The clubhouse at the Lew Wolff Training Center is filled with young men from all over the United States and South America who, until a couple of weeks ago, didn’t know each other. Today, whether by selection in the 2016 MLB Draft, or a free agent signing (undrafted or international) they are teammates, in the heat of the Arizona summer, on the Arizona Summer Rookie League (AZL) Athletics.
The AZL, often referred to as “the fire league” because games are played in triple digit heat, at 7 o’clock at night, is not an easy start to a career. The heat, of course, but the other conditions like no fan fare – or fans, for that matter; and the games have more of a feeling of a scrimmage because they’re usually on the backfields of the spring training facilities of the parent clubs, in a non-revenue generating league. Not the start they imagine when they sign their contract. Many, including early round college picks, will start a game or two and then move up to the Short Season New York Penn League or even Class A Midwest League affiliate. Others will move up later in the season, others are here for the duration. Moves are also contingent upon availability / need. After spending several years with the Arizona-based Athletics, watching intently I’ve decided it’s best to trust the experts who make these decisions.
During that time, there have been few who’ve passed by AZ all together, including 2015 first round pick Richie Martin, who signed after his Florida Gators were beaten by the Virginia Cavaliers in the College World Series and went straight to Vermont. Most will at least make their debuts here, in the auspices of parent club controls. It’s my favorite thing to witness; the culmination of dreams and hard work in order to take the field for the very first time. It only happens once; and I consider it a privilege to witness so many. While all are important, I have to be honest and say there’s a little “something extra” about the debuts of UDFAs. Who doesn’t love an underdog?
Speaking of debuts…here’s a look at those who donned a uniform for the green and gold, in the first step of thousands en route to living their dream, so far:
June 20: Opening Night at the AZL Angels – Tempe Diablo Stadium
Luke (Giancarlo) Persico, OF, UCLA, 12th round pick – 1st batter of the season
Robert Bennie, OF, East Stroudsberg State, 26th round
Tyler Ramirez, OF, North Carolina, 7th round
Eli White, SS, Clemson University, 11th round
Casey Thomas, 2B, Texas A&M, 34th round – 1st career hit
Sean Murphy, Catcher, Wright State, 3rd round – 1st Team Run Scored
Skyler Weber, Catcher, University of Georgia, 18th round
Kyle Nowlin, OF, Eastern Kentucky, 21st round – 1st Team Hit (Double)
JaVon Shelby, 3B, Kentucky, 5th round – 1st career hit
Anthony Churlin, OF, Island Coast, 16th round
Cole Gruber, OF, Nebraska-Omaha, 27th round
Charles Gould, 1B, College of William and Mary, 26th round
Nate Mondou, 2B, Wake Forest, 13th round
Josh Vidales, 2B, Houston, 28th round
Seth Martinez, RHP, Arizona State University, 17th round
Ivan Andueza – Opening Day Starter
June 22: Home Opener vs AZL Giants
Jeramiah McCray, CF, King High School, Riverside, CA, 25th round
Jarrett Costa, Catcher, Westmont, 33rd round
Christopher Quintin, (“Kin-TEEN”), MINF, 17 year old, Int’l FA, Bani, Dominican Republic
Brett Bittiger, SS, Pace U, 40th round
Sam Sheehan, RHP, Westmont, 31st round
Joseph Camacho, RHP, Alabama State, UDFA
Nick Highberger, RHP, Creighton, 30th round
June 23: at the AZL Giants – Scottsdale Stadium
Jesus Lage, (“LAH-hay”) SS, 18 year old Int’l FA, Valencia, Valenzuela (AZL debut; made 2016 debut in NYPL)
Javier Godard, 2B, 20 year old Int’l FA, Baruta, Venezuela (AZL debut; made 2016 debut in NYPL)
Mitchell Jordan, RHP, Stetson, 10th round
Wandisson Charles, RHP, 19 year old Int’l FA, Bani, Dominican Republic - 1st Team Winning Pitcher / 1st AZL Win
Yeudy Minaya, RHP, 20 year old Int’l FA, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
June 24th: Home vs AZL Mariners
Frederick De La Cruz, RHP, 19 year old Int’l FA, San Cristobal, Dominican Republic – earned 1st AZL Win
Seth Martinez - 1st Team Save / 1st Career Save
June 25: at the AZL Mariners – Mariners Field 2 - Peoria
Matt Millburn, RHP, Wofford, 29th round
June 27: Home vs AZL Diamondbacks
Brandon Bailey, RHP, Gonzaga, 6th round
Yeudy Minaya -1st Career Win
Robert Mullen - 1st AZL Home Run (Grand Slam); 1st Home Run of the Team
June 28: at the AZL Diamondbacks – Dbacks Field 1
Kevin Duchene - 1st 2016 Win
June 29: Home vs AZL Brewers
Skylar Szynski, RHP, Penn High School, Indiana, 4th round
This game will be remembered for the 15 runs scored in the top of the 1st inning – almost 50 minutes long. Szynski’s limited pitch count (19) was reached after his first career strike out. After that, there were eight consecutive walks, and so on. Thankfully, the monsoons arrived with such a force that the game was called after five complete innings of regulation baseball.
June 30: at the AZL Brewers – Maryvale Stadium
Brandon Mann, LHP, Journeyman pitcher, signed as a free agent - 1st Athletics Win
Kyle Nowlin - 1st Career Home Run AZL Home Run (Grand Slam)
Robert Bennie - 1st Career Triple
SIX STOLEN BASES - 1ST in the league with 20
Webby likes his team to run!
Webster Garrison’s team enters the OFF day with a record of 5-4 which puts them in the middle of the pack along with most other offensive categories except for walks (40 = tied for 2nd with Reds), strike outs (89 = 2nd ) and stolen bases (20 = 1st ). As a pitching staff, the Athletics also sit somewhere in the middle of each category.
Thursday is an OFF day for the team, then head to the Cubs on Saturday; home against the Cubs on Sunday; at the Angels (Tempe Diablo Stadium) on the 4th of July; and then back at Fitch to host the Angels on Tuesday before the next OFF day.