Since independent baseball is new to Wichita, I figured there are a lot of unknows attached to it. Even I am learning as I go, but I’ve learned quite a bit so far so I’m going to tackle some of the most-asked questions about baseball on this level.
How much do these guys get paid? The salary cap is $100,000 for the year and the roster limit is 22 players. That averages out, obviously, to less than $5,000 per player. On the Wingnuts, Kevin Hooper is the highest-paid player, making significantly more than the average.
What’s the level of baseball being played? I called it Double-A without the prospects. A lot of these guys could be signed by a major league organization tomorrow and step right in at the Triple-A level. A lot of them have already played Class A ball and will never get higher. There’s no definite equivalent, but on average most of the players are around Double-A level in skill.
Do these guys have a chance to make it to the majors? There’s always a chance but it’s not very likely. Currently, there are only three major leaguers that were signed directly from independent ball. It’s likely that even if a player is signed by an MLB organization he’ll start in Double- or Triple-A and have to work his way up. As an example, former Wingnut Dustan Mohr had his contract purchased by the Colorado Rockies last month and he’s currently hitting about .160 in Triple-A.
What league do the Wingnuts play in? Wichita plays in the American Association, which is in its third year of existence. This is the third edition of the AA — the first one, way back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, was a major league. Then it was a Triple-A league. Now it’s in an independent league with 10 teams, most notably the St. Paul Saints, an original independent franchise that began in 1993. There are currently seven other independent baseball leagues.
Who owns the team? The Wingnuts are owned by local businessmen Gary Austerman, Nick Easter, Steve Ruud and Dan Waller. Detroit Tigers pitcher and former Maize and WSU standout Nate Robertson also is part-owner, as is his brother, Wingnuts general manager Josh Robertson.
I didn’t go to Wranglers games because the roster was always changing. How often does that happen in independent baseball? Wow, that’s a long question. In affiliated minor-league baseball, roster changes are directed by the parent organization. So if the Royals wanted Alex Gordon to move up to Triple-A, he would and we would probably never get to see him back in Wichita again. In independent baseball, players stay much longer, even several years, because there is no parent club to tell teams what to do. So it’s much easier to develop a fan base.
Teams do, however, make roster moves quite a bit. Trades can happen between any two independent leagues and if a player is struggling he can be released, just like in the majors.
Are Wingnuts games fan-friendly? Yes. The only complaint I’ve heard consistently is that the new cashless system is sometimes a pain to deal with. But I know the Wingnuts front office is trying to get the kinks worked out with that. There are several on-field promotions during games, the games move quickly usually and the players often sign autographs after the game.
Why does it seem like every player is batting .300? The American Association is a hitter’s league. There’s a primary reason most players get stuck in independent ball — for pitchers, it’s because they can’t throw a good off-speed pitch; for hitters, it’s because they can’t hit a good off-speed pitch. But nearly every hitter can hit a good fastball, so since that’s usually the only good pitch in a pitcher’s repitoire, he throws it quite often. Hitters crush it, and that’s why we have so many high batting averages.
To prove yourself to a major league organization, as a pitcher you have to prove you can A) pitch inside and B) throw at least two, and preferably three pitches for a strike. As a hitter, you have to be able to take an outside pitch to the opposite field and hit the curveball. Pitchers are the most likely to be signed by an MLB organization because most teams feel they can never have enough pitching.
How long is the season? It’s 96 games long, split into two 48-game halves. There are two divisions, and the winner of the first and second halves of both divisions reach the playoffs. If the same team wins both halves, the team with the second best composite record goes to the postseason. The all-star game is held in the middle of the second half, this year in St. Paul.
Who else plays in the American Association? It took you a while, but I’m glad you asked. In the North Division, it’s the Wingnuts, Lincoln Saltdogs, St. Paul Saints, Sioux City Explorers and Sioux Falls Canaries. In the South, it’s the Shreveport Sports, El Paso Diablos, Pensacola Pelicans, Grand Prairie (Texas) Air Hogs and Fort Worth Cats. The Cats have won the AA title in the league’s only two years of existence.