2015 Season Recap – Kane County Cougars

*NOTE* This is the first of a multi-part series that recaps the 2015 season of Cougars baseball while also providing updates on former and current Kane County Cougars players throughout Minor League and Major League Baseball. This first part chronicles the 2015 Cougars team, which put together one of the best regular seasons in franchise history.

Hi Cougars fans,

Happy start of the off-season! As I write this, the 2015 Cougars season is officially over as the team was eliminated in the first round of the Midwest League Playoffs by the Peoria Chiefs. One of the most successful regular seasons in our 25-year franchise history quickly transitioned into a bitter exit from the postseason. Within 24 hours of the loss, players and field staff were hundreds of miles away from Fifth Third Bank Ballpark at their respective homes, and the off-season was upon us, just like that.

I think it’s safe to say that Cougars fans have really been treated to some great baseball over the last 2 years. You look at the 2014 season and are still reminded of historically, the absolute best team in Minor League Baseball  last year (MiLB-leading 91 regular season wins). That team won BOTH halves of the Midwest League’s West Division and steamrolled through the MWL Playoffs, going a perfect 7-0 while winning the second league championship in franchise history.

Then, this season. With the bar set quite high from 2014, and in the first year of an affiliation agreement with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the team shook off a sub-.500 month of April before finishing the first half with a respectable 36-32 mark.

At the midway point, a half-dozen Cougars were selected to participate in the Midwest League All-Star Game, which was held on June 23 in Peoria. Outfielder Colin Bray was named a starter and was joined in the game by infielders Marty Herum and Cody Regis along with pitchers Ethan Elias, Cody Geyer and Markus Solbach.

The second half record was a thing of beauty, though as the team went 48-22 (overall record of 84-54). Those 48 second half wins were a franchise record for most wins in one half of a season, surpassing both halves from the ’14 championship team and breaking the old record, which was 47 wins set by the 2001 champion Cougars squad. The team’s 84 wins were the third-highest win total by a Cougars team over its 25-year history behind 2014 (91 wins) and 2001 (88 wins). The team won the Western Division second half title, featured a pair of pitchers with 10+ wins, a closer with a Minor League best (and Cougars franchise record) 33 saves in Zac Curtis, and a Midwest League batting champion in Ildemaro Vargas.

Cougars infielder Ildemaro Vargas led the Midwest League with a .321 batting average, the 4th-best mark in Cougars franchise history.

Cougars infielder Ildemaro Vargas led the Midwest League with a .321 batting average, the fourth-best single-season mark in Cougars franchise history.

Unfortunately, those records and accolades mean nothing come playoff time, and the Cougars were quickly swept out of the postseason by dropping two games to Peoria. Just like that, the title defense was over.

The premature playoff finish shouldn’t detract too much from what was an excellent season on the field. So, between the 2014 and 2015 seasons, the Cougars have gone 175-99 in the regular season – that’s a .639 winning percentage. We’ve had it good, Cougars fans.

Starting with team accomplishments, it’s important to recognize that this year’s squad will go down statistically as the best hitting team in franchise history in terms of batting average. The .275 team mark beats the ’01 squad (a team that included future big leaguers such as Miguel Cabrera, Josh Willingham and Adrian Gonzalez) which previously held the record with a .271 average. Ironically enough, this year’s team hit a franchise-low 48 home runs, eclipsing the ’98 squad by one homer for fewest round trippers in a single season.

Four of the top 10 hitters in the league were Cougars. Vargas’ .321 average gave him the league’s batting championship. He became the second Cougar to win the batting crown in franchise history, joining Jason Stokes (.341 in 2002). Victor Reyes (.311), Colin Bray (.308) and Marty Herum (.303) were also in the top 10.

For the first time since 2012, four Cougars players (Herum, Reyes, Cody Regis, Bray) recorded 50 or more RBI. Herum’s 79 RBI was the highest output by a Cougar since Jeff Baisley, who drove in 110 runs in his MVP season of 2006.

Herum etched his name in the Cougars’ record books by finishing with the fifth-most hits in single-season franchise history (155) with Bray finishing eighth (151).

Overall, it was a smart team offensively with experience and consistency in the lineup. Many of the above players spent the entire season at Kane County or close to the entire season. It was a team that had the fewest strikeouts (885) in the 25-year history of the Cougars. It’s important to credit Cougars hitting coach Vince Harrison as well as manager Mark Grudzielanek, who had more than 2,000 hits in his big league career. Players on this year’s team had two great resources with them for the entire year in Mark and Vince.

Under the guidance of hitting coach Vince Harrison, the Cougars broke the franchise record for highest batting average in a single season.

Under the guidance of hitting coach Vince Harrison, the Cougars broke the franchise record for highest batting average in a single season.

Led by pitching coach Doug Bochtler, the Cougars’ team ERA of 3.10 was second-best in the league behind Quad Cities and second-best in franchise history behind the 2014 team ERA of 2.85.

A pair of Cougars pitchers (Ethan Elias and Nick Baker) won 10 or more games, which isn’t as routine of an occurrence as you would think it might be in the minor leagues. It was the first time a pair of Cougars pitchers won 10 or more games since 2007. Perhaps most impressively, the Cougars featured a closer that re-wrote the franchise history book as Zac Curtis recorded 33 saves, smashing the previous record of 27 held by Bryan Moore (’00 Cougar). The Cougars’ bullpen included some stable arms in Jency Solis (tops in the MWL with 21 holds) and Luis Ramirez (2nd in the MWL with 13 holds).

It was easy to notice the close-knit bond that manager Mark Grudzielanek had with pitching coach Doug Bochtler and hitting coach Vince Harrison. That group of three coaches had the most cohesiveness I’ve seen in any field staff here, with all respect to past years’ teams. It was a group that grew together and worked together. Immediately following a game, it was a routine occurrence to see the coaches, following the post-game handshake line, talking over a particular situation before they even left the field. Over the course of 140 games, it was cool to see that dynamic both on the field and in the clubhouse.

So, who are the top players from this year’s team to watch in 2016?

