Cougars Mid-Season Report

Hello Cougars fans,

It’s been a fast season – time to take a breath as we’re officially at the midway point of the 2014 Midwest League season!

And it’s been a very fun one so far. Despite a series sweep at the hands of Beloit to close the first half, the Cougars lead the 16-team league with a 45-25 record. Kane County actually went into the final weekend of the first half with an opportunity to break the franchise mark for most wins in one half of a season, which is 47 first half wins by the 2001 Midwest League champion Cougars squad. The total of 45 wins is good for second-best in the 24-year history of the franchise.

Perhaps even more impressive was the team’s home record in the season’s first half. At the friendly confines of Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, the Cougars were 28-7 (.800 winning percentage).

Back to the 2001 team for a second, which included present-day big league stars such as Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Willingham. The ’01 team blazed through a 50-20 home record during that season. So, while this year’s team is on pace to contend for that record as well as the ’01 team’s franchise high of 88 wins, time will tell if this year’s team can come close to matching or even breaking these records.

The Cougars clinched the first half Western Division title on June 7 – their most recent first half division title since the ’09 squad, which was led by then-Cougars manager Steve Scarsone. Kane County will be in the playoffs this fall with the opening round best-of-three series beginning Wednesday, September 3. The Cougars will hit the road for that evening’s game against a to-be-determined opponent (it will be the second half Western Division wild card winner). Kane County will host Game 2 on Thursday, September 4 at 6 p.m. and if necessary, Game 3 on Friday, September 5.

The Cougars clinched the Western Division first half title on June 7.

The Cougars clinched the Western Division first half title on June 7.

Season ticket holders had the first opportunity for playoff tickets, with tickets going on sale to the general public this Thursday, June 19 beginning at 9 AM.

When a team such as the Cougars clinches a first half division title, you can find great storylines up and down the roster. I’ll start with the team’s cohesiveness as a determining factor in what has transpired so far this season. Needless to say, this year’s team is a very tight-knit bunch. From my vantage point, it’s noticeable everyday in the locker room and on the field.

The team’s pitching has been consistently strong through the season’s first 70 games. The Cougars’ team ERA of 3.07 ranks second among all 16 Midwest League clubs and is on pace to surpass the ’03 Cougars squad, which posted a franchise-best 3.22 ERA.

Notable starting pitchers who have made solid contributions in the rotation include Paul Blackburn (2.78 ERA), Tyler Skulina (2.70), Jen-Ho Tseng (2.48), Juan Paniagua (3.25), Duane Underwood (2.32) and Daury Torrez (3.74). Pitcher Tyler Bremer has inherited the closer’s role since the promotion of Zack Godley in May. Bremer has 8 saves in 10 chances. Middle relief has come in the way of James Pugliese (1.05 ERA) and Jose Arias (2.16), among several other bullpen arms who have also contributed.

Cougars pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng has been one of many contributors to Kane County's first half success.

Cougars pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng has been one of many contributors to Kane County’s first half success.

The Cougars have lost some solid arms so far due to promotions such as the aforementioned Godley, Nathan Dorris (who combined with Skulina on a no-hitter last month), and Justin Amlung. But the pitching corps, both starters and relievers, have maintained what has been a strong group of arms in 2014.

Defensively, the Cougars have committed 67 errors, the third-cleanest defense in the Midwest League and just three errors behind West Michigan for the top spot. If you’ve been at some Cougars games this season, you’ve likely noticed the crisp defensive play, particularly around the infield.

Offensively, the Cougars’ theme has been a balanced offensive attack in which 8 players have driven in 20 or more runs this season. With the Cougars, each win seems to feature a different player coming through, whether it’s a Jordan Hankins walk-off home run on May 26 or the following day’s game, where Trey Martin’s grand slam catapulted the team to a win.

Two Cougars players, Will Remillard in April and Paul Blackburn in May, were recognized as a Cubs organizational player or pitcher of the month. In May, a pair of Cougars pitchers, Tyler Skulina and Nathan Dorris combined for the 8th no-hitter in franchise history. A quartet of Cougars (Remillard, Blackburn, Jose Arias and Jordan Hankins) were selected to participate in the Midwest League All-Star Game, to be held this evening in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Needless to say, it’s been a fun first half of Cougars baseball. Inevitably, the question comes up: How many of the current Cougars will still be on the roster come September 3 when the postseason begins? Obviously, there is no rhyme or reason for the promotions as the ebb and flow of the team’s roster changes in the second half. But you have to think if this core group of players remains at Kane County, there’s every reason to believe that the Cougars will be in the mix for a season that culminates in a Midwest League championship. 70 games in, we’ve seen the definitive proof.

ELSEWHERE ON THE FARM

In year 2 of our affiliation with the Cubs, it’s been fun to follow some of the other teams in the system, including players from last year’s Cougars team.

Let’s start with Class-A Advanced Daytona which naturally, has the largest amount of ’13 Cougars due to them being one rung above the Cougars on the ladder.

Daytona struggled through a brutal April. Despite a 25-41 record currently, there’s been some success stories on their roster.

The names I’ll lead with might surprise you, but they deserve mentioning. Outfielder Bijan Rademacher was named a Florida State League All-Star (he was also a Midwest League All-Star last season) and is batting .288 with an OBP of .392. A pair of young infielders, Gioskar Amaya and Marco Hernandez, are each batting .275. Starter Felix Pena (another MWL All-Star with us last season) is 1-6, but has a 2.59 ERA in 12 starts. Reliever Andrew McKirahan has posted a 0.95 ERA in 18 appearances.

