Bombers In The Minors

Bombers In The Minors

Bomber fans are familiar with the names of Steve Cishek and Sean Manaea. Their banners hang in League Stadium. Both former Bombers now suit up for major league squads. Manaea is a core member of the Oakland A’s rotation in the midst of a breakout season. Cishek has notched over 120 career saves, pitching for the Marlins, Cardinals, Mariners, and Rays.

Which former Bombers might be the next to add to that collection of banners, representing players with Dubois County ties who made it to The Show?  Since players can’t get to the majors without going through the minors (generally speaking), let’s take a look at how former Bombers fared in the minor leagues this year.

Grant Zawadzki played for the Bombers in 2011. Undrafted out of Bryan College, Zawadzki hooked on with the independent Atlantic League. He spent two years playing as a “Where do you want me tonight?” infielder. However, Zawadzki was never able to hit well enough to garner attention by scouts for the farm systems of the major league organizations.

However, Grant’s calling card as an infielder had always been a powerful and accurate arm. When it became clear that his future as a position player was limited, Zawadzki was coaxed into giving the mound a shot. He got a tryout with the Padres, who signed him for 2016 to a minor league contract. He spent the season pitching for them in Rookie League ball. However, they released him at the end of that season.

But the Texas Rangers have found a niche in converting pitchers who got a late start. Zawadzki signed with them this past season and played all of 2017 in the Texas chain. Over the course of the season, he pitched for three different clubs, progressing through their lower minor affiliates. He began the year with the Low A Spokane Indians in the Northwest League, was quickly promoted to the Hickory Crawdads of the Sally League, and spent the bulk of the season with the High East Wood Ducks of the Advanced A Carolina League.

Total for the season, Zawadzki had a 2-2 record with a 4.03 ERA. He struck out 33 in 38 innings, allowing 19 walks and 37 hits.

Andre Davis came to the Bombers in 2014 as an outfielder who could pitch a little.  A lanky 6’5” with a prototypical right fielder’s arm, Davis became more and more valuable as a pitcher as that season played out. Bombers pitching coach Greg Gogel worked closely with Davis during that summer, refining his mound skills.

Davis’ pitching attracted the attention of major league scouts during the following college season with the University of Arkansas – Pine Bluff. The Kansas City Royals selected him in the 8th round of the 2015 draft. Davis spent the next two seasons pitching for the Burlington (NC) Royals in the Appalachian League, a Rookie-level classification.

The Royals promoted Davis to the Lexington Legends at the beginning of 2017 where his pitching coach was none other than Southridge’s own Mitch Stetter. Davis quickly established himself as a leading starter in the Legends rotation, Davis was sporting a 5-4 record with 87 Ks in 85 innings when he got the call that he had been traded. Davis was one of two minor league pitchers the Royals had sent to the White Sox organization in exchange for Melky Cabrera.

Davis finished the season with the Kannapolis Intimidators. Like Lexington, Kannapolis competes in the Sally League.

Daniel Johnson lit up the OVL leaderboards as a center fielder for the 2015 Championship Bombers. Drafted out of New Mexico State in in the 5th round of the June 2016 draft by the Washington Nationals, Johnson spent the remainder of that summer roaming the outfield of the Auburn Doubledays of the Low-A NY-Penn League. Johnson started out well, but ended up hitting just .265 with one homer in 2016.

The Nationals moved Johnson up to the Hagerstown Suns of the Sally League to begin the 2017 season. The Nationals are loaded with outfield prospects, and Johnson was batting low in the order at the beginning of the season.

But Daniel started out hot. And he stayed hot – all season long.

It wasn’t long before Johnson was being penciled in higher in the batting order, as his name was all over the Sally League leaderboards. Johnson was selected to start the Sally League All-Star game. He was promoted to the Potomac Nationals of the High-A Carolina League shortly thereafter.

For the year, Johnson posted a .298 average with a .356 OBP and .505 SLG.  He displayed his power/speed combination by swiping 22 SBs to match his 22 HRs. Having to fight for attention early in the season, Daniel Johnson is now ranked as one of the Top Ten prospects in the Nationals system.

After graduating from the University of Evansville, 2014 Bomber Connor Strain was drafted in the 9th round this summer by the Los Angeles Dodgers. He saw no action this year after pitching a full spring campaign for the Purple Aces.

Working one’s way up the minor leagues is a tough grind. From Rookie Leagues to multiple levels of A-ball to Double-A to Triple-A, players have to prove over and over again that they are among the best in a given league, just to be promoted to a tougher league where they have to do it all again.

But for those who can successfully climb that ladder, The Show awaits.

And banners.