Former Yankee Darryl Strawberry played 29 games for the St. Paul Saints in 1996.
Every year around this time, we like to scan the rosters of Independent League teams and marvel at some of the names that pop up. It’s always fascinating to see which ex-major leaguers are hanging on, or which tough to sign prospect has opted for Indy ball before he finally inks a deal with the major league organization that drafted him.
Up until the last 10 years or so, the St. Paul Saints were among the most popular destinations for such players, including the likes of Darryl Strawberry, J.D. Drew (when agent Scott Boras tried to use his prized prospect client to bust the MLB Draft) and Jack Morris.
The Saints no longer have that cachet, but still have a few players who are familiar to MLB fans, including former Brave closer Kerry Ligtenberg. Texas Ranger 2009 first round pick Tanner Scheppers is back for a second season with the Saints as well. And the team recently added old Dirtdog Kevin Millar, cut from the Cubs. He was a member of the inaugural Saint team in 1993, so coming back to St. Paul is a great way for him to bookend his career.
Nowadays, it is the Atlantic League, specifically the Newark Bears, where stars go to play out the string. Currently managed by Tim Raines, over the years the Bears have played host to some controversial superstars like Jose Canseco and Rickey Henderson. The current incarnation includes ex-big leaguers Edgardo Alfonzo, Willie Banks, Armando Benitez and Scott Spiezio.
Here are a few highlights from various other Indy team rosters:
- Former Brewer “catcher of the future” Lou Palmisano is back for a second season with the Pensacola Pelicans of the American Association.
- Josh Phelps, who flamed out as a power hitter in the bigs, has been reduced to playing Indy ball for the Bridgeport Bluefish. The Bluefish pitching staff includes Denny Stark, Jorge Julio and Antonio Alfonseca.
- Infielder Abraham Nunez, who has played over 1,000 big league games, most recently in 2008 for the Mets, is now toiling for the New Jersey Jackals of the CanAm League.
- Remember Dodger farmhand Chuck Tiffany? After topping out at Double-A, he switched to Indy ball and is now in his second season with the Florence Freedom of the Frontier League.
- Speaking of prospects gone awry, how about outfielder Julio Ramirez? He was one of the most highly touted minor leaguers in the game in the late ‘90s and early 2000s with the Marlins, but he managed to play just 84 highly undistinguished big league games over five seasons before heading to Mexico to play in 2007. Now Ramirez is a member of the Calgary Vipers of the Golden Baseball League.
- Former Brave prospect Eric Campbell flamed out at Double-A last year and now the heir apparent no longer to Chipper Jones at third base in Atlanta is playing for the Fargo-Moorhead Red Hawks of the Northern League. Campbell counts former Cub prospect Nic Jackson among his teammates. Jackson, an outfielder, can tell Campbell all about not making it; he’s entering his third year of Indy Ball.