The Daily Gazette is back with another fantasy draft looking back at the Capital Region’s rich sports history. This time around, the focus is on minor league and independent baseball.
The region is rich in baseball history, with a haul of Hall of Famers, All-Stars and World Series champions playing some of their formative years in the area.
For the purposes of this draft, the time span covers 1980 — the year the Glens Falls White Sox debuted — until the present. That represents the tenures of the Glens Falls White Sox and Tigers, the Albany-Colonie Athletics and Yankees, and the Tri-City ValleyCats. Also included are the tenures of the independent Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs and Adirondack Lumberjacks.
The six-player teams will consist of four position players — with at least one infielder and one outfielder — and two pitchers. To be eligible, a player must have had at least 20 at-bats or five pitching appearances for a Capital Region minor league affiliate prior to their MLB debut. Players from the independent clubs were eligible to be considered at any point of their career.
This week’s drafters are two Daily Gazette staffers — staff writer Adam Shinder and associate sports editor Ken Schott — along with two guests. Marisa Jacques of Spectrum News returns after participating in the girls’ basketball draft a couple weeks back, while Joe Altieri — the longtime coach and general manager of the Albany Athletics of Albany Twilight League, and a member of the New York State Baseball Hall of Fame — joins the fold.
With plenty of big names available, Schott gets things rolling with the first pick:
Schott selects . . . Derek Jeter (SS, Albany-Colonie Yankees, 1994)
Jeter wasn’t here long after being promoted from Class A Tampa early in 1994, but you could see he was going to be something special. He hit .377 with three homers and 13 RBIs in 34 games for A-C before being promoted to Triple-A Columbus.
In his first full season in the majors in 1996, Jeter won American League Rookie of the Year, batting .314 with 10 homers and 78 RBIs en route to winning the first of his five World Series titles.
Just look at his career stats: 3,465 hits, including eight times with over 200 hits in a season, a .310 batting average, 1,923 runs scored and 1,311 runs batted it. He was a 14-time All-Star. His 3,000th career hit was a home run.
And his defense? A career full of signature highlights. The signature jump throw from shallow left field. Flying into the stands to catch a ball with no regard for his own safety against the Boston Red Sox. And, of course, “The Flip” in Game 3 of the 2001 AL Division Series against the Oakland A’s, when he barehanded right fielder Shane Spencer’s overthrow of the cutoff men and flipped it to catcher Jorge Posada, who tagged out Jeremy Giambi.
Jeter was a near-unanimous selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame. One knucklehead didn’t vote for him. It’s a shame that, because of the coronavirus pandemic, Jeter will have to wait until next year to be inducted.
Jacques selects . . . Mariano Rivera (P, Albany-Colonie Yankees, 1994)
It’s Mariano, do I really need to say anything else? In 1994, he started nine games for Albany-Colonie, going 3-0 with a 2.27 ERA in 63 1-3 innings. A-C was one of his three minor league stops that season.
We can work backwards as Rivera was the first unanimous Hall of Fame selection, a 13-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion. His 652 career saves ranks first in MLB history.
When Rivera developed his cutter after already being in the MLB, it made him basically unhittable. After his first season in the bigs, he never gave up double-digit homers. Mariano was about as close to a sure thing as it gets in baseball.
As if I had any question if this was the right pick and my favorite baseball player of ALL TIME, my brother Keith showed up at my house with a Yankees/Rivera sweatshirt on as I was writing out this selection.
Altieri selects . . . Bernie Williams (OF, Albany-Colonie Yankees, 1989-90)
Why not stay with the theme of choosing from Yankees who helped lead them to several World Series titles, but also who were model citizens their entire careers? Bernie was an All-Star outfielder who hit .297 with 287 homers, 1,257 RBI and 1,366 runs in 16 seasons — all as a Yankee.
After showing his ability as a switch-hitter during parts of two seasons with Albany-Colonie, Williams went on to an MLB career that included five All-Star appearances, four Gold Gloves, a batting title and four world championships.
Shinder selects . . . John Smoltz (P, Glens Falls Tigers, 1987)
Let me break the seal on non-Yankees with this pick.
Smoltz’s numbers with the Glens Falls Tigers in 1987 were, in a word, bad. He was 4-10 with a 5.68 ERA and walked nearly as many batters (81) as he struck out (86) in 131 innings. Then, on Aug. 12, 1987, he was traded to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Doyle Alexander, putting one of the pieces in place for what would become one of the most dominant pitching staffs in MLB history.
