Arkansas Travelers Playoff Preview
Corey Smith was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the first round of the June 2000 draft, was traded in 2005 to the Padres, and spent 2007 with Newark in independent ball before joining the Angels organization in spring training 2008. He finished 2008 with 26 homers for Double-A Arkansas.
Once upon a time, minor league teams could hire, trade and release their own players. About 20 years ago, all that changed, although it was an evolutionary process. These days, a minor league team affiliated with a major league operation must only use players assigned by that parent club.
Arkansas Travelers Chief Operating Officer Bill Valentine, about as “old school” as they come, has openly advocated the Los Angeles Angels signing independent league players to supplement his roster when deficiencies arise. In past years, the Angels resisted for the most part, preferring to assign to Arkansas players already in the organization. Independent league players, by and large, are talent released by other organizations or not talented enough to be offered a contract by a major league club.
For whatever reason, that philosophy changed in 2008, as the Angels signed several players from independent ball to supplement the underachieving Travs. Corey Smith was signed during the winter and hit 26 homers for Arkansas. Outfielder Adam Greenberg joined the Travs on May 10 and finished with an AVG/OBP/SLG of .271/.361/.347. Outfielder Brian Stavisky joined the Travs at the end of May and finished with .312/.408/.522.
Add minor league free agents Jordan Czarniecki (.284/.379/.433) and pitcher Dan Denham (9-10, 4.44 ERA, 146 IP in 25 starts) and you have a group of players who came from outside the Angels organization to provide enough support for the Travs to win the Texas League North Division first-half title at 36-34. The Travs were an abysmal 26-44 in the second half, and 62-78 overall, but nonetheless they qualified for the playoffs.
The Travs swept state rival Northwest Arkansas (75-65 overall) three-zip in the North Division title series, thanks in part to two power bats added from Rancho Cucamonga, Mark Trumbo and Hank Conger. This really isn’t all that unusual in the minor leagues, due to the split-season schedules used at Double-A and lower levels. The teams that go to the post-season may not resemble at all the roster that won the first half.
Arkansas won Game #1 tonight of their best-of-five series against Frisco (84-56 overall), 3-0. Conger delivered a bases-loaded double in the bottom of the 8th to clear the bases. Veteran lefty Daniel Davidson pitched seven shutout innings, Barret Browning a scoreless eighth and Rafy Rodriguez got the save in the 9th.
And a 62-78 team is two wins away from the Texas League pennant.