In these pages, we tend to celebrate two things: when a former Valley Leaguer is drafted, and when said players make their major league debut.
This list does not cover either of those two scenarios, but still something to which we should pay attention (and some of these guys have made the major leagues already, so there’s that).
These are the guys looking for a job in a major league organization, because they have just been declared free agents. It can be a little complicated about why these guys are free agents, so let’s take a look at an explanation written by Matt Eddy of Baseball America:
Teams can renew a player’s UPC (Uniform Player Contract) six times—for the 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons, in the case of 2009 draft picks—before the player either is declared a minor league free agent or his club makes him a major leaguer by adding him to the 40-man roster. (In rare cases, the two sides agree to a successor minor league contract for 2016.)
What does this have to do with the Valley League? Well, there are a number of former Valleyites (think that term will catch on?) who find themselves in such a position. Here they are:
- Elih Villanueva (Luray 2007): Elih pitched in the Baltimore organization in 2015, in both AA Bowie and AAA Norfolk. He started one game in the major leagues, in 2011 with the Miami Marlins.
- Blake Tekotte (Woodstock 2006): Blake played in AA Portland in 2015- the Boston Red Sox’s Eastern League affiliate. He has played in parts of three major league seasons- 2011 and 2012 in San Diego, and 2013 for the Chicago White Sox.
- Tony Thomas (Harrisonburg 2005): Poor Tony played for three different organizations in 2015: The Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, and Philadelphia Phillies. He was a 3rd round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs way back in 2007.
- Drew Rucinski (Luray 2009-10): Drew has pitched in parts of two major league seasons- 2014 and 2015 with the Angels. Drew was originally undrafted, pitched in the Indy Leagues, was signed as a free agent by the Indians, was released, pitched in Indy ball again, and then was signed by the Angels. And now he’s a major leaguer!
- Ryan Dennick (Fauquier 2008): One of the last players in pro ball from the Fauquier Gators. Ryan pitched 4 innings for the Reds in the majors in 2014. He was a waiver wire pickup of the Dodgers in 2015, and pitched in Double-A and Triple-A.
- Hunter Adkins (Staunton 2010): Hunter was released by the Oakland A’s after 2014, spent most of the 2015 season in Indy ball, and then signed with the Marlins and pitched in one game in Jupiter of the Florida State League at the end of the year. Now, like the others on this list, he’s a free agent.
- Rico Noel (Covington 2008): What an interesting year. Rico started out in the Padres’ system, but was released at the end of June. The Yankees snapped him up about a week later, and after the rosters expanded in September, called Rico up to be their designated pinch runner. Rico then appeared in 15 major league games, but only had 2 at-bats.
- Derek Blacksher (Staunton 2004): Derek’s career has been an amazing sight to behold. He was drafted by the Marlins in the 33rd round in 2007, but they released him after the ’07 season. Derek moved over to the Indy leagues in 2008, and pitched for seemingly everyone from the Newark Bears to the Wichita Wingnuts to the Amarillo Sox. Then out of the blue, he signed a free agent contract with the Blue Jays in 2015, and pitched in 4 games for High-A Dunedin. Wow.
- Scott Copeland (Staunton 2007): Drafted by the Orioles in 2010, released in July 2012, signed by the Blue Jays, and worked his way up the chain. He threw 15 1/3 innings in the majors in 2015.
- Greg Burke (Front Royal 2001): Played in the Valley League 14 years ago! Has also thrown 77 innings in the majors in San Diego and New York (Mets).
- Ryan Schimpf (Luray 2008): Drafted by the Blue Jays in 2009, he’s hit 113 minor league home runs, all in the Blue Jays’ organization.
- Rob Gilliam (Luray 2007): Also drafted in 2009, Rob hasn’t pitched since April 2014 because of arm problems. Boy, was he good in Luray in ’07, though!