Present and past Otters who played elsewhere in 2020
EVANSVILLE, Ind. – When many baseball leagues have altered or canceled their championship schedules in 2020 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, a few present and past Evansville Otters players still found ways to get game reps in.
The Frontier League canceled their 2020 championship season with an announcement at the end of June, ending the Evansville Otters’ season before it even started.
In the meantime, a few players, who were slated to put on an Otters’ uniform and play at Bosse Field in 2020, took advantage of playing opportunities elsewhere to get their live at-bats, bullpens, and other baseball work in.
Hunter Cullen, who normally would have manned Evansville’s centerfield, joined the Santa Barbara, Calif. Foresters at the National Baseball Congress World Series, which took place in Wichita, Kan.
The NBC World Series is a weeklong tournament that showcases players in front of professional baseball scouts. The NBC World Series has taken place every summer for the last 85 years, going back to 1935.
Usually, the NBC World Series provides exposure for amateur players at the high school or collegiate level.
“Generally, this tournament is a summer ball setting for amateurs, but because of all that is going on with baseball and the pandemic, teams are allowed to bring in free agent, released professionals this year,” Cullen said.
Cullen also mentioned that besides the exposure to baseball scouts, players on the winning team are rewarded with a championship ring.
Over the years, the tournament has seen a lot of well-known names participate before going on and making it at the Major League level. These names include Aaron Judge, Albert Pujols, Paul Goldschmidt, and many more currently active in MLB. The first MVP of the tournament back in 1935 was Satchel Paige.
Cullen and the Foresters won the NBC World Series Championship 12-3 over the Cheney, Kan. Diamond Dawgs back on Aug. 10. Cullen had a couple hits in three appearances, while also scoring twice and notching a pair of RBIs. Both of Cullen's hits were important home runs for the Foresters.
Catcher Dakota Phillips played in the created Constellation Energy League in Sugar Land, Texas with the Sugar Land Lightning Sloths.
Sugar Land is home to the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League, which canceled their 2020 championship season.
The Constellation Energy League is a four-team league that featured many independent and affiliated experience ballplayers.
“The league is full of ex-big-league guys, active triple-A and double-A players, so the competition is great,” Phillips said.
Phillips said he split time at catcher and felt good with his hitting. Phillips batted .276 with a pair of home runs and three RBIs. He also scored seven runs and had .432 on-base percentage in 11 games played.
“Life has been good down here in Sugar Land, and the organization has been on top with all the safety regulations,” Phillips said. “It’s also nice being closer to home where my family and friends can come watch some games.”
2020 Otters signees Marty Anderson and Andrew Fernandez also played in created, start-up leagues.
Anderson pitched in Florence, Ky. as part of the Battle of the Bourbon Trail Series. The series featured two Florence teams, the Y’alls and Freedom, and two Lexington teams, the Legends and Leyendas.
“It’s been fun and competitive, and we have half capacity of fans coming into the ballpark,” Anderson said. “In fact, they filled up that half capacity on Opening Night!”
Florence is based out of the Frontier League, while Lexington is based out of the South Atlantic League. When the championship season is not canceled, the Lexington Legends are a single-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, and the Y’alls would be scheduled to face the Otters.
“Safety regulations have been wearing masks on the concourse at all times and social distancing as much as possible,” Anderson said. “There is also no handing out balls or autographs to fans.”
Anderson went 2-0 with a 4.50 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 18 innings pitched. He made three starts in five total appearances. The Y'alls went on to win the Battle of the Bourbon Trail Series Championship.
Fernandez pitched in Joliet, Ill. for the Nerds Herd club in the City of Champions Cup. The competition included four teams centered around the area of Joliet. The other teams are the Slammers, who are out of the Frontier League, and the Tully Monsters and Chicago Deep Dish.
“The sheer fact we’re playing is great!” Fernandez said. “The competition is quite good, a lot of affiliated players that are either still on contracts with their respective clubs, or they’ve been recently released and looking to sign with a new club.”
