The first week of major league baseball is all about hope. There is hope that your team will perform well this season. There is hope that your favorite player will put up big numbers this season. There is hope that the struggling prospect will finally put it all together and become a useful major league baseball player. And finally, there is hope that a player who no one has any idea actually exists will work his way through the system, up the depth charts, into the starting lineup, and eventually into the hearts and minds of baseball fans all over the country.
Why yes, in April, hope does spring eternal.
But how about for those players who are just searching for a way back into the major leagues? Where’s the hope for them? The Atlantic League, of course. Every season, former major league players, former minor league players, and countless others play ball in the Atlantic League, hoping for another chance to play in affiliated baseball. The hope is if you play well enough, a major league team will come calling and just like that, opportunity knocks.
With two weeks to go before the Atlantic League gets underway, rosters are still in the process of being finalized. But luckily for us, some big names have already signed on with Atlantic League clubs! If you’re a die-hard baseball fan like me, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy knowing that Hiram Bochachica and Brian Barton are teammates on the Bridgeport Bluefish! So without further ado, I hope you enjoy this mini look into the players of the Atlantic League.
“This pitching staff would have been great in 2002″
Jorge Julio, RP: Way back in 2002, Julio put together a dominant season for the Orioles out of the bullpen by sporting a minuscule 1.99 ERA and saving 25 games. But Julio was never able to produce those numbers again at the major league level and since 2006, Julio has bounced around the majors.
Fun fact: Two members of the 2006 Mets were acquired thanks to Jorge Julio. (John Maine was traded with Julio to the Mets at the beginning of 2006 and Orlando Hernandez was traded for Julio in the middle of the 2006 season.)
Antonio Alfonseca, RP: Aside from having some stellar seasons as a relief pitcher, Alfonseca is best known for having six fingers and toes! I was amazed to find out that Alfonseca won the Rolaids Relief Award in 2000 when he was the closer for the Marlins. Alfonseca led the league in saves that season with 45, but his ERA was an unimpressive 4.24 and his WHIP, was an astounding 1.514.
Esteban Yan, SP: Fun fact about Esteban Yan-he hit a homerun in his first at bat in the majors. Another fun fact- Yan has lifetime batting average of 1.000. Oh yeah, Yan was a pitcher. Even though Yan put together some decent seasons in the latter half of his career, his 5.14 ERA highlights how badly Yan struggled at points throughout his career.
Denny Stark, SP: Stark put together a solid 2002 season with the Rockies and seemed destined for a long career in the majors, but that plan never panned out thanks to arm injuries.
Adam Greenberg, OF: Greenberg’s name might sound familiar to you not because of his production as a major leaguer. During his first (and only) at bat in the majors, Greenberg was hit in the head by Marlins pitcher Valerio de los Santos. Greenberg left the game with a concussion and has not played in the majors since. As it stands, he is one of only TWO players in major league history to get hit in his first major league at bat and never play the field. Also, Greenberg has an OBP of 1.000, zero recorded at bats, and no batting average or fielding percentage. It would be fantastic to see Greenberg work his way back into the majors.
Mike Costanzo, 3B: Costanzo was one of the pieces the Orioles acquired in return for Miguel Tejada. Costanzo was known in the minors for his ability to hit for power, but he never got the opportunity to show what he could do consistently in the majors. The Orioles cut ties with Costanzo after he struggled at the plate in 2009.
Valentino Pascucci, OF: Pascucci has hit at every level he’s played at during his long tenure in the minor leagues, but he has never had the opportunity to play at the major league level. Pascucci had a cup of tea with the Expos in 2004, but for one reason or another, he has never made it back to the majors despite his gaudy numbers.
Jason Botts, OF: Botts is another guy who put up big numbers as a minor leaguer, but never got the opportunity to play consistently at the big league level. For all the people who clamored for the Rangers to give Botts a chance, there was another group that pointed out that Botts offered no value defensively and struck out far too often during his brief time in the majors.
“Bring back the high socks!”
Jason Simontacchi, SP: Back in 2002, Simontacchi became one of my favorite players for three reasons.
1. He previously pitched in the independent leagues.
2. His last name was nearly impossible to spell.
3. He made a name for himself by consistently wearing old school stirrups.
Unfortunately Simontacchi’s career in the majors flamed out largely because of arm problems.
“Yes, he’s THAT Sidney Ponson”
Robinson Cancel, C: Fun fact about Cancel: he hit his first major league home run NINE YEARS after his major league debut. Cancel debuted with the Brewers all the way back in 1999 and finally hit one out with the Mets in 2008. How could you not love this guy?
Dustan Mohr, OF: Mohr was a pretty effective player for the Twins from 2002-2003 and the Giants in 2004. Mohr possessed an interesting combination of mediocre power, strong defensive ability, and flat out hustle. But after struggling with the Rockies in 2005, Mohr’s major league career was essentially finished.