Eventually teaming with Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux as Atlanta’s fabled “Big 3,” Smoltz won the 1996 National League Cy Young Award after a 24-win season and, thanks to a four-year transition to the bullpen following mid-career Tommy John surgery, he’s the only pitcher in MLB history with at least 200 wins and 150 saves. He was a no-brainer first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2015.
Shinder selects . . . Jose Altuve (2B, Tri-City ValleyCats, 2009)
Altuve has been one of the best hitters in baseball over the last decade, and he’s done it despite being a 5-foot-6 infielder who was turned away from an Astros tryout in Venezuela as a 16-year-old because the scouts thought he was too short and was lying about his age. He returned the next day with his birth certificate, earned a contract and has risen to superstardom.
Altuve played for the ValleyCats in 2009, hitting .250 in 21 games. Since getting called up to Houston in 2011, he’s a career .315 hitter, a six-time All-Star, a three-time AL batting champ and the 2017 AL MVP. He also sent the Yankees packing from the 2019 postseason with his walk-off home run off Aroldis Chapman in Game 6 of the ALCS, a moment that’s left more than a few people a bit, um . . . buzzed off.
Altieri selects . . . JD Martinez (OF, Tri-City ValleyCats, 2009)
I’ll balance the Bernie Williams pick with another great outfielder, a Red Sox one, who came through the ValleyCats in 2009. He spent his rookie year of pro ball with Tri-City and hit .326 with seven homers and 33 RBIs in 53 games. Pretty impressive, especially after being drafted out of Division II Nova Southeastern University in the 20th round.
After a quick ascent from the minors to the big leagues, Martinez was released by the Astros before the 2014 season following a decline in production, but landed a spot with the Tigers. He was runner-up for AL Comeback Player of the Year in Detroit and quickly became the prize of free agency. After landing a big contract with the Red Sox and leading Boston to a World Series title, he’s anchored himself as a marquee player with three Silver Slugger Awards and three All-Star selections.
Jacques selects . . . Andy Pettitte (P, Albany-Colonie Yankees, 1993-94)
A combined 8-2 in 12 starts for A-C with an ERA under 3.00, Pettitte was so good during his second stint in Albany that he started the next season in the bigs.
Pettitte pitched 18 MLB seasons, most with the Yankees. He played three seasons with the Astros, his hometown team, but he’s a New York guy. In his career he was 256-153 with a 3.85 ERA.
Pettitte is a three-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion. Speaking of the playoffs, Pettitte is one of the greatest postseason pitchers the game has ever seen, with a record 19 playoff wins.
Yes, after being named in the Mitchell Report, Pettitte admitted to using HGH while recovering from an injury. Pettitte proved that fans are forgiving when you admit your wrongdoing and seem genuine. Yankee fans love Pettitte and his Texas accent. That does it for pitchers for me, but I’m good with my choices.
Schott selects . . . Doug Drabek (P, Glens Falls White Sox, 1984, Albany-Colonie Yankees, 1985)
Darn you, Jacques! I was hoping Pettitte would fall to me. Oh well.
Not many players can say they played for both the Glens Falls White Sox and Albany-Colonie Yankees. Drabek, originally signed by the Chicago White Sox, was 12–5 with a 2.24 ERA with Glens Falls in 1984 before being traded to the Yankees. With A-C in 1985, Drabek was 13–7 with a 2.99 ERA with 153 strikeouts in 192 2-3 innings.
The Yankees called him up in late May 1986. And then, in one of many infamous trades the Yankees made during the 1980s (probably on the demand of owner George Steinbrenner), Drabek was shipped to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the deal that brought pitcher Rick Rhoden to the Yanks.
Drabek enjoyed his best years with the Pirates, his six-year stint highlighted by his NL Cy Young season in 1990 when he went 22-6 with a 2.76 ERA. Pittsburgh won three straight NL East titles from 1990-92, but lost in the NLCS each year. The 1992 loss was particularly bitter, as Drabek pitched eight shutout innings in Game 7 against the Atlanta Braves and took a 2-0 lead into the ninth before tiring and being lifted for Stan Belinda, who allowed the Braves to complete a three-run rally for the win.
Drabek spent the next four years with the Astros before finishing his career with one-year stints with the White Sox and Baltimore, wrapping his 13-year career with a 155-134 record and a 3.73 ERA.
Schott selects . . . Hunter Pence (OF, Tri-City ValleyCats, 2004)
Capital Region baseball fans got to see Pence twice before he embarked on his 13-year MLB career. Two years before he came to the ValleyCats in 2004, Pence played summer collegiate baseball for the Schenectady (now Amsterdam) Mohawks.
