|2015 INDEPENDENT LEAGUE LINEUP
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RECENTLY RELEASED AFFILIATED
|John Raffel s a professional sports writer based out of
Michigan. He was been covering baseball on the high school,
college, Minor and Major League levels for almost 40 years.
By John Raffel
June 18, 2015
Austin Newell hasn't been wasting his time in his debut year with the Frontier League and the Florence
Freedom in Kentucky.He's quickly emerged as the league's top hitter and among its most impressive
performers in his fifth season of pro baseball. “It's been great, it's a great league,” Newell said. “I'm
surrounded by a bunch of great teammates and a great coaching staff. I'm lucky enough to be seeing the
ball really well right now. I'm finding some holes. I'm riding high as long as I can right now.”
This season after 29 games and 107 at bats, Newell is batting .374 with 10 doubles, four home runs, 19
RBIs and 13 walks. “At the beginning of the season I struggled a little bit,” Newell said. “After the
more at bats I got, the more confidence I got and I started to make adjustments I knew I needed to make.
It's come together for me.”
Newell started professional ball in 2011 with the Pecos League's Alpine Cowboys. The following season
for the Whitesands Pupfish. He batted .424 in 65 games with five home runs and 45 RBIs.
“Overall, throughout my years of independent baseball, I've been able to make adjustments,” Newell
said. “I've always hit for a pretty high average. “I think it's me being able to make adjustments and have
a feel for what the pitchers are going to throw to me and what they're trying to do to me in certain
He saw action in 2013 with the Alexandria Aces of the United League and Grand Prairie AirHogs of the
American Association and played 75 games. He batted .324 with four home runs and 52 RBIs.
In 2014 Newell returned to the United League and split time between the Fort Worth Cats and the San
Angelo Colts. Newell batted .300 with the Colts in 44 games. He came in the 2015 season with a career
.345 batting average and .941 OPS in professional baseball.
The Freedom were in fifth place in the league at 41-55 as of June 18. “I'm still confident in my teammates,”
Newell said. “We had a pretty big skid lately. We're losing games we should have won and were finding
ways to lose. We've had some transactions lately and the last five or six games we've started putting some
things together. We're rejuvenated right now and are playing good baseball. We're hoping we can ride this
momentum that we're on right now and get something together. Our goal is to get back to .500 and then
go from there and see what kind of momentum we can take into the all-star break.” Newell has obviously
had many key hits but there are a few that really stick out.
Against the Gateway Grizzlies, the Freedom had the bases loaded during one special moment. “I came up
and we were down by a run and had a full count,” Newell recalled. “I hit a line drive to center to score two
runs for us which ended up being the game-winning runs. It was a big win for us and the most dramatic hit
I've had all season.”
Newell has taken pride in his abilities to be a clutch hitter this season. “I pride myself in being able to come
through in the clutch for my team,” he said. “Usually when that situation comes, I try to keep level headed
and not let the adrenalin get to me. I have found that the person who stays level headed and concentrates
the most is the guy who comes out in those situations.”
Newell started off in right field but later moved to left after a player transition.
“It took a little bit of adjusting but I'm pretty comfortable in both spots,” Newell said. “I spent a lot of time
in right field in certain years and a lot of time in left field in certain years. It's a little bit different as far as
how the ball flies and the type of hitters. It's nothing that's too overwhelming. I'm comfortable in both spots.”
Throughout the years, Newell has been trying to put on weight and get heavier.
“I feel like I don't cover as much ground as I used to,” he said. “But I feel I have a good glove out there
and use more of my head on certain situations like where the hitters have been hitting the ball more often
Newell has wanted to get to the Frontier League ever since he's been out of college.
“I could never break into this league,” he said. “Now that I have I'm happy to be here. I would say my
ultimate goal like most guys here is to get to an affiliated team and be able to work my way up. That will
be my goal. Right now, I'm going game-by-game, hoping I can keep up my numbers and help the team win.”
By John Raffel
July 20, 2015
Vinny DiFazio insists, like any modest baseball player should, that his recent hot streak for the St. Paul (Minn.)
Saints in the American Association is not about him. It's all about the team.
DiFazio came into this month after a sizzling June in which he was the Rawlings American Association Player
of the Month for June. He was the Saints first player of the month in three seasons.
He batted .393 with seven home runs and 27 RBI in 22 games during the month. In 89 at bats, he scored 20
runs, and four doubles, one triple, and had an on base percentage of .449, plus a .697 slugging percentage.
DiFazio had a 12-game hitting streak (29-54, .537) from June 10 to 23 and the final 11 games of that streak
were all multi-hit games (28-50, .560) from June 12-23. DiFazio twice homered in back-to-back games. He
was the Pointstreak American Association Player of the Week for the week of June 15-21.
“Not including Little League, it's probably the best month of my career,” DiFazio said. “I'm more excited
about the fact my team is winning. We have a great squad.”
“It's a matter of confidence and other factors. If you work hard and battle back and work hard in the weight
room, it gives you confidence to step in the box,” he said. “When you're in the groove like that, it does seem
like the ball is bigger. It's easier to do that when you know you have teammates in front behind you that are
going to pick you up.”
Overall DiFazio is hitting .405 with eight homers and 34 RBI in 28 games. He was the only hitter in the
American Association hitting over .400, and was first in the league in slugging percentage, tied for second in
home runs and third in RBI and on-base percentage (.460). As a catcher he's taken pride that the Saints
pitching staff has the best ERA in the league.
The Saints have the league's best record at 36-10 and enjoys a 16-game first-place bulge in the North Division.
“This team is capable of anything,” he said. “They're capable of winning it all. There's no doubt in my mind.
