SIOUX CITY, IA – The Sioux City Explorers announce the signing of RHP Carlos Sierra and LHP Jose Velez Jr to 2019 American Association contracts. The Explorers also made a trade with the Sugarland Skeeters of the Atlantic League where the Explorers will receive RHP Zach Jemiola in exchange for a player to be named later.
Sierra in 2019 will begin his 6th season of professional baseball and first season in an X’s uniform. He began his career pitching for the Sancti Spiritus of the Cuban National Series where he posted a 3.68 ERA in 14.2 innings as a 19 year old. Unlike many of his other native Cuban players did not need to defect his home country to be able to establish residency and play baseball outside of the country. He was granted Spanish citizenship due to his grandfather’s roots allowing him to leave Cuba legally. He then pitched in the Canary Islands for the Tenerife Marlins in the Division de Honor de Beisbol the best league Spain has to offer.
He signed as an international free agent with the Houston Astros on December 24th, 2015. His first season in affiliated ball began late in June of that season but Sierra pitched well for the Astros Low A club mostly appearing out of the bullpen. It earned him a late season promotion to the Quad City River Bandits of Davenport, IA. In only 10 innings, he was able to hold an ERA of 1.80 while striking out 16.
Dominating A-Ball once again Sierra earned himself a quick promotion to High A during the 2017 season spending most of the year pitching for the Buies Creek Astros of the Carolina League. He would make 25 appearances for the Astros pitching 48 innings, going 3-1 with a 3.00 ERA and 49 strikeouts. Add in his 11 punch outs with Quad Cities earlier in the year in 9.1 innings, and Sierra’s 60 strikeouts that season are still his career high.
Sierra began last season in Buies Creek and once again showed Houston that he had mastered that level with a 3.32 ERA in 10 appearances, with 21 strikeouts in 21.2 innings. He was then promoted to AA Chorpus Christi there he pitched in 16 games and 21 innings with a 6.00 ERA. The Houston Astros released Sierra in March of this year.
The past winter Sierra spent in Puerto Rico with the Gigantes de Carolina, tossing 6 innings in 4 games with a 4.50 ERA.
Velez Jr. Will be entering his first season as an Explorer and 7th professionally. Velez had already been all over the country even before getting his start in pro baseball. Born in New York, he played his high school ball at South Fort Myers High School before taking his talents north to Alma College in Michigan. In one season there he appeared in 10 games, 6 of those being starts, and struck out an incredible 78 batters in 44 innings with an ERA of 2.62 earning him 2013 Second-Team All-MIAA honors. Not only was Velez a force on the mound but he was incredible at swinging the bat as well. At Alma he batted .302 while leading the team with 5 home runs and 21 RBI’s.
Despite the excellent numbers Velez went undrafted, from which he found his way to Evansville of the Frontier League. He would spend a shortened 2013 season there while putting in a full season of work in 2014. In that 2014 season Velez made 31 trips to the mound with 5 of those coming as starts. In 57 innings of work Velez would strike out 82 batters good for a K/9 of 12.9 while keeping an ERA of 2.53.
Those numbers did not go unnoticed and Velez was able to earn his chance with a major league organization when the Twins signed him after the season. He would begin the 2015 season in the Twins organization but his time there would not be long. After bouncing between High A and A ball for the Twins he would be traded to the Miami Marlins in June of that year. He would finish out the season with their A Ball club, Greensboro Grasshoppers. The 2015 season saw Velez bounce between two levels, three different teams and two different major league organizations. Between all of that he pitched in 34 games, collecting 4 saves, in 50.1 innings with an ERA of 4.29 and 69 strikeouts.
Miami would start Velez in High A Jupiter in 2016, he would appear in 14 games and 19 innings with 2 saves and an ERA of 3.79 ERA and 22 punch outs. Though 2016 would be the last season Velez has appeared in affiliated ball. 2017 saw Velez make a quick stop with Long Island of the Atlantic league appearing in only 6 games. Last season Velez made another appearance in the independent ranks with New Jersey of the Can-Am league. The south paw dominated out of the bullpen as he appeared in 40 games and held a masterful 1.67 ERA. He went 5-1 and tossed 54 innings while striking out 68 for the Jackals.
Jemiola is beginning his 7th season professionally and will be making his Explorers debut in 2019. He was drafted in the 9th round by the Colorado Rockies out of Great Oaks High School in Temecula, CA. He would begin his professional career in the Rockies rookie level spending 2012 and 2013 there. In 2014 he earned a promotion to A Ball Asheville, making 27 starts, with a 9-10 record and a 5.06 ERA.
2015 Jemiola split time between Asheville and High A Modesto, between the two levels he went 11-7 in 26 appearances and 24 starts, tossing 153 innings striking out 121, getting a complete game shut out along the way while putting together an ERA of 3.71.
Jemiola earned himself a promotion in 2016 as he made it to AA and pitched for the Hartford Yard Goats. There he started 27 games and went 8-10 with a 4.39 ERA. He tossed 162 innings striking out 92 while walking only 46 good for a BB/9 of 2.6. Those numbers earned him a promotion to AAA the following season. There Jemiola would make 15 starts going 5-5, tossing 81.2 innings with an ERA of 6.83. The Rockies though would release him after his 2017 stint with Albuquerque and Jemiola did not pitch during the 2018 season.
With the additions, the Explorers now have 25 players (17 pitchers, 8 position players) signed to 2019 American Association contracts.