Outfielder Albert Almora is batting .241 with 2 home runs and 30 RBI, infielder Dan Vogelbach is batting .259 and Rock Shoulders is batting .201. It’s been a tough go for Jeimer Candelario, who is batting just .195. One half doesn’t make a season and it will be interesting to see how the rest of the season goes for the above players.

At Double-A Tennessee, the story has been all-everything prospect Kris Bryant, who is currently batting .355 with 22 home runs and 58 RBI. While Bryant skipped Kane County and went directly from Short-A Boise to Daytona last season, he’s a name at the forefront of every Cubs/Cougars fan.

Some Cougars names to throw at you include pitcher Armando Rivero, who was named a Southern League All-Star. The Cuban pitcher is 2-1 with a 1.56 ERA in 26 appearances. I still think he’ll be the first Cougar as part of our Cubs affiliation to make the big leagues.

Pitcher Pierce Johnson has battled a few injuries that has slowed down his 2014 campaign. At the present, Johnson is 1-1 with a 4.39 ERA in 5 starts for the Smokies.

Just below us, Short-A Boise kicked off their season last week. There’s quite a few familiar names who have landed on the Hawks’ roster including some of this year’s team. David Bote, Danny Canella, Josh Davis and Scott Frazier are several players that are trying to work their way back up to Kane County. You might remember Giuseppe Papaccio and Oliver Zapata, a pair of ’13 Cougars who are currently at Boise.

With the most interest among fans is catcher and 2014 Cubs first round pick, Kyle Schwarber. The calls to have him join Kane County are already coming in as Schwarber is batting .563 through 4 games. Be patient, Cougars fans. Hopefully you’ll see him soon enough.

Pitcher Jeff Antigua deserves a shout-out as the left-hander is the lone ’13 Cougar currently at Triple-A Iowa. Antigua has appeared in 10 games and has a solid 3.06 ERA. This season, there’s also been a fun connection between the Cougars and Cubs in ’03 Cougar John Baker, who has been starting catcher Welington Castillo’s back-up.

As always, thanks for reading! We hope to see you at one or more games starting this Thursday as the Cougars open up the 2nd half of the season.

-Shawn Touney

 

 

 

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2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook

Greetings Cougars fans! I’m not sure if baseball has sounded much better than it does right now. If you’re from this area, your last 2 months outdoors have included a steady barrage of sub-zero temps, brutal wind chills, ice and one of the most historic accumulations of snowfall seen in any recent Chicagoland winter.

We received some warm news yesterday as the Baseball America 2014 Prospect Handbook arrived by mail. This is typically one of my favorite publications to dive into. The handbook does an extremely thorough job of analyzing each of the 30 Major League teams’ farm systems.

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Here are some of my takeaways from the book as it relates to the Cougars organization and to a larger extent, the Midwest League.

By the numbers, I count 23 Cougars alums who are included in their respective big league farm teams’ “Top 30″ prospects. There are a total of 900 prospects represented (30 MLB teams X 30 prospects per team). Among those 23 players, a total of 5 big league teams’ farm systems are included – the Cubs, Kansas City, Oakland, Houston and Arizona.

The Cougars’ league – the Midwest League – is represented well. For starters, Twins prospect Miguel Sano graces the book’s cover. You might remember Sano from 2012 when he was with Beloit, and played here that June for the league’s All-Star Game. Other prospects highly touted who you may have seen play against the Cougars include Byron Buxton (another Twins prospect), Carlos Correa (Astros) and Taijuan Walker (Mariners).

Chicago Cubs (#4 ranked farm team by Baseball America) – a total of 8 Cougars from last year’s team (our first year as a Cubs affiliate) are represented.

4. Albert Almora
6. Pierce Johnson
8. Jeimer Candelario
9. Dan Vogelbach
18. Dillon Maples
19. Tyler Skulina
20. Rob Zastryzny
25. Armando Rivero

With so much attention given to the Cubs’ prospects, all 8 of the former Cougars listed will be fun for Cougars fans to follow as spring training ’14 looms. How will the careers of Albert Almora, Pierce Johnson, Jeimer Candelario and Dan Vogelbach take off after each of the four had successful seasons with us last year? After getting a brief glimpse of ’13 draftees Tyler Skulina and Rob Zastryzny, might we see both of these pitchers with us come Opening Day?

Jeimer Candelario led the Cougars with 35 doubles last season.

Jeimer Candelario led the Cougars with 35 doubles last season.

Kansas City Royals (#8 ranked farm team by Baseball America) – a total of 10 former Cougars are listed.

1. Kyle Zimmer
2. Yordano Ventura
4. Jorge Bonifacio
9. Jason Adam
13. Orlando Calixte
14. Cheslor Cuthbert
17. Brett Eibner
18. Lane Adams
26. Bryan Brickhouse
27. Angel Baez

Our two-year run with the Royals in 2011 and 2012 produced some talented players who could be making waves in the Kansas City system this season. Zimmer is a front-line starter who could very well make his big league debut in 2014. I’m most intrigued by where Zimmer and Yordano Ventura fit into the Royals’ pitching plans this season and Lane Adams, whose stock jumped significantly after a very impressive ’13 season.

Royals prospect Lane Adams was a Midwest League All-Star with the Cougars in 2012.

Royals prospect Lane Adams was a Midwest League All-Star with the Cougars in 2012.

