A minor-league baseball player does not discriminate on his quest to make it to the majors.
He’ll play for teams named Yankees and Cubs or slum it with clubs called Rumble Ponies, Baby Cakes and Muckdogs.
The games are played from Tacoma to Tampa and everywhere in between, from Buies Creek, North Carolina (population 2,942), to Brooklyn, New York (2,629,150).
More than 50 players with ties to Southern Arizona were part of the elaborate system this season, part of a collection of 5,300-plus players on 184 minor-league teams with the same, solitary goal of earning a spot in the big leagues.
Some excelled. Some were cut. Eight played their first games in the minors, and one (former Arizona Wildcats standout Dan Butler) played his 700th.
With the 2017 regular season in the books, here’s a look at which players performed best and other highlights from a notable year.
Batter of the year:
Key stats: .304 batting average, 26 home runs, 29 doubles, eight triples, 29 stolen bases, 103 runs
The Phillies thought they knew what they had in Kingery entering this season, but then the ex-UA All-American and 2015 second-round pick became a power hitter out of seemingly nowhere. (He hadn’t hit more than five homers in a season since his days at Phoenix Mountain Pointe High School.)
Kingery’s start-to-finish production earned him a spot in the All-Star Futures Game in July, and last week Philadelphia named him the organization’s minor-league position player of the year. He was promoted to Triple-A in June.
The Phillies have a lot of young middle infield talent, but Kingery seems as promising as anyone.
He’s now ranked the No. 1 second base prospect in baseball according to MLB.com.
Not bad for a guy who walked on at Arizona in 2013.
• Alex Verdugo. The Sahuaro High grad hit .314 in Triple-A and also played in the Futures Game. He made his big-league debut with the Dodgers on Sept. 1 and homered Sunday.
• Darick Hall. A Sierra Vista native, he belted 29 homers and had 101 RBIs while hitting .270 across two Class A levels in the Phillies’ farm system.
Pitcher of the year:
Key stats: 9-7 record, 4.33 ERA, 117 strikeouts, 21 walks, 1.21 WHIP
The numbers above seem pedestrian for a pitcher earning this fake award. But dig deeper. Bannister was dominant the last three months of the season, and he also turned in what may have been the best single-game performance of the year.
In his final 14 starts with Single-A Modesto in the Mariners system, Bannister went 7-3 with a 2.12 ERA. Most impressive of all? He struck out 64 batters and walked only six in that 76-inning stretch in the High-A California League.
Bannister was drafted in the 28th round in 2016 while leading the UA to the College World Series finals. An injury delayed his pro debut until this year. In his sixth pro start, he was asked to fill in for Triple-A Tacoma on a few hours’ notice.
It was then that he gave a glimpse of his late-season prowess, tossing 6º scoreless innings with no walks and six strikeouts.
• Stephan Meyer. A right-hander out of Ironwood Ridge High, he went 4-2 with a 3.29 ERA in 14 outings for the Pirates’ short-season and full-season Class A teams.
• James Farris. The UA alum scuffled in Triple-A once promoted by the Rockies in late May, but he had nine saves in 10 opportunities and a 1.45 ERA in Double-A.
• Alex Mejia (UA), St. Louis Cardinals
• Alex Verdugo (Sahuaro HS), Los Angeles Dodgers
• Willie Calhoun (UA): Los Angeles Dodgers to Texas Rangers
• Seth Mejias-Brean (Cienega HS and UA): Cincinnati Reds to Seattle Mariners
• Rob Refsnyder (UA): New York Yankees to Toronto Blue Jays
The big number
10 Players from Southern Arizona drafted in June’s MLB First-Year Player Draft: six from the UA, and one each from Tucson, Cienega, Nogales and Catalina Foothills high schools.