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.
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?
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.
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.
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!