Sidney Ponson, SP: Sideny Ponson’s major league career is one of unfulfillment and rapid decline. Ponson hit his peak in 2003, but his career immediately went downhill after the Orioles signed him a 3 year/$22.5 million dollar contract after the 2003 season. Ponson’s numbers since 2003 are ugly: his yearly ERA has been at least five and his total ERA from 2004-2009 is 5.82. In addition, Ponson has been arrested twice for DWI and famously punched a judge in Aruba in 2004.
Oh yeah, Ponson was knighted in the Netherlands after the 2003 season. So at least he has that going for him.
“The New York Yankees of the Atlantic League” (in terms of big names, not dominance)
Edgardo Alfonzo, 2B: From 1997-2002, Alfonzo was one of the top young players in the National League. Alfonzo peaked with the Mets in 1999 and 2000, but his decline came shortly after. Alfonzo signed with the Giants after the 2002 season and his offensive numbers took an immediate nose dive. Thanks to a variety of injuries, age, and lack of production; Alfonzo was out of the majors for good by the end of the 2006 season. It’s hard to believe that Alfonzo declined so quickly, but he will always hold a special place in the hearts of Mets fans.
Armando Benitez, RP: Fun fact about Armando Bentiez: after pitching most of last season with the Bears, Benitez was signed by the Astros and assigned to the AAA Round Rock Express. During his first game with the Express, Benitez gave up back to back to back to back home runs.
That, in a nutshell, is the career of Armando Benitez. The reality is that Benitez will always be known not for the great seasons he put together as a closer, but for his propensity to blow saves in crucial situations in the most painful, gut wrenching fashion.
By the way, the 1996 video of Armando Bentiez plunking Tino Martinez and the subsequent brawl that follows NEEDS to be on youtube. Graeme Lloyd v. Armando Benitez.
If anyone has a copy, please make that happen.
Scott Spiezio, 3B: Yes, the hero of the 2002 World Series is now playing in the Atlantic League. For all of Spiezio’s faults (substance abuse), he was a very easy player to root for given his interesting taste in music and the ever changing color of his goatee.
Nook Logan: Nook Logan’s real name is Exavier Prente “Nook” Logan. For that reason alone, it’s a shame Logan never caught on in the majors.
Willie Banks: Willie Banks is 41 years old. Willie Banks has not pitched in the majors since 2002. But for some reason, Willie Banks is playing for the Bears this season. If Banks makes it back to the majors, Disney would HAVE TO make a movie about it.
Bobby Hill: Hill was a former top prospect in the Cubs organization, who never panned out. Hill’s greatest contribution to the Cubs was that he was the centerpiece in the trade that brought Aramis Ramirez to the Cubs.
“Like Father, Like Son?”
Tim Raines Jr.: The son of baseball great Tim Raines.
Jeff Nettles: The son of baseball great Graig Nettles. Even though Jeff’s career is far less distinguished that his father’s, Jeff has carved out a nice career with the Patriots as one of their key players since 2003!
Ryan Freel: Freel was an exceptionally useful player for the Reds from 2004-2006 making a name for himself as a hard nosed, speedy utility player. Freel’s hard nosed style made him a fan favorite, but it also resulted in various injuries that have derailed his career. He has been unable to stay on the field consistently since 2007 and he will have to show that he’s healthy for a big league club to give him another opportunity.
“Remember me, Royals fans?”
Dan Reichert: The former first round pick was one of the top prospects in baseball in 2000 (#75 according to Baseball America), but his tenure in the majors was frustrating, to say the least. During his brief career, Reichert walked 223 and struck out only 240 hitters. Needless to say, control was obviously a huge problem for Reichert.
“Former Orioles top prospects play here”
Val Majewski: Majewski seemed to be well on his way to having a lengthy career with the Orioles. He was their 3rd round pick in 2002 and in 2004, Majewski was named the Orioles’ Minor League Player of the Year. But Majewski’s career was derailed towards the end of the 2004 season when he tore the labrum in his shoulder. Majewski missed the entire 2005 season and from that point, he was never the same player.
Matt Riley: Way back in 2000, Riley was one of the best prospects in the majors. The Oriole left hander was ranked #15 on Baseball America’s annual top 100 list (one spot ahead of Alfonso Soriano) and he seemed destined for stardom. However, the injury bug has destroyed Riley’s career. To date, he has undergone Tommy John surgery THREE TIMES. It’s hard not to root for Riley considering everything he has gone through, but it’s a longshot at this point to think that the 31 year old Riley will ever make it back to the majors.
This list is merely scratches the surface of the Atlantic League. I would encourage all of you to go to atlanticleague.com and take a glance at these rosters in full. Trust me, it’s worth it.