I started playing baseball to be this type of player and achieve these results. I’m very happy to be here. I’m blessed to be here. Now I just have to keep working.
Roberto: What does it mean to be a part of the Kansas City Royals family with the rich history of great all-stars that have come out of the franchise?
Marten Gasparini: I think the Royals are one of the greatest organizations in all of sports. I’m very happy to be a part of it. I think I’m with the greatest group of people that I could choose. Of course, their history speaks for itself just by saying the name George Brett and the kind of player he was. He has been a very important part of the baseball game history.
Roberto: Coincidentally, the Royals and Team Italia share the same color uniforms. You couldn’t have predicted a better outcome.
Marten Gasparini: Maybe a coincidence?
Roberto: Or more like by design..
Marten Gasparini: Yes!
Roberto: Showing up at the Royals Instructional Camp in Arizona. You must have met a melting pot of cultures from the Caribbean and South America who share the same passion for baseball.
Marten Gasparini: There is even a Korean player. I think the Royals have always been doing a great job of signing international players. We have here a great group of international players that have pride and passion for the game.
Great to see Alex Liddi and Marten Gasparini in @Royals camp today. KC is the favorite baseball team of Italy. Great colors too. #Azzurri
Roberto: Do you hope to become a role model for Italian baseball players wo have the same dream to play professionally as Alex Liddi did by being the first Italian-born-and-developed player to make it to the Big Leagues? What do you and Alex Liddi have in common?
Marten Gasparini: He already achieved the feat to become a Major League baseball player. I still have to work my way to get there. But if I can say something. We both might be good examples for young players in Italy to believe in their dreams and believe in themselves. Just for them to work hard and be what they want to be.
Roberto: Let’s predict the 2017 Team Italia WBC lineup and say that both you and Liddi play the infield next to each at shortstop and third base. That must be on your mind.
Marten Gasparini: It is absolutely… I’m looking forward to it. It will be a great honor for me to play in that tournament with Alex Liddi and Mike Piazza on the coaching staff. But like I said I have to work hard and to focus to get there.
Roberto: Have you ever thought of how it have been for you had you would have been invited to play shortstop for Team Italia in the 2013 WBC?
Marten Gasparini: I don’t think I would have been ready to go there. I have respect for the shortstop that played for Team Italia. It wasn’t easy for anybody to play in that kind of tournament. It was the first-time for many of the Italian players who had no international or major league experience. That is just something that happens. I don’t know how I would have dealt the emotions and everything. I still think that Italy has done a great job in the World Baseball Classic. It’s just the first of years to come. I think we will have a very good team in the next World Baseball Classic.
Roberto: Enough respect to Team Italia shortstop Anthony Granado. We love you like pasta. It was commendable for him to step up in the WBC.
Marten Gasparini: I think that he was a great player.
Roberto: It’s just how the game goes. Baseball is a game of chance and strategy. Where the ball bounces, nobody knows… Despite many of the players just meeting for the first-time in the WBC, Team Italia played like a family as if they had been playing together for years.
Marten Gasparini: That shows the pride that these players have for their origins. It’s nice to know that people have respect for Italia.
Roberto: You were raised in a part of Italy near the Slovenian border. What was that like?
Marten Gasparini: It really didn’t influence my life. I’m pretty far from it. But I’m still in a region that also has multi-cultural roots. It is near Slovenia and Austria so you can see and hear people talking in German, Slovenian and Italian as well. So it’s kind of a multi-cultural region.
Roberto: You spent a lot of time in London with family as well.
Marten Gasparini: Yes, with my mother’s mother and her brothers and sisters. Roberto: So you must have had some Jamaican reggae music influence?
Marten Gasparini: Yes. I like reggae music. I’m not really a good dancer, but we could see the Jamaican roots.
Roberto: As Bob Marley did in promoting reggae internationally, you are doing the same thing for baseball in Italy and Europe.
Marten Gasparini: I’m honored to have the opportunity to do that and represent my country in that way.
Roberto: What kind of music are you listening to now in America?
Marten Gasparini: Maybe some rap or some deejays with electronic music. It’s very popular here so I just get into the mood and listen to the beat.
Roberto: Did you learn about Italian American icon Joe DiMaggio growing up?
Marten Gasparini: Joe DiMaggio was more popular in Italy for his marriage to Marilyn Monroe than a baseball player. But obviously baseball wise he’s one of main parts of Italian baseball history. We’re very proud of having him. He’s just one of many Italian American players that made this sport so great.
