Minor leaguers mean business

It was a season marked by celebration for many of the local athletes currently plying their trade in baseball's minor leagues.

Whether it was celebration of one's talent in the form of an all-star or MVP nod, or a dog pile on the infield in exultation of a team championship, accomplishments abounded for alumni of the area's high schools and Glendale Community College.

Rookies enjoyed some of the most notable success, as Joe De Pinto and Bryan Longpre, in his first full pro season, both won team titles in their respective leagues and Christian Bergman came a game away from being able to say the same.

Billy Spottiswood also tasted championship glory, as other veterans like Fernando Valenzuela, Jr., a first-time all-star, showed they still have plenty of game.

Big leaguers Trevor Bell and Doug Slaten showed that the road to the majors is indeed a two-wat street, as both established hurlers spent time back on the farm.

The following is a recap of the highlights of locals that donned a cap and cleats to live the dream of being a professional baseball player:

Christian Bergman (St. Francis High, 2006) Tri-City Dust Devils starting pitcher: In his rookie season with the Class-A Short Season Northwest League affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, Bergman managed to pack in plenty of accomplishments, including an all-star nod and two playoff wins.

After winning the Northwest League East Division with a 44-32 record, the Dust Devils swept the Boise Hawks in a best-of-three series to open the playoffs and advance to the league-championship series against the Vancouver Canadians. Bergman allowed two runs over six innings to pitch the team to a 5-3 second-game win over Vancouver on Sept. 10, Tri-City's lone victory in the best-of-three set.

"Obviously, I would have liked for us to get that last game, but it was a great experience," Bergman said of his first year as a pro, in which he went 7-5 with a 2.59 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 97 1/3 innings pitched during the regular season. "I really learned a lot, it was a great group of guys and I had a lot of fun."

On Sept. 5, the former UC Irvine standout notched his first career playoff win, tossing seven two-hit, shutout innings in a 6-0 win over the Hawks.

"I was surprised just how much I was really relaxed going into that game," Bergman said. "[Against Vancouver] that was just more of a gutsy performance, especially in front of that crowd. They're just a tough team — they won it all."

Bergman was one of three starting pitchers named to the Northwest League Post-Season All-Star team

"Being in the playoffs in high school and college definitely prepared me in the way that I learned not to treat it like it's bigger than any other game," said Bergman, who played on a CIF finalist team as a senior at St. Francis before playing in the postseason with the Anteaters. "You have to go in with the same mindset you always do."

Trevor Bell (Crescenta Valley High, 2005) Salt Lake Bees starting pitcher: Bell spent his seventh professional season being shuttled back and forth between the Triple-A Bees and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, finally ending the season in the majors after Salt Lake's season ended on Sept. 5 with a last-place finish in the Pacific Coast League's Pacific Northern Division at 62-82.

Bell had a rough start to the season, allowing 11 runs in 13 innings pitched over his first two starts with the Bees. He then got called up to the Angels, where he remained through his last big league appearance of the stint on July 17.

After rejoining the Bees on July 22, Bell had his best stretch of the Triple-A season, going 1-0 in three starts with three runs allowed over 13 innings.

He went 1-3 in his final six starts at Salt Lake after being sent down for the final time on Aug. 17. Overall, Bell posted a season line of 2-5 with 6.27 earned-run average in the minors, striking out 49 and walking 13 in 56 innings pitched over 10 starts and one relief appearance.

Bell made three more major league appearances in September to round out his big league stat line at 1-1 with a 3.41 ERA.

Bryan Longpre (Crescenta Valley High, 2005) Vancouver Canadians relief pitcher: Bergman's loss was Longpre's gain, as the former Falcon contributed out of the bullpen in his first professional postseason to help the Class-A Short Season affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays win the Northwest League championship, culminating in a best-of-three series win over the Tri-City Dust Devils.

In three playoff appearances over a run that began with the Eugene Emeralds, Longpre allowed two earned runs on four hits while striking out seven in 3 2/3 innings pitched. He entered the championship game on Sept. 11 in the top of the seventh inning with a 3-1 lead and retired the side in order before the Canadians' bats pounded out five runs in the bottom of the frame to blow the contest open.

Longpre, who earned a hold in the win, returned for the eighth inning and gave up one run.

The Cal State Northridge alum was a consistent late-game option for most of his first full season in the minors, as his 3.56 ERA was inflated by a short-lived stint with the Lansing Lugnuts (0-0 with four earned runs allowed in two innings pitched) and a skid to end the regular season in which he gave up 11 earned runs over his last eight appearances with the Canadians (39-37 for second place in the Northwest League West Division).

On the regular season with Vancouver, where he spent the bulk of his time aside from the promotion to the Class-A Lugnuts that lasted from June 30 to July 7, Longpre went 4-3 with a 2.85 ERA and 38 strikeouts to 14 walks in 41 innings of work.

Billy Spottiswood (Glendale Community College, 2005) Mobile BayBears relief pitcher: The former Vaquero continued to record important outs for the BayBears out of the bullpen right up until the last day of the season, which saw the Double-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks clinch the Southern League championship with a 6-4 win over the Tennessee Smokies.

