SYDNEY, 31 August - Led by Perth Heat catcher and utility man Matt Kennelly, four current and former Australian Baseball League players were named to rosters of the prestigious Arizona Fall League as announced by Major League Baseball this week. Kennelly will be joined by former Canberra Cavalry infielders Donald Lutz and Didi Gregorious, both of the Cincinnati Reds, as well as Canberra outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, a Tampa Bay Rays farmhand, on AFL rosters.
The Arizona Fall League, Major League Baseball’s premier Stateside offseason showcase league for minor league players, is entering its 20th season. Comprised of six teams, each with five major league partners, players are selected by their parent clubs to compete in the star-studded circuit. Past players to take part in the AFL include Derek Jeter, Todd Helton, Albert Pujols, Stephen Strasburg, and Bryce Harper.
Kennelly, assigned to the Phoenix Desert Dogs by his Atlanta Braves parent club, is in his sixth season in affiliated baseball in the United States. Signed by the Braves as an 18-year-old in 2007, Kennelly has steadily climbed the ranks in Atlanta’s minor league system, playing this season with the Double-A Mississippi Braves. Strictly a catcher in the US, the now-23-year-old has played multiple positions during his two ABL seasons with the Heat, with starts in both right and left field as well as time at first base.
This year with Mississippi, Matt, the brother of reigning ABL Helms Award winner Tim, is batting .262 with a home run and 22 runs batted in. Kennelly has also played stellar defense for the M-Braves, committing just two errors in 55 games behind the plate and throwing out nearly a quarter of potential basestealers against him. In two ABL seasons, Kennelly has batted a combined .301 to help lead his Heat to back-to-back Claxton Shield titles. One of five sons in a sporting family, Matt is one of four signed to professional baseball contracts. Older brother Tim plays for the Philadelphia Phillies organisation while younger brothers Josh and Sam are just embarking on their professional careers after both signing contracts this year; Josh with the Cincinnati Reds and Sam with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Joining Kennelly on Phoenix’s roster will be 2011/12 Canberra outfielder Kiermaier, a minor league prospect of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays drafted Kiermaier in the 31st round of 2010, and this season, he has played 57 games for the Class A Advanced Charlotte Stone Crabs of the Florida State League. In somewhat limited action, Kiermaier has batted .260 while spending most of his time manning centre field. Last season, the Fort Wayne, Indiana native played in 17 contests for the Cavalry, batting .303 and scoring 16 runs.
Two other international players with ABL time, Lutz and Gregorius were both a part of the Cavalry’s inaugural season roster and both made big impacts on their ABL club. Lutz, a power-hitting first baseman and outfielder from Germany, has split time this season between the Advanced A Bakersfield Blaze and Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos, batting a combined .267 with 22 home runs and 70 runs batted in over 102 total games. Lutz batted .260 and cranked five home runs while driving in 21 runs over 29 games for the Cavalry in 2010/11.
Amsterdam, Netherlands native Gregorius turned heads this year in a breakout season that has seen him reach Triple-A for the first time. Between Pensacola and the Triple-A Louisville Bats, the 22-year-old slick-fielding shortstop is batting .264 with seven home runs, 54 runs batted in, and 70 runs scored in 128 total games. While with the Cavs, Gregorius played in 36 games and was named the 2010/11 ABL Golden Glove Award recipient. Both Cincinnati Reds prospects, Lutz and Gregorius are vying to be among a limited number of European players to crack the MLB ranks.
The third season of Australian Baseball League action kicks off on Thursday, 1 November when the Adelaide Bite host the Alcohol Think Again Perth Heat at Coopers Stadium in Adelaide for the first in a three-game set. Also on Opening Weekend, the Sydney Blue Sox travel to the capital to take on the Canberra Cavalry for a three-game series beginning on Friday, 2 November at Narrabundah Ballpark.