18 Aug New Players Make Impact
In the heat of a playoff race, Miners manager Bobby Jones has been making the calls both on and off the field, and his late-season personnel moves could spell the difference as Sussex County engages in a tightly-bunched six-team scramble for three postseason spots in the Frontier League’s East Division.
Over the past 30 days, Jones has brought in five new players who’ve made immediate positive impacts in the lineup – this after the team saw two formerly key contributors leave the team.
First, longtime shortstop Cito Culver – a New York Yankees first-round draft pick – just wasn’t hitting and was placed on waivers July 17 with a .196 batting average.
Then, two days later, standout infielder Errol Robinson had his contract purchased by the St. Louis Cardinals.
But, Jones would more than make up for those two departures.
The five players who’ve arrived in Augusta in the past month have stepped right into meaningful roles and produced big-time results in instant big-time at-bats.
— Willie Escala is the latest addition to the team, signed on Aug. 3 after playing at Miami of Ohio University. The 23-year-old has appeared in nine games and started five at shortstop, making a huge first impression with a .412 batting average so far.
— Yanio Perez was signed on Aug. 2 and he was in the starting lineup that night at first base. He’s since started 12 games and is currently batting .386. Having turned 27 last week, he began playing pro ball in Cuba at age 17, then played three seasons of minor-league ball with the Texas Rangers.
— Oraj Anu is another 23-year-old right out of college, signed on July 29 after batting .324 this year for the University of Kentucky. He’s appeared in 16 games, mostly in right field, and he’s now batting .314. A Florida native, he was drafted as a community college player by the Boston Red Sox in the 16th round in 2019, but chose to attend Kentucky, instead.
— Juan Silverio is the one veteran added lately, claimed by the Miners off of waivers from Tri-City on July 22. He started at third base that night and every night since then, batting .371 in his first 22 games here. The 31-year-old was signed by the Chicago White Sox as a 17-year-old in the Dominican Republic and later reached the Triple-A level with the Cincinnati Reds.
— Alex Toral is the third 23-year-old to arrive here straight from college, signed the same day as Silverio, July 22. Fresh out of Florida State University, he’s appeared in 18 games and is batting .211 so far as a backup for Perez at first base. In his fourth game – and first road game – with the Miners, he had two home runs and seven RBI in an 11-3 win over the Gateway Grizzlies on July 26.
IT’S CRUNCH TIME NOW
So, the 2022 baseball season has all come down to this: With 17 games left on the schedule, the Miners are in a three-way tie for the third and final playoff spot in the East. They enter Thursday night 6½ games behind first-place Quebec, the same as New York and Tri-City.
Can they still catch Quebec? Yes, they could…but everything would have to go their way. Can they still catch second-place Ottawa? Absolutely. Ottawa’s only 2½ games ahead of them.
First, they need to take care of business and complete a sweep of the last-place Empire State Greys in Thursday night’s rain-makeup doubleheader at Skylands Stadium.
After that comes a great opportunity to thin the herd when they travel to Pomona this weekend for a three-game showdown with New York. From there, they come home to Augusta for yet another three-game series with the Greys, the last-minute travel team created by the league this year with a current record of 5-74.
Next weekend, the Miners make what could be a dramatic trip to Quebec, followed by a three-game trip to face Tri-City and, finally, a three-game home series against the New Jersey Jackals in a Garden State Rivalry affair that could make or break the playoff run for Sussex County.
The opportunities are there. Sweep the Greys tonight, take the series at New York, sweep the Greys again next week. That would be the ideal scenario to set the stage for that big series in Quebec.
By Carl Barbati, former sports editor of the New Jersey Herald, Daily Record and The Daily Trentonian.