Pence was a second-round selection of the Astros in 2004. He played in 59 games that year for the ValleyCats, and hit .296 with eight homers and 37 RBIs. Three years later, he started his MLB career with the Astros. He was a model of consistency for the Astros, batting .290 with 103 homers and 377 RBIs before my Philadelphia Phillies acquired him in late July 2011 to enhance an already-strong team that rolled to its fifth straight NL East title — only to be ousted by St. Louis in the NLDS.
The following July, the Phillies traded him to the San Francisco Giants for a bunch of nobodies. Pence then won the World Series with the Giants in 2012 and 2014.
Injuries have hampered the four-time All-Star the past few years. So far, Pence has a .280 career batting average with 1,786 hits, including 242 homers and 960 RBIs. After spending last year with the Texas Rangers, Pence was in the Giants’ spring training camp, looking to win a roster spot and play a 14th big-league season.
Jacques selects . . . Jorge Posada (C, Albany-Colonie Yankees, 1993)
Oh man, Ken. You got me back. Pence was potentially going to be my next pick.
So Posada BARELY makes the criteria cut, but IT COUNTS.
Seven games for A-C in ‘93 and 25 at-bats gets it done. He hit .280 in his time here and that’s close to his career average.
Posada spent 17 seasons in the big leagues, all with the New York Yankees, and had a career batting average of .273. Any time a catcher is going to hit .273 with a .474 slugging percentage, you’ll take that. He hit 20-plus home runs eight times. Posada was a five-time Silver Slugger, a five-time All-Star and a four-time world champion.
Was he the greatest defensive catcher? No, but he handled his pitchers and he had a toughness and grit his teammates appreciated. So, people can talk about how he wasn’t good behind the plate, but he had 1,500-plus games, 17 seasons and four rings that say he was pretty darn good.
Altieri selects . . . John Cerutti (P, Albany-Colonie Yankees, 1995)
Probably the most homegrown player on all our rosters, Cerutti was born in Albany and graduated from CBA. A first-round draft pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in 1981, he spent seven years in the majors with Toronto and Detroit, going 49-43 with a 3.94 ERA over 229 career games. Despite not being an All-Star, Cerutti won at least nine games four times in seven years.
While he is a homegrown player, he, too, barely qualifies for this draft because he pitched just one season for the Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs in 1995, tossing 29 innings and helping them to the league finals in what was the end of his career — he also did radio broadcasts for the team when he wasn’t pitching. Prior to being drafted in 1981 out of Amherst College, Cerutti pitched two seasons in the Albany Twilight League in 1979 and 1980, and, frankly, I missed the boat to recruit him to come back to the Twilight League after his 1995 season with the Diamond Dogs.
Shinder selects . . . Dallas Keuchel (P, Tri-City ValleyCats, 2009)
When you can round out your pitching staff with a Cy Young Award winner who’s still on the board at the bottom of the third round, you do it.
The lefty Keuchel started his pro career with the ValleyCats in 2009, going 2-3 with a 2.70 ERA in 11 appearances. He made his MLB debut in 2012, but didn’t really start to find his groove until 2014, when he went 12-9 with a 2.93 ERA. Then came 2015, and one of the great workhorse seasons from a lefty we’ve seen in recent years. A 20-8 campaign with a 2.48 ERA in a league-leading 232 innings, earning him the AL Cy Young.
Keuchel hasn’t hit quite those heights again, but only once in the last six years has he finished a season with an ERA higher than 3.75. Easily the second-best southpaw available in this draft behind Pettitte.
Shinder selects . . . George Springer (OF, Tri-City ValleyCats, 2011)
Like Posada with the Albany-Colonie Yankees, Springer was with the ValleyCats just long enough to qualify for this list. The 11th overall pick in 2011 played the first eight games of his pro career with Tri-City, going 5 for 28 at the plate with a home run and three RBIs.
But, I’m not picking Springer because he was a .179 hitter during his time in Troy. I’m taking him because we’ve got an honest to goodness World Series MVP on the board here. Springer is a terrific postseason performer, with 15 home runs in 50 career playoff games. Five of those dingers came in the 2017 World Series against the Dodgers, when Springer hit .379 as the Astros won their first — and more than slightly controversial — world title in seven games.
Springer’s no slouch in the regular season, either. The three-time AL All-Star is coming off a career-best season in 2019, when he hit .292 with 39 home runs and 96 RBIs.
Through four rounds I’ve got a Hall of Famer, an MVP, a Cy Young winner and a World Series MVP — all of them world champions.