This isn’t an exhaustive list but I’m going to start with Victor Reyes. Reyes, who was acquired in April by the D-backs as part of a deal with Atlanta (involving a former Cougar in Trevor Cahill), is a 20-year old who can really take a lot of positives in his first season in the D-backs system at Class-A.  In addition to batting .311, the soft-spoken Reyes only struck out 58 times in 424 at-bats. His 13 stolen bases were second-best on the team. Only listed at 170 pounds, Reyes could really develop into something over the next couple of years. Going into the 2015 season, Baseball America had ranked Reyes as the #22 prospect in the Braves farm system. He certainly deserves a spot on the D-backs Top 30 list going into 2016.

Colin Bray, similar to Reyes, was one of the most well-balanced players on the team. Bray hit for average, led the team with 27 stolen bases, and was a reliable outfielder, always patrolling centerfield for the team.

Taiwanese pitcher Wei-Chieh Huang joined the club in late May and went 7-3 with a 2.00 ERA. Huang pitched on one of the biggest stages of his young career in July, being invited to participate in the MLB All-Star Futures Game held in Cincinnati.

Starting pitcher Brad Keller broke spring training camp with the Cougars at age 19 (he turned 20 this past July) and had an excellent season at Kane County, posting a 2.60 ERA (third in the MWL) in 25 starts. And Keller more or less made the jump from Rookie-Advanced Missoula, where he pitched for most of last season. To consistently do what he did in 2015 at Kane County bears mentioning.

Zac Curtis, in his first two professional seasons, has now saved 47 of 51 games between Short-A Hillsboro in 2014 and Kane County in 2015. Curtis was named a Midwest League post-season All-Star.

Finally, infielder Dawel Lugo, despite playing in only 22 games with the Cougars, might be a name to keep close tabs on. Lugo was dealt during the season from Lansing (Toronto Blue Jays) to Kane County (Arizona Diamondbacks) as part of a deal involving a former Cougar in Cliff Pennington. Lugo batted .333 in 22 games with an on-base percentage of .372. Before become a Cougar, Lugo batted .335 in 53 games with Lansing. So, all in all, Lugo put the pieces together on a strong 2015 season at the Class-A level. Lugo is only 20 years old.

Several Cougars received well-deserved promotions to Class-A Advanced Visalia throughout the season, too. Those include Bud Jeter (3.12 ERA in 48 relief appearances) and Steve Hathaway (2.00 ERA in 29 relief appearances).

As is the case every year, one of the most enjoyable parts of my job (and of course, the fans enjoy it, too) is following the progression of players who move beyond Kane County as they continue their goal of reaching the Major Leagues. Nothing is promised, and Class-A is still several rungs on the ladder from the big leagues. A successful season at Class guarantees nothing in terms of success at the next level up. But there’s a nice list of players who played a vital role in helping put together one of the best seasons in the 25-year franchise history of the Cougars. And to think, both Missoula (Rookie-Advanced) and Hillsboro (Short-A), the two rungs on the ladder just below us, both won their league championships. Smart money says many of those players are part of our 2016 Opening Day roster as we begin our 2nd season of affiliation with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

As always, thanks for reading! Our next blog post will recap the ’15 Minor League Baseball season involving many of our alumni. We have quite a few familiar faces who were spread throughout Minor League Baseball.

-Shawn Touney

Team photo

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Minor League Midseason Report

Cougars fans,

We’ve officially reached the halfway point on our 25th anniversary season! It’s been great to see some familiar faces at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark over the last 2+ months. Take a deep breath and gear up for a busy month of July here at the park as we look forward to a great second half of the season.

With the first half in the books, the Cougars concluded play on Father’s Day with an exciting walk-off win against Peoria. Kane County’s 36-32 record was 3rd best in the Midwest League’s Western Division – the team ended up 4 games behind Cedar Rapids for the divisional wild card spot. Quad Cities (maybe this season’s 2014 Cougars so far?) completely ran away from the pack and led the 16-team circuit with 45 wins. The Cougars won their final 9 games at home and have some momentum going into the 2nd half.

Take away last season’s Cougars team which won 45 first half games, and this season’s first half record was the club’s best since 2009 when the Cougars won 41 first half games. For some first halves of the season, a 36-32 record would have been enough to secure a playoff berth, so the Cougars will have some work to do. It all starts on Thursday when a clean slate opens the second half of the season and 6 teams (not including Quad Cities or Cedar Rapids) try to grab a second half postseason spot.

Despite some constant roster shuffling, the Cougars have been led offensively by Marty Herum (80 hits, good for 2nd in the MWL, .315 average is 8th in the MWL), Cody Regis (.309 average is 10th in the MWL) and Victor Reyes, who is batting .294 in 57 games. Colin Bray leads the team with 10 stolen bases and has been the Cougars’ everyday center fielder. Herum, Regis and Bray were named Midwest League All-Stars earlier this season.

On the mound, the Cougars have featured some impressive starting pitching in the form of Markus Solbach (6-2, 2.78 in 13 starts), Brad Keller (3-7, 2.80 ERA in 14 starts), Ethan Elias (6-3, 2.84 in 8 starts), and most recently, Wei-Chieh Huang (3-0, 0.85 ERA in 5 starts). Out of the bullpen, Zac Curtis‘ 13 saves lead the Midwest League and according to Cougars’ records, are the most saves in the first half of a season since Steve Sharpe’s 12 saves in the first half of the 2006 season. Reliever Cody Geyer holds a 1.23 ERA in 24 appearances. Solbach, Elias and Geyer were named Midwest League All-Stars earlier this season.

It’s funny how a season like 2014 – filled with broken records and a Midwest League championship trophy can make you a little jaded, but this is a pretty impressive group of players who really turned it on towards the last 2 weeks of the season. There will inevitably be roster changes to open the second half season and beyond, but there’s a core group of players here who could make this an exciting summer at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.

All-Star reliever Cody Geyer has been lights out in his first full professional season.

All-Star reliever Cody Geyer has been lights out in his first full professional season.

Elsewhere around Minor League Baseball, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Cubs affiliate) recently clinched their first half division title. Led by ’13-’14 Cougars manager Mark Johnson, the Pelicans went 41-28 in the first half (including an impressive 24-11 road record) to carve out a playoff spot.