Spottiswood entered the clinching game in the bottom of the seventh inning with a runner on second base and the tying run at the plate after the Smokies had scored three runs to pull within 6-4. He induced an inning-ending flyout by the only runner he faced to pick up his second hold of the best-of-five championship series, which Mobile won, 3-1.

During the BayBears' postseason run, which began with a 3-2 series win over the Birmingham Barons after the team went 46-22 to win the Southern League South Division, Spottiswood was lights out, going 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in four innings pitched over five appearances with two strikeouts and two holds. In the regular season, the right-hander out of Cal State Chico went 5-3 with a 2.86 ERA, two saves and 61 strikeouts to 20 walks in 72 1/3 innings pitched.

Joe De Pinto (St. Francis High, 2007) Great Falls Voyagers second baseman: After leading the charge in the Rookie affiliate of the Chicago White Sox's impressive regular-season turnaround, De Pinto continued to be steady at the plate in the playoffs, which resulted in a Pioneer League championship.

De Pinto batted .222 with a run batted in and five walks over five playoff games that included a three-game series win over the Missoula Osprey and a two-game championship sweep of the Ogden Raptors. The former Golden Knight and USC Trojan went one for three with a walk in the Voyagers' clinching 7-1 win on Sept. 15.

The Voyagers were 17-21 through the first half of the season, but rallied to finish 42-34 and win the Pioneer League North Division. De Pinto was voted his team's most valuable player after batting .285 (75 for 263) with 18 doubles, five home runs, 46 RBIs and seven steals.

Doug Slaten (Glendale Community College, 1999) starting/relief pitcher, Syracuse Chiefs: While working his way back to the Washington Nationals after a three-month stint on the disabled list, Slaten had tuneups with no less than four minor league teams before wrapping up with a three-game stint with the Chiefs of the International League, where he put up 2 2/3 scoreless innings, all in relief.

Overall in the minors, Slaten posted no record, had a 1.74 ERA and 11 strikeouts to no walks in 10 1/3 innings pitched over nine appearances, including four starts. As a big leaguer, Slaten finished the season 0-2 with a 4.41 ERA after being reactivated on Sept. 4.

Fernando Valenzuela, Jr. (St. Francis High, 2000) Leones de Yucatan designated hitter: Even as the Leones struggled through a forgettable season, Valenzuela, Jr. posted eye-popping numbers from wire to wire in what stands as the most impressive campaign statistically in his seven minor league seasons.

While garnering his first-ever selection as a Mexican League Mid-Season All-Star, Valenzuela, who also played for Glendale Community College, hit for average and power to the tune of a league sixth-best .359 average with a .503 slugging percentage, eight home runs and 61 runs batted in and 24 doubles in 98 games.

The Leones surely could have used a few more players like Valenzuela, as they finished last in the Mexican League with a 43-62 record, 19 games out of first place in the South Division.

Dustin Emmons (Crescenta Valley High, 2007) Kingsport Mets relief pitcher: It was an up-and-down rookie campaign for Emmons, who started off hot in allowing just one run in his first three appearances before seeing his ERA rise over 4. Things evened out for the UC Riverside alum in the end, as he posted a record of 2-0 with a 3.78 ERA and 21 strikeouts to 10 walks.

As a possible sign of things to come, Emmons made his only start of the season in the Rookie affiliate of the New York Mets' season finale, tossing four two-hit innings with one unearned run allowed before getting a no-decision in the 10-5 win over the Bristol White Sox.

Kingsport (39-29) finished third in the Appalachian League West Division, but heated up over the second half to win 29 of its last 39 games.

Ryan Sherriff (Glendale Community College, 2011) Batavia Muckdogs, starting pitcher: During his first pro season, one of the heroes of the Vaqueros' 2010 run to the state tournament managed to get himself promoted within the St. Louis Cardinals organization.

After beginning the year with the Rookie League Johnson City Cardinals, where he went 2-2 with a 4.54 ERA in nine outings (five starts), Sherriff was called up the Class-A Short Season New York-Penn League Muckdogs on Aug. 16.

Despite the jump in competition, Sherriff performed considerably better over the remainder of the season, going 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA to finish the campaign 3-3 overall with a 3.93 ERA with 31 strikeouts to 10 walks.

Sherriff won his final start for the Muckdogs, who went 37-38 for fourth place in the NYP League Pinckney Division, by allowing two earned runs over 5 2/3 innings in a 4-2 win over the division-champion Auburn Doubledays on Sept. 6.

Jesse Meaux (Glendale High, 2007) Tri-City Dust Devils relief pitcher: Meaux appeared in one game during his rookie season, tossing two shutout innings with two strikeouts in a 4-3 loss to the Eugene Emeralds on July 15. He was placed on the seven-day disabled list July 21 and did not make another appearance.

Fernando Rios (Glendale High, 1997) Arceros Del Norte, outfielder: Rios batted .226 with five RBIs and eight runs scored in 19 games before being waived in April.

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