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Atlantic League: How Do the Stars Fare in MLB?

By Mike Silva ~ July 7th, 2010. Filed under: Independent Baseball, Mike Silva.

Last year NYBD was at the Atlantic League All Star Game and asked some of the participants the difference between independent ball, specifically the Atlantic League, and big league ballplayers. Some of the answers from the managers ranged from mechanic flaws, consistency, to organizations just not having room for a particular individual. For those that may be unaware the only difference between the Atlantic League and other minor league clubs is the players are not affiliated with one organization. In some ways this is desirable since they are essentially trying out for 30 MLB clubs.

Even the best players in the Atlantic League are flawed and most, at best, are 4-A type talent. While I was sitting in the press box waiting for the game to start I decided to take a quick look statistically how some of the past and current “stars” of this league fared during their MLB stints.

Obviously you have the outliers- former stars on the downside of their career-such as Carl Everett, Armando Benitez, Rickey Henderson, Edgardo Alfonzo, and Jose Canseco who used the league to show off their skills one last time. There is also someone like Elijah Dukes, who is here more because of attitude than skill set. The majority of the league is for those that never got a chance, like former Braves first round pick Aaron Herr (son of former Cardinals second baseman Tommy Herr, also his manager for York), and have fallen off the radar for one reason or another.

Going into last night’s game, only quarter of the All Stars have seen at least one day of service time in the big leagues. Already that tells you 75% of the talent is not even worthy of a call up in their career. Out of the two starting pitchers - Jesus Sanchez and Randy Leek- only Sanchez has pitched in the big leagues. Known more for being traded by the Mets in the Al Leiter deal than his on the field exploits, Sanchez has a career ERA of 5.32 and WHIP of 1.6. With an ERA+ of 80 he is well below league average.

On the offensive side 2009 Atlantic League MVP Ray Navarrete has a career .891 OPS with 78 homers playing in three Atlantic League seasons playing for Long Island. Navarrete has never played in the big leagues, but spent 7 seasons in the Pirates, Mets, and Astros organizations. His best season during that time was as a 24 year old in High A ball (Lynchburg) where he drove in 69 runs, hit 6 homers, and had an OPS of .809.

Perhaps the best player on either side is Ducks OF John Rodriguez. Last year he played for the Yankees in Scranton and put up a respectable .261. /352 /.460 line in 322 at bats. For his career he not only has a ring (2006 Cardinals), but an OPS+ of 110 in 388 plate appearances. I see no reason why he can’t be a lefty bat off the bench or depth for a big league club. If he stays healthy I would expect the 32 year old to be in some organization very soon. Daryle Ward and Ryan Speier are also two former big leaguers that aren’t far removed from productive seasons in the big leagues and might get the call in the near future.

So yes, there is a difference, as I am sure you find as no surprise. This isn’t about dumping on the quality of the Atlantic League because this still, in my opinion, is the cream of the crop in terms of independent baseball. Just a couple of years ago Brandon Knight was plucked from the league and played a key role for the Mets down the stretch. The point is to reiterate how even the best players in this league are largely afterthoughts, and below replacement level in most cases, at the big league level. Sometimes it’s amazing how good you need to be to play professional ball.

Check out my recap of the game, along with fun Atlantic League facts, by clicking here.

Mike Silva is a freelance writer and radio host since March of 2007. This website is his own personal "digest" of New York Baseball He's also hosts NYBD Radio on Blog Talk Radio and 1240 AM WGBB. Check out his sports media commentary at www.sportsmediawatchdog.com. Check out his official website, www.mikesilvamedia.com
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