By Dave Burns
With the start of the Austrian baseball league just around the corner, many people are waiting in anticipation as to how things are going to unfold this year. With some big changes to the league this year, things are going to be quite different.
First of all, the ABL decreased from 8 teams to 6. In my 8 years of ABL experience, this was a good move since typically the bottom two teams are competing at a different level and the season goes way to long.
Second, they increased the number of imports permitted on the field from one to two. I also agree with this change as it will only raise the level of play even more while still leaving plenty of opportunities for Austrians to play ball.
With that being said, a lot of teams have beefed up their rosters in anticipation for what appears to be a dogfight. In this year more than any, it appears that it is anyone’s title to win.
With that being said, I will go out on a limb and make some predictions, something that I am not very good at doing and with all these changes, a difficult task to say the least.
After an early exit in the 2012 postseason, some changes may be welcome in Attnang. Although some changes apparently are going to hurt the Athletics, I believe change for this club is maybe what it needs.
This change is going from an almost automatic playoff spot the past five seasons to the underdog who many will predict will be in a fight to stay in the ABL come the end of the season. This is largely due to the retirement of Johnny Kashuba and the year pause of Harold Pointner, two of the club’s top infielders and a huge offensive threat in Kashuba.
Also moving on is a highly skilled and youthful Markus Effedinger (work related), a player who many had hoped to be the future of the Athletics. To top it off Martin Rabengruber is out for most of the season with a knee injury. With these changes, the A’s will be looking to their young players this year to carry some of the load as the old guys like myself and Gruber will take a step back.
New are pitcher/coach John Dobkowski, add Richard Bermudez from the Vikings to the list along with Andre Gruber coming out of retirement and you may ask why I believe the Athletics are the underdog?!?
Well that is because you haven’t heard what some of the other clubs are up to yet.
The Athletics pitching depth will be the big question mark for the A’s success. The Athletics cannot rely on Walter Strasser to continue to shut down teams game-after-game for 9 innings each appearance. And with a limited number of arms to back him up in that first game, the Athletics will have a tough time sweeping doubleheaders like they used to.
Unlike the Athletics, the Cubs do not have many changes that I am aware of. David Whigham is the import pitcher replacing Seth Blevins. Whigham has been playing Indy ball for 6 years now and brings with him a ton of experience. Arian Quirantes will continue to give the cubs the big bat and if they can continue to play small ball like they did against us last year, behind the strong Austrian pitching of Mark Brunnthaler and Michael Schneider, these Cubs can give any ABL team a run for their money.
The Cubs were third in the league last year in hitting, a statistic that will probably drop as Seth Blevins was a good hitting pitcher. On the mound I expect the Cubs to improve with the addition of Whigham however, I believe their pitching depth may be an issue.
They will need to win a number of close games to find success deep into the season.
Wr. Neustadt Divings Ducks
Wow. This team is hungry is all I have to say. After getting destroyed by them in the playoffs last season, I am able to confidently say that this team comes to play.
The Ducks have undergone some big changes coming into the 2013 season. Changes that I think can only help the them….. a lot. To the dismay of most opposing batters, last year’s top pitcher Ryan Kroko is back. However, as if that wasn’t enough, the Ducks went and added stud Australian pitcher Wayne Ough who spent the last season tearing up the Czech Elite League. At 34, Ough still has game and not only on the mound. Ough hit .430 in the Czech Republic last year and posted a .262 era.
Oh wait, I am not done. The Ducks decided to add an Australian catcher by the name of Jake Turcato just to make things more interesting. Lastly, bringing it all together is new import coach Ryan Myers.
I heard rumors they lost a couple of players in Julio Diaz and Jason Wall. If that is the case they more than made up for it. With ringleader Clemens Cichocki on the mound in game one, you can start placing your bets that the Ducks will see themselves in a familiar place come September.
Last year the Ducks finished 5th in batting but did not show that at all in the playoffs. With the addition of Ough and Turcato, I expect them to be in the top three. Pitching wise they finished fourth, a statistic that I think they will improve on this year, especially when considering the way Cichocki ended last season. When it comes to their Austrian pitching depth, I believe they fall a bit short here and this could be their only problem if Cichocki can’t pick up where he left off.