Oakland Athletics (#23 ranked farm team by Baseball America)

3. Michael Choice (has since been traded to Texas)
23. Anthony Aliotti

Our 8-year affiliation with Oakland is a bit dated now after concluding in the fall of 2010, but there’s some remnants of Cougars alums in Oakland’s pipeline, including first baseman Anthony Aliotti. Aliotti, a Cougar in 2010, is an excellent defensive first baseman, can hit for average, and played in a combined 133 games at Double-A Midland and Triple-A Sacramento last season.

Houston Astros (#5 ranked farm team by Baseball America)

12. Max Stassi
22. Kyle Smith

Houston carries some Cougars connections after a pair of alums were dealt to the Astros last year. Stassi made his big league debut last summer and Smith, who pitched with us in 2012, could open the season at Double-A Corpus Christi.

Arizona Diamondbacks (#13 ranked farm team by Baseball America)

29. Bo Schultz

Baseball America describes Schultz as the “feel good story of 2013 for the Diamondbacks” and it’s easy to see why. Schultz pitched in 41 games with us in 2010 and was a sidewinding reliever who was signed by the A’s as a non-drafted free agent from Northwestern. Schultz was eventually released and landed in independent league baseball for most of 2011 before re-surfacing with Arizona. Used as a starter last season, Schultz was 5-4 with a 2.86 ERA in 16 starts with Double-A Mobile. He’s earned a spot on Arizona’s 40-man roster and could win a big league job in 2014.

2010 Cougar Bo Schultz is hoping to build on a strong '13 season in the Diamondbacks farm system.

2010 Cougar Bo Schultz is hoping to build on a strong ’13 season in the Diamondbacks farm system.

As always, this is an exciting publication to read as many familiar faces are included and it always serves as a nice appetizer before the main course of spring training is served. And before you know it, we’ll be staring at Opening Day 2014!

Thanks for reading!

-Shawn Touney

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Hello, Orlando: Winter Meetings Update

Greetings from Orlando! It’s Wednesday morning at the Baseball Winter Meetings. Cougars staff have been here at the Disney complex after arriving on Monday. We’ll be leaving tonight for Chicago, and it’s been a nice week as the baseball world centers its attention towards the happenings that the Winter Meetings typically provide. Yes, we are trying to bottle up the weather to bring back home for everyone-  but I can confirm that there’s something a little weird and even unsettling about hearing Christmas music and seeing holiday decorations in 85-degree weather. I’m a Midwesterner, so it’s time to get back home – even if it’s in the midst of an arctic plunge.

Last night, we enjoyed a reception hosted by the Cubs. All of the affiliates were invited, ranging from Short-A Boise to Triple-A Iowa, and we had the opportunity to meet (and reunite) with quite a few people, including new Cubs manager (and former Cougars manager) Rick Renteria, new farm development director Jaron Madison, and Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts. Each of the above individuals took a few minutes to share some thoughts on the upcoming season and you just get the sense that the overwhelming sentiment is one of confidence and trust that the plan instilled by the Cubs a couple of years ago, is progressing nicely. Numerous publications have continued to rate the Cubs farm system as one of the deepest and strongest in the Major Leagues, and Class-A Advanced Daytona was named Minor League Team of the Year by Baseball America. There’s a lot of excitement as well regarding the Cubs new spring training home in Mesa, which will surely be enjoyed by players, Cubs staff and fans who will attend games there for the first time in March.

It’s also nice to have each of the people I mentioned take the time to talk personally with each of us last night.

Many of the activities, whether it’s the job fair, trade show or league-wide meetings have taken place inside the Swan and Dolphin resort. It’s a very nice spot within the Disney property that has a beautiful lake running near it, with a boardwalk that includes various shops, restaurants and a dueling piano bar. If you’ve never had the opportunity to check out a dueling piano bar, do yourself a favor and make a night of it there. Any musician that can seamlessly transition from a Lady Gaga cover to REO Speedwagon to Bob Marley deserves some recognition.

I know I mentioned this in last year’s Winter Meetings blog, but the job fair is a large part of the week. Interested job seekers invest their time, money and more to attend this event, to see and interview for countless jobs and internships throughout Minor League Baseball. It’s always a good idea to take a walk through that part of the Winter Meetings to realize that we all were once there – young and anxious to get a job working in baseball, and working in such a rewarding, humbling and unique environment that only Minor League Baseball can provide.

Some other important parts of the week: a massive trade show where we’re able to see vendors who can provide products to use at our games next season, marketing meetings, workshop sessions and much more.

Inevitably, there is the people-watching component of the Winter Meetings where there’s an opportunity to see former players, managers and executives throughout the week. Recently-retired manager Jim Leyland is one person we’ve just happened to see 10 or so times this week – simply coincidental. Others include Tommy Lasorda, Andre Dawson, Jack McKeon, Mark Prior, and Leyland’s successor as Tigers skipper, Brad Ausmus.

I’ll close out this blog with some photos from the week. As always, thanks for reading!

-ST

Some very cool Disney technology. These wristbands were our room keys.

Some very cool Disney technology. These wristbands were our room keys.

A 5 million calorie holiday display - made entirely of chocolate!

A 5 million calorie holiday display – made entirely of chocolate!

The walkway connecting the Swan and Dolphin resorts.

The walkway connecting the Swan and Dolphin resorts.

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Thanksgiving leftovers

I hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving. Can you believe it? The final pitch of the 2013 Cougars season was thrown 3 months ago at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark. Here at the office, it’s been an exciting off-season as we continue to make preparations for a great 2014 season.

Here are some odds and ends to throw your way as the calendar has flipped to December.

