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Winter ball roundup: Australian League

Mets' Cortes stars for Blue Sox in pandemic-altered season
Carlos Cortes hit nearly .400 while playing four different positions for Sydney during the Australian season. (Joe Vella/SMP Images)
@tylermaun
February 24, 2021

Without a Minor League season in 2020, top prospects headed to various locations across the globe for offseason work. In January and Feburary, MiLB.com has looked at the highlights from winter ball seasons worldwide. Past recaps include the Dominican Winter League, Mexican Pacific League, Puerto Rican League and Venezuelan League.

Without a Minor League season in 2020, top prospects headed to various locations across the globe for offseason work. In January and Feburary, MiLB.com has looked at the highlights from winter ball seasons worldwide. Past recaps include the Dominican Winter League, Mexican Pacific League, Puerto Rican League and Venezuelan League.

Season summary

So many leagues played in the Northern Hemisphere winter were affected by the coronavirus pandemic, but the circuit most affected actually may have been taking place in the Southern Hemisphere summer.

That is for good reason in the larger picture. Australia’s work tackling COVID-19 has been stringent, yielding largely positive results. The nation has experienced fewer than one thousand deaths as the pandemic passes a year since its first positive test. But it did cause havoc with the Australian Baseball League’s 2020-21 season.

Prior to the beginning of the campaign, two of the circuit’s eight teams dropped out of the competition for the year. Geelong Korea, a team based outside of Melbourne, Victoria, was unable to field its customary roster of Korea Baseball Organization prospects due to travel restrictions. The Auckland Tuatara, based “across the ditch” in New Zealand, pulled out of the season just weeks before Opening Day, citing travel and economic concerns due to the pandemic.

That left the ABL’s original six to square off for the Claxton Shield, the hallowed championship trophy of Australian baseball. In a mixture of pod and traditional scheduling, the Adelaide Giants, Brisbane Bandits, Canberra Cavalry, Melbourne Aces, Sydney Blue Sox and Perth Heat embarked on what was slated to be a 24-game campaign (pared down from its usual 40).

Since the Australian states and territories handled health and travel restrictions individually during the pandemic, each of the league’s six teams wound up in its own unique situation. That led to wide discrepancies in games played. Sydney, located in the nation’s most populous state, played just 14 times -- finishing in fifth place at 6-8 -- and went from Dec. 19-Jan. 20 without a game after states closed their borders to New South Wales during a small COVID cluster in the Sydney area. Melbourne, by contrast, played over the planned amount of games, going 19-9 after pulling in additional contests.

Originally planned to be a double-elimination tournament over four days, the ABL’s playoffs were shortened to a two-day, single-elimination format with a lockdown looming in Victoria. With that change, Melbourne’s home team took advantage. The Aces routed the Cavalry, 19-4, in their semifinal matchup, then beat Perth, 9-2, to win Melbourne’s second straight league title.

Prospect standouts

The ABL welcomed in a larger amount of team Top-30 prospects than leagues in Latin America this year. In Sydney, 18th-ranked Mets prospect Carlos Cortes stood out. The former South Carolina Gamecocks standout saw time at first base, second base and both corner outfield spots, batting .394/.429/.706 with three homers and 16 RBIs in 14 games.

Infielder Kendall Simmons, the No. 26 Phillies prospect, factored into 21 games for Adelaide. The 20-year-old batted just .172/.221/.219, but finished strong with at least one hit in nine of his last 13 games, including a multi-hit performance in his final contest.

Milwaukee’s No. 18 prospect Nick Kahle made 24 appearances for Brisbane, starting 19 games behind the plate and posting a slash line of .221/.333/.416 with four homers.

A pair of Blue Jays prospects suited up in the nation’s capital for the Cavalry. No. 29 Chavez Young played in just eight games, hitting .222/.250/.259, while No. 30 Samad Taylor fared better with a .244/.333/.367 slash line in 24 contests.

Tyler Maun is a reporter for MiLB.com and co-host of “The Show Before The Show” podcast. You can find him on Twitter @tylermaun.