*NOTE* This is the first 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 first part chronicles some of the players who were part of the Cougars’ affiliation and are either currently with the Oakland Athletics or their farm system. The Cougars and Athletics were partnered from 2003-2010.
Despite being three years removed from their affiliation with the Cougars, the Oakland A’s farm system still has close ties to many former players and coaches who are familiar to Cougars fans. By my count, around 20 former Cougars players or coaches completed the 2013 season in the A’s system. That number doesn’t include a handful of current A’s players such as Dan Straily, Sean Doolittle, Jemile Weeks and Pedro Figueroa, who spent time at Kane County as they moved upwards through the Oakland pipeline, ultimately ending up at Oakland. In fact, all three former Cougars who debuted in the majors so far this season were A’s farmhands at Kane County in 2010 – Washington pitcher Ian Krol, Houston catcher Max Stassi and Oakland outfielder Michael Choice, the most recent former Cougar to debut with Oakland.
It’s a great time to be an A’s fan after last season’s division title. At the present, the A’s have a sizable lead atop the American League West standings.
In The Show: Who is the only former Cougars pitcher who has won 10 or more games this season in the majors? Not Josh Beckett, Ryan Dempster, Trevor Cahill or A.J. Burnett. It would be ’10 Cougar Dan Straily, who seems to have found his place as a regular starter. Straily is 10-7 with a 4.11 ERA in ’13 after making his big league debut with the A’s last season. Reliever Sean Doolittle (’07 Cougar) has become a late-innings set-up specialist for the A’s after originally being drafted as a first baseman. This season, Doolittle has a 3.34 ERA in 66 appearances. Choice (’10 Cougar) just recently made his MLB debut with Oakland after mashing the ball at Triple-A Sacramento this season, while Weeks (’08 Cougar) and Figueroa (’09 Cougar) are looking to find a stable home at the big league level after bouncing between Triple-A Sacramento and Oakland the last couple of seasons.
Worth watching: IF Anthony Aliotti, RHP Travis Banwart, RHP Paul Smyth.
Infielder Anthony Aliotti is another ’10 Cougar who made some noise this past season. After playing at Double-A Midland to open the ’13 season, Aliotti caught fire and never looked back, batting .350 in 91 games with the RockHounds (managed by former Cougars skipper Aaron Nieckula). Aliotti was promoted to Triple-A Sacramento by mid-July and in 42 games with the River Cats, batted a respectable .266. It was truly a breakout season for the left-handed hitting first baseman.
Pitcher Travis Banwart (-’07-’08) was a 4th round pick by the A’s in June 2007, and the talented right-hander made his debut at Kane County that summer. Banwart returned to Geneva in 2008 for 7 starts before receiving a promotion to High-A Stockton. Banwart has seemingly been stuck at Triple-A since midway through the 2010 season when he was first called up to Sacramento. Certainly good enough to warrant a continued minor league career, but yet to get the call. Banwart has appeared in more than 100 games for Sacramento, with that last rung on the ladder – the major leagues – standing just before him. In 2013, Banwart was a 10-game winner with Sacramento.
Another pitcher who’s right on the cusp is Paul Smyth (’09). Smyth spent the late portion of the ’09 season with the Cougars. Smyth got his first taste of Triple-A baseball this past season, making 32 appearances and posting a 2.45 ERA.
I’m intrigued by: former Cougar Jeremy Barfield. Barfield, a Midwest League All-Star outfielder with us in 2009, split his ’13 season at Double-A Midland and Triple-A Sacramento before a major career shift occurred. Barfield is attempting to make the transition from outfielder to pitcher. If you’re in the world of Twitter, do yourself a favor and follow him – @baseclogger. He’s one of the most insightful and active Twitter users I see throughout Minor League Baseball. Can’t wait to see where his professional baseball journey goes from here.
Others in the clubhouse: include Dusty Coleman (’09), Conner Crumbliss (’09-’10), Rashun Dixon (’10), Tyler Ladendorf (’09), Myrio Richard (’10), Ryan Doolittle (’10), Carlos Hernandez (’08), Brett Hunter (’09), Jonathon Joseph (’10) and Murphy Smith (’09-’10).
Familiar names as managers: Aaron Nieckula completed his first season as Double-A Midland manager. Nuke was hitting coach of the Cougars in 2004-05 and manager in 2006-2008, as well as 2010. Steve Scarsone was Triple-A Sacramento manager in 2013 and held the managerial post with the Cougars in 2009.