Tag Archives: St. Paul Saints

Former Indiana Mr. Baseball, MLB first-rounder O’Conner lands with independent St. Paul Saints

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin O’Conner was a highly-touted professional baseball prospect when he wore the uniform of Cowan Junior/Senior High School.

As a sophmore at the Muncie, Ind., school, he helped the Camden Pankhurst-coached Blackhawks earn an IHSAA Class 2A state runners-up finish in 2008.

In 2009, O’Conner put up head-turning numbers as a shortstop and pitcher: .521 average, 19 home runs, 61 runs batted in, 7-0 record, 0.30 earned run average, 101 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings.

That summer, he won the Home Run Derby at the Perfect Game National Showcase at the Metrodome in Minneapolis and was invited to the Perfect Game Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic at PETCO Park in San Diego.

In 2010, he was Indiana’s Mr. Baseball and selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays right out of Cowan.

As a pro, O’Conner became a catcher. He played 48 games with the Gulf Coast Rays in 2010.

In 2011, he played at rookie-level Princeton threw out 16 of 45 base stealers.

He helped Hudson Valley win the New York-Penn League championship in 2012.

O’Conner played at Low Class-A Bowling Green of the Midwest League in 2013.

That winter, he played for the Brisbane Bandits of the Australian Baseball League.

“It was awesome,” says O’Conner of his time Down Under. “It was a chance to go to another country, live there for three months and get to see their culture and also get to play baseball.”

In 2014, O’Conner played at Charlotte and was an MiLB.com Organizational All-Star and Florida State League All-Star, FSL Post-Season and Baseball America High Class-A All-Star.

He played in the Arizona Fall League and was placed on Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster in November.

O’Conner spent the entire 2015 season at Double-A Montgomery and led the Southern League in total chances (91) and threw out 29 of 60 base stealers.

“For me, it’s big part of the game,” says O’Conner. “Being able to control the running game can keep runners off of bases in scoring position and keep them from scoring runs. If the pitcher can give me a good time to the plate, mix his looks in.

“It’s really more on the pitcher and the infielder making a good tag along with me making a good throw. It’s just not me, it’s everybody involved.”

In 2016, he began the season in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League because of a back injury. He was promoted to Double-A in August.

It was discovered he had a herniated disk and he had two back surgeries in October and November and and was removed from the 40-man roster in December.

“I’m all good now,” says O’Conner of his procedures. “The back pain really wasn’t the issue, it was the sciatica down my leg. I needed to get it fixed.”

O’Conner started 2017 at Double-A and was promoted to Triple-A Durham in August. The Bulls won the Triple-A National Championship.

After the season, he was granted his free agency and signed a minor league contract with the San Francisco Giants in November 2017. The Giants released him in April 2018 and he inked a deal with the St. Paul Saints of the independent American Association, a circuit which also features the Gary SouthShore RailCats.

The Saints got off to a 5-1 start and O’Conner is coming off a 3-for-3 game with two RBI and two runs scored Wednesday, May 23 at home against the Chicago Dogs.

He belted home runs May 18 at Gary and May 23 in St. Paul.

O’Conner quickly learned the difference between high school and professional baseball while with the Rays and Giants organizations and it holds true with St. Paul.

“It’s a grind,” says O’Conner, 26. “You’re playing baseball, but it’s also a job. You’ve got to come out and try to win everyday.

“You learn that right away. You’re playing every single day. It takes a toll on your body and it’s something you’ve got to get used to.”

O’Conner played for a number of travel baseball organizations growing up then spent two years while in high school with coaches Dan Held and Quinn Moore and the Indiana Bulls.

Justin is the son of Muncie’s Randy and Kim O’Conner and has an older brother and a younger sister.

Jacob O’Conner is in law school in Cincinnati. Kirsten O’Conner, a former Ball State University softball player, is a nutritionist in Illinois.

JUSTINOCONNERSTPAUL

Justin O’Conner, who was Indiana’s Mr. Baseball at Cowan Junior/Senior High School and a first-round draft selection of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010, is now with the independent St. Paul Saints. Released by the San Francisco Giants organization, the catcher signed with the team shortly before the beginning of the 2018 season. (St. Paul Saints Photo)

Advertisements

Former Northview, Indiana State standout Shoemaker displays desire to win with St. Paul Saints

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brady Shoemaker has a competitive fire. The Brazil, Ind., resident wants to come out on top on the baseball diamond.