One of the main themes of last year’s Cougars squad was dominant starting pitching and this year’s Pelicans rotation (comprised of many ’14 Cougars) is no exception. Starter Duane Underwood (’14) went 6-2 with a 1.85 ERA and Jonathan Martinez (’14), part of a trade involving the Cubs last season, is 5-1 with a 2.95 ERA.

Who stands out the most offensively? I see Chesny Young (’14), one of the most underrated hitters for the Cougars late last season, batting .364 and Mark Zagunis (’14), another late-season Cougars hero, batting .320 as one of Johnson’s everyday outfielders. One of the Cougars cornerstones from last season’s championship team, Jacob Rogers, has 9 home runs and 42 RBI.

Double-A Tennessee (Cubs affiliate) has many Cougars alumni on their roster from the ’13-’14 seasons. Dan Vogelbach (’13) was up above .300 for much of the first half before reaching the midway point with a .285 average and 31 runs driven in. Albert Almora (’13) is batting .244 and you might remember Willson Contreras (’13), who was named a Southern League All-Star and is batting .332 with 5 home runs and 34 RBI.

Triple-A Iowa (Cubs affiliate) includes Armando Rivero (’13), who has a 3.38 ERA in 26 appearances. Iowa is now the (temporary) home of catcher Kyle Schwarber (’14), who recently capped off a head-turning MLB debut and short stint at the big league level for the Cubs.

'14 Cougar Kyle Schwarber made his MLB debut in a big way, batting .364 in 6 games with the Cubs this month.

’14 Cougar Kyle Schwarber made his MLB debut in a big way, batting .364 in 6 games with the Cubs this month.

Other Cougars alumni who bear mentioning…

Jeremy Barfield (’09) is at Double-A New Britain (Colorado Rockies). Barfield has resumed his career as a position player after spending time as a pitcher in 2014. In 7 games, Barfield is batting .364. What a 2015 for Barfield, who has been in the independent leagues, played in Mexico and is now back in Minor League Baseball.

One of Barfield’s teammates in 2009 when the Cougars were an Oakland A’s affiliate was Dusty Coleman, who is now in the Kansas City Royals farm system. In 33 games at Triple-A Omaha, Coleman is batting .284.

And one of Coleman’s current teammates is ’11 Cougar Cheslor Cuthbert. Cuthbert is batting .271 with 8 home runs and 32 RBI.

Will Scott Alexander (’12) be the next Cougar to make his Major League debut? The right-handed reliever has a 2.14 ERA in 20 appearances at Triple-A Omaha.

Keep an eye on another ’12 Cougar from our two-year affiliation with the Kansas City Royals. Pitcher Andrew Triggs (’12) has a 0.84 ERA in 12 relief appearances at Double-A Bowie (Baltimore affiliate).

'12 Cougar Andrew Triggs is now in the Baltimore system after playing at Kane County as a Royals minor leaguer.

’12 Cougar Andrew Triggs is now in the Baltimore system after playing at Kane County as a Royals minor leaguer.

Remember Denny Bautista from the 2001 Cougars championship squad? The 34-year old Bautista, who made his big league debut in 2004 and most recently pitched in the bigs in 2010, is attempting to get back there. Bautista has split this season between Class-A Greenville and High-A Salem in the Red Sox farm system.

Just one rung up the ladder from the Cougars in the Arizona Diamondbacks farm system, Zack Godley (’14) is 8-3 with a 2.27 ERA at High-A Visalia.

A total of 5 Cougars alumni have made their MLB debuts so far in 2015: ’14 Cougar Kyle Schwarber (Cubs), ’09 Cougar Tyler Ladendorf (Oakland), ’13 Cougar Andrew McKirahan (Atlanta), ’11 Cougar Sugar Ray Marimon (Atlanta) and ’11-’12 Cougar Orlando Calixte (Kansas City). Already this season, the Cougars’ 5 MLB debuts is the largest # of single-season big league call-ups since the 2011 season when five players (Jemile Weeks, Justin Sellers, Anthony Recker, Andrew Carignan and Corey Brown) debuted.

It’s always great to chart the progress of players who have called Kane County home as they continue their drive to reach the Major Leagues. We’ll have an update on our current big league alumni at the midway point of the Major League season next month!

-Shawn Touney

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Major League Spring Training Camps Include Cougars Alumni

GENEVA, Ill. – With warm thoughts of Major League Baseball spring training now underway, many former Kane County Cougars are gearing up for the 2015 season. Here’s a brief snapshot of Cougars alumni at various spring training sites.

Building on 2014. One of the higher profile free agent signings this off-season, outfielder Nelson Cruz (’03 Cougar) begins his first season with Seattle and joins an offensively-charged lineup. Cruz led Major League Baseball with 40 home runs last season for Baltimore. Both his home run and RBI (108) totals from 2014 were career bests. Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Adrian Gonzalez (’01) recorded 116 RBI last season, a National League best, while winning his second career Silver Slugger Award and fourth Gold Glove Award. Los Angeles Angels closer Huston Street (’04) recorded 41 saves last season and entering 2015, ranks 30th on the all-time MLB list with 275 saves. San Francisco Giants reliever Santiago Casilla (’03-’04) is now a three-time World Series champion. Detroit infielder Miguel Cabrera (’01) is setting the goal of being ready by Opening Day after undergoing off-season surgery to his right foot. Cabrera, just 31 years old, has 390 home runs, 1,369 RBI and a .320 batting average in his 12-year big league career. Kansas City pitcher Yordano Ventura (’11) went 14-10 for the 2014 American League champion Royals in his first full big league season. San Diego pitcher Tyson Ross (’08) was named a Major League All-Star for the first time in 2014. Ross won 13 games while posting an impressive 2.84 ERA.

Former Cougar Adrian Gonzalez ('01 Cougar) recorded a National League-best 116 RBI last season.

Former Cougar Adrian Gonzalez (’01 Cougar) recorded a National League-best 116 RBI last season.

