The California Winter League is specifically designed “to help each of [the] players improve their baseball abilities, along with giving them the opportunity to impress professional scouts and coaches to further their professional careers,” according to President Andrew Starke. Well, in the case of the 2011 CWL season, this opportunity proved quite successful for many.
Three of the instructors during this past winter’s season, Ricky VanAsselberg, Stan Cliburn, and Chris Paterson, are currently leading or nipping at the heals of their league leaders in the American Association and Pecos League, respectively. Each manager came to Palm Springs looking for talent and were not disappointed, as this past CWL season produced a large number of extremely talented baseball players looking to make it to the next level.
VanAsselberg, who led the Shreveport-Bossier Captains to the 2010 American Association Championship, came to the desert to help mold the skills and abilities of the aspiring players, but he also came looking for potential talent to join his 2011 American Association team, the Grand Prairie Air Hogs: “It was simply great baseball. Andrew Starke did a great job getting a large number of players out to Palm Springs, and I was not disappointed with the level of talent I saw.”
One of the players VanAsselberg chose to bring back to Texas with him was Jake Taylor, a 24-year-old infielder out of Moreno Valley, CA, who recorded 11 RBIs, which was the second highest total in the CWL season. Clearly, Van Asselberg made the correct choice in recruiting Taylor because so far this season, he has played particularly well as the Air Hogs have surged to a record of 40-19, tops in the entire American Association.
In 42 games, Taylor is batting .262 with six doubles and 21 RBIs. When asked about the choice to select Taylor, VanAsselberg said, “I thought he was the best player at the winter league camp. He has a big league arm, great speed, and a ton of power. All of those skills have made him quite successful out here with our team.”
A former Major Leaguer for the Angels, Pirates, and Braves, Stan Cliburn brought with him over twenty years of professional managing experience to Palm Springs. In January, Cliburn was hired to manage the Sioux City Explorers of the American Association, which gave him a great opportunity to find new players during his time with the CWL.
Brian Bistagne and Taylor King both excelled during the winter league, and they each received the opportunity to join Cliburn’s 2011 Explorers team. Bistagne was one of the more standout stars during the winter season, recording a league-best .439 batting average. King also performed prominently during the CWL season—only he did his damage from the mound. King led the league in ERA (0.92) and strikeouts (48).
During this year’s American Association season, Cliburn’s CWL players have been outstandingly effective during their respective appearances. In 14 games, Bistagne is hitting an enormous .389. King, originally from Canada, is also performing efficiently on the mound for the Explorers. In seven starts this season, King has put up a record of 2-1, including a strong 33 strikeouts during his 36.2 innings on the hill. With help from CWL players like Bistagne and King, the Explorers find themselves in a tight race for the Central Division lead.
San Bernardino native Chris Paterson, the manager of the Pecos League’s Roswell Invaders, joined the 2011 CWL for the second consecutive season and was able to focus on procuring new players for his club.
With help from a handful of CWL players, Paterson’s Invaders are in first place in the Pecos League and showing no signs of stopping. Kevin Hoef and Adrian Martinez, who each hit 10 RBIs during the 2011 CWL season, are making quite the offensive impact during the Invaders’ season. Hoef is batting .390, Martinez is batting .312, and both CWL alums have recorded three home runs. Aside from Paterson’s hard-hitting offensive threats, he also brought with him Justin Uribe, a pitcher out of UCLA. In 26 innings on the mound, Uribe is 1-0 with 15 strikeouts.
These are only a few of the many impressive stories of success the CWL coaches and players are experiencing across the country this summer. The CWL is currently looking for the players and coaches who will make remarkable summer impacts on professional teams in 2012 to join them in January and February. If this past CWL season predicts anything for the future of the league, it is that many more players and coaches will continue to perform at an incredibly high level in baseball all over America after spending a couple productive months in Palm Springs working hard towards becoming better professionals.