We know we have the talent. It's a matter of putting in the work and grinding it out. We had a great start
and a great first half. It's time to push hard and keep going and see what we can do.”
It's been an incredible turn-around season for the 28-year-old DiFazio 28. He was with the Saints for 14
games at the end of the 2014 season and hit 256 with three RBI in 14 games after being released by the
Grand Prairie AirHogs in the American Association. He started the season at Grand Prairie and hit only .238
with two home runs and 20 RBI in 62 games. But he had a solid season at catcher, throwing out 25.6
percentage of base steal attempts against him, which was sixth best in the American Association.
He was originally picked in the 46th round of the 2006 June First Year Player Draft by the Baltimore Orioles
after playing for Indian River Community College (Fort Pierce, Florida), but decided not to sign. He later
went to University of Alabama and was picked in the 12th round by the Texas Rangers in 2009.
He was picked to the Northwest League Post-Season All-Star Team in his first pro season with the Spokane
Indians by hitting .274 with seven homers and 29 RBI. He finished the year at Single-A Hickory and hit
.290 with five homers and 17 RBI in 18 games.
His catching abilities have made DiFazio a complete player.
“My staff is great an it's phenomenal to play in a stadium with this atmosphere.” he said. “He had three
stops in 2010 and he hit .275 with 12 homers and 37 RBI in 59 games with High-A Bakersfield.”
DiFazio spent both 2011 and 2012 at High-A Myrtle Beach. But to address his injury situation, he took some
“I'm excited I had the opportunity to play last year and it worked out I was invited to come back this year
and got myself in the best shape possible,” he said. “It's all coming together now. They have my back.
Everybody is supportive of each other. We have a winning formula. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
DiFazio has been impressed with his pitching staff.
“They put in the work,” he said. “They're in the weight room. They're throwing together. We're constantly
going over lineups together. We're comparing guys. They put the work in. They've got the whole package.
We have a pretty competitive bunch of guys. They're positive and they want to win.”
DiFazio is a hot ballplayer but wants to get even better. At the plate, he wants to take time more to analyze
the situation at hand.
“Defensively, I'm always looking to get better on throwing and blocking,” he said. “I'm constantly working
on researching hitters and lineups. Overall, I'm working on everything. You're never satisfied. I learn
something new every day.”
DiFazio is confident he still has the time and talent to do some unique things in baseball.
“I'm playing with a good team right now and I'll let the rest take care of itself,” he said. “You keep working
and keep pushing.”
By John Raffel
July 24, 2015
Jake Hale is getting close to 30 years old but the Atlantic League All-Star pitcher for the South Maryland
Blue Crabs still has what he figures are realistic expectations of a bright baseball future.
Hale, a right-handed pitcher, was among six Blue Crab players selected to the league's all-star team.
South Maryland won the first half season title at 42-28.
Hale is a three-time MLB draft pick with his most recent selection coming in 2009 by the Arizona
The native of Athens, Ohio, played for Ohio State and pitched at three different levels in the Diamondbacks
organization before playing for both Camden and Southern Maryland in 2014. He was a starting pitcher in
2014 for those two teams and had a 7-3 record with a 3.89 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 115.3 innings.
It was his first career selection of the Atlantic League All-Star game. He is 9-3 with a 2.13 ERA for one of
the lowest in the league.
“It's going great,” he said. ''We're going out there and battling every day,” Hale said. “We won the first half
and are starting out the second half very strong as well. We have a lot of great competitors on the team.
We have great defense behind me which makes it easier for me. Guys are going out there ready to play
every day. That makes for a great season. No one is slacking off because we won the first half.
Everybody is willing to go out there and win every single day.”
Hale can't complain with his pitching performances.
“I worked hard during the offseason,” he said. “I feel I'm right on pace with where I want to be.
There's still things I want to accomplish within that. Right now, I busted my rear end to get to where
I want to be now. I feel things are paying off and I feel like I'm right on schedule.”
Hale indicated consistency and being down in the zone have been working for him in a major way.
“I knew in the last three years previous, I had pretty decent years but I was up in the zone a little bit,”
he said. “In this league, you can't do that. You can't miss very often in this league or you have to pay
for it. It's really consistency and being able to use all four pitches for strikes and being down in the
zone and being able to mix them very well.”
His go-pitch has been his sinker. His cutter, slider and changeup are also working effectively. His sinker
has definitely improved.
“I mix in my changeup to show them something different,” Hale said. “I'm attacking the zone with
A key for Hale has been to stay healthy.
“I just had surgery in Dec. 2013 and I had to use the last year on how to use my arm again,” Hale said.
“I had 25 degrees of shortening up extension, I couldn't extend my arm all the way. It had been that way
for almost 10 years. I had that surgery in 2013 to scrape it out and remove some of the material in there.
I had to learn how to pitch again and being able to extend my arm all the way. I worked hard this
offseason and I seemed to have gotten the hang of this season.”
A major highlight for Hale has been two nine-inning shutouts, including one with no decision because
it went to extra innings. Another nine-inning shutout was a five-hit victory at home.
“I just got in a groove and I didn't miss too many times,” Hale said. “I took full control of the game.”
Right now, Hale likes the Blue Crabs jersey he's wearing.
“They take care of us in every facet,” he said. “They make sure we have everything we need. They
hook us up with host families, they give us a place to live. All-around, it's a great club.”
Getting to the Big Leagues remains Hale's ultimate goal.
“The only thing I can do by myself and or for myself is what I do on the mound,” he said. “Beyond
that, I don't really have control of anything else. That's my goal and my future and that's where I want to
go. If (Major Leagues) doesn't happen then maybe that's not meant to be for me. This winter, I hope to
play ball and make a little bit of money there. I'm taking it from there.”