Cougars’ Major League Affiliate Includes Alumni. The Cougars, which kick off their first season of affiliation with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2015, have a pair of familiar names who are part of the D-backs roster. Pitcher Trevor Cahill (’07) is looking to bounce back from a 3-12 season with the D-backs in 2014. Infielder Cliff Pennington (’05) batted .254 in 68 games last season.

Around The Horn. A total of 36 former Cougars appeared in at least one Major League game last season and through the end of last season, a total of 128 former Cougars have now reached the major leagues. Four of those 36 players, Bo Schultz (’10), Justin Marks (’10), Aaron Brooks (’12) and Lane Adams (’11-’12) made major league debuts in 2014. Pitcher A.J. Burnett (’98) signed an off-season deal with Pittsburgh. Burnett is the Cougars’ single-season leader for most strikeouts in a season with 186. Several former Cougars were invited to Cubs major league spring training including pitchers Pierce Johnson (’13-’14), Armando Rivero (’13), outfielder Albert Almora (’13) and catcher Kyle Schwarber (’14). Non-roster invitees to Kansas City Royals major league spring training camp included pitcher Scott Alexander (’12) and outfielder Brett Eibner (’11) along with pitcher Joe Blanton (’03), who was signed to a minor league deal by the Royals.  Blanton did not pitch in a big league game in 2014. Pitcher Dontrelle Willis (’02) hasn’t pitched in a big league game since 2011, but the popular former Cougar is at Milwaukee Brewers camp as a minor league free agent signing and is hoping to land a big league roster spot.

Former Cougar Joe Blanton ('03) is hoping to make a return to the big leagues after not pitching in a major league game last season.

Former Cougar Joe Blanton (’03) is hoping to make a return to the big leagues after not pitching in a major league game last season.

The Kane County Cougars, Major League affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, are the only Major League affiliated Minor League Baseball team in the Chicagoland area. Opening Day is set for Thursday evening, April 9 at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark as the Cougars host Cedar Rapids at 6:30 p.m. Single-game tickets, catered event group outings, season tickets and ticket packages starting at five games, including a “Pick Your Own” plan, are currently on sale by calling (630) 232-8811. The Cougars’ Opening Day roster will not be determined until spring training concludes at the D-backs spring training complex in Arizona.  Last season, the Cougars won the Midwest League Championship and were named the “Best Team” in the Minor League Baseball “MiLBY” awards.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

2014 MLB Alumni Report

Cougars fans,

I hope each of you are hanging in there as the off-season cold has sunk its teeth into Chicagoland. The calendar has officially flipped into December and despite the reality that spring training seems so far away, baseball has remained in the news as Major League clubs continue to make moves to bolster their respective rosters. The hot stove is churning, so warm your hands next to the fire and that will get us through the weeks and months ahead.

The 2014 season was a strong season in many ways for the Cougars. Obviously, this year’s Kane County squad displayed the most dominant season in franchise history, winning the Midwest League championship and setting numerous records including 91 regular season wins. The accolades extended into the off-season as the Cougars were named “Team of the Year” by both fans and MiLB staff in the annual MiLBY Awards. You can read the full article HERE.

But it’s also worth noting that this year’s Cougars baseball success extends all the way up to the Major League level, as it’s done every year since 1993 when Brad Pennington – a member of our inaugural ’91 team – became the first Cougar to reach the big leagues on April 17, 1993. Pennington became the first of what is now 128 former Cougars to play in at least one game in the Major Leagues. It’s a great list that continues to grow and we actually display the full list on our press box wall, located on the ballpark concourse behind home plate.

Here are some interesting facts, figures and a few opinions on the Major League side of Cougars baseball in 2014.

– Four of our alumni – Bo Schultz (’10 Cougar), Justin Marks (’10), Aaron Brooks (’12) and Lane Adams (’11-’12) made Major League debuts in 2014. Schultz debuted with our current affiliate (Arizona Diamondbacks) while the other three players debuted with a recent affiliate of ours in 2011 and 2012, the Kansas City Royals.

– By my count, a total of 36 former Cougars played in at least one Major League game during the 2014 season. I’ll post the full list at the bottom of this blog but the names range from All-Star superstars Miguel Cabrera and Nelson Cruz to several under-the-radar players such as Josh Wilson and Max Stassi.

– Just two Cougars from the ’90’s decade appeared in at least one Major League game in 2014. That would be pitcher AJ Burnett (’98 Cougar), who endured an 18-loss season for Philadelphia but recently agreed to terms with Pittsburgh in what will likely be his final season. The other Cougar is Alex Gonzalez (’96) who only played in 9 games with Detroit in April before being released.

– Which former Cougar has been with the same big league club the longest? It appears as if that would be ’03 Cougar Andre Ethier, who has been with the Los Angeles Dodgers for 9 years dating back to his big league debut with them in 2006. Ironically enough, Ethier has been in the hot stove discussion as a possible trade candidate for the Dodgers.

Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier has been in LA since the 2006 season.

Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier has been in LA since the 2006 season.

– Four Cougars (Miguel Cabrera, Nelson Cruz, Sean Doolittle and Tyson Ross) were named to the Major League All-Star Game in July. This was the 18th straight Major League All-Star Game to include at least one former Cougar dating back to the 1997 mid-season classic. That summer, Florida catcher Charles Johnson was the first of our alums to be named a big league All-Star. How long ago was that? All you have to do is look at the complete All-Star roster that year, a squad that included the late Tony Gwynn, Chipper Jones, Cal Ripken, Jr., Albert Belle, Barry Larkin and Dave Justice, to name several. Young Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera was a first-time All-Star that season, too.

– Some of our biggest alumni continue to add more and more ammunition to their star-powered careers. Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera posted his 11th straight season with 100 or more RBI while batting .300 or better for the sixth straight season. Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Adrian Gonzalez set a career high with 116 RBI while winning his second Silver Slugger Award and fourth Gold Glove as the best defensive first baseman in the National League. Closer Huston Street split his season between the Los Angeles Angels and San Diego Padres, saving a total of 41 games in 2014. Street now has 275 saves, good for 30th on the all-time MLB list. San Francisco Giants pitcher Santiago Casilla is a 3-time World Series champion, being a vital part of the Giants’ crowns in 2010, 2012 and 2014. And Baltimore’s Nelson Cruz reached 40 home runs and 100 RBI for the first time in his career.