FEEL GOOD STORIES: Cougars staff has been out in the community, assisting with various organizations this off-season. It’s our goal to be good neighbors and we’ve volunteered our time at several locations this off-season including Feed My Starving Children, Hesed House, and the Tri-Cities Salvation Army. For the trip to Feed My Starving Children (located in Aurora), Cougars staff helped pack boxed meals for malnourished children throughout the world. We packed a total of 48 boxes, which translated to 10,368 meals.

Hesed House (also in Aurora) is an area homeless shelter. We were fortunate to help out with some of their jobs throughout the facility one morning and served lunch to residents while visiting with them afterwards. Next time you walk your dog when the temperature hovers in the single digits, think about the residents of Hesed House who would otherwise be forced to survive in those conditions each night.

And just before Thanksgiving, Cougars staff partnered with the Tri-Cities Salvation Army. We purchased 100 frozen turkeys and handed them out to families who attended the Salvation Army’s annual distribution day in St. Charles.

Fortunately, none of us experienced what Paula Deen did several years ago:

You can click HERE to see the story from the Daily Herald, along with video taken from our time at the Salvation Army that afternoon. I can confirm that nobody suffered any Deen-like turkey injuries.

Give any of the above locations a call if you and your staff would be interested in volunteering.

Cougars staff purchased and distributed 100 frozen turkeys for the Tri-Cities Salvation Army's annual Thanksgiving distribution day.

Cougars staff purchased and distributed 100 frozen turkeys for the Tri-Cities Salvation Army’s annual Thanksgiving distribution day.

NEW CUBS MANAGER: Last month brought exciting news for Cougars and Cubs fans, as former Cougars skipper Rick Renteria was named field general for our parent club. HERE is our official press release on the news from back in November.  Renteria skippered the ’99 Cougars team which advanced to the Midwest League playoffs that season.

CSN’s Tony Andracki recently caught up with Cougars GM Curtis Haug for his take on Renteria. Click HERE to read the story.

Back to the ’99 season for a second. Under Renteria’s guidance, the Cougars advanced to the second round of the MWL playoffs that season and faced Burlington, a team that featured new Cubs bench coach (and former Cubs player development director) Brandon Hyde when he was a minor leaguer. In a decisive Game 3 between both teams here in Geneva, Burlington’s Eric Battersby belted a whopping 4 home runs to lead his team to a series winner over Kane County. In Renteria’s final game as Cougars manager, Battersby put on a hitting display that is rarely seen at any level of baseball. Burlington, a White Sox farm team at the time, went on to win the Midwest League Championship. It’s a game (and a name…Battersby) that several of our front office staff who were here in 1999, remember very clearly. Perhaps some of our readers were at that playoff game as well.

As for Battersby (because my curiosity was killing me), he advanced as high as Triple-A Charlotte in 2002, was out of affiliated baseball following the 2003 season, and ended his playing career in 2004.

A quick “google” of his name led to this page, which includes a game story from that September night that ran in the Beacon-News.

Here’s the quote from Renteria following the game:

“Battersby swung a real good bat today,” said Renteria. “Obviously four home runs is quite an accomplishment. We didn’t expect it (the season) to end today, but you have to tip your hat to the Bees. They played real well. I wish them the best in the next series.”

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HOT STOVE: Trades and free agent signings are in full force as the MLB hot stove continues to burn as it will be next week with the Baseball Winter Meetings. There wasn’t much out there involving former Cougars. And then, Tuesday happened.

Oakland, arguably one of the busiest teams so far in the hot stove derby, shipped ’08 Cougar Jemile Weeks to Baltimore as part of the Jim Johnson deal. And ’10 Cougar Michael Choice was traded to Texas. Washington sent three players, one of which was ’10 Cougar Ian Krol, to Detroit while receiving starter Doug Fister.

Some quick observations on the Cougars-related players with new homes. For Weeks, a change of scenery is much needed. A former first round pick of the A’s in 2008, Weeks spent a portion of that season at Kane County before suffering an injury at the inaugural “Road to Wrigley” game that ended his season prematurely. Weeks made his big league debut in 2011 and batted .303 in 97 games, but inconsistency has plagued him since then.

Krol, a Cougars Midwest League All-Star in 2010,  made his big league debut last summer with Washington and pitched in 32 games for the Nationals. I would say that a big league spot isn’t going to be promised to him at spring training next season, but Krol will have every opportunity to break camp with Detroit in March. 

And Choice is probably surprised, yet extremely happy, with the news of being traded to Texas. Choice is from the Arlington area and attended UT-Arlington. Like Weeks, Choice was a first round selection of the A’s. Like Krol, Choice made his Major League debut in 2013. And like Weeks, Krol participated in a “Road to Wrigley” game as a Cougar, pitching in 2010.

Confused yet?

Former Cougars who were non-tendered – meaning that they are currently free agents who can sign with any team – include Boston’s Andrew Bailey (’07 Cougar), the Dodgers’ Ronald Belisario (’02), and Miami’s Ryan Webb (’05).

Bailey is a fairly high-profile free agent right now. The right-hander and former American League Rookie of the Year suffered a season-ending shoulder injury but contributed during the regular season for Boston, eventual World Series champs. Some talk on Twitter (all unofficial and speculative, of course) this afternoon indicated that there’s a chance the Cubs would look at Bailey as a possible free agent signing. Now that would be cool. One of my favorite Cougars alums pitching for our hometown affiliate as a Cub.

Needless to say, the hot stove is burning with Cougars news at the big league level as trades and signings run rampant. You’ve got to assume that the rumors and possible trades will continue as we look towards the Baseball Winter Meetings, scheduled for next week.

