Lake Erie Crushers shortstop Juan Sanchez may have taken what fans perceive as a step back from the Nashville Sounds, the Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, to a Frontier League team in Avon, OH, but he’s still hungry.
At least, he better be.
There are two groups of players that find themselves in the Frontier League, those who were undrafted coming out of college looking for their first opportunity with affiliated baseball, and those who have been cut from a major league affiliate like Sanchez. Both groups have the same desire and dedication to making it to the big leagues.
“Both of them are hungry,” Jeff Isom, the first-year Crushers manager said. “The number one question I always ask these guys when I’m talking to them to come play for the Lake Erie Crushers is ‘what do you want to do with your career in baseball?’ If they don’t tell me ‘I want to play in the major leagues or get back to an affiliate,’ then I won’t bring them on.
“I don’t want a guy out here who wants a summer job; I want a guy out here who’s hungry and wants to get back into affiliated baseball.”
Isom understands where these players are coming from as he was released multiple times in his career.
“It’s no fun," Isom said. "My goal was always to get back into Major League Baseball. It never happened for me, but I was hungry, and these guys are as well.”
Unfortunately, just being hungry isn’t enough to earn a player a spot on a Frontier League team as there are certain rules that go into shaping a roster in this league.
Teams can have 22 to 24 players on their roster. If a team carries 24 players, at least 11 of them must be rookies, a player with one year of professional experience, or no professional experience. The other 13 spots are filled in with players who have two or more years of professional experience.
A team is allowed up to three veteran players, those with three or more years of experience. It may also have two players with two years of experience, and up to seven players with one year of experience. Any player 27 years old or older is ineligible, with one exception per club.
Frontier League teams also must work within a salary cap of $72,000 with the minimum salary for players being $600 per month.
“It ends up being this big puzzle,” Isom said. “You try to piece this puzzle together to figure out what works best. Sometimes you got to release guys that are better players than what you got out on the field just because of the experience situation or the salary cap situation.
“The league doesn’t allow you to put the best possible team out on the field, but you’ve got to work within the parameters they give you.”
Because of all these restrictions, there is much turnover from year to year. Of the 36 players in camp this season for the Crushers, only nine were on last season’s roster.
Third baseman Andrew Davis, whom Isom called “a professional hitter”, is one of those nine and is one of the few players that Isom sees as a lock to make this year’s team. Along with Davis, Isom said first baseman Russell Molden, Sanchez, and starting pitchers Trevor Longfellow, Matt Rein, and Alex Kaminsky will all be on the opening day roster.
After those 6 players, there are 18 empty spots on the team. All of which are up for grabs.
“We still have to make a lot more decisions,” Isom said. “All of them that I didn’t mention [are the guys fighting for a roster spot].”
The team cut its roster from 36 to 28 on Sunday and must cut four more players by Wednesday. For any of these players to make Isom’s team, they have to show him that they want it badly enough, but they also must hope that they fit in the complex puzzle that is a Frontier League team’s roster.