This article was put together for the baseball player who is considering taking his career overseas to Australia but has little or no idea of what opportunities exist and where.
Australia is one of the biggest markets where more and more established and aspiring professionals are taking their game for the winter. The Australian Baseball League (ABL) is rapidly becoming a top desired winter destination for affiliated and top indy pro players while there are six state leagues offering opportunity for the recently released professional or the college graduate.
The ABL is the national professional league featuring six Australian teams and as of 2018-19 will be expanding by two more teams with a franchise awarded to both New Zealand and Korea. The ABL season starts a month later than the state leagues (in November) with the championship series ending early February, about 5-6 weeks earlier than the state leagues wrap up.
The six ABL teams in Australia are located in the six biggest baseball states which include Queensland, New South Wales, Capital Territory (ACT), Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. Within these six states, there are club ball leagues which also offer opportunities for established and aspiring professional players to come play baseball at a good level. These leagues act as a minor league system to the ABL and often clubs will permit their foreign players to play in the ABL if the opportunity arises. Imports to the state leagues can spend the season in Australia without going into debt and are typically set up with a host family and a job (under a working-holiday visa) and often can work as little or as much as they like in addition to playing baseball. Previous state league imports have held down jobs ranging from sport facility management, to bartending, to construction work.
Making the Jump to the ABL from State Leagues
We have had over 20 of our members make the jump from the state leagues to the ABL since 2016, many of which had little or no pro experience. Here are a few of the bigger success stories.
Will Thorp – catcher out of Lewis-Clark State College, no pro experience. Was picked up out of the state leagues by the Adelaide Bite during the 2014-15 season and the Brisbane Bandits during the 2015-16 season. Here is an interview of Will’s experience playing in both Brisbane and Adelaide and his time with the Bandits.
Louis Cohen – Pitcher out of Cal State University Northridge who had no pro experience prior to being picked up by the Canberra Cavalry out of the state league both in 2015-16 and 2016-17. He now plays in the Frontier League and is a league era leader.
Max MacNabb (P) – This University of San Diego alum spent a season playing Rookie ball with the Padres before being released. After two seasons in the state leagues in Australia, Max started to reinvent himself and was called up to the Adelaide Bite where he went on to become an ABL All-Star during the 2015-16 season. Max then signed with the Orioles and is now an All-Star in the Frontier League.
Alex Carter – A Georgetown University grad, AC was drafted by the Rockies but didn’t get to see any action. He took his career overseas to play state league Australia and soon found himself in an Adelaide Bite uniform. He also has the best chest hair in baseball.
Mike Hart – A UMass product, Mike took his career to Perth for the 2017-18 winter, signing on to play state league baseball. Towards the second half of the season Mike saw regular action with the Perth Heat which has led to a stint in the American Association for the 2018 summer.
Jaz Shergill – A Canadian pitcher with no previous experience, Jaz paid his own flight to play state league Queensland for the 2013-14 season and within two weeks was picked up by the Bandits. He had a lot of early success earning a spot in the ABL All-Star game which was featured on ESPN. He has since gone on to play in the CanAm League and two winters in South Africa. Jaz has since hung them up to start Every Child Deserves a Chance, an Eco-friendly activewear brand dedicated to supporting youth sports development throughout Africa.
Signing directly with an ABL team
To sign directly with an ABL team as a foreign player you will need to be currently playing affiliated baseball or minimally in one of the big four indy pro leagues, and be performing well. With former MLB players now looking to the ABL as a winter option, the benchmark continues to go up as teams seek to bring in a big name or two and round out the roster with some young pro talent. The ABL is often arguably compared to an advanced A level with a good mix of top Aussie talent and pro import players. The level continues to rise every year since the inaugural 2010-11 season.
Here are some of the more recent big names to play in the ABL for the 2017-18 season:
Donald Lutz – Played in 62 MLB games with the Reds
Lars Anderson – Spent nearly 10 years in affiliated ball and played 30 games in the show with the Red Sox
Frank Gailey – Pitcher who spent 7 years in the minors reaching AAA
Chang Tai-Shan – The All time HR leader of the Chinese Professional Baseball League
Chiang Chih-hsien – Played over 880 games in the minors reaching AAA.
Former MLB pitcher of 9 years with the D-Backs and Braves, Josh Collmenter recently announced his commitment to play in the ABL with the expansion New Zealand team. His signing came as a result of registering with Baseball Jobs Overseas and from there introduced to our friend, the CEO of Baseball New Zealand, Ryan Flynn. Article: Ex-Major League pitcher Josh Collmenter ready to lead NZ baseball into next era
State League Levels
It is pretty standard to have former affiliated and indy pro players and good college players who slipped through the cracks scattered throughout the state leagues alongside up-and-coming Australian talent mixed in with former ABL Australian players. Occasionally clubs will sign a current pro under contract who is looking for a winter option and to advance to the ABL.
To provide a benchmark on how the state leagues compare to the ABL in level, we recently polled about 30 players and coaches who are knowledgeable and experienced with baseball in Australia, asking them to rate the six state leagues on a scale of 1-10 with the ABL being a 10. Here are the results:
In summary, the top 6 are pretty much the same level with the Capital Territory being known as a step behind the others. The SABL will likely drop in level for the 2018-19 season as the import limitation dropped from 2 to 1, whereas Queensland will strengthen with import limits increasing to 5.
Here are some members who played in these leagues as a benchmark:
Arik Sikula – Top SABL pitcher 2016-17 with some time in the ABL. Arik explains why this experience helped his career in this interview:
Nick Miceli – Top SABL pitcher 2017-18
Joe Wittig – Top SABL batter and pitcher 2017-18
Riley Barr – Top Victoria State League pitcher 2017-18
Jeremy Gendlek – Top NSW pitcher 2017-18 with some time in the ABL
Austin Gallagher – Top SABL batter in 2017-18
Dondrei Hubbard – TopVictoria State League batter in 2017-18
Tim Brown – Top pitcher for 5 years in various state leagues. Podcast interview:
Terrell Joyce – Top SABL batter in 2017-18
Anthony Lopez – Top ACT batter in 2017-18
Mike Hart – Top WABL batter in 2017-18, some time with the Perth Heat, now playing CanAm
Justin Brock – Top SABL batter in 2017-18
Even second or third division state league teams will import foreigners, providing opportunity for ball players with successful backgrounds at an average or lower college level who recently graduated. We also have a number of members who sign to play in the Aussie state league winter season, which takes place during the North American summer.
For more information on baseball in Australia, you can check out our Aussie blog posts featuring stories, podcast interviews and video (see below).
For our help taking your career overseas this winter, sign up here.