'04 Cougar Huston Street continues to move up the list of all-time MLB saves leaders.

’04 Cougar Huston Street continues to move up the list of all-time MLB saves leaders.

– A couple of our alumni made enormous strides in 2014. That list must start with Kansas City Royals rookie pitcher Yordano Ventura, who went 14-10 with a .320 ERA in 31 games, while striking out 159 batters. Ventura started 4 post-season games and pitched in 2 games of the World Series as the Royals came up just one win shy of winning the World Series. San Diego Padres pitcher Tyson Ross was a first-time big league All-Star and won 13 games while posting an impressive 2.84 ERA.

Baseball Winter Meetings Update

Be sure to follow next week’s Baseball Winter Meetings as the hot stove could be smoldering with trades and acquisitions across Major League Baseball. Several of our staff will be in San Diego for the meetings and while there, we’ll have updates on the Cougars’ Facebook page and Twitter feed. This will be the third winter meetings to ever be held in San Diego and the first one since 1985.

Winter Meetings

As always, thanks for reading and for your support of Cougars baseball!

-Shawn Touney

Full list of Kane County alumni who appeared in the Major Leagues in 2014:

Lane Adams (’11-’12) – Kansas City Royals
John Baker (’03) – Chicago Cubs
Josh Beckett (’00) – Los Angeles Dodgers
Ronald Belisario (’02) – Chicago White Sox
Aaron Brooks (’12) – Kansas City Royals
Corey Brown (’08) – Boston Red Sox
AJ Burnett (’98) – Philadelphia Phillies
Jared Burton (’03) – Minnesota Twins
Miguel Cabrera (’01) – Detroit Tigers
Trevor Cahill (’07) – Arizona Diamondbacks
Santiago Casilla (’03-’04) – San Francisco Giants
Michael Choice (’10) – Texas Rangers
Nelson Cruz (’03) – Baltimore Orioles
Sean Doolittle (’07) – Oakland Athletics
Andre Ethier (’03) – Los Angeles Dodgers
Pedro Figueroa (’09) – Texas Rangers
Adrian Gonzalez (’01) – Los Angeles Dodgers
Alex Gonzalez (’96) – Detroit Tigers
Ian Krol (’10) – Detroit Tigers
Justin Marks (’10) – Kansas City Royals
Vin Mazzaro (’06) – Pittsburgh Pirates
Cliff Pennington (’05) – Arizona Diamondbacks
Gregorio Petit (’05) – Houston Astros
Anthony Recker (’06) – New York Mets
Henry Rodriguez (’07) – Miami Marlins
Tyson Ross (’08) – San Diego Padres
Bo Schultz (’10) – Arizona Diamondbacks
Justin Sellers (’06) – Cleveland Indians
Max Stassi (’10) – Houston Astros
Dan Straily (’10) – Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs
Huston Street (’04) – Los Angeles Angels, San Diego Padres
Yordano Ventura (’11) – Kansas City Royals
Ryan Webb (’05) – Baltimore Orioles
Jemile Weeks (’08) – Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox
Josh Willingham (’01) – Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals
Josh Wilson (’01) – Texas Rangers

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Your Favorite Moments From The 2014 Season

Last month, we asked Cougars fans to share some of their favorite moments from the 2014 season. We’d like to thank everyone for their thoughts and photos through social media as well as by email. The 2014 season was filled with historic record-breaking achievements that were set by the team who ultimately delivered a Midwest League Championship. And off the field, it was a season filled with fan-friendly fun and special memories enjoyed by more than 400,000 fans. These are the stories we love to hear and will inevitably get us through another Chicago winter as we count down to Opening Day on April 9, 2015!

Gregory P. (via Facebook): Had never been to a Cougars game. My son won tickets thru the Elmhurst historical society. Outstanding seats. My son had never gotten a baseball from the field (and we’ve been to a ton of baseball games all over), whether foul ball or being thrown from a player…until this trip. Thanks to Cael Brockmeyer, my sons dream of getting a ball from a player came true (he threw it to us and I actually caught it)! The evening was topped off by your wonderful fireworks! Perfect day for all. My son will never forget.

Gregory Pas's photo.

Michelle B. (via Facebook): Storm trooper selfie!!

Michelle Bell's photo.

Kristine F. (via Facebook): Our family LOVES attending Cougars games! We went to many this year, but the one that really stands out was on July 3rd. The POW/MIA Table of Remembrance was so moving! I cried through the whole pregame ceremony. My mom had a cousin who was MIA in the Korean War so it was especially touching for me. Thank you!

Brigid B. (via Facebook): Getting married in the super suite! Wonderful customer service provided by Paul and a delicious dinner prepared by Chef Jon!

Darcy K. (via Email): It was of course special to me and my husband Mike Knapp (a reporter covering the Cougars for the past 15 years for the Aurora Beacon) because we had a wedding celebration at the Cougars game on July 26. The Cougars Game was the site of one of our first dates in 2011!  

DM (123)

Vicki L. (via Facebook): The Ozzie Homerun walk! I was dead last, but I made it after 3 back surgeries & a total knee replacement!

This one was particularly poignant from a Cougars fan.

I am so glad for this opportunity to thank you, Kane County Cougars. During a summer of financial crisis, no vacations, working 2 jobs just to make ends meet….we could come to a Cougars game for a reasonable fee for a night full of good baseball, people having fun, and even fireworks. 

But to stumble across Thirsty Thursdays was almost too good to be true! We were able to have a couple of beers, a few hotdogs and still stay under 10 bucks! Unbelievable.

Thank you for those Thursdays. For a couple of hours, summer fun became a reality!

ps. As Geneva residents, we were at your very first opening day when our oldest son was just a toddler. Four sons have grown up and we are all planning on returning next season to enjoy a Cougars game. 

And as far as the dream season on the field, perhaps this fan said it best as their experience centered around one of many impressive home wins by the club in 2014:


For my son Evan and I, our favorite moment of the season came on August 19.  It was the last day of summer for my son, as he had his first day of school the following day.  So we were both a little bummed about that as we love the summer and equally love going to Cougars games.  This happened to be our 13th game of the season.  