Roberto: And his visit to Nettuno only confirmed how big of an impact Americans had on baseball’s growth in Italy.
Marten Gasparini: Obviously Nettuno was the biggest thing for baseball in Italy when the Americans introduced the game during World War II. But also near where I live in Trieste the Americans were there too teaching baseball to us Italians.
Roberto: Are you learning any other languages so that you can continue to teach others the game?
Marten Gasparini: I have translated for American coaches coming over to talk to Italian teams. Right now I’m learning how to speak Spanish so that I can help some of the Latin players. A lot of the players here have been friendly and have asked me to help them learn some words in Italian and how to speak the language. It’s very hard for them to understand it, but I’m trying to do my best.
Roberto: You are blessed with speed. Have you have always been gifted to be the leader of the pack?
Marten Gasparini: Yes. Since I have been in school, I have always been one of the fastest in my class. I had fun showing off my speed by playing games and playing soccer. I have always had fun running fast.
Roberto: In baseball your mind has to be in the present one pitch at a time rather than daydreaming about the future.
Marten Gasparini: That’s the mindset that every player has to have if you want to have success. You have to work. Like I have been told it’s a grind, and it’s not easy for anybody. But you have to keep working and keep your mind focused on what you have to do in order to have success.
Roberto: What advice do you have for all the young players aspiring to become professional ballplayers?
Marten Gasparini: You just got to have fun. Keep in mind your dreams and remember to be professional by playing the game in a professional way. Most importantly enjoy…
Roberto: Any words for Bill Holmberg, director of the Italian Academy and the people behind the scenes at FIBS?
Marten Gasparini: Thank you very much for all the things you have done for me. I appreciate it a lot. I will always keep you in my thoughts, especially all the things that you have taught me. It’s still a big part of my mindset every day.
Italian national team manager Marco Mazzieri, named 2014 Coach of the Year by the Italian Coaches Convention in Treviso, knows it will be an uphill battle for Team Italia in the European Baseball Championship. He said, “Defending our title will not be an easy thing to do. We’re going to have to contend with not only the likes of Holland, but Spain and Germany are also expected to make a splash in this year’s tourney. Having won the last two EU Championships, we’re the team to beat. We have a target on our backs, and we’ve got our work cut out for us this year if we want to bring home a third consecutive title.”
2014 Euro Baseball Championship co-host Germany, ranked 19th by IBAF, will benefit greatly should German fans rally round the home team and Minnesota Twins’ highly-prized prospect Max Kepler–recipient of an $800,000 signing bonus in 2009–represent his country. Kepler said, “Baseball is growing in every German city I go to. They’ve opened two boarding schools in Germany, so there are opportunities for kids to step up the baseball game if they want to. I hope baseball is on the same level as soccer one day in Germany.”
17-year-old Kansas City Royals’ prospect Marten Gasparini, who received a $1.3 signing bonus in 2013, has plenty of experience playing for Italia internationally in the Under-15 World Cup in Mexico and in the Under-18 World Cup in South Korea. Having recently been hit in the face by a ball while playing shortstop for the Rookie League Burlington Royals, let’s pray the young Italian who has been heralded by many scouts as the best European 5-tool player ever is able to participate in the EU Baseball Championship.
Alberto Mineo è stato convocato per un’amichevole dei Cubs di Chicago. Ex Accademia, Mineo giocare nelle Minors pic.twitter.com/EBFCLtIZ8H
20-year-old catching prospect Alberto Mineo, who was signed by former Chicago Cubs scout and current Italian Baseball Academy director Bill Holmberg for $500,000 in 2009, was under the guidance and direction of mentor Mike Piazza during Team Italia’s 2014 Spring Training at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida. Catcher Mineo and 19-year-old Cincinnati Reds pitching prospect Davide Anselmi worked together there in preparation of the European Baseball Championship.
Team Italia hitting coach Mike Piazza is committed to the growth of Italian baseball. The future MLB Hall of Famer said, “I truly believe in the marketability of baseball in Europe, in Italy specifically. I’m here completely focused on this ballclub to get the most out of our players here and hopefully help them along in their individual careers. But also we’re just trying to bring attention as well to baseball in Italy. And we think that‑‑at least in my personal opinion–that we can produce players and there’s a future there.”