The 31-year-old is currently feeding those flames in his second season as a first baseman with the St. Paul (Minn.) Saints of the independent American Association.

After being released by the Chicago White Sox organization in 2016, Shoemaker signed with St. Paul in February 2017.

The right-handed stick finished second in the AA in slugging percentage (.603) and on-base percentage (.435), tied for second in extra-base hits (44), tied for third in home runs (21), tied for fifth in walks (55) and eighth in average (.318).

Shoemaker opted to re-sign with the Saints for 2018.

“To me, independent baseball is more about baseball,” says Shoemaker. “It’s not so much about getting guys ready for the game. They want to win in this league. (St. Paul manager) George (Tsamis) is big about putting nine guys not the field who want to win.

“In (affiliated) minor league baseball, you have prospects and guys have to play. It’s not like that here. You’ve got to show up everyday wanting to win. And if you’re not one of those guys, you find yourself sitting on the bench.”

Shoemaker graduated from Northview High School in Brazil in 2005, played two seasons at Olney (Ill.) Central College (2006 and 2007) and two at Indiana State University (2008 and 2009).

He smacked 23 home runs and had 80 in pro ball leading into 2018.

Not that he goes to the plate thinking about hitting the ball over the fence.

“I’ve never, ever went up there trying to hit a home run,” says Shoemaker. “I just try to stay inside the baseball and drive it. If you hit it hard somewhere, good things will happen.”

Shoemaker’s earliest baseball days came in Clay Youth League. From ages 12 to 14, he played for the Wabash Valley Titans travel team

“That’s where I really started to learn a lot about baseball,” says Shoemaker. “We played really good competition. That helped boost me going into high school.”

At Northview High, Gary Witham was his head coach. Witham went 581-274-1 at Brazil and then the consolidated Northview.

“Coach Witham did a lot with us in the off-season,” says Shoemaker. “He was good in organizing off-season practices. He put together a place where some us could go hit.”

After graduation, Shoemaker played two summers for Terre Haute American Legion Post 346 and longtime manager John Hayes.

In 2006, Post 346 was American Legion World Series runners-up. Future major league catcher Josh Phegley was also on that squad.

Dennis Conley was Shoemaker’s head coach at Olney Central, where the player was a two-time National Junior College Athletic Association All-American.

“He was tough on us and made us work hard,” says Shoemaker of Conley. “You learned a lot about the game of baseball if you just listened to him.

“He was very instrumental with helping me further my baseball career.”

What Shoemaker remembers most from his time at Indiana State was how head coach Lindsay Meggs and his staff helped him make the transition to big-time baseball and the brotherhood of the players.

“Going from junior college to Division I baseball is a jump,” says Shoemaker, who was used mostly as a left fielder with the Sycamores. “During my time at Indiana State, we had a really close group of guys. We wanted to win together as a team.”

Shoemaker selected in the 19th round of the 2009 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the White Sox.

He hit safely in the first 28 games of his pro career in 2009.

“I was a 19th-round guy and a senior sign,” says Shoemaker. “I’ve always had to prove myself and wanted to prove myself. So I wanted to get off to a good start.”

At Bristol, Shoemaker led the Appalachian League in doubles (21), on-base percentage (.426), extra-base hits (30) and ranked second in slugging percentage (.585), third in average (.351) and total bases (120) and fourth in home runs per at-bat with 1 out of every 22.78. He was chosen as a Postseason All-Star in the Appy League in 2009.

In 2010, he spent the entire season at Single-A Kannapolis.

Shoemaker was an MiLB.com Organizational All-Star in 2011 while finishing second in the South Atlantic League in average (.319) and fifth in on-base percentage (.399) and was promoted to High-A Winston-Salem in July.

In 2012, he went 2-for-4 in the Carolina League-Cailfornia League All-Star Game and was Carolina League Postseason All-Star and Orgainzational All-Star.

