Maybe “destroy” isn’t the right word, but one thing is clear: four former Valley Leaguers had super seasons with teams in the Independent American Association.
For those who are unfamiliar with how things work, there is organized, affiliated professional baseball, and then there’s unaffiliated, “independent” baseball- teams that operate outside of the teams in the major leagues. (I tried out for three different Indy teams back in 1996. And failed. But that’s a story for another time.)
So while ATVL keeps track of all the former Valley Leaguers who play in the affiliated minor leagues, it’s rather difficult to keep track of all the Independent Leagues, as players pop in and out all the time, along with much, much, much less fanfare. The players in Indy ball, though, mostly have the same goal: perform well and make it back to an affiliated team, and then make the major leagues. Many players have done this over the years, including a former Philadelphia favorite, Chris Coste, and even a former alum of the Valley League- Drew Rucinski (Luray 09-10).
While perusing the lists of top players in the American Association, I came across four former VBLers who were fantastic in the 2014 season. All four have played affiliated ball before, too. Let’s take a look:
1. Tyler Kuhn (Luray 06-07). Tyler was the Valley League MVP back in 2006, and reached Triple-A in the Diamondbacks’ and Rockies’ systems, but was released. Playing for the Winnipeg Goldeyes, Tyler hit 360/415/482 in 411 at-bats, along with 29 doubles, 3 triples, 5 home runs, 56 RBIs, and a sterling 43/42 BB/K ratio. He finished tied for 2nd in the league in batting average.
2. Drew Martinez (Luray 09). Drew was an MVP in the 2009 All-Star game (they named two!). He was drafted in the 10th round of the 2011 draft by the Angels, and then was released in 2012. Playing for the amazingly-named Gary SouthShore RailCats, Drew hit 358/406/461 in 427 at-bats, along with 22 doubles, 8 triples, a 34/37 BB/K ratio, and 25 stolen bases in 29 attempts.
3. AJ Kirby-Jones (Waynesboro 09). AJ was a 9th round pick in 2010 by the Oakland A’s. He was traded to the Padres, released, later signed by the Braves, and released again. Playing for the Sioux Falls Canaries, AJ his 280/378/555 in only 321 at-bats, smashing 19 doubles, 23 home runs, driving in 69 runs, and walking 50 times. He finished 3rd in home runs and 9th in RBIs in a partial season!
4. Michael Lang (Haymarket 09). A crucial part of the Senators’ championship run of 2009, Michael was signed as a
free agent in 2012 by the Arizona Diamondbacks (who are incredibly active in signing free agents, by the way). Michael got a little less than 700 plate appearances in the minors before he was released. Playing for the Sioux City Explorers, Michael hit 295/377/359 in 295 at-bats, with 15 doubles and a 34/69 BB/K ratio. He also added 15 stolen bases.
It would be great if all four of these guys got another chance in the minor leagues, but time and age is against them (Lang and Martinez are 25; Kirby-Jones is 26; Kuhn is 28). They should get at least another season in Indy ball, though, with these performances.
Great job, guys, and ATVL wishes you all the best of luck!