With the high profile signing of former Royals’ star Mark Teahen, Tommasin Padova dominated the off-season hot stove in the Italian Baseball League this past winter, but a handful of noteworthy foreign players also joined or returned to IBL clubs. Several of these have seen time in the majors, and two were fairly well-regarded prospects. Below is a brief look at these players.
Teahen leads the IBL in walks with 16 through 12 games and has split his time evenly between third base and first, but has disappointed overall with a .194 average, only four extra-base hits (all doubles), and only four RBI. Teahen is the only player on the Padua club with more than a season above AA-ball. For more on our coverage of Teahen, whom we have followed since breaking the news on his signing, see our latest here.
By far the largest impact made by a non-Italian player this year has come from the left arm of Rudy Owens. Listed as a top-10 organisational prospect in the Pirates’ system in 2009 and 2010 and tabbed ‘Best Control’ among their prospects, Owens made his MLB debut in 2014 for the Astros, taking a loss in his only start. After five seasons in Triple-A, the southpaw landed in the independent circuit in 2016, striking out a batter per inning in 11 starts, but his 4.01 ERA did not attract any major league suitors. Instead, Owens has been a revelation for Bologna, almost singlehandedly propelling them to the top of the table. The 29-year old has won all five of his starts, allowing only a single run, five walks, and 18 hits in 29 innings, whiffing 30. Owens leads the IBL in wins, ERA (0.31), WHIP (0.79), and K/BB (6.0), and is fifth in strikeouts.
Parma has former big leaguer Eduardo Sánchez, the 2009 Cardinals’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He spent much of 2011 in St. Louis, earning five saves and compiling a 1.80 ERA in 30 innings. He struck out 35 and allowed only 14 hits, though he walked 16. He earned callups the next two seasons, but struggled with command and had been pitching solely in winter leagues when Parma approached with an offer. Despite a career minor league ERA of 3.53 (3.90 as a professional) and an average of one batter struck out per inning, Sánchez has struggled in 10 2/3 frames over four games. The flamethrowing righty has a 7.64 ERA and 2.25 WHIP, striking out only six and walking five against 17 hits.
José Ascanio is another former major league reliever who could never quite harness his stuff well enough to stick in the bigs. Developed by the Braves, he made his debut at age 22 in 2007, pitching in 13 games. He earned similar callups in three of the next four campaigns, but his career ERA is 5.28, though he struck out 8.0 batter per nine. Now in his 14th season having pitched in 537 games, he has appeared in a single game for San Marino, striking out a pair in one inning.
Another noteworthy signing is Ronald Bermudez, a former prospect in the Red Sox system. Though he never made it to the majors, he was Boston’s 2007 Latin Programme Player of the Year and was a 2010 South Atlantic League All-Star. Out of affiliated ball since 2014 despite a .270 average, the outfielder has been a revelation for Angel Service Nettuno, the Yankees of the IBL. Bermudez is hitting .386, eighth among qualifying batters, with six stolen bases, second in Italy’s top circuit. His 1.017 OPS is also ranked No. 8 in the league. Bermudez turns 29 next month, but his exploits could prompt another go in the minors.
Though he never made it out of the low minors, Carlos Rodríguez was a promising lefthander in the Cubs’ system, compiling a 2.84 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 9.0 K/9 in four rookie league campaigns. Worth considering here due to his age, Rodríguez missed the 2016 minor league season, but after three brief appearances in his native Venezuela over the winter, Padule inked the 21-year old to a contract. No doubt looking to restart his career, Rodríguez has struggled, going 0-3 with a 6.16 ERA and 1.88 WHIP.
We’ll take another look at this group later in the summer as the IBL season progresses. If you’re curious about baseball in Italy, we have compiled a map of the teams at all four levels of organised play here. Baseball Mania and Mister Baseball offer game recaps and other news.