The right-handed thrower missed all of 2013 after surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder and biceps and was claimed by the Miami Marlins in the Rule 5 Draft in December

“It was more of over-usage tear,” says Shoemaker. “It wasn’t something that drastically happened.”

He spent the entire 2014 season with Double-A Jacksonville and was with Triple-A New Orleans all of 2015.

Shoemaker got into major league spring training games with the Marlins in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

After playing a combined 55 games at Double-A and Triple-A in 2016, the Marlins traded Shoemaker back to the White Sox July. He spent few games at Double-A Birmingham and was released by that organization in August 2016.

Some after that, his independent baseball experience began.

Supporting him along the way are the people at home in Clay County.

“I’m real close to my family,” says Brady, the son of Brian and Lorie Shoemaker, brother of Natalie (Shoemaker) Lizanich, husband to Chelsea Shoemaker and father to 9-month-old son Drew Shoemaker. “I always have been.

“My grandparents have been a big part of my baseball career.”

Ed Pearce, his grandfather on his mother’s side, passed away April 20 as Brady was getting ready for the season. Grandmother Janet Pearce survives.

Both grandparents on his father’s side — Don and Nina Shoemaker — are gone. Grandmother Nina did in 2014.

Saint Paul (5-1) opened the season at the Gary SouthShore RailCats. The Saints, which are in the AA’s North Division, are scheduled to come back to Gary July 20-22 and visit the Chicago Dogs in Rosemont, Ill., June 15-17 and Aug. 23-25.

BRADYSHOEMAKERSTPAUL

Brady Shoemaker, a 2005 Northview High School graduate who played at Olney Central College, Indiana State University and in the Chicago White Sox and Miami Marlins organizations, is in his second season with the independent St. Paul Saints in 2018. (Saint Paul Saints Photo)

 

Gary SouthShore RailCats embrace independent baseball

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Outside the lines, professional baseball in Gary, Indiana, is very much like it is in many places.

Affordable family-friendly entertainment is the goal. Fans are invited to have a good time at the ballpark. The experience at U.S. Steel Yard includes food, giveaways and other forms of fun.

As a member of the independent American Association, the Gary SouthShore RailCats operate differently than Major League Baseball-affiliated clubs.

“It is not a developmental league, but it is an opportunity league — an opportunity for everyone from the radio broadcasters looking to break into professional baseball to groundkeepers to general managers and managers,” says 13th-year Gary manager Greg Tagert. “And, most importantly, it’s an opportunity for players who may have never gotten the opportunity to continue their careers or extend their careers.

“What it’s done for the industry cannot be underrated.”

But the emphasis is on the pennant race (Gary went into play Monday, Aug. 7, at 40-33 and seven games behind first-place Lincoln in the AA Central Division; the RailCats were two games out of the wild card lead in a 100-game season) and not getting a player ready for the next level.

“We make no apology to the players,” says Tagert. “We tell them from the beginning, we are all about winning.

“When a player steps through the door, it’s not about: Is he going to get his at-bats? Is he going to bat third? Is he going to pitch the sixth inning every night?

“Sometimes the players find that out the hard way. They’re used to a different type of format. They are surprised at the level of competition and the emphasis put on winning … It’s not for every player, just like it’s not for every manager.”

Tagert is a native of Vacaville, Calif. He a pitcher at San Francisco State University. He served as pitching coach at the University of New Mexico in 1988 and an associate scout for the Detroit Tigers in 1993-94.

A manager in independent baseball since 1995, Tagert enjoys the challenge of having the ability and the responsibility of building a team.

Unlike affiliated ball where players and coaching staff are assigned to a franchise and are told how to develop the talent with hopes of one day seeing them in the big leagues, Tagert makes all on-field personnel decisions.

“Player procurement and all the player decisions sit at this desk,” says Tagert. “That’s something I would not give up.

“It is the lure of the job for many of us (independent baseball managers) … The challenge is great. But it’s like anything else in life. If it was that easy, it wouldn’t be any fun.”

League rules limit rosters to 23. An additional one player may be on the disabled list during the regular season. Of those 23 players, a maximum of five may be veterans and minimum of five must be rookies. The remaining players will be designated limited service players and of those LS players only six (6) may be LS-4.

