It’s that time of year again; the California Winter League is gearing up for its 5th season starting on January 23rd, 2014. The CWL is an instructional showcase league that brings baseball players from all over the world to Palm Springs to take place in a month-long season that is coached by professional instructors and evaluated by MLB Scouts. Since its inception, the CWL has seen nearly 50% of its players receive an invitation to independent or affiliated Spring Training up completion of the league. The success continued this past season with several players receiving professional offers from professional clubs [click here to view a list of 2013 CWL players who were signed to a professional contract]. This article will highlight some former CWL players from the 2013 season who went on to play professional ball.
Brett Anderson (P) – Texas Rangers – Anderson is a perfect example of what the California Winter League can offer a player. Drafted as a shortstop by the Detroit Tigers at the age of 17, Anderson spent three seasons within their minor league organization. After his time with the Tigers, Anderson decided to change positions and give pitching a whirl. As a strong-armed shortstop, he definitely had the tools to make a smooth conversion, but he blew out his elbow just three pitches into his workout day with the Mariners in 2011. The injury required Tommy John surgery and it took Anderson 18 months to recover fully. Having gone through a stretch of bad luck, Anderson was seemingly out of options. But he joined the CWL and got the second chance that he needed to prove his worth as a professional arm. Playing for the British Columbia Bombers of the CWL, Anderson impressed scouts with his pitching ability. He was sitting around 91-92 MPH with the ability to touch 94 MPH on occasion. His newfound ability to pitch despite recently coming off of Tommy John surgery impressed scouts at the CWL and it netted him a contract with the Texas Rangers where he received a signing bonus.
Bobby Hillier (P) – Arizona Diamondbacks – Hillier joined the CWL in 2013 after playing in for the Normal CornBelters of the Frontier League in 2012. He made six appearances (one start) with the Palm Desert Coyotes of the CWL and posted a 10.8 K/9 and a 1.8 BB/9. His ability to strike out batters without being too wild impressed league scouts. This ability caught the attention of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who offered Hillier a contract after his time at the CWL. He went on to play with the Missoula Osprey of the Pioneer League followed by a stint with the Diamondbacks at the Arizona Fall League where he put together the best numbers of his career (3.86 ERA, 10.8 K/9, 3.1 BB/9).
Troy Marks (P) – Philadelphia Phillies – The 6-foot-5 righty went undrafted out of college in 2012, so he joined the California Winter League in 2013 to prove to the teams that passed on him that he was worthy of playing in affiliated ball. He held opponents to a 2.25 ERA while posting an impressive 14:3 K:BB ratio in eight innings with the Oregon Lumber Jacks during his time at the CWL. Those numbers were hard to ignore as Marks was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies’ organization immediately after his stint at the CWL.
Marquis Riley (2B) – Atlanta Braves – Riley spent the 2013 CWL season playing second base for the Power. He started 11 games and put together a slash line of .364/.400/.515 in 33 at-bats. True to his reputation as a contact hitter with a great eye, Riley did not record a strikeout during his stint in the CWL. This held true in his most recent season with the Joliet Slammers of the Frontier League where he recorded more walks (41) than strikeouts (35) as a rookie. That professional approach at the plate coupled with his stellar defense landed him on Baseball America’s Top-Ten Independent League prospects this year, and it caught the attention of the Atlanta Braves who recently signed him to their organization.
Justin Vasquez (OF) – Frontier Greys/Schaumburg Boomers – Vasquez played in 18 games with the Washington BlueSox of the CWL in 2013. He finished the season with a .412 batting average in 34 at-bats to go along with 10 runs, a homer, five RBI, and four stolen bags. His performance in the CWL got him signed by the Frontier Greys of the Frontier League that same year. He was traded to the Schaumburg Boomers mid-season and was an integral part of their 2013 Championship run. When we spoke to Vasquez following the championship game, he stated that “I wouldn’t be where I’m at if it wasn’t for the CWL. It was everything I think a player needs to get looked at and to possibly move to the next step of their career.”
These players aren’t the only California Winter League players to have success, as many of our participants have landed Independent League contracts in order to continue their careers in baseball. This is why President Andrew Starke founded the CWL in the first place, to give players who were initially overlooked another chance to play in front of scouts and improve their skills on the diamond. The number of players joining the CWL has increased exponentially every year since its inception, and the same goes for the 2014 season with an estimated 200 players coming out in January.