It was a beautiful night, perfect temps and blue skies to start the evening.  The game itself was slow moving and the Cougars were struggling to find base runners.  They were trailing most of the game.  In the 8th they got two on with two out, and our favorite Cougar of the season came to the plate.  Jake Rogers smashed a shot over the center fielders head to drive in two to give the Cougars the lead.  Burlington pushed back in the 9th but left the tying run on 3rd base with the last out of the game. It was an amazing win and equally amazing to see Jake Rogers get another game winning hit. He’s been our favorite player all summer and he capped a ‘perfect Cougars summer’ for my son and I.  

With the win the Cougars ran their streak to 9 straight victories, and pushed to 37 games over .500.  Was this our last Cougars game of the year?  Nope!!!  We went to five more games including a home playoff game in each of the three series, including the last Cougars home game of the year & playoffs.  If I had the money we would have surely drove to Ohio to see them win it all. I had more fun watching this team than any other in my entire life.  Thank you Cougars!  You gave us a magical season that we will never forget.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2014 Season Recap

Where do we start with summing up the 2014 season of Cougars baseball?

Whether you’re a fan, coach, player or front office staff member, a season such as the one we just witnessed in 2014 doesn’t happen very often. It might not ever happen. That said, this might be the most fun, yet challenging, blog entry to piece together because simply put, there’s no way to put into words what Cougars fans were treated to this season. But we’ll try. And of course, I’ll look for your feedback as well on what parts of this year’s team were most enjoyable for you. We’ll start chronologically when the team arrived from spring training camp in April and take you through September when the Cougars left eastern Ohio with the Midwest League Championship trophy in hand.


I’ll say this: the announcement of the Cougars’ 2014 Opening Day roster just didn’t have the same level of excitement as the previous season’s Opening Day roster did.

Let’s go back to April 2013 when our initial roster was announced. That squad had name after name after name of Cubs prospects that fans were clamoring to see: Dan Vogelbach, Pierce Johnson, Jeimer Candelario, Marco Hernandez, and Gioskar Amaya were just several of the big-name Cubs prospects who broke camp that spring as Cougars. And by May that season, Cougars fans were treated to 2012 Cubs first round pick Albert Almora who joined the squad. But that team, for whatever reason, could not find their way through a 55-80 season – the worst in Cougars history.

Fast-forward to this past April and the list wasn’t as large as far as the big-name Opening Day roster prospects: Paul Blackburn, Jake Hannemann, Tyler Skulina were a few of the Baseball America Top 30 prospects who were sent to Kane County in April. Aside from that, there wasn’t too much of an early-season buzz as the ’14 season began.

Lesson learned? A successful season as a team in no way correlates to the quantity of prospects on a roster.

The Cougars’ 8-4 win over Quad Cities to open the season was a sign of things to come. Sprinting out of the gates, the Cougars’ 18-7 month of April was, by winning percentage (.720) the finest April in franchise history. It was also among the top 3 records across all classification levels of Minor League Baseball, which would be a familiar vantage point for Kane County for the remainder of the season.

Catcher Will Remillard was named Cubs Minor League Player of the Month for April, setting off a streak of four straight months in which a Cougars player received a monthly organizational award by the Cubs. Remillard toughed it out for much of the season with back discomfort before his season ended prematurely.

On May 17, the Cougars re-opened the record book when pitchers Tyler Skulina and Nathan Dorris combined for the 8th no-hitter in franchise history. Skulina worked 7.1 innings while Dorris, a left-handed reliever who pitched with the Cougars in 2013, worked the final 1.2 innings to preserve the feat. It was the first no-hitter thrown at home for the Cougars since a tandem effort by Craig Italiano and Branden Dewing in 2008.

Pitchers Nathan Dorris (left) and Tyler Skulina (right) acknowledge the crowd after combining for the 8th no-hitter in team history.

Pitchers Nathan Dorris (left) and Tyler Skulina (right) acknowledge the crowd after combining for the 8th no-hitter in team history.

On May 26, Cougars infielder Jordan Hankins saw one pitch in the 11th inning and that was enough, as the left-hander launched a walk-off home run in a see-saw contest against Peoria. For me, that was the game where at that point, you had a feeling that this could be a special season.

By early June, a total of four Cougars (just four?) were named Midwest League All-Stars – Paul Blackburn, Jordan Hankins, Will Remillard and Jose Arias.

On June 7, the Cougars clinched the Western Division first half title. It was the first time the Cougars clinched a first half division championship since 2009 but most importantly, it meant that the Cougars were back in the postseason since 2011 after a two-year absence.

When the season’s midway point was reached by late June, the Cougars’ first half record was a remarkable 45-25. Only the 2001 Cougars team, which included present-day Major League superstars such as Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez, won more first half games with 47 that season.

On top of that, the team amassed an amazing first half home record of 28-7, and the team’s ERA was a remarkable 3.07. These attributes were consistent throughout the rest of the season, too.

The byproduct of a successful team was the reality that many contributors to the first half success would be promoted to High-A Daytona. The promotions were plentiful. Players such as Jordan Hankins, Justin Amlung, Nathan Dorris were out the door and were moving upwards in their minor league careers.

But guess who was coming in through the other door? That would be Cubs’ 2014 first round pick Kyle Schwarber. Schwarber’s arrival brought some of the largest anticipation for a Cougars player in franchise history, as you’ll see in the below photo when he met with the media for the first time. Schwarber was the 4th overall pick in the June draft and was the highest draft selection to play for the Cougars since Adrian Gonzalez, who was the #1 overall pick in 2000.

On June 20, Schwarber swatted his first home run as a Cougar, sending the pitch well over the batter’s eye in centerfield, 400 feet away from home plate. Fans were treated to seeing a polished hitter and solid catcher, but it was unfortunately short-lived. Schwarber was promoted to Daytona within a month of arriving here, giving Cougars fans a taste, albeit a small taste, of a potential future Major Leaguer.

