A week into the 2009 major league season, no fewer than five alumni of the Texas Collegiate League are on big league rosters, with several more knocking on the door.
Hunter Pence is the everyday right fielder for the Houston Astros, and for good reason. A member of the Highland Park Blue Sox in 2004, Pence is batting .348 with two home runs already this season. He leads the Astros in homers, hits (8), and slugging percentage (.652), and he’s tied for first in RBI (3). Pence is also second on the team in batting.
Pence, who is in his third season with the Astros, made his debut early in the 2007 and immediately became a fan favorite. He batted .322 with 17 homers in 2007, finished third in voting for the National League Rookie of the Year award. Last year, Pence traded off average for power, batting .269 but hitting 25 home runs and driving in 83, finishing third on the team in both homers and RBI.
Mark Lowe, who became the first former TCL player to reach the major leagues in 2006, is in his fourth season as a member of the Seattle Mariners. In two scoreless appearances this year, Lowe has allowed one hit, walked one, and struck out two.
Like Pence, Lowe played for UT-Arlington and he was a member of the Blue Sox early in 2004 before both were selected on the first day of the draft. Lowe reached the majors with a call-up in July 2006, and posted 1.93 ERA in 15 games the remainder of the season. After an up-and-down 2007 campaign, Lowe appeared in 57 last year for the Mariners, earning his first big league save.
Chris Davis opened this season as the starting first baseman for the Texas Rangers. A member of the Coppell Copperheads in 2006, Davis surged onto the scene when he batted .285 with 17 home runs after a mid-season call-up last year. Drafted by the New York Yankees in 2004 and then by the (then) Anaheim Angels in 2005, Davis finally signed after being selected by the Rangers in the 2006 draft.
Danny Herrera is working out of the bullpen for the Cincinnati Reds after making his debut with the big club last June. Herrera was an all-star for the Graham Roughnecks in the TCL’s inaugural season of 2004 before being drafted by Texas in 2006. Herrera was traded, along with starting pitcher Edinson Volquez, to the Reds in the deal that brought Josh Hamilton to the Rangers following the 2007 season.
Of all the TCL alumni in the majors, Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Scott Richmond has taken the most indirect route. A pitcher for Highland Park in 2004, Richmond was not drafted when he graduated from Oklahoma State in 2005. He signed with the Edmonton Cracker-Cats of the independent Northern League, pitching in Edmonton and several international competitions for three seasons. But when Richmond was signed by the Blue Jays following the 2007, he quickly climbed the ladder to Toronto. He made his league debut last July, and this season he earned a spot in the Jays’ starting rotation.
While these five players were in the big leagues, several others are just a step or two away. Clay Buchholz, who pitched for the Weatherford Wranglers in 2005, is a member of the starting rotation for the Boston Red Sox’ Triple-A affiliate, the Pawtucket Red Sox. Buchholz gained prominence in 2007 when, in his second major league start, he pitched a no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles.
Also in Triple-A is Josh Geer, a former pitcher for the McKinney Marshals and a 2005 draft choice of the San Diego Padres. Geer, who made his debut with the Padres last September, went 2-1 with a 2.67 ERA after his call-up but started Opening Night for the Portland Beavers.
German Duran, an infielder who was called up by the Rangers last June and played 60 games, opened this season with the Triple-A Oklahoma City RedHawks. Duran, who was an all-star when he played in the TCL for the Copperheads, was drafted by Texas in 2005.
Another former TCL player who has tasted major league action is Mike Hollimon, who began the 2009 campaign with the Erie SeaWolves, the Detroit Tigers’ Double-A affiliate. A member of the Colleyville-Grapevine LoneStars in 2004, Hollimon was selected by the Tigers in 2005 and played 11 games for Detroit after a mid-season call-up last year.
On the cusp of making his big league debut is former Copperhead Jess Todd, who nearly grabbed a spot on Tony LaRussa’s pitching staff for the St. Louis Cardinals. Drafted in 2007, Todd was the Cardinals 2008 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He opened this season as a member of the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds.
The TCL, which is entering its sixth season this summer, has seen more than 210 alumni drafted or signed by major league organizations. The league is comprised of five teams: The Brazos Valley (Bryan) Bombers, Coppell Copperheads, East Texas (Kilgore) Pump Jacks, McKinney Marshals, and the newest entry, the Victoria Generals. The addition of the Generals marks the third straight year the league has added an expansion franchise.
The season will open on June 5 with the defending champion Marshals hosting the Bombers, while the Generals play their first-ever game on the road against the Pump Jacks.
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