Altieri selects . . . Al Leiter (P, Albany-Colonie Yankees, 1987)
It’s tempting to take another former Twilight League pitcher who meets the criteria and is still out there, but I’ll refrain from favoritism.
My selection in this round is another throwback and fan favorite. I love that Leiter was one of those guys who grinded through a game and emptied the tank every time he pitched. Drafted by the Yankees in the second round in 1984, he made his stop in the Capital Region in 1987, going 3-3 with 71 strikeouts in 78 innings for Albany-Colonie before being promoted to Triple-A then to the majors that same year, all at the age of 21.
Leiter went 162-132 with a 3.80 ERA in a career that spanned from 1987-2005. He was a two-time All-Star and won three World Series titles during his years with the Yankees, Mets, Marlins and Blue Jays.
Jacques selects . . . Ben Zobrist (UTIL, Tri-City ValleyCats, 2004)
Zobrist spent the whole 2004 season in Troy, hitting a blistering .339 with 45 RBIs on the same team as Pence.
Drafted by Houston, Zobrist made his MLB debut with Tampa Bay. Infield or outfield, Zobrist has played almost every position. Zobrist’s 14-year big league career could be over, but he’s a career .266 hitter and has amassed more than 1,500 career hits. The three-time All-Star won back-to-back world titles with the Royals in 2015 and the Cubs in 2016. In 2016, Zobrist was named the World Series MVP. He hit .357 during the series and drove in the go-ahead run in the 10th inning of Game 7, giving Chicago the lead and its first championship in 108 years.
Schott selects . . . Jon “Bam Bam” Mueller (DH/OF, Adirondack Lumberjacks 1995-96, Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs 1997-2000)
I want an investigation! I believe Jacques had a secret camera looking at my draft board! I protest!
All kidding aside, Mueller, a Stillwater native, was a power bat in the Northeast League. He had a .286 batting average for his career with 76 homers and 332 RBIs. He helped the Lumberjacks beat the Diamond Dogs to win the inaugural Northeast League title in 1995. He joined the Diamond Dogs in 1997 and had his best year, batting .306 with 20 homers and 74 RBIs. He was the MVP of the Northern League Championship Series, when the Diamond Dogs defeated the Winnipeg Goldeyes for what amounted to the independent baseball world series. (The Northeast and Northern Leagues combined forces from 1999-2002).
After his retirement following the 2000 season, Mueller became head coach of the UAlbany baseball team, and has been there ever since. Mueller was inducted into the Capital District Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012, as well as the Capital District Basketball Hall of Fame and Stillwater High School Hall of Fame in 2008.
Schott selects . . . Matt Albers (P, Tri-City ValleyCats, 2003)
Looking for that second pitcher was tough. Maybe I didn’t do enough research. However, I can’t ignore Albers.
He pitched in 15 games for the ValleyCats in 2003, the team’s second year in the Capital Region, going 5-2 with 2.92 ERA. The right-hander struck out 94, walked 25 and allowed just one homer in 86 1-3 innings.
Albers has bounced around the majors, pitching for eight teams, mostly as a set-up man. He has a 47-48 career record with a 4.35 ERA. Not the most impressive of stats. However, he must be doing something right. Spending 14 years in the majors is impressive.
Jacques selects . . . Deion Sanders (OF, Albany-Colonie Yankees, 1989)
Ken, I’m not above hacking into your computer . . . but anyone who knows me knows technology isn’t my thing. I’m lucky I can text.
I have to say, I’m sort of surprised Sanders was still on the board. He’s not necessarily the first guy you think of as playing here in our area. Maybe it’s because of the “Core Four” plus Bernie, or maybe it’s because people think of the Braves when they think of Deion. Either way, he played 33 games for Albany-Colonie, hitting .286. In that same season Sanders made his major league debut. Sanders had a nine-year major league career hitting .263 and showing off his speed all over.
“Neon Deion” was also pretty good at football, I hear. He only had a 14-year career in the NFL. Sanders and Bo Jackson playing in the NFL and MLB is just amazing. It’s pretty wild to think about. Sanders was a good baseball player, but an all-time great defensive back in the NFL.
One player has hit a home run in the MLB and scored a touchdown in the NFL in the same week. That player, of course, is Deion Sanders.
Altieri selects . . . Hal Morris (1B, Albany-Colonie Yankees, 1986-87)
Marisa, thanks for snagging “Primetime.” I was hoping to add some flair to my team with Deion in this spot! Keeping the trend of “older” players, my next pick left his mark on the area by playing two seasons for the Albany-Colonie Yankees in 1986 and 1987. In 1987, he set a team record for hits in a season.