Schwarber Media

Towards the end of June, a pair of notable events took place. On June 24, outfielder Trey Martin stole 5 bases which set a franchise record. The old mark of 4 swipes was held by ’08 Cougar Michael Richard. And on June 29, catcher Cael Brockmeyer completed the cycle, the first Cougars cycle since Tommy Everidge in 2005.

As June turned into July, the Cougars had reached the 50-win mark and by early July, the team had actually equaled last season’s squad for total wins.

Dominant pitching – starters and bullpen – were seemingly taking the Cougars to a new ascent that rivaled the ’01 championship squad. At one point in July, each of the Cougars’ SIX starting pitchers – Paul Blackburn, Tyler Skulina, Duane Underwood, Juan Paniagua, Jen-Ho Tseng and Daury Torrez – held ERA’s of under 3.00.

Transactions continued to saddle the Cougars, particularly when Jake Hannemann was promoted to Daytona in late July. All of a sudden, the Cougars lost their lead-off hitter, everyday centerfielder and top base stealer.

Enter Shawon Dunston, Jr.

Dunston, who was part of the Cougars’ Opening Day roster, was placed into Hannemann’s spot and he never looked back. Dunston was as instrumental as any other player in terms of the Cougars making their late season push into the playoffs and all the way to the championship.

Manager Mark Johnson continued to see key contributors leave the team because of promotions, injuries, and even trades. Roster promotions included Skulina and Paniagua in the starting rotation as well as reliever Gerardo Concepcion. Bullpen arms Jose Arias and Tyler Bremer were dealt to the Marlins and the Cougars endured extended absences from Yasiel Balaguert, Danny Lockhart and Will Remillard due to injuries.

The Cougars did receive a pair of highly-regarded prospects through big league trades as pitcher Jonathan Martinez came to Kane County through a trade involving Darwin Barney, while catcher Victor Caratini joined the Cougars via a trade with Atlanta. While both players were out of the mix come playoff time, each player made an impact in the during the dog days of summer.

One of the Cougars’ biggest clubhouse leaders, catcher Ben Carhart, was promoted to Daytona on August 13. Losing Carhart was a big blow but the Cougars received Mark Zagunis, the Cubs’ 2014 3rd round draft pick who was a key contributor in the postseason. Zagunis, along with Chesny Young, added stability to Johnson’s lineup as the roster shuffle continued.

By the final week of the season, the Cougars received good news as Johnson was named Midwest League Manager of the Year, a deserving honor for the Cougars second-year skipper. Some more important news hung in the balance, though as the Cougars had yet to learn of their first round opponent in the playoffs. Wisconsin finally clinched the second half wild card spot with just two days remaining in the regular season, meaning the Timber Rattlers would meet Kane County in an opening round best-of-three series.

By the time the regular season ended, the Cougars’ 91-49 record was a franchise best, eclipsing the ’01 team which won 88 regular season games. The team not only won the first half Western Division championship, but won the second half division title as well with a 46-24 second half mark. The team’s 54 home wins was a club record, as well as a 13-game win streak and a team ERA of 2.85.

Team Recognition

Against Wisconsin in Round 1, solid pitching, clutch hitting and consistent defense were the ingredients to victories as they often were during the regular season. The Cougars swept Wisconsin, with the clinching win being a 13-inning walk-off celebration courtesy of infielder Jeimer Candelario, who laced a single up the middle. A timely big league rehabilitation appearance by Cubs infielder Mike Olt added some pop to the Cougars’ offense in those two games.

The Cougars’ second round opponent was a stern one in Cedar Rapids, as going into that series, six of the last seven games between both clubs were decided by one run. With Game 1 on the road, the Cougars rode the bat of Mark Zagunis, who tripled and homered in a 5-2 victory.

The following evening at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, the Cougars found an unlikely offensive hero in shortstop Carlos Penalver. Penalver, who had only connected on one home run in 478 regular season at-bats, ripped a two-run smash in the seventh inning to put the Cougars on top for good, 3-2.

With that, the Cougars were in the Midwest League Championship Series for the first time since 2006, and they would face the Lake County Captains, an unlikely Eastern Division champion who, despite a sub-.500 regular season record, brought some second half momentum into the playoffs and into the league’s championship round.

With home field advantage in the LCS alternating between the West and East Division winners each season, the Cougars opened the best-of-five series at home for Games 1 and 2.

Cougars starter Jen-Ho Tseng allowed three runs to begin Game 1, but the 19-year old settled down and went on to strike out 8 Captains batters as the Cougars eeked out a 4-3 win.

The following night, the Cougars carried a no-hitter into the 8th inning with starter Duane Underwood and reliever Tyler Ihrig silencing Lake County’s bats. With a 6-0 win, the Cougars completed the season with an overall home record of 58-17 and traveled to Ohio in high spirits, needing just 1 win in 3 games to win the championship.

Following a travel-day of more than 400 miles to get from Geneva to Eastlake, the Cougars and Captains squared off in Game 3 on a chilly Saturday evening in eastern Ohio.

The Captains broke a 16-inning scoreless streak by jumping out to a 1-0 lead. But the Cougars, as they did in so many games this season, immediately responded and calmly, methodically began the offensive attack. Infielder Jacob Rogers belted a two-run homer as the Cougars took the lead. Then the Cougars started to pull away and used a pair of Lake County errors to open up a 7-1 lead. The Cougars leaned on one of their aces, pitcher Daury Torrez, for a big-time performance and turned it over to Michael Heesch in the bullpen.

Closer Francisco Carrillo recorded the final 3 outs to begin the mob scene on the infield with players running to the middle of the field from the bullpen and the dugout to join in on the celebration.

The Game 3 win gave the Cougars not only the Midwest League Championship, but a perfect 7-0 postseason record and an overall record of 98-49. In the past decade, only 3 other Minor League Baseball teams had won more than 98 games. Talk about a dream season.

Cougars manager Mark Johnson shares a celebratory moment with infielder Jacob Rogers following the championship win.

Cougars manager Mark Johnson shares a celebratory moment with infielder Jacob Rogers following the championship win.


As best I can tell, some of the key attributes from the Cougars’ historic season were the following.