WINTER MEETINGS: Speaking of, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter next week. We’ll have updates from Orlando, which will be hosting the annual Baseball Winter Meetings.  I’ll try to do at least one blog post from there as well. I blogged a little bit about last year’s Winter Meetings in Nashville (read last year’s post HERE). And as a sure sign towards where technology is going, there is an official Baseball Winter Meetings app that includes event, speaker, and exhibitor information. It also includes maps so the chances of getting lost can be minimized!

Winter Meetings

SANTA AND OZZIE: Be sure to circle Saturday, December 14 on your calendar. We’ll be hosting our “Santa and Ozzie” Christmas event that morning from 9-Noon. Bring a gently-worn winter coat and you’ll receive 2 ticket vouchers (per coat) for a 2014 Cougars game. The kids can pose with Santa and Ozzie for photos, and we’ll have some cool holiday-themed decoration stations available as well. Get more info HERE.

Ozzie (and Santa) will be at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark on Saturday, December 14 from 9 a.m. until Noon.

Ozzie (and Santa) will be at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark on Saturday, December 14 from 9 a.m. until Noon.

And as always, thanks for reading! Feel free to reach me at stouney@kanecountycougars.com with any questions or comments!

-ST

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2013 Cougars Recap: Major Leagues

*NOTE* This is the fifth of a multi-part series by Cougars PR Director Shawn Touney that provides updates on former and current Kane County Cougars players in Minor League and Major League Baseball. This fifth part chronicles the Cougars alumni – a total of 35 players – who spent all or a portion of the 2013 season in the Major Leagues.

There’s no other place in Chicagoland that can boast of having such a large group of former players at the game’s highest level – the Major Leagues. That includes this past season as numerous former Cougars were in the big leagues in 2013.

By the numbers, I count a total of 35 Cougars alumni who played in at least one Major League game in 2013. A total of 16 alums were position players and 19 were pitchers. Four of those 35 players made their big league debut in 2013, and two of those players (Ryan Dempster and Andrew Bailey) are first-time World Series champs with the Boston Red Sox. We’ll go into some details later on, but some of these players saw their stock rise dramatically with strong performances while others will be looking to bounce back from various disappointments.

Looking Good: Twenty-three years into the existence of the Kane County Cougars, the numbers don’t lie: Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera (’01 Cougar) is the biggest and brightest alumnus who once called Kane County home. Cabrera led his team into the post-season again this year while batting  .348 with 44 home runs and 137 RBI. Cabrera dealt with a severe groin injury towards the end of the season that limited him to 148 games – his lowest total since his ’03 rookie season with Florida. Yet Cabrera still put up numbers certainly worthy of MVP consideration when the award is announced later this month. Cabrera was named a Major League All-Star in July for the 8th time in his career. He will be 30 years old on Opening Day 2014 and already has 365 home runs and 1,260 RBI, as well as a career batting average of .321. He was named MVP last year and won the American League Triple Crown. Simply put, no other Cougars player has displayed the talent Cabrera has over his 11-year big league career.

As a Cougar – Cabrera batted .268 with 7 home runs and 66 RBI in 110 games during the 2001 championship season. He was named a Midwest League mid-season and post-season All-Star.

Detroit's Miguel Cabrera ('01 Cougar) could win his  second MVP award next month.

Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera (’01 Cougar) could win his second MVP award next month.

For six of has past seven seasons, Dodgers infielder Adrian Gonzalez (’01 Cougar) has collected 100 or more RBI (the one year he didn’t was in 2009 when he finished with 99). Gonzalez is a lifetime .294 hitter and led Los Angeles to their first division title since 2009. Gonzalez has long been regarded as a fine defensive player, with 3 Gold Gloves to his name. Gonzalez was named a finalist for a Gold Glove this season as well.

Three Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger Award, and four All-Star Game appearances. Is there a more well-rounded Cougars alumni currently playing in the big leagues?

As a Cougar – Gonzalez, the 1st pick of the 2000 draft, batted .312 with 17 home runs and 103 RBI during the 2001 championship season. He was named a Midwest League mid-season and post-season All-Star.

Pittsburgh pitcher A.J. Burnett (’98 Cougar) will be 37 years old next spring when pitchers and catchers report for spring training, but the right-hander shows no visible signs of slowing down. Burnett started at least 30 games for the 6th straight season as a big leaguer. He also won 10 or more games for the 9th straight season and 11th season in his big league career. Burnett has always been known for his velocity and his 209 strikeouts in 2013 was the highest total for him since fanning 231 in 2008. His lifetime numbers include a 147-132 record, 3.99 ERA and 2,180 strikeouts.

As a Cougar – Burnett holds the single-season strikeout record by a former Cougar with 186, set in 1998.

San Francisco pitcher Santiago Casilla (’03-’04) has two World Series rings as a member of the Giants. In 2013, Casilla pitched in 57 games, posting a 2.16 ERA as a late-innings specialist. In fact, Casilla has appeared in more than 200 games over the past four seasons with the Giants.

As a Cougar – Casilla, who went by the name of Jairo Garcia at the time, pitched in 39 games between the 2003 and 2004 seasons at Kane County. He actually made his debut in 2004 at the big league level with Oakland.

Arizona pitcher Trevor Cahill (’07 Cougar) would have likely reached the 10-win plateau for the fifth time in his five-year career, if it weren’t for an injury which sidelined him for a month and a half. Once he was returned to the active roster, Cahill closed the season on a good note and finished 8-10 with a 3.99 ERA in 25 starts.

As a Cougar – Cahill, as a 19-year old in ’07, was 11-4 with a 2.73 ERA in 19 starts.

