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.
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.
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.