Lee University head baseball coach Mark Brew calls it "amazing" when he checks on his former players and sees them posted on many professional baseball rosters across the USA.
"We currently have 15 active minor leaguers along with five players that are playing independent professional baseball," said Brew. "It says a lot about the level of players we have been able to recruit to Lee. It's exciting to check the progress of each and keep up with them as they chase the dream of playing in the big leagues."
The veteran of the group is Lance Zawadzki (2007). The former Lee shortstop has been on the doorstep to a permanent spot in the majors for several years. He is currently with the Buffalo Bison, a class AAA affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jay. "Lance has been sidelined most of the summer with a hip issue," noted Brew. "He is currently in Florida rehabbing and hoping to get back on the field soon."
Jeff Ibarra (2008-09) is currently with the San Antonio Mission (San Diego Padres) of the AA Texas League. The left-handed pitcher had a mid-season call up to Triple A and joined Zawadzki and Jose Cuevas as the only Flames to reach that level at this point. He has continued to do well as a left-handed bullpen specialist with left-handed hitters hitting only .194 against him this summer.
Blake Barber (2012) has produced his share of thrills for the Greensboro Grasshoppers (Class A, Miami Marlins) in a short period of time. He drilled a walk-off three-run homer and another game-winning two-run shot after just being promoted to the Greensboro squad.
"Blake had a quick start this summer and earned a promotion to Greensboro of the South Atlantic League," pointed out Brew. "He is having a great offensive summer (1.036 OPS) in his second summer of professional baseball."
Shay Crawford (2011) is pitching for the Charlotte Stone Crabs (High Class A, Tampa Bay Rays). "Shay has had one of the most impressive summers of all the Flames in professional ball," said Brew. "He earned an early-season promotion from Bowling Green to Port Charlotte in Florida and he hasn't disappointed. His recently adjusted arm angle really seems to be working as he has given up only one hit all season to left-handed hitters."
Outfielders Chris Grayson and Jonathan Clark (2011) continue to make their way up. Grayson is with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (High A Texas Rangers) "Chris had a superb season in 2012, but has struggled some offensively this summer," Brew said. "However, he has still posted solid numbers for his second full professional season. The Rangers are still excited about his future potential."
Clark (St Lucie Mets – High A New York Mets) "Jonathan has shown signs of the promise that made him a 16th round pick in 2011. He had an early season promotion to St. Lucie and has remained for the entire summer," said Brew.
Four players from the 2012 Lee squad are settling into the pro ball ranks. Jorge Saez is a member of the Toronto Blue Jay organization. A catcher for the Flames, Saez is with the Rookie League squad in Bluefield, Va. – "Jorge has made some nice adjustments offensively in his second summer of professional baseball," said Brew. "He has hit .321 in his last 10 games and is starting to show some power potential as well."
Kris Hall is with the Beloit Snappers (Class A, Oakland). The hard-throwing right hander was sidelined a portion of the summer with an arm injury. However, after regaining his health and returning, his numbers have been great, posting a 0.68 ERA in his last 10 appearances, according to stats released by the Snappers.
Patrick Merkling is a lefty that all pro clubs are seeking to develop. He is with the Batavia Muckdogs, a Short Season Class A for the Miami Marlins. Said Brew, "Patrick has settled down and thrown really well after a couple of rough outings early in the 2013 summer. He has only allowed one earned run in his last 8.2 innings, and is striking out over a batter an inning."
Vince Spilker is assigned to the Missoula Ospreys (Arizona Diamondbacks, Rookie League). "Vince has yet to throw a pitch in 2013 due to an arm injury," noted Brew. "He is currently rehabbing in Arizona at the Diamondbacks training complex. He had a solid first professional season in 2012 with six saves and 28 strikeouts in 20+ innings of work. "
Five Lee pitchers were selected in the 2013 professional draft and all seem to be picking right up from where they left off at Lee.
Myles Smith was selected in the fourth round by the Boston Red Sox and has been assigned to the Fort Myers Red Sox. According to Brew, Myles spent most of the summer negotiating his contract with the Boston Red Sox. He signed on the final day and has been in Florida since, preparing to get his professional career underway. Due to the time off, he will be used sparingly for the remainder of the 2013 summer and will look forward to the 2014 season as his first full one in his professional career.
But big Andy Hillis, Clint Terry, Jose Samayoa and Alex Moore have been hard at work and enjoying their share of success. Hillis is with the Helena Brewers (Rookie League, Milwaukee Brewers) "Andy picked up right where he left off in the spring of 2013 for the Flames, dominating as the closer at Helena," commented Brew. "He has three wins and three saves in eight appearances while only giving up one run."
Samayoa (Rookie League, Texas Rangers "has taken the AZL League by storm," said Brew. "He has posted a 1.86 ERA and only allowed five walks while striking out 29 in 19+ innings of work. I would think a promotion would be in the near future for Jose."
Terry is a left-handed pitcher and has stepped to the front the Milwaukee Brewers' AZL club. "Clint has been nothing less than exceptional in the professional start to his career," allowed Brew. "He has walked only four batters while striking out 30 and posting a 1.31 ERA in the Arizona League. I would think a promotion would also be in the near future for Clint."
Moore was also drafted by the Brewers, but has already been promoted to the Brevard County Manatees (High Class A). "Alex, a right-hander pitcher, was originally assigned to Arizona and Rookie ball, but received a promotion to High A Brevard County," Brew stressed. "He has held his own in an offensive league and continues to work through his first full professional season of baseball."
Roberto Duran, who suffered from an injury during a large portion of Lee's 2013 season, signed a free agent contract with the Texas Rangers. He was recently released.
"Hopefully, Robbie will be able to sign with another team as he looks to make the adjustments necessary to play at pro baseball level," said Brew.
Five other ex-Flames are playing with Independent Professional League teams. Catcher Danny Canela is with the River City Rascals of the Frontier League. He has enjoyed a solid offensive summer and his hitting .302, second on his team and is in his team's top three in home runs and RBIs.
Mike Valadez (2007) is enjoying a comeback year for the Schaumburg Bombers, also a member of the Frontier League. His .295 average ranks fourth on his squad. Valadez was a former pick of the Cleveland Indians in the 27th round.
Jose Cuevas (2010) is with the New jersey Jackals (CamAm Independent League). Jose, the former 29th round pick of the San Francisco Giants, is having a great summer. He is leading his team in hitting .370, and ranks in the top hitters in the league as he tries to pick back up with an affiliated team.
Brian Bistagne (2008-09) is the third former Flame playing in the Frontier League. The infielder has bounced around Independent Leagues after his stint in the Minnesota Twins organization. His current home is the Rockford Aviators where he his third on his team in hitting.
Mike Fasolo (2012-13) is with the Taos Blizzard of the Independent Pecos Professional League. He has enjoyed a solid summer as a two-way player at Taos. He hit his first professional home run and has a 2.70 ERA on the mound.