San Diego pitcher Huston Street (’04 Cougar) recorded 33 saves in 2013, his highest total since 35 saves with Colorado in 2009. Street has been with 3 teams over his big league career (Oakland, Colorado, San Diego) and in his 9-year big league career, he has recorded 234 saves, good for 36th all-time in big league annals.

As a Cougar – Street pitched in 9 games with the Cougars, going 0-1 with a 1.69 ERA. Street was later promoted to Double-A Midland and was named 2005 American League Rookie of the Year after going 5-1 with 23 saves for Oakland that season.

Stock Went Up: Let’s start with Pittsburgh pitcher Vin Mazzaro (’06 Cougar). Mazzaro debuted with Oakland in 2009 as a 22-year old pitcher and immediately turned heads. Less than 2 years later, Mazzaro was part of a deal sending him to Kansas City. A couple of years ago, I remember reading about a rather forgettable appearance in 2011 with the Royals that included the following numbers for him: 14 runs (all earned) and 11 hits in just 2.1 innings of work. That might have been the low point in Mazzaro’s career. Mazzaro was dealt to Pittsburgh following the 2012 season and had a breakthrough year in 2013 as the Pirates advanced to the post-season for the first time since 1992, when Mazzaro was just 5 years old. Moved exclusively to the bullpen, Mazzaro flourished. In 57 games, he was 8-2 with a 2.81 ERA.

Pittsburgh pitcher Vin Mazzaro ('06 Cougar) had a remarkable turnaround in his career this past season with the Pirates.

Pittsburgh pitcher Vin Mazzaro (’06 Cougar) had a remarkable turnaround in his career this past season with the Pirates.

San Diego pitcher Tyson Ross (’08 Cougar) had a resurgence of sorts after being dealt last November to the Padres from Oakland. Despite a 3-8 record, Ross posted a 3.17 ERA in 35 games, 16 of which were starts. Ross was a rotation regular from late July through the end of the regular season.

Oakland pitcher Dan Straily (’10 Cougar) was the other Cougars alum to win at least 10 games in 2013 (the aforementioned A.J. Burnett was the other) and started a game in the post-season for the Athletics as well. Straily started 27 games and struck out 124 batters. He made his big league debut in 2012.

Another Oakland pitcher, Sean Doolittle (’07 Cougar) enjoyed a strong sophomore season in the big leagues just as Straily did. Doolittle appeared in 70 games out of the A’s bullpen, posting a 3.13 ERA.

Trying to rebound: A couple of familiar names to Cougars fans had their shares of struggles in 2013. Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Josh Beckett (’00 Cougar) saw his season end prematurely  after what was described as a tingling/numbing situation in his arm. It ultimately led to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery. No, I had never heard about the condition either until this past season.  Since breaking into the big leagues in 2001, Beckett had never gone a full season without at least one win until this past season.

An unfortunate injury sidelined Dodgers pitcher Josh Beckett ('00 Cougar) for much of the 2013 season.

An unfortunate injury sidelined Dodgers pitcher Josh Beckett (’00 Cougar) for much of the 2013 season.

Los Angeles Angels pitcher Joe Blanton (’03 Cougar) had a season he’d like to remove from the memory bank. Blanton endured a 14-loss season, a career-worst along with a 6.04 ERA. A World Series hero with the Phillies in 2008, Blanton has won 85 career big league games.

Minnesota outfielder Josh Willingham (’01 Cougar), after winning his first career Silver Slugger Award in 2012, struggled mightily for the Twins in 2013. Willingham batted just .208 in 111 games.

Texas outfielder Nelson Cruz (’03 Cougar) was given a 50-game suspension during the big league season. At the time, Cruz was batting .266 with 27 home runs and 76 RBI for the Rangers.

Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier (’03 Cougar) saw his offensive production dip just a bit from past seasons. In 2013, Ethier batted .272 with 12 home runs and 52 RBI. In 2009, Ethier batted .272 as well, but with 31 home runs and 106 RBI.

Let’s Go Back To The ’90’s: Milwaukee’s Alex Gonzalez (’96 Cougar), San Diego’s Mark Kotsay (’96 Cougar), Pittsburgh’s A.J. Burnett (’98 Cougar), Boston pitcher Ryan Dempster (’96 Cougar) are the four remaining Cougars alums from the 1990’s who appeared in the big leagues this past season. Entering the 2014 season, that number may be cut in half as Kotsay announced his retirement before the ’13 season ended, and Gonzalez only played in 41 games, batting just .177.

Mark Kotsay – made MLB debut with Florida on 7/11/97 (29th former Cougar to reach majors)
Ryan Dempster – made MLB debut with Florida on 5/23/98 (39th former Cougar to reach majors)
Alex Gonzalez – made MLB debut with Florida on 8/25/98 (42nd former Cougar to reach majors)
A.J. Burnett – made MLB debut with Florida on 8/17/99 (50th former Cougar to reach majors)

The Padres gave Kotsay a very classy send-off following the season finale in September:

Notables: Boston pitcher Andrew Bailey (’07 Cougar) pitched in 30 games after his second season with the Red Sox was cut short due to injury. Bailey was 3-1 with a 3.77 ERA. You might remember Bailey as the American League Rookie of the Year in 2009 with Oakland…Miami pitcher Ryan Webb (’05 Cougar) set a career high with 66 appearances this past season…Minnesota pitcher Jared Burton (’03 Cougar) did the same with 71 appearances as did Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Ronald Belisario (’02 Cougar) with 77 appearances… Boston pitcher Ryan Dempster (’96 Cougar) won his first World Series in his 16-year big league career.