Filling the holes. More than 50 players filled the Cougars’ roster at one point or another during the season, offering daily challenges for Mark Johnson and his staff to find the right pieces and keep the momentum throughout the season.

Leadership. You can’t say enough about the leadership from some of the Cougars this season, such as Jordan Hankins, Jacob Rogers, Ben Carhart, Cael Brockmeyer and so many more. Rogers was one of the best feel-good stories of the season. A 40th round pick by the Cubs in 2012, Rogers was the Cougars’ everyday first baseman and belted 18 home runs in the regular season and postseason combined.

Pitching. Simply put, the Cougars’ pitching corps put on a full-season display of excellence that you won’t have the privilege of seeing very often. Dominant starting pitching and effective relief was the name of the game from April to September. Consider that the Cougars were forced, time and time again, to re-discover who their closer would be as pitchers such as Zack Godley, Tyler Bremer, Nathan Dorris and Jose Arias were all effective 9th inning pitchers, but were eventually shuttled from Kane County to other destinations. The one closer the Cougars had at the end was Francisco Carrillo, who joined the club in early August and from that moment on, was the go-to stopper out of the bullpen.

Lead-off man. As mentioned earlier, Jake Hannemann’s departure was an opportunity for Shawon Dunston, Jr. Dunston was a table setter on offense and all too often, opponents during the game encountered Trey Martin in the 9-spot followed by Dunston at the top of the order. Both of those players, when on the basepaths, set the table for hitters such as Rogers and Balaguert, among others. It was an explosive lineup and for much of the summer, Dunston was the catalyst.


Playoff Thoughts

For all of the regular season success the Cougars team experience this season, the collective thought was that the playoffs, more than anything, would define this team’s story years from now.

That said, the team’s unblemished 7-0 record in the postseason when the stakes were highest was incredible to see. It’s safe to say that the Cougars were the consensus to win the Midwest League championship, based on their regular season merits. But strange things can happen in the postseason. Usually, the hottest team for the 10 day-length of the playoffs is the team that holds the trophy.

To me, the championship series held quite a few of those moments that you’ll want to latch onto for a long time. The Cougars’ dominance at home during the regular season was evident in the championship round as the Cougars decisively took Games 1 and 2 to seize the series momentum.

Cougars fans and staff enthusiastically sent the team eastward on the travel off-day between games, complete with a police squad escort down Kirk Road. It was a small-town, sending the high school team to state-type of moment that was special for everyone involved.

Saturday evening’s game in eastern Ohio had a very small amount of Cougars fans who made the long trek across Indiana and much of Ohio. By the 7th inning, there was a quiet anticipation at Lake County as you could tell that tonight would be the night for the clincher. Lake County’s backs seemed broken and it was obvious. By the 8th inning, I grabbed the championship t-shirts out of my car that would be distributed to the team and staff on the field following the win. And by the 9th inning, our video staff, along with myself, were at field level to record the final 3 outs.

An unassisted putout by Jacob Rogers at first base set off a jubilant scene that you see all the time on TV, but rarely feel a true connection with.

Soon after, manager Mark Johnson accepted the league championship trophy and banner at home plate before passing them onto the team. T-shirts were distributed and a team photo was taken. Smiles were seen everywhere. And at that point, it was a mad dash into the Captains’ visiting team clubhouse, in which all lockers were covered in plastic.

Once my game duties subsided, I walked into the clubhouse. Nearly 30 minutes had passed and the celebration was in full force. All too often, the visions of reaching the major leagues and celebrating a division title or better yet, a championship, simply do not come to fruition. Baseball is a numbers game and many times, is a cruel numbers games. For these players, wherever their career goes, this season, and that evening in particular in Eastlake, Ohio, will remain in their memory banks forever, as it will be with those of us who were there to see it in person.

My only regret? That more Cougars fans, staff, and media were not able to be part of the final game due to the far-reaching geography in the championship round.

The team returned to Geneva the following morning and had a supportive crowd welcoming them back to town outside the ballpark. Jacob Rogers carried the trophy off the bus and was very much deserving, as fans posed for photos with the hardware while the team unloaded the bus for the final time in 2014. Inside the clubhouse, executive chef Jon Williams fired up a celebratory dinner that included prime rib, potatoes, and a dessert cart that would infuriate any dentist or dietitian.

The celebration continued on Monday as the team took their charter bus to Wrigley Field to watch batting practice and be recognized on the field before the evening game. And by Tuesday morning, players and staff were headed to their respective homes, all baseball equipment was turned in, and the clubhouse was stone-cold silent for the off-season.


Cougars fans, be sure to enjoy this one. Whether you were at 1 game or more than 70 home games this season, you were given a treat as this year’s Cougars squad put it all together in an unforgettable season that re-wrote countless records in our 24-year history. Thanks to the following players and staff who wrote the story.

-Shawn Touney



2014 Kane County Cougars


Mark Johnson
David Rosario
Tom Beyers
Chris Gutierrez
Jonathan Fierro
Ed Kohl
Fox Sung
Scott Anderson
Mike Langill


Justin Amlung
Jose Arias
Paul Blackburn
Tyler Bremer
Francisco Carrillo
Gerardo Concepcion
Josh Davis
Alberto Diaz
Nathan Dorris
Scott Frazier
David Garner
Zack Godley
Michael Heesch
Zak Hermans
Corbin Hoffner
Tyler Ihrig
Pierce Johnson
Jonathan Martinez
Juan Paniagua
James Pugliese
Jasvir Rakkar
Tyler Skulina
Daury Torrez
Jen-Ho Tseng
Duane Underwood
Michael Wagner
Ben Wells
Cael Brockmeyer
Victor Caratini
Ben Carhart
Will Remillard
Kyle Schwarber
Antonio Valerio
Mark Zagunis
David Bote
Jeimer Candelario
Danny Canela
Jordan Hankins
Danny Lockhart
Giuseppe Papaccio
Carlos Penalver
Jacob Rogers
Tim Saunders
Chesny Young
Jeffrey Baez
Yasiel Balaguert
Kevin Brown
Shawon Dunston, Jr.
Jake Hannemann
Trey Martin

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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.


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




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment