Regular season baseball has begun, only you probably missed it. The Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Arizona Diamondbacks in a game that began at 4 AM Eastern time and will face off again later this evening in a Sunday day game Australian time. The two previous days, the Australian national team got a chance to face off against the two big league clubs, and there were some players that look to make an impact in the minor leagues this season.
The first game saw Chicago Cubs farm-hand, Ryan Searle, on the hill against the Dodgers. Searle earned ten appearances above High-A in 2012, including two starts at Double-A, but was limited to just 11 total appearances in all of 2013. On Thursday, Searle faced a Dodgers lineup that featured seven of the eight players that got the nod in the opener against the D-Backs, and he was impressive. He went three innings, allowed just one hit and one walk while striking out five. Watching him pitch made it easy to see why Dodgers had trouble with him, as nothing he threw was straight. His fastball had heavy arm-side run and when he pulls the string on a change, it has a late drop in it.
Stefan Welch played third base in both games, going a combined 2-7 including a RBI single. Welch was acquired by the Boston Red Sox from the Pittsburgh Pirates in June of 2013 to serve as organizational depth at third base while Garin Cecchini moved up through the system. While Welch plays a decent third base (he made the final out to secure the Carolina League title for the Salem Red Sox) and possesses a quick bat, organizational depth is probably about all he will become.
Another organizational guy is Logan Wade, a middle infielder in the Minnesota Twins organization. Wade has spent back-to-back seasons in Rookie league ball, but will still be just 22 this season. He made it clear he still has a lot work to do, as he went a combined 1-8 in the two games with a pure slap-hitting swing. His defense looks decent, but second base is a more likely landing spot than short in the long term.
Behind the plate was a guy who just might have the brightest future of anyone on the Australian squad, Ryan Battaglia. He is a catcher in the Cleveland Indians organization, and his defense currently is more advanced than his bat. He has thrown out a third of all would-be base stealers in the minor leagues, and earned himself a promotion to High-A in 2013. When he gets back to the states, he may spend a short time in extended spring, but then should head back out to High-A once he proves he is in good enough shape to handle full season ball. If Battaglia wants to move up the organizational depth chart at catcher, he needs to start hitting. His career minor league triple slash line is .202/.341/.365, and his bat was again exposed in his four trips to the plate against the Dodgers, as he struck out three times in four trips.
Tim Kennelly played both games, and even homered against top prospect in the Diamondbacks organization, Archie Bradley. Kennelly comes from an incredibly athletic family, his dad spent 16 seasons on the PGA tour, his older brother, Adam, reached a high level of Australian Rules Football, and he has three younger brothers in the minor leagues. Tim has reached Triple-A with the Philadelphia Phillies, playing catcher, first base, third base, and outfield, before ultimately giving pitching a shot last season. The Phillies cut Kennelly during Spring Training of 2013, but he was picked up by the Texas Rangers and let him spend the season in Arizona to work on his pitching, but despite a fastball that has touched 97 MPH, he was unimpressive.
The three younger Kennelly’s did not play for team Australia, as they are all in the states preparing for the minor league season, but the four brothers did all play for the Perth Heat this winter, leading the team to the Australian Baseball League title. Matt Kennelly is a catcher who has spent the majority of his career in the Atlanta Braves organization but was released last July and quickly signed with the Cincinnati Reds. He was granted minor league free agency this off-season and re-signed with the Braves to a minor league deal with an invite to big league camp. He tallied three hits in five trips to the plate this spring before being sent back to minor league camp.
Josh Kennelly is a catcher in the Reds organization, but missed all of 2013 due to double hip surgery. While he was on the Perth roster, he was not healthy enough to play this winter, and will be looking to finally get back behind the plate soon at the Reds Complex. The youngest Kennelly brother is the first that was not signed as a catcher, as Sam Kennelly is a shortstop in the Pirates organization. He has not yet debuted in the states, but the 18-year old should change that when the GCL kicks off in June.