Tagert says the classifications create a unique kind of parity in the league and also creates opportunity.

The American Association is full of players with MLB experience and others who played at the Triple-A or Double-A level.

Right-handed pitcher Jorge DeLeon, a reliever for Gary, played for the Houston Astros in 2013 and 2014.

MLB scouts regularly cover the independent leagues.

Notable Gary alums include outfielders Jermaine Allenworth and Nathan Haynes and left-handed pitcher Tim Byrdak.

Allensworth, who played at Madison Heights High School and Purdue University, was a first round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1993 and played in the big leagues with Pittsburgh, the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets. He was with the RailCats in 2006 and 2007.

Haynes was a first round pick of the Oakland Athletics in 1997. He played in Gary in 2006 and then with the Los Angeles Angels in 2007 and Tampa Bay Rays in 2008.

Byrdak made his MLB debut with Kansas City in 1998. He played in Gary in 2003 and became the first former RailCats player to play in the big leagues with the 2005 Baltimore Orioles.

Wes Chamberlain, who played six MLB seasons including in the 1993 World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies, was a RailCat in 2003.

Some players to see at least a little MLB time that also wore a Gary jersey include first baseman Randall Simon (2010), third basemen Howard Battle (2003) and Jarrod Patterson (2008), outfielders Trey Beamon (2004), and Bubba Carpenter (2002, left-handed pitchers Tony Cogan (2007-09), Jim Crowell (2007), Brad Halsey (2010), Onan Masaoka (2009), right-handed pitchers Zach McClellan (2010) and Brad Voyles (2008).

Crowell played at Valparaiso High School and the University of Indianapolis. McClellan played at Indiana University.

There’s were Australian first baseman Ben Risinger (2005) and Japanese outfielder Masato Fukae (2016).

Texas Rangers hitting coach Anthony Iapoce was a former RailCats outfielder (2004-05).

The team has retired No. 23 for right-handed pitcher Willie Glen (2005-07, 2010) and No. 45 for Gary native and coach Joe Gates. Glen played at Plainfield High School and the University of Evansville. Gates played at Gary Roosevelt High School and briefly with the Chicago White Sox.

The RailCats were part of former Northern League and began as a road team in 2002 while 6,139-seat U.S. Steel Yard was being constructed along U.S. 20, South Shore rail lines and I-90 (Indiana Toll Road) and very close to the steel mills.

The first RailCats game at U.S. Steel Yard was May 26, 2003.

Chicagoans Pat and Lindy Salvi bought the team in 2008.

Gary was a member of the Northern League through 2010 and won league titles in 2005 and 2007. In 2010, the RailCats joined the American Association and reigned over it in 2013.

The current AA lineup includes Fargo-Moorhead (N.D.), St. Paul (Minn.), Sioux Falls (S.D.) and Winnipeg (Manitoba) in the North Division, Gary, Kansas City (Kan.), Lincoln (Neb.) and Sioux City (Iowa) in the Central Division and Cleburne (Texas), Salina (Kan.), Texas (Grand Prairie) and Wichita (Kan.) in the South Division. Salina is a partial road team in 2017.

Gary takes a bus to all its games. It’s about 16 hours to both Grand Prairie and Winnipeg. There’s usually days off built into he schedule to allow for that kind of travel.

A commuter trip will be added in 2018 when the Rosemont, Ill.-based Chicago Dogs join the league.

RailCats general manager Brian Lyter is in his fifth year on the job after working four seasons in affiliated baseball with the Double-A Arkansas Travelers.

With Tagert handling most of the baseball side of things, Lyter tends mostly to the business side.

Lyter has watched the community embrace the independent baseball model while embracing the amenities at the park.

In a competitive Chicagoland market that offers the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox and many other entertainment options, the RailCats draw well with most fans come from northwest Indiana.

Through it’s first 37 openings, Gary was averaging 3,573. That ranked fourth in the league behind St. Paul (8.293), Winnipeg (4,336) and Kansas City (3,984).

Some of the things Lyter appreciates about the American Association is that players have a “little more staying power” and that the product is top notch.

“Some people underestimate the quality of baseball,” says Lyter, who compares the overall level of play to Double-A.

GARYSOUTHSHORERAILCATS