The 2011/12 season was a banner year for the ABL in many ways and one of the most impressive came in the number of players signed to new overseas contracts. Overall, nine players from the league signed MLB-affiliated contracts with a new team during the season and a handful of them have a great opportunity to appear at the Major League level in 2012. From teenager Daniel McGrath, who signed his first pro deal with his favourite club, the Boston Red Sox, to MLB veteran Travis Blackley, who is headed for his second tour of duty with the San Francisco Giants, players at every stage of development put their signatures on contracts this year.
Brendan Wise - Minnesota Twins - 18th November
Wise, a relief pitcher for the 'Alcohol Think Again' Perth Heat, was originally selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 8th round of the 2005 MLB draft and spent the last seven seasons in their organisation before being granted his free agency. He has joined fellow Aussies and Heat teammates Luke Hughes and Liam Hendriks in Twins Spring Training this week. Wise had an outstanding season at Triple-A in 2011, going 5-2 with a 1.90 ERA in 50 games and has an excellent chance of making his MLB debut this season.
The righty appeared in four ABL games in 2011/12, picking up three saves. Over two seasons with the Heat, he has earned six saves in eight appearances and has not allowed a run. He pitched a scoreless ninth in the Perth's epic 13-inning Game Three victory in the ConocoPhillips ABL Championship Series.
"It's fantastic to see Brendan come over and have another Aussie in the organisation," said his teammate Hughes at the time of the signing. "I said, 'It'd be good for you to come over to the Twins,' they love pitchers like Brendan."
Shane Lindsay - Los Angeles Dodgers - 23rd November
The Jet Couriers Melbourne Aces flamethrower signed a minor league deal, but was invited to MLB Spring Training in Arizona and has reported there this week. He became the 30th Australian to appear in a Major League game when he debuted for the Chicago White Sox on 2nd September, 2011 against the Detroit Tigers. He appeared in four games for Chicago after having a 1.98 ERA in 45 games for the Triple-A Charlotte Knights.
Although Lindsay has pitched primarily as a reliever throughout his professional career, he was slotted in as Melbourne's number two starter this season by manager Phil Dale. He had an 0-3 record and 5.46 ERA in 29.2 innings, striking out 31 batters. On the road, he had a 2.38 ERA in three starts, with 16 strikeouts in 11.1 innings. He was Team Australia's starting pitcher in the ConocoPhillips ABL All-Star Game.
Upon reaching the contract agreement, Lindsay commented, "I'm looking forward to getting back over there (the United States) and hopefully getting back in the Majors."
Stefan Welch - Pittsburgh Pirates - 23rd November
The Adelaide ETSA Bite's Welch signed with the Pirates after spending his first six professional seasons in the New York Mets organisation. The Mets scout who originally signed him in 2005 was Bite manager Tony Harris, who has since moved to the Pirates and brought the 23-year-old Team Australia representative along with him. Welch hit .271 with 16 home runs and 53 RBI in High-A last year and will likely move around between first base, third base, and the outfield in 2012. He had a .998 fielding percentage in 2011 and made the Florida State League All-Star team.
Welch's first ABL action of the season came in the ConocoPhillips All-Star Game, where he started at first base for the home side, picked up a base hit, and scored a run. For Adelaide, he hit .279 with five home runs and 15 RBI in 21 games, helping the team to the ConocoPhillips Postseason. Playing primarily at third base, he was selected as a nominee for the Golden Glove Award.
Allan de San Miguel - Baltimore Orioles - 6th January
The Team Australia and 'Alcohol Think Again' Perth Heat catcher spent the first seven years of his minor league career in the Minnesota Twins system, where he began in 2005 at 17 years of age. He has played in 372 total games and reached the Triple-A level in both the 2009 and 2010 seasons. He also represented his country in the 2011 IBAF World Cup and the inaugural ConocoPhillips ABL All-Star Game.
He displayed good offensive skills this season for the Heat, batting .293 with a .400 on-base percentage and adding seven home runs, 24 RBI, and nine stolen bases. Behind the plate, de San Miguel worked well with Perth's pitching staff and threw out half of the base runners attempting to steal on him. For these efforts, he was named the Golden Glove Award winner.
"It's going to be fun. It's going to be good. A fresh start, somewhere different," de San Miguel explained after the signing.
Chin-lung Hu - Cleveland Indians - 12th January
A Taiwanese shortstop, Hu played 28 games for the Adelaide ETSA Bite this year before a hamstring injury ended his season in Round Eight. He was originally signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003, making his Major League debut for the team in 2007. He has spent parts of each of the past five seasons at the MLB level, playing 22 games for the New York Mets in 2011. In 780 career minor league games, Hu is a .296 hitter with 100 stolen bases and 47 home runs.
