Keon Barnum at-bat for the Chicago Dogs.

Time for a Call-Up

Out of all the unaffiliated leagues out there I probably watch more American Association than any other league. Being a season ticket holder for our local AA team the Milwaukee Milkmen certainly helps in this regard. So does being a big fan of the St. Paul Saints, and the general easy availability of all league games on American Association TV. Point being, I watch more than enough AA baseball to have a credible opinion on the league.

Among all the United states unaffiliated leagues the AA is probably second behind only the Atlantic League in terms of player quality and level of competition. It’s not unusual for AA players to find themselves signed to affiliated teams midway through the season. Coming off of the 2019 season (the playoffs are still going on and if you like fun baseball then you owe it to yourself to head over to AATV and watch a few games) there are still players worth getting another chance, or any chance at all, with an affiliated club. Here are 10 AA players, in no particular order, worth, at the very least a minor league spring training invitation before the start of the 2020 affiliated season.

  • Keon Barnum, 1B Chicago Dogs: A big left-handed bat, Barnum is a former first-round pick of the Chicago White Sox. At 26-years-old and only 1 year removed from affiliated ball Barnum put together the sort of season that should make an affiliated club take notice. He won the AA Most Valuable Player award behind a slash line of .311/.395/.635 and hit 31 home runs while walking 52 times and only striking out in 91 of his 428 plate appearances. The power he was supposed to have in affiliated ball finally developed and he showed an increased ability to get on base while limiting strikeouts. With his first-round pedigree, he should be a slam dunk for another shot with an affiliated team.
  • Victor Roache, RF Chicago Dogs: A first-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2012 Roache struggled to make contact in affiliated ball and racked up far too many strikeouts. He appears to have shortened his swing in the AA while still keeping his power intact. He slashed .309/.397/.583 with 24 home runs and only 106 strikeouts in 416 plate appearances. He’s only 27, has the former first-round pedigree, and still possesses a blend of speed and power that is appealing to major league organizations.
  • Kyle Halbohn, RHP Chicago Dogs: Never advancing beyond high-A, Halbohn has spent a couple of years in unaffiliated ball and has shown improvements every year. He started 2019 with the High Point Rockers of the ALPB and put up good numbers despite some command issues. With Chicago, everything clicked and he slowly assumed the role of the Dogs’ relief ace. In 41.0 innings he put up a 1.98 ERA and his 1.024 WHIP was the best of his career. He’s always had plus stuff, is only 26, and with his 2.1 BB/9 being evidence of his vastly improved control he’s worth a look.
  • Ramsey Romano, 2B/3B/SS/RF/RHP Kansas City T-Bones: The 24-year-old slashed a respectable .273/.307/.381 in 277 plate appearances, but it’s the addition of RHP to his position list that adds intrigue to Romano’s case. He never pitched before 2019, and he only toed the mound in 11.0 innings for the T-Bones. However, in that limited time, he posted a 0.82 ERA and 1.000 WHIP. His low K/9 of 4.1 doesn’t attract much attention, but in an era where two-way players are being sought after, he just made himself someone affiliated teams should have their eyes on.
  • Nate Gercken, RHP Sioux City Explorers: After a pair of dismal initial professional seasons, Gercken has spent the past three years refining himself as a pitcher. The 26-year-old is more of a control guy than a flamethrower and that explains why his better numbers haven’t warranted much big league interest so far. That being said, he lowered his ERA to 1.91 and WHIP to 1.128 in 2019. His BB/9 of 4.4 remains too high for someone trying to live based on his control but all in all a pitcher improving every single year of his unaffiliated career is someone who could take the next step with the affiliated machine behind him.
  • Manuel Boscan, C/1B/DH Milwaukee Milkmen: I’m going off of feel more than stats on this one. I got to see Boscan play often for the Milkmen. There isn’t any record of him having played professionally since the 2013-2014 season, but he’s still only 26. Boscan has a good eye, makes plenty of contact, and rarely strikes out. He is a little lacking in power and he needs work defensively at catcher. His slash line of .277/.375/.428 won’t wow anyone, but only striking out 64 times in 401 plate appearances should catch the eye of one affiliated team or another.
  • Ryan Williams, RHP Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks: Williams is an example of a player who was cut not because of talent issues but because he had trouble missing bats and staying in the zone. His 2.93 ERA in the AA is good, but what matters more than anything is that he SO/W jumped all the way to 8.50 while his BB/9 dropped to 0.7 and his H/9 was a better 10.1. He’s 27-years-old and teams may want to see him work on his ability to miss bats some more, but with a 92-93mph fastball and the control he was lacking in affiliated ball he’s a good candidate for a second chance.
  • Geoff Broussard, RHP Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks: At 28-years-old Broussard is nearing the end of his rope as far as affiliated chances go. 2019 was a massive leap forward for the righthander. His ERA of 1.81 was a career-best, but his 1.231 WHIP remains too high. The raw stuff from Broussard is as impressive as ever, and if he can catch on somewhere this winter and put up numbers similar to his AA ones then he’ll get one last look at the minors.
  • Carlos Contreras, RHP Texas AirHogs: He’s now 28-years-old, but that hasn’t stopped the Dominican Republic native from lighting up the radar gun. The fourseam fastball still sits 95-96mph, and he has a decent slider that sweeps out of the zone on a consistent basis. The issue with Contreras was always his inability to avoid getting lit up in the zone. He seems to have solved that the past two years while greatly improving his control. ERAs of 1.52 and 1.62 plus WHIPs of 0.845 and 0.900 in successive seasons make him a pitcher who could come into affiliated ball and rise up the ladder swiftly.
  • Sandy Lugo, RHP Gary SouthShore RailCats: Lugo has always posted good results, but he’s never been able to put together a complete season. Whether it was injury issues, him needing time off, or other factors he’s only had 2 seasons with a normal relief workload. 2019 was no different as a long spell on the RailCats inactive list and a weird trade mid-season to the Cleburne Railroaders that saw him sit out a week and a half before being traded back to the RailCats limited his workload again. The fastball still touches 95, and his slider is still dangerous looking. His 1.27 ERA and 1.129 WHIP were both excellent in 2019. He’s only 25, but he only pitched 28.1 innings for the RailCats and that is the only thing that could hold him back from getting another shot to move up the minor league ranks.

Maybe some of these guys will get their shot or maybe none of them will. When it comes to who big league organizations decide to sign from unaffiliated teams it really is a crapshoot. Hopefully, most, if not all, will play some winter ball and show that they can put up similar results against a higher level of competition. Or, they will wind up back in the AA next year and while that may not be what they want it will mean more quality baseball in the AA and I’m here for that.

Lead photo courtesy of Matt Zuro – Chicago Dogs

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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