Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Making progress in minor leagues

After being drafted, a trio of former Flames continue their journey toward the pinnacle of the sport, the MLB

The Liberty Flames baseball team stayed busy during the summer of 2013. After winning the Big South Conference Tournament in May and finishing second in an NCAA regional, Flames players spread out throughout the country to keep playing and improve their skills, but three members of the team had bigger plans for their summer.

FIELD OF dreamS — Wimmer played in the White Sox farm system. Photo provided

FIELD OF DREAMS — Wimmer played in the White Sox farm system. Photo provided

Josh Richardson, Trey Wimmer and Ryan Cordell all packed their bags and headed off to start their professional careers within days of being selected by the San Diego Padres, Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers respectively in the June Major League Baseball Draft.

After completing short workouts in Arizona, Wimmer, Cordell and Richardson were assigned to separate Rookie League teams where they competed against players with similar levels of experience. Wimmer shared playing time behind the plate in Montana with the Great Falls Voyagers, while Richardson spent most of his time pitching in Oregon for the Eugene Emeralds before earning a promotion to the Padres’ low-A level affiliate, the Fort Worth Tin Caps.

“It was great,” Richardson said of his August promotion. “I was definitely blessed with what I was able to accomplish in that rookie season. I got to play against Cordell, John Niggli and Ian Parmley, former teammates at Liberty. It was cool to see them in (professional) ball as well and play against them.”

According to Wimmer, being drafted had been a dream of his from an early age.

“When I started playing at four years old, my dad says I wanted to play professional baseball,” Wimmer said. “Obviously I knew there were 32 teams. I just wanted to play for one of them.”

Richardson’s path to professional baseball was much more indirect. According to him, he always envisioned himself playing shortstop, but after some help from the coaching staff at Liberty, he found his home on the mound.

Richardson said his transition into professional baseball did require a few adjustments, and it only took one hitter for him to discover a necessary change.

“The seams are a little bit lower than the NCAA balls, so it just got away from me, and I hit him right in the ribs,” Richardson said. “It kind of flustered me a little bit. I was like, ‘There’s no way I started my pro career by hitting somebody right here.’”

Dealing — Richardson received a promotion after spending the year in Oregon. Photo provided

Dealing — Richardson received a promotion after spending the year in Oregon. Photo provided

Richardson soon showed his ability to get hitters out with the different seams, but he and Wimmer both found a lot more differences between college and the minor leagues than just the ball.

“Obviously in Division I baseball you have a lot of great pitchers, but in the draft, they just take the best of those,” Wimmer said. “So it’s kind of like seeing a Friday night guy every day.”

According to Wimmer, a longer schedule and frequent bus rides — the longest of which was 16 hours — required more energy than normal. In the midst of his hectic first season, Wimmer also found the time to go home and get married.

“The White Sox were nice enough to give me five days off,” Wimmer said. “So I flew out on Friday, and I came back on a Tuesday.”

Fortunately, Wimmer said the Voyagers catchers shared equal playing time throughout the year, allowing him to only miss out on one potential game behind the plate.

Both Richardson and Wimmer will report to Padres and White Sox Spring Training in early 2014. Although they will not find out their assignments for next year until March, Wimmer hopes to advance to the low-A level Kannapolis Intimidators or the high-A level Winston-Salem Dash. Richardson said he expects to spend next season at low-A level Fort Worth or at high-A level Lake Elsinore Storm.

For now, the two will spend the offseason living and working out in Lynchburg while they prepare for their second full season of chasing their dream — to someday play Major League Baseball.

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