The Dornbirn Indians last year finished 7th in both era and batting average, despite having American pitcher coach Danny Hall, Canadian Devery van deKeere (one of the top hitters) and catcher / Canadian Matt Patrick on the roster. Hard to understand but summed up by the fact that there is not a lot of depth on the bench.
In the offseason that problem was solved by the folding of the Schwarz Tigers which led to the acquisition of Paul Astl and Franz Haisjackl, the Tigers top two Austrian pitchers and batsmen. With the return of the aforementioned foreign players (two of which play as Austrians), I expect the Indians to improve on their 2012 5th place finish by at least two notches. Throw Joachim Frick into that line up and you can expect a lot of early departures from opposing starting pitchers. With Hall and van deKeere both able to chuck, and the addition of the Tigers top boys, I don’t see any weaknesses in this team. I have them jockeying to have their name engraved on the trophy at the end of 2013.
The Vienna Metrostars held the best record at the end of the 2012 regular season. Like the Athletics, they had a disappointing finish as they were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by their home park rivals and eventual champions the Vienna Wanderers. Departing is Jeff Tezak and Ross Husky. Replacing Tezak is outfielder Will Owens. However the Mets are welcoming back JT Hilliard, Marcel Ceska and Elias Niel back from injuries.
Full with some of Austria’s best talent, this team has proven year after year that they are a hitting machine with a ton of pitching depth. Their pitchers aren’t going to come in and blow you away for 9 innings necessarily, but they are clever and consistent. With coach Tim Patrick quick to throw in a new arm when he sees the need, opposing hitters find themselves constantly adjusting to new pitching styles and speeds throughout the 18 innings. The question will be, will the Mets hit the import pitching well enough to support their Austrian pitching staff?
As usual, I expect this team to be standing when the dust settles at the end of the regular season, gearing up for the final four. However, more than ever, this is far from a guarantee like it has been in past years.
I almost forgot, we still haven’t gotten to last years cinderella team and champions, the Vienna Wanderers. The 2012 Wanderers are the prime example of why change is sometimes good in sports, even if it appears like change for the worse on paper. Last year everyone counted the Wanderers out before a pitch was even thrown. They had lost some key veteran players, Cichocki being one of them, and everyone had them pegged as bottom two. As far as I remember, that is the way it seemed it was going to play out after the first 6 games when the Wanderers found themselves near the bottom.
But something changed. Something lit a fire under them that was impossible to extinguish. The Wanderers got hot at the right time and with the addition of Andrew Overthaler into their lineup late in the season, this club went on a terror and never looked back.
Coming into 2013, they made no changes that I am aware of. Hiro Sakanashi will continue to work his magic and get the most out of his players and they will continue to have fun while playing baseball. That was what I personally noticed with this club, they were having fun and had good team chemistry.
Joe Wilson is back and is a big bat and a solid presence on the mound. He finished the season super hot and you can look to him to pick up where he left off. Felix Zimmerle, yet to hit is prime and already one of the top Austrian pitchers, will start most Austrian ends of the doubleheader with veteran Johannes Godler backing him up.
The only question is how the Wanderers will stack up in the import game with the talented import pitching throughout the ABL this year. Will Wilson, the ageless ChristianTomsich and Sakanshi be able to carry the load on the mound? My guess is yes.
I am pretty sure that there will be a couple more changes made and some info that I am not aware of but nevertheless, here is my vague prediction:
I believe the two Vienna clubs, the Ducks and Indians will be battling it out in the end. However, you can’t count the Athletics and Cubs out and I would not be surprised to see any team win it this year. That is as far as I am going to go with a prediction. On paper these four clubs look the best but we all know come playoffs anything can happen and a lot rides on injuries and who is hot and who is not.
All I know, is I can’t wait to see what happens!
If any of you clubs want to add one more import before the deadline, there are plenty of talented players still looking for homes at:
David Burns is a Canadian born baseball player who is currently working and playing ball in Austria. He plays for the Attnang Athletics and coaches at a local international school. He also runs one of the best places to find baseball positions overseas at InternationalBaseballCommunity.com.