Image courtesy of Bruce Kluckhohn, USA TodayFor those who enjoy the human element of the game, there's something special about independent ball. Players in these leagues are a long way from the majors, whether undrafted or trying to make their way back into an MLB system. But they're chasing their dreams, often playing in front of paltry crowds for tiny paychecks.
When a guy playing in an independent league is able to catch the attention of a major-league organization and work his way to the bigs, it's always a great story. Rich Hill is the most prominent example in the game today. After washing out of affiliated ball in his mid-30s, he signed with the Long Island Ducks in 2015, where he gained notice from the Boston Red Sox. They signed him, he excelled, and two years later he has a $48 million deal with the Dodgers.
The Twins haven't had a success of Hill's magnitude, but they've had some notable hits.
Minnesota didn't sign Brandon Kintzler out of an independent league, but the former 40th-round draft pick did spend time playing in the Northern League in 2007 and 2008, then with our local St. Paul Saints in 2009, before latching on with the Brewers and finding his way to the big leagues. He would of course later sign with the Twins and turn into an all-star closer, and now he's in line to be pitching in the playoffs in two months.
Kintzler's experience in independent ball is now ancient history, but the Twins have a few players who've been there much more recently. Buddy Boshers caught the team's eye while pitching for Somerset in the Atlantic League and is now a fixture in the Minnesota bullpen.
Nik Turley was pitching for that same Somerset club last summer, and inked a minor-league deal with the Twins during the offseason, precipitating a major-league debut this year. Things obviously haven't gone smoothly for the southpaw in his three MLB starts, but he continues to dominate at Rochester and will almost surely get more chances. He could become an asset in the bullpen.
Tim Melville may be the next name to watch. The Twins signed him in June from the Long Island Ducks team where Hill re-established himself, and he has been tremendous since joining the Class-AAA Red Wings with a 2.55 ERA and 1.07 WHIP through 60 innings. In his latest start for Rochester on Monday, Melville hurled seven innings of one-hit, one-run ball with nine strikeouts.
The 27-year-old right-hander is interesting not just because of his recent journey, but because of his history: he's a former fourth-round pick of the Royals who was once ranked among the organization's best young talents and appeared in Baseball Prospectus' Top 100 prospects in 2010. He has flashed good stuff when healthy, with scouts lauding the spin on his breaking balls, and right now it's shining through.
If he can keep it up, he may get a look before the year is over. Will he be the next Rich Hill? Not likely. But Melville has a chance to make a real impact, as Boshers has and Turley hopefully still can.
At the very least, the former independent leaguer will be another story worth rooting for.
- PDX Twin, Tom Froemming, caninatl04 and 1 other like this