Fernandez pitched 8.1 innings, posting a 3.24 ERA with nine strikeouts in nine appearances. Opponents batted .200 against Fernandez.
Fernandez said players were tested prior to their arrival and were tasked with being tested again weekly. He also said players had their temperature taken before entering the ballpark and were always required to wear a mask unless out in the field during the game.
Former Otters pitcher Taylor Wright, who joined the Somerset Patriots of the Atlantic League in the offseason, faced batters in the Somerset Professional Baseball Series.
The Patriots faced off against the New Jersey Blasters. The Blasters were formed within the organization, playing exclusively at TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater Township, N.J.
Wright pitched 5.2 innings in six appearances, recorded seven strikeouts, and posted a 3.18 ERA.
In 2019, Wright was the Frontier League Rookie of the Year with the Otters.
Pitcher Casey Delgado, who the Otters signed this past winter, joined several former Otters in the independent American Association.
The American Association conducted their 2020 championship season, but the league played with a reduced number of teams compared to the usual 12. The league also played in a limited number of host sites dependent on local government regulations.
Delgado played alongside former Otter and the 2019 Frontier League MVP Ryan Long. The two were teammates with the Sioux Falls Canaries.
“Things are going well here, and the competition is really good with other leagues not playing their championship seasons right now,” Delgado said.
Delgado made four appearances and four starts, going 13 innings pitched with 10 strikeouts.
Delgado said the safety regulations in the American Association included wearing masks, social distancing in the dugout and during the national anthem, no bat boys, and hitters wear their body armor while running the bases.
As for Long, he appeared in 24 games and hit two home runs with eight RBIs. He scored 10 times.
Four former Otters appeared on the St. Paul Saints’ roster, including 2016 Frontier League MVP Josh Allen.
St. Paul is coming off a 2019 American Association championship, and Allen added another championship ring to his 2016 Frontier League title with the Otters.
In competition this year, Allen hit .304 with six home runs, seven doubles, 20 walks, and 24 RBIs. He also scored 36 runs in 44 games played.
Joining Allen in St. Paul were former Otters pitchers Jose Velez and Matt Quintana.
Velez pitched for the Otters in 2013-14 before moving on to affiliated baseball in 2015-16 with the Miami Marlins and Minnesota Twins organizations.
With St. Paul this year, Velez had a 3.62 ERA in 22.1 innings and 23 appearances. He also struck out 35 batters and picked up two wins.
Quintana was acquired by the Otters in a trade with the Joliet Slammers late in the 2019 season, as the Otters made the push into the postseason.
Quintana racked up 36 strikeouts in 29 innings with St. Paul, making four starts in eight total appearances.
Former Otters pitcher Chris Nunn was an addition to St. Paul's roster later in the season, earning seven strikeouts in 6.1 innings and three appearances.
Fans can take a look at the American Association action by going to americanassociationbaseball.com.
Also of note, former Evansville Otters pitcher Ty Hensley pitched in the United Shore Professional Baseball League (USPBL) this summer and had an outstanding season.
Hensley threw a no-hitter for the Utica Unicorns on Aug. 6. When Hensley was with the Otters, he combined with Matt Chavarria out of the bullpen for a combined no-no against the Florence Freedom on Aug. 11, 2018.
Hensley was named the USPBL Most Valuable Player after tossing two complete games, one a shutout, with a 1.55 ERA in 10 starts. He struck out 71 in 58 innings and held opposing batters to a .134 average. Hensley and Utica won the USPBL Championship as well.
Fans can find more information on the USPBL season at uspbl.com.
The Evansville Otters are the 2006 and 2016 Frontier League champions.
The Otters play all home games at historic Bosse Field, located at 23 Don Mattingly Way in Evansville, Ind. Stay up-to-date with the Evansville Otters by visiting evansvilleotters.com, or follow the Otters on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
For more information, visit evansvilleotters.com or call (812) 435-8686.