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2013 Cougars Recap: Other Minor League Notables

*NOTE* This is the fourth of a multi-part series by Cougars PR Director Shawn Touney that provides updates on former and current Kane County Cougars players in Minor League and Major League Baseball. This fourth part chronicles some of the players who spent a portion of the 2013 season in the minor leagues, but not with the Cougars’ current big league affiliate (Cubs) or some of their more recent affiliations (Kansas City, Oakland).

This past season, there were many former Cougars whose names might be familiar to fans, although they are not currently playing for a big league farm system that has been partnered with the Cougars over the years. Similar to the big leagues, a minor leaguer can find a new home – and new opportunity – through a trade or a free agent signing. That said, some of these players’ names may be more obscure than some of the other players I’ve mentioned in this series. But they’re still chasing the dream of one day reaching the major leagues, and they once played right here in Geneva.

In The Show (or bouncing around between The Show and Triple-A): Of the four former Cougars who made major league debuts this season, two of the four broke in with teams who were never affiliated with the Cougars. On June 5, pitcher Ian Krol (’10) made his big league debut with Washington. Krol, a Midwest League All-Star with us in 2010, was an A’s prospect at the time but was traded to Washington last spring before the season began. Krol opened at Double-A Harrisburg and made 21 appearances, turning in a remarkable 0.69 ERA before receiving a well-deserved promotion to the Nationals and skipping the Triple-A level. Krol made 32 appearances out of the Nationals’ bullpen, going 2-1 with a 3.95 ERA.

Krol’s 2010 Cougars batterymate, catcher Max Stassi, got his big league call later in the summer. Similar to Krol, Stassi was an A’s prospect who was part of a deal sending the talented catcher from Oakland’s system to Houston. Stassi opened the ’13 season at Double-A Corpus Christi and despite missing the first month of the season due to an injury, Stassi batted .277 with 17 home runs and 60 RBI. Stassi was promoted on August 20 and made his debut against Texas that night, singling twice in his first big league game.

An unfortunate injury to Stassi took place the following night when he was hit in the face by a pitch, sustaining a concussion. It took a month of rest and rehab, but Stassi re-joined the Astros towards the end of the season.

For both players, a change of scenery accelerated their professional path in reaching the big stage. Now they’re hoping to stay there full-time, beginning next spring.

Ian Krol (left ) and Max Stassi (center) both made major league debuts this past season.

Ian Krol (left ) and Max Stassi (center) both made major league debuts this past season.

Outfielder Corey Brown (’08), who made his big league debut in late 2011 with Washington, has bounced between Washington and Triple-A Syracuse the last couple of years. Brown has only played in 36 games over three seasons with the Nationals, spending a bulk of those seasons at Syracuse.

One of the most popular Cougars of all-time, pitcher Dontrelle Willis (’02), has not pitched in a major league game since 2011. That hasn’t stopped him from attempting to regain the magic of his early seasons in the bigs. Willis made 5 appearances at Triple-A Salt Lake (Los Angeles Angels affiliate) this season. Well-known to baseball fans, Willis debuted with the Marlins in 2003 and helped lead them to a World Series title that fall.

Another fairly well-known Cougar who made a big league debut years ago is pitcher Nate Robertson (’00). Robertson pitched in 45 games with Triple-A Round Rock (Texas affiliate) this past season. Robertson made his first major league appearance more than 11 years ago with Florida.

Josh Wilson (’01) played in 30 games with Arizona at the big league level, while also playing in 59 games at Triple-A Reno.

Catcher Anthony Recker (’06) played in 50 games with the New York Mets last season. Recker was the starting catcher on the ’06 Western Division Championship squad. He, like the others, developed in the A’s system as Recker made his big league debut with Oakland in 2011.

Another ’06 Cougar, infielder Justin Sellers, spent a majority of last season at Triple-A Albuquerque while also playing in 27 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers, batting just .188. Sellers debuted with the Dodgers in 2011.

Pitcher Sam Demel (’07) debuted with Arizona in 2010 and is now in the Yankees’ farm system. Last season, Demel was 1-1 with a 1.72 ERA in 35 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Another pitcher, Jeff Gray (’06) has been a journeyman reliever who has pitched with five different major league clubs. In 2013, Gray was 2-1 with a 3.27 ERA at Triple-A Charlotte, a White Sox affiliate.

Henry Rodriguez (’07), who was traded by Washington to the Cubs in a deal that sent ’13 Cougar Ian Dickson to the Nationals, split time between the Cubs and Triple-A Iowa. Rodriguez made his big league debut with Oakland in 2009.

You could group in a couple of other players who are in that Triple-A/Major League area and were actually minor league teammates last season: outfielder Travis Buck (’05), who played in 35 games with Triple-A Tucson (San Diego) and infielder Gregorio Petit (’05), who also played with Tucson, batting .292 with 4 home runs and 61 RBI. Buck debuted with Oakland in 2007 and Petit followed suit for the A’s in 2008.

Finally, pitcher Mickey Storey (’09) spent time with Toronto and their Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo this past season. Storey debuted in the bigs in 2012 with Houston.

Worth Watching: OF Javier Herrera (’05), OF Jermaine Mitchell (’07), P Justin Friend (’08), P Kyle Smith (’12)

None of these four players has gotten the call to the big leagues quite yet, but they’re close.

Without question, Javier Herrera was the “Where Did He Come From?” story of 2013 involving off-the-radar Cougars. Quick back story on Herrera. The youngster was a Cougar in 2005 and regarded as one of the top prospects in the system shortly after being signed by the A’s in 2003.

