Looking to play professional baseball? Check out our detailed preview and review of independent leagues, teams, and tryouts below. If you think you can play professional baseball, everything you need to know is here.
Who Plays Independent Baseball?: Independent baseball caters to players who have either been released by an affiliated (MLB) organization or graduated from, and excelled at, a four-year university. If you did not play at a four-year school, your chances of playing professional baseball are extremely low.
What Happens at an Independent League Tryout?: At an independent tryout, like a normal Major League tryout, all players will run the 60-yard dash, outfielders will get 5-6 throws from right field, infielders will get 5-6 throws from shortstop, catchers will get 5-6 throws to 2nd for pop-to-pop times, and all players will get a chance to take anywhere from 10-20 swings depending on the tryout. Some tryouts put players through a pre-game infield-outfield fielding practice and some of the more in-depth tryout camps run a simulated game.
What Are Independent Teams Looking For (at Tryouts)? Independent teams, unlike minor league teams, care less about your age and more about seeing a skill set that will help them win games. Minor league teams want young players with high ceilings and room to project. Independent teams aren’t in the business of projecting players – they are in the business of winning. Specifically, in the 60-yard dash they want to see at least a time a 7.0 or lower except for catchers and corner infielders. From the outfield you’ll need to show good carry on the ball with a low, on target throw, through the cut-off man and true one-hop bounce to 3rd base or home. Infielders need good feet, good hands, the arm strength to make the backhand throw and coordination to make the play on the slow roller. Catchers need a pop time of at least 2.0 in a tryout setting, which will be closer to 2.1 or 2.2 in a game setting. Hitters will need to show consistent mechanics with good balance and a smooth, controlled swing that stays in the zone for a long time. A lot of attention is paid to how the ball comes off your bat and the carry you have to the gaps and out of the park. Realistically, if you are in a tryout in the first place, you are not trying out for a starting spot, but looking to compete for a spot on the bench, so teams are less worried about your raw power and more worried about your ability to make contact, draw a walk, bunt, or hit situationally.
Pitchers will need to show command of at least two pitches for relievers and three pitches for starters. Velocity of 88+ for righties and 86+ for lefties is essential unless you have an overwhelming breaking ball and/or off-speed pitch (change, split). Finally, you will need to have some sort of statistical proof of your ability to confirm what the coaches are seeing – it is important to note that ability alone is not enough to get a job, you need to have the size, stature, and athleticism to prove you can be as good in game #96 as you are in game #1. It is not good enough to be a talented athlete – you need a history of success and proof you can be professional and keep your body in-shape through the rigors of a long season. Therefore, if have no played in college, or have no put up numbers in a respectable summer wood bat collegiate league, it is extremely difficult for independent teams to take a chance on you.
Independent League Tryouts: For a complete list of independent league tryouts, you must purchase a premium membership for $9.99 and click on the “Events” tab.
Continental League: The Continental League is almost exclusively for players that go undrafted out of college, but does sign some players with professional experience that can’t find job anywhere else in independent baseball. The pay is poor – $1,000 for the entire summer – and the reputation of the league and individual teams is anything but sparkling. There have been reports in the past of players not being paid, and attendance is weak, averaging just 200-300 fans per game across the league. Website: www.cblproball.com.
New York State League: The New York State League is a short-season showcase league that helps keep undrafted college seniors in shape and ready to play if one of the bigger indy leagues has a need. The league is supplied with players almost exclusively from Nick Belmonte’s Indy Pro Showcase Tryout(s), which are held at a couple different locations throughout the year. The last we heard, the league does not pay its players and is not technically recognized as an independent league.
United League: The United League had some financial issues last year and was pulled from the wreckage with a new ownership group at the last second, breathing life into the six remaining franchises. The league is based in Texas and has no age limit, helping draw a surprising amount of talent for the condition of some of the ballparks. Amarillo and San Angelo are the highest drawing sites, pulling in averages of 3,200 and 2,200 respectively, while the rest of the league is in the 800 – 1,500 range. We don’t have specifics on the player salary range, but we have an educated guess that the average player, like most indy leagues, will get from $700-$800/month. Website: www.unitedleague.org.
Frontier League: The Frontier League is the only independent league with an age limit, which limits the talent pool to players under the age of 27. The majority of the rosters are made up of players who are released from affiliated baseball, usually at the rookie or short season-A levels, with a few low-A, high-A and double-A players mixed in. Compared to other independent leagues, the Frontier League has a higher concentration of undrafted college players, but the majority of the players, around 70-80%, have played professionally before coming to league. Pay ranges from $600 to $1,600/month with a host family (no rent) with the average salary in the $900 range. The league currently has 12 teams, and with several ballparks built within the last five years, boasts some of the best league-wide attendance in the independent baseball world. Unlike other leagues with a 22-man roster limit, the Frontier League allows teams to carry 24 players, with a minimum of 12 rookies, which benefits a lot of young players find a job, especially pitchers. Website – www.frontierleague.com.
Golden League: The Golden League only allows players over the age of 27 if they have played at the double-A level or higher, which isn’t too difficult to find for the west coast based league. The salary cap is modest compared to other unlimited age leagues, which makes the Golden League a bit top heavy, with ex-MLB and triple-A level players mixed in with undrafted college players or ex-rookie ball players. However, the concentration of talent and scouts on the west coast gets a lot of players signed by affiliated organizations. Outside of the salary cap and the double-A rule for those over 27, the Golden League does not have a classification system like other independent leagues. Website: www.goldenbaseball.com.
CanAm League: The CanAm League is an unlimited age league that has struggled to keep the numbers of teams up in the past few years, and will compete with just six teams in 2010. Pittsfield, a long member of the New England Collegiate League, will take the spot of the New Hampshire franchise, which closed up shop after several years struggling to draw fans. The competition is better than the attendance, which only has Quebec above the 3,000/fans per game mark. Brockton, who locked their doors while negotiating their debt with the city, was second with around 2,600/game in 2009. League minimum salary is $800/month with some veteran players (6+ years experience) making $2,000+/month. Rosters are restricted to 22, with a couple spots for the disabled list and a couple more on inactive. Teams are required to have just five rookies, however, players with one season of rookie ball or independent experience are still considered rookies, making it more difficult for undrafted college players with no professional experience to break-in. Website: www.canamleague.com.
Northern League: The Northern League is attempting to rebound after losing several of its franchise members to the Golden League and American Association in the past few years. This off-season, they will go from six to eight teams, adding Rockford, who comes over from the Frontier League, and Lake County, an expansion franchise that boasts Kevin Costner as part owner. Because the Northern League used to be associated closely with the American Association and CanAm League, they have very similar roster rules with some minor differences in salary cap. Therefore, the minimum salary is also $800/month and likewise, are only required to carry five rookies. Website: www.northernleague.com.
American Association: The American Association is run by the same roster rules as the CanAm League, although it is altogether much more successful on the back of some great ballparks and markets. Six of their team teams have an average of 3,000 fans per game, making for a great atmosphere to play in on a nightly basis. Website: www.americanassociationbaseball.com.
Atlantic League: The Atlantic League has the longest season (140 games) and highest payroll of any independent league, which helps them draw players with an average of triple-A experience. A great deal of Atlantic League players have MLB experience, with many of them being somewhat prominent names in the baseball world. The Atlantic League has no roster rules and limited opportunity for younger players, although giving high salaries to big-name stars makes it necessary to sign a couple younger players to balance it out. Website: www.atlanticleague.com.