Major leap: Randy Dobnak becomes first USPBL alum to reach MLB

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Randy Dobnak is the first player from the USPBL to play in an MLB game.

When Andy Appleby launched his United Shore Professional Baseball League three years ago, he hoped the day would come when he'd send a player to the major leagues.

He just didn't think it would've happened by now.

It has.

Right-handed pitcher Randy Dobnak last week became the league's first alumnus to appear in The Show when he was called up by the Minnesota Twins — in the thick of an AL Central Division playoff race, no less.

"When we started this league with players that most people wouldn't recognize, our vision was to be able to improve each player and to market them to all 30 MLB teams," said Appleby, the league's founder, owner and CEO, in a statement. "We hope that Randy is just the first of many players who will be able to fulfill their dream of making it to the majors.

"While our ballpark offers nonstop entertainment and value for fans, it also is a place to see future major leaguers."

Dobnak, a Pennsylvania native who attended Alderson Broaddus College in West Virginia, watched 1,215 players get drafted in 2017 without his name being called.

So, on a tip from former major-leaguer and USPBL coach Jim Essian, he headed to an upstart independent league in Utica.

Six games into his 2017 season, he was signed by the Twins, who wanted a recommendation on a quality starting candidate.

Justin Orenduff, the USPBL's director of baseball operations, recommended Dobnak, the bespectacled pitcher who was sitting 92 to 95 mph with good secondary stuff.

"The Twins called me and told me, and I kind of got chills," Orenduff said of the call that Dobnak was going to the majors.

"When he told me, I started high-fiving all the interns in the office. They didn't know what was going on."

Dobnak had stops in rookie ball and Single A his first year with the Twins system, then spent all of last season at Single A.

This season, he really flew, moving from High-A ball to Double A and then Triple A. He was 11-3 with a 2.02 ERA in 125 innings.

After earning league pitcher-of-the-week honors, he got the call-up from the Twins, and in his debut outing against the Cleveland Indians last Friday, he struck out three and allowed six hits in four innings of scoreless relief.

Dobnak could be a pivotal piece of the Twins' bullpen as Minnesota tries to hold off Cleveland in the AL Central.

"In terms of a story and a person to be our first major-leaguer, I don't know if you can script it any better," Orenduff said. "We knew we had something a little different. He was in our league for, what, six weeks, seven weeks, and continued to make a name for himself, through pitching results and his performance."

The USPBL, which has four teams and is planning on adding more in the coming years, has seen 34 players signed to contracts with major-league organizations, most recently pitchers Noah Gotsis and Kyle Olliges with the Colorado Rockies.

They are the sixth and seventh players signed to MLB organizations this year.

Dobnak's arsenal, besides the fastball, includes a sinker — a one-seamer, he calls it — as well as a change-up.

His resume also includes, per his social-media bio, a 4.99 ratings as an Uber driver, just another fun fact for a major-leaguer who didn't take the easy route.

"We've heard his name, and a little bit of the backstory and things like that," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli told after Dobnak's MLB debut. "He's stepped up and put himself on the map and made himself an option for us."

And in the process, he's made himself a poster boy for what can become of a career in the United Shore Professional Baseball League.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984