The major-league draft used to be the focal point for the independent Salt Lake Trappers. They couldn't start their roster until big-league clubs got their fill of college and prep talent.
However, with rule changes and big-league teams' ever-deepening interest in drafting (80 and 90 rounds), it's both easier and more necessary now for Salt Lake to rely on recycled young pros.As Monday's draft got under way, the Trappers already had 15 players under contract, and they held their first practices Monday and Tuesday in Derks Field for 10 pitchers and catchers - while the draft was taking place.
Player personnel director Van Schley and second-year Manager Nick Belmonte have a list of about 25 players they hope will escape the draft so they can sign them or peruse them at invitation-only tryout camps Friday and Saturday at Pepperdine University or Sunday in Derks.
Schley wants to find a power-hitting righty and another left-handed pitcher; Belmonte would add another outfielder and corner infielders.
Because of December rule changes, the Trappers can have more than five veterans in the rookie Pioneer League, and independent teams are exempt from a rookie-league rule that only 10 players can be over age 21.
The Traps can now have players with more than three years' pro experience, and that gives life to 1990 Pioneer League pitching champ Willie Ambos, who retired last fall to teach at Rowland Hall-St. Mark's. Ambos unretires as player/coach.
Also back is the Pioneer's busiest pitcher, Gene Mirabella, who missed the strikeout title by four with 90 in 89 innings.
Two more '90 Traps are signed but not yet in camp: infielder Brian Biggers and outfielder Jim Martin.
Others working out with Belmonte and pitching coach Mark Brewer are catchers David Rolls, released by Kansas City (45 games, .281 average at Class A Eugene), and Willie Smith from the Phillies (30 games, .186 average at Class A Batavia); plus one unsigned and six signed pitchers, including two '90 Helena Brewers. From Helena: Kevin McDonald, 3-2, 4.70 ERA in nine games, and Mark Stephens, 3-2, 3.48 in 14 games.
Also in town are Daniel Furmanik, released by the New York Met chain (Class A at both St. Lucie and Columbia); John Gilligan from Toronto (18 games, 1-6, 2.75 at Medicine Hat); Joe Guthrie, released by Cleveland and a member of independent '90 Class A Reno (0-1, 4.26); and undrafted Gary Harris of U. of Arkansas.
In camp but unsigned is lefty David Marcon of Toronto (Class A St. Catharines, 3-5, 3.61).
While they have pro numbers, Belmonte is cautious. Most haven't pitched live ammunition since last summer, and most, of course, were released by somebody.
Position players like Biggers and Martin will start arriving late this week. The Trappers open June 17 at Idaho Falls; the home opener is June 22.