Despite being drafted by the Yankees in the eighth round of the 1986 draft, Morris spent most of his 13-career with the Reds, winning a world title in 1990. Overall, he hit .304 with 76 homers and 513 RBI, highlighted by a fifth-place finish in the 1994 NL batting race at .335.
Shinder selects . . . J.T. Snow (1B, Albany-Colonie Yankees, 1991)
Morris is a great value pick at this spot, Joe, a true “Hey, it’s that guy!” of early 1990s baseball.
In that spirit of first basemen drafted by the Yankees who went on to spend the bulk of their career elsewhere, I’ll pick up Snow. Drafted in 1989, Snow spent the 1991 season with Albany-Colonie, hitting .279 with 13 homers, 33 doubles and 76 RBIs. He made his MLB debut with the Yankees in 1992, but spent only seven games with the Bronx Bombers before spending most of his career split between the California Angels and San Francisco Giants.
A solid, if unspectacular, offensive player — a .268 career hitter, though he did have a pair of 20-homer, 100-RBI seasons — Snow excelled on defense, winning six straight Gold Gloves from 1995-2000.
Shinder selects . . . Brad Ausmus (C, Albany-Colonie Yankees, 1991-92)
Hey, another guy drafted by the Yankees who made his mark elsewhere!
Ausmus played 67 games for Albany-Colonie in 1991 and another five in 1992. He was out of the Yankees organization before ever getting called up to the big leagues, as he was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 1992 expansion draft before being traded to the San Diego Padres. That kick-started an 18-year MLB career with four different teams — most notably an eight-year run with the Houston Astros — that included a 1999 All-Star Game appearance, three Gold Gloves and a reputation as one of the best defensive catchers and smartest backstops in the game.
Ausmus also played more games (1,971) than any other Jewish player in MLB history, and while he received exactly zero votes for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016, he was elected to the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame while still an active player in 2004.
Altieri selects . . . Jason Castro (C, Tri-City ValleyCats, 2008)
I’m giving in, and finally choosing a current big leaguer to round out my roster. Castro was drafted in the first round by the Astros in 2008 and spent most of his rookie season with the ValleyCats that year. It wasn’t until 2013, a year he earned All-Star honors, that he found a permanent spot on the Astros’ MLB roster. He stayed in Houston for four seasons before being signed by the Twins in 2017, then signed with the Angels this offseason.
He owns a .231 career average with 86 home runs and 292 RBIs, and overcame a torn meniscus injury in 2018.
Jacques selects . . . Enrique Hernández (UTIL, Tri-City ValleyCats, 2010)
Hernandez played in 60 games for the ValleyCats back in 2010, hitting .280. He’s spent six seasons in the majors with a .241 batting average.
Hernández bounced around in his first year in the bigs playing for three different teams, but has spent the last five with the Dodgers. He’s decent at the plate, but where Hernández really shines is defensively. Hernández plays multiple positions, and plays them all well.
Schott selects . . . Mickey Tettleton (C, Albany-Colonie A’s, 1984)
Once again, Jacques steals another one of my picks. I was looking to make Deion Sanders to be my “Mr. Irrelevant” pick. Nice job, though.
So, I get to pick the only A-C A’s player in this draft. Tettleton played in 84 games for A-C before moving up to Oakland that season, when catcher Jim Essian broke his hand. It was the start of a productive 14-year MLB career.
Besides Oakland, Tettleton played for the Orioles, Tigers and Rangers. His best years were with the Tigers from 1991-94, when he hit .249 with 112 homers and 333 RBIs. He hit 31 homers in 1991, and 32 in both 1992 and 1993. He had a career-high 110 RBIs in 1993.
Tettleton added another 32-homer season with Texas in 1995, and while he had a reputation as a strikeout machine, he also drew plenty of walks with five seasons drawing more than 100 — including an AL-leading 122 in 1992.
And, how can we not include that Tettleton once claimed that Froot Loops were the source of his hitting power?
— — —
Team Schott: Derek Jeter, Doug Drabek, Hunter Pence, Jon Mueller, Matt Albers, Mickey Tettleton
Team Jacques: Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Ben Zobrist, Deion Sanders, Enrique Hernandez
Team Altieri: Bernie Williams, JD Martinez, John Cerutti, Al Leiter, Hal Morris, Jason Castro
Team Shinder: John Smoltz, Jose Altuve, Dallas Keuchel, George Springer, JT Snow, Brad Ausmus