Herrera got a brief taste of Triple-A baseball in Sacramento in 2005 but was mainly a full-time Cougars player that season, hitting 13 home runs while driving in 62 runs. He spent the 2007 and 2008 seasons nestled in the Class-A Advanced and Double-A levels within the A’s system. Unfortunate injuries complicated Herrera’s progression, though, and he soon found himself released by the A’s organization.

Out of professional baseball, Herrera latched on with an independent league baseball team in 2010. Still without a minor league offer, Herrera toiled in indy ball through 2012, playing within the state of Illinois with the Rockford and Southern Illinois clubs.

Herrera finally found good news this past season as the Giants signed him to a minor league contract. And what do you know, Herrera put through his best professional season of his now decade-long career. The 28-year old outfielder batted .296 with 16 home runs and 74 RBI, spending the full season at Double-A Richmond. Herrera was named an Eastern League All-Star and took home MVP honors following the game that night.

In baseball circles, Herrera’s story is a pretty impressive – and unusual – career path. Just 28 years old, Herrera has the chance to open the 2014 season at Triple-A and with the breakout season he enjoyed in 2013, a potential big league debut is not out of the question. It would be quite the finish to an impressive story that saw Herrera go through the peaks and valleys of professional baseball.

'05 Cougar Javier Herrera is back on the radar after a strong season at Double-A in the Giants farm system.

’05 Cougar Javier Herrera is back on the radar after a strong season at Double-A in the Giants farm system.

Outfielder Jermaine Mitchell was a Midwest League All-Star as a Cougar in 2007. Mitchell made it as far as Triple-A Sacramento, but was looking for a new home following the 2012 season. Mitchell linked up with the Phillies and played in 63 games at Triple-A Lehigh Valley before being released. Mitchell was then signed by Minnesota to a minor league free agent deal, and was assigned to Triple-A Rochester. Mitchell played in 106 games between both clubs last season, hitting 7 home runs and driving in 29.

Mitchell was actually a teammate of Justin Friend for part of last season as Friend, a Cougar from 2008 pitched in 46 games at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. The right-hander was an A’s farmhand through 2010 but has been in the Phillies’ system since. Last season, Friend was 5-4 with a 3.79 ERA.

Memories of Kyle Smith’s time at Kane County don’t go as far back as Herrera, Mitchell or Friend. Smith, a ’12 Cougar was involved in a mid-season deal that sent him from the Kansas City Royals farm system to Houston’s. Entering last season, Smith (pictured below) was ranked as the 12th best prospect in the Royals’ farm system by Baseball America. In 2012, Smith went 4-3 with a 2.94 ERA at Kane County. Smith made 19 starts at Class-A Advanced Wilmington last season, going 5-4 with a 2.85 ERA. Following the trade, Smith was assigned to Houston’s High-A affiliate in Lancaster, where he made 5 starts.

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Notables: P Bo Schultz (’10), C John Suomi (’03), P Claudio Vargas (’99), IF Josh Horton (’07)

We haven’t seen a sidewinder quite like Bo Schultz since he arrived at Kane County in 2010. Schultz attended nearby Northwestern and contributed greatly to the Cougars that season out of the bullpen. Schultz was 6-1 with a 2.87 ERA in 41 games, and had a sidearm/underhand throwing motion that you rarely see in baseball these days. After his journey in the A’s organization concluded in 2011, Schultz pitched in the independent leagues for a while before Arizona took a flyer on him. Schultz has made the most of his second chance in affiliated baseball. In 2013, Schultz split time between Double-A Mobile and Triple-A Reno in the D’Backs organization. He’s currently in the prestigious and prospect-laden Arizona Fall League, which tells me that he’s valued highly in Arizona’s farm system.

'10 Cougar Bo Schultz is currently in the Arizona Diamondbacks farm system.

’10 Cougar Bo Schultz is currently in the Arizona Diamondbacks farm system.

Josh Horton, similar to Schultz, hit a crossroads in the A’s farm system. He was a 2nd round pick by the A’s the summer of 2007. Horton reached as high as Triple-A Sacramento. He spent most of ’13 with Double-A Bowie, a Baltimore Orioles farm team. A middle infielder, Horton hit above .300 in 71 games with Bowie last season.

Who’s the only former Cougar to make his big league debut with the defunct Montreal Expos? That would be pitcher Claudio Vargas (’99), who is attempting to get back to the major leagues for the first time since 2010. Now 35 years old, Vargas spent 2013 at Triple-A Buffalo, a Toronto Blue Jays farm team.

Finally, who out there remembers John Suomi? The Cougar from 2003 is still in the minor leagues, but has yet to reach the majors. As best I can tell, he’s the longest-standing Cougar by season played at Kane County who is still out there in the minor leagues, attempting to reach The Show for the first time. Suomi, now 33 years old, split the ’13 season between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley in the Phillies’ system. A total of 9 Cougars from the ’03 squad have made the big leagues including Joe Blanton, Andre Ethier, Nelson Cruz, Santiago Casilla and Jared Burton. I would venture to say that if Suomi did get a big league call-up, it would be something to celebrate in a big way.

Be sure to check out the other parts of this series that focused on former Cougars in the A’s, Royals and Cubs farm systems. When the World Series concludes, I’ll wrap up the blog series with a 2013 recap of the Cougars who spent their entire 2013 season at the Major League level.

Thanks as always for reading and enjoy the Fall Classic, which begins on Wednesday!

-ST

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