The 29-year-old came to Australia with the hope of earning a new MLB contract and used his time here to accomplish that goal. He batted .277 for Adelaide with four home runs and 14 RBI, while displaying one of the league's best infield gloves. He was also the starting shortstop for the World All-Stars in the ConocoPhillips ABL All-Star Game.
Steven Kent - Kansas City Royals - 18th January
Kent, of the Canberra "UberGlobal" Cavalry, originally signed with the Atlanta Braves in 2005 and spent the last five years in their organisation, pitching at the Single-A level over the last two seasons. During his minor league career, Kent has pitched to an 8-10 record and 4.17 ERA, with 186 strikeouts in 209.1 innings. His best season came in 2010 at Single-A Rome, where he pitched in 19 games, posting a 2-0 record and 0.69 ERA in 39.1 innings.
The Cavalry closer ranked among the ABL league leaders with five wins (tied for second) and six saves (tied for third). As a member of Team Australia, he competed in the 2011 IBAF World Cup, earning the win against Panama in the final second round game. He also competed in the inaugural ABL All-Star Game, pitching the eighth inning in the Australian side's loss against the World All-Stars.
"I'm really excited about this opportunity," Kent said. "When I got released, I dedicated myself to working hard, pitching hard, and hoping for another shot. I am grateful to the Kansas City Royals organisation for giving me this opportunity and grateful that the Cavalry organisation is here in Canberra so I could be seen and given this shot."
Warwick Saupold - Detroit Tigers - 25th January
At age 22, the 'Alcohol Think Again' Perth Heat right-hander known as "Wazza" signed his first affiliated professional contract. Saupold won the Pitcher of the Year Award and was named a finalist for the Helms Award, leading the league in innings pitched (70.0) and posting a record-setting 1.41 ERA. Additionally, he struck out 53 and allowed just 43 hits and two home runs.
Saupold made great strides this season, improving his ERA from a 5.52 mark last year. His batting average against dropped from .282 in 2010/11 to an outstanding .173 in this campaign. In the Postseason, he kept up the success, going 1-0 with a 1.59 ERA in two starts, helping the Heat to their second consecutive championship.
"Warwick has really earned his way," said Heat Manager Brooke Knight. "He's improved dramatically and I believe he's the type of guy that's going to persevere and give himself every opportunity via a lot of hard work."
Daniel McGrath - Boston Red Sox - 9th February
The 17-year-old Jet Couriers Melbourne Aces pitcher signed with his favourite club, taking a big step toward achieving his Major League Baseball dream. McGrath was the leading pitcher in the recent Oceania Under-18s in Guam, held at the end of January, having allowed no earned runs on four hits over nine innings pitched. He picked up two wins and struck out 18 batters.
The left-handed reliever appeared in 13 games this season for the Aces, striking out 11 in 10.2 innings. After attending Red Sox spring training in Florida, he will return to the Gold Coast to once again attend the MLB Australian Academy at Palm Meadows Baseball Complex. McGrath first attended the Academy in 2009.
"It was an easy decision in the end. Jon Deeble called us and my mum said we'd let him know within ten minutes and she called him back twenty seconds later," he remarked on the day of his signing.
Travis Blackley - San Francisco Giants - 14th February
Blackley, of the Jet Couriers Melbourne Aces, will enter his second term with the Giants organisation, as he spent the 2007 season with the club, making 28 starts at Triple-A Fresno and two at the MLB level. The Melbourne native was originally signed by the Seattle Mariners in 2000 and made his Major League debut for the team on 1 July, 2004, earning the win over the Texas Rangers.
Blackley received an invitation to MLB Spring Training and is expected to begin the season with the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies, putting him just one level away from returning to the Major Leagues. He won 10 games in Fresno during the 2007 season, with a 4.66 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 162.1 innings.
Blackley had an outstanding impact on the Melbourne pitching staff after joining the roster in early January. He made eight relief appearances during the regular season, striking out 18 in 12.2 innings with a 1-0 record and 3.55 ERA. Once the Postseason began, he joined the rotation as the number one starter in each series, showing his continued ability to dominate by striking out 31 batters in 24.2 innings.
Speaking with ABC Grandstand following Game Two of the ConocoPhillips Championship Series, he said, "The Giants came along and gave me what I was looking for. It's great to have another opportunity."
This story was not subject to the approval of the Australian Baseball League or its clubs.