Major leaguers travel on charter planes. The scouts who discover them, as a general rule, do not. Their itineraries include red-eyes and back roads, and their expertise is in making sense of what occurs on the field once they arrive.
The lucky ones have assignments that fall within a given geographic region. Chris Carminucci, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ coordinator of independent league scouting, is not one of them. And his willingness to go anywhere, in the name of finding talent, is why the fourth-place Diamondbacks can claim one of the best stories in baseball this season: David Peralta, the effervescent 27-year-old rookie outfielder from Venezuela.
Independent ball, as it is known in the trade, refers to a loose confederation of leagues across the U.S. and Canada that do not have ties to major-league organizations. While their level of competition often equates to Class A, independent leagues do not have the stamp of "affiliated" baseball. What they do have is an unfettered market: If a major-league scout sees a player he likes, his bosses are free to purchase the contract — often for only a few thousand dollars.
The American Association spans from Laredo, Texas, to Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Atlantic League stretches from Long Island to suburban Houston. And so Carminucci, who lives in Connecticut, is almost never there.
"I can’t keep track of him," said Mike Bell, the Diamondbacks’ director of player development. "I don’t know if I’ve ever called him when he’s not in a car driving through Canada, or in Lincoln, Nebraska, or somewhere in the Northeast. Then he gets on a plane and shoots down to Texas.
"This guy must have coffee running through his veins. And I’ve never talked with him when he’s not having a good day."
A slight amendment: Carminucci is having a good year. This season, the Diamondbacks have called up three players Carminucci signed out of independent leagues: infielder Andy Marte, right-hander Bo Schultz, and Peralta. For three indy ball alums to play on the same team is rare. To have one on the fringe of the National League Rookie of the Year discussion . . . well . . . it would be difficult to imagine this sort of baseball tale even while daydreaming in the grandstand at Yogi Berra Stadium – which, by the way, is home to an independent club in Upper Montclair, N.J.
Peralta, who made his major-league debut June 1, is now the Diamondbacks’ everyday right fielder and No. 3 hitter, with All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt lost for the season. Peralta’s .793 OPS ranks among the top 30 major-league outfielders who have at least 250 plate appearances this year. His star rose even higher this month, with a bold steal of home on a lazy throw back to the pitcher by Colorado catcher Michael McKenry. He’s drawn favorable comparisons to Rays outfielder David DeJesus, the smooth, steady, 12-year big leaguer.
And to think: Peralta’s pro baseball career began as a pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals’ system. He was released in 2009 after two shoulder surgeries, having never made it out of rookie ball. But Peralta went home to Venezuela, transformed himself into a position player and returned to the U.S. in 2011 as an outfielder with the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings of the North American League . . . which no longer exists. (One thing about indy ball: No one talks about building for the future.)
Once Peralta moved in 2012 to the Wichita Wingnuts of the (higher-profile and still-breathing) American Association, he was on Carminucci’s radar.
"I saw him for the first time in Wichita, and I liked him," Carminucci recalled over the telephone Wednesday. [Naturally, while we spoke, he was waiting for the start of a game in Billings, Mont.] As the ’12 season wore on, two of Carminucci’s contacts with a rival team in the American Association – Laredo Lemurs manager Pete Incaviglia and pitching coach Bill Bryk Jr. – reaffirmed his original assessment of Peralta: He’s a good ‘A’ ball player if you need one.
"That’s how it usually works in independent baseball," Carminucci explained. "You sign a player either because he completely dominates the competition, or because he fits a particular need when your organization has an injury at a position and isn’t ready to promote a prospect from the lower level."
Another year passed before the Diamondbacks found a job for Peralta. Carminucci conducted a private workout with him during the spring of 2013 at venerable Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla., before Peralta went off to play for another independent club in Amarillo, Texas.
"He was calling me every three or four days: ‘I was 2 for 3 with a double. I went 3 for 4,’ " Carminucci remembered. "He kept calling and texting me. I had asked him to do that. There was no doubt in his mind that he could play in the big leagues. He has a quiet confidence, a real belief in himself. He comes from a great family."
Carminucci filed the scouting report. From there, it was up to Bell, who is in charge of movement between the Diamondbacks’ minor-league affiliates. Finally a roster spot opened at Class A Visalia, and the Diamondbacks purchased Peralta’s contract. He had his second chance at affiliated ball — and responded with a .346 batting average in 51 games.
"Every independent league player brings something to the clubhouse: They’ve failed," said Carminucci, a former independent league player, manager and general manager. "In this game, you have to learn how to fail and get back up and fight. David in particular has done that, but that’s true of these other guys, too. And from the moment he walked into that clubhouse last year, everyone had instant respect for him, because he came all the way back.
"There’s a saying in independent ball: ‘You donât like where you are? Play better and get out.’ "
The stellar half-season at Visalia wasn’t enough for Peralta to get an invitation to the Diamondbacks’ major-league spring camp. He made an impression on general manager Kevin Towers, anyway. Added to the roster for a spring game because the Diamondbacks needed an extra outfielder, Peralta grounded a single up the middle and hustled to second on a momentary bobble by the center fielder.
"KT was sitting ahead of me," Bell recalled. "He turned around and asked, ‘Does he always run that good?’ I just said, ‘I can tell you, he always runs that hard.’
"There are certain players who have a look about them. That day, a light bulb went off in Kevin’s head, like, ‘This guy’s a big leaguer.’ Kevin started talking about him [as a call-up candidate] real early in the season. It’s funny: That one play in spring training stood out in our GM’s eyes, and it stuck with him all year."
The irony, of course, is that Carminucci has had little time to admire the ascent of his star signee. He’s too busy trying to find the next David Peralta, while several more of his former independent leaguers are progressing through the Diamondbacks’ system. Nick Sarianides, a 24-year-old reliever, has been dominant at low Class A South Bend; Carminucci found him pitching for a Can-Am League team in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec.
Carminucci said he’s grateful that Towers, Bell and chief Diamondbacks scout Bill Bryk value his expertise in what many baseball executives view as a niche market. In contrast to massive amateur scouting departments that cost upwards of $4 million per year – before signing bonuses – only a handful of major-league organizations employ a full-time independent league scout like Carminucci.