Just spent amazing week at Dodgertown with @FIBSpress Italian National team preparing to defend European title. Thank you @Mets for tix 2day
For further information on the upcoming European Baseball Championship and details on how to obtain tickets for the September 12-16 games in Regensburg, Germany, click HERE. To learn more about the international competition and tickets for the September 12-21 Czech Republic games, click HERE. For an updated schedule of the 2014 European Baseball Championship and complete game box scores, click HERE.
Not only do both former MLB All-Stars share a common first name, but coincidentally they have published two new must-read books at the same time. 2013 National League All-Star / Pittsburgh Pirates’ closer Jason Grilli and seasoned veteran catcher Jason Kendall are best-known for their delivery on the mound and calling the game behind home plate. However, let the world know that they also possess a knack for writing good stories. Initially, Grilli was reluctant to share with fans his personal journal which eventually turned into a book. Grilli said, “I kind of was keeping it for them when I thought my career was over in 2010 when I ruptured my quad tendon and thought I would never play baseball again. So I just started writing. It was therapeutic, and I didn’t want to forget things—the good things, the bad things. My career had flashed before my eyes so I just started writing. Here we are three years later writing a book… I didn’t finish college, and I promised my mom that I would. At least I wrote a book so she will be happy.” Asked what readers can expect to get out of his book, Grilli responded: “I think overall there are a lot of flashbacks: the good, the bad and the indifferent. If there is anything to take from it, it’s a feel good
story. It’s more about, if you quit then you lose.” Without a doubt, this 215-page book is quite an accomplishment. Grilli discounted the praise and said: “They are short pages, double-spaced. You know all the tricks to make your 10-page paper longer. Maybe that is what it is…a lot of insert pictures in the middle. If you don’t want to read the book, at least look at the pictures.” Just My Game chronicles Grilli’s love of the game of baseball and highlights his incredible and trusting relationship with his best friend and father, former MLB pitcher, Steve Grilli. Just My Gametakes readers through the highs and lows of the Team Italia pitcher’s career including his 18 strikeout performance as a junior at Seton Hall, his selection as the #4 first-round pick in the 1997 draft, life in the minor leagues, and his recovery from several near career-ending injuries leading up to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ remarkable 2013 playoff run. Jason Grilli will be making several book signing appearances in the coming months in support of the launch of his long-awaited autobiography. Be the first to purchase Just My Game before it goes on sale to the public by visiting Jason Grilli’s Facebook. Readers will be pleasantly surprised to find the eloquent foreword to Grilli’s book written by 2013 National League Manager of the Year and Pirates’ skipper Clint Hurdle. Known to be a proponent of the power of positive thinking, Hurdle is the perfect setup man for Grilli’s autobiography.
Hurdle has been busy of late reading Jason Kendall’s Throwback, which was co-written by sportswriter Lee Judge.
When asked if fans should buy Jason Kendall and Lee Judge’s Throwback, Hurdle responded: “Give this book a read. I’ve known Lee Judge for over 20 years. He has an unquenchable thirst for ‘Why’ questions and a passion for the game. He doesn’t just want the answers. He wants understanding. I’ve spent time with him in Minor League and Major League cities and clubhouses, and we are still friends! There is a sincere effort and old school way this book has been put together, and it is deserving of your time. You will laugh. You will learn. You will leave with a greater understanding and appreciation for the game we love.” America’s favorite pastime has always left fans and amateur players alike yearning for the answers to questions about how pros play the game. Have you ever wondered about pre-game rituals, what is being said at home plate, the signs a catcher uses to communicate with the pitcher, how a team silently communicates and the right way to hit a batter or what goes on behind closed clubhouse doors? All-Star catcher Jason Kendall is more than qualified to shed some light on the subject using his 15-years playing behind home plate with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, and Kansas City Royals as a true testament. Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons summed it up nicely when he characterized Kendall and his new book as winners. Gibby said, “Jason Kendall is the ultimate competitor, a modern-day gladiator. If you had nine Jason Kendalls, you could never lose.” Undoubtedly, Throwback provides readers an opportunity to gain an insider’s view of the game from a true-grit player’s perspective. Coupled with Jason Grilli’s new offering of Just My Game, baseball fanatics now have a winning combination of required reading guaranteed to bring hours of enjoyment and a fonder appreciation of what makes these players truly inspirational.
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