*NOTE* This is the third of a multi-part series that recaps the 2015 season of Cougars baseball while also providing updates on former and current Cougars players throughout Minor League and Major League Baseball. This third part provides updates on many of our alumni who are playing in the Kansas City Royals farm system. The Royals were our Major League affiliate in 2011 and 2012. We’ll also briefly cover some of the players who are still in the Oakland Athletics farm system. The A’s were our big league affiliate from 2003-2010.
Our two-year run with the Kansas City Royals in 2011 and 2012 was a good one. The Cougars made the postseason in 2011 under manager Vance Wilson (now manager at Double-A Northwest Arkansas) and between 2013 and 2015, a half-dozen home-grown Cougars during our Royals tenure have gone on to reach the big league level with the Royals. The Royals have turned the ship around and are now one of the top teams in Major League Baseball, currently playing in the American League Championship Series.
There are still some players in the Kansas City farm system who will be familiar to Cougars fans. We’ll start with Kyle Zimmer (’12), who simply hasn’t received any favors in terms of avoiding injuries and setbacks since playing at Kane County. In 2014, he missed time with several injuries that postponed his season debut until August 17.
Then, this past season, Zimmer experienced shoulder discomfort that went back to the previous fall. Zimmer continued to feel soreness in his shoulder in early May, suspending his season until late May when he opened the year at Class-A Lexington. Zimmer eventually moved up to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, where he went 2-5 with a 2.81 ERA in 15 appearances (7 of which were starts).
If he can stay healthy, Zimmer (drafted 5th overall in 2012) is the Royals’ most talented pitching prospect. And as well as the Royals have been over the last couple of seasons, Zimmer must be clamoring to get back on track and have uninterrupted progress as he moves up the chain.
At Triple-A Omaha, players such as Cheslor Cuthbert (’11) and Orlando Calixte (’11-’12) were lineup regulars. Both made their MLB debuts this season with the Royals.
Teammate Dusty Coleman (’09), who was a Cougar during our A’s affiliation, was signed by the Royals and made the most of his opportunity in 2015, batting .275 in 73 games with Omaha while making his big league debut on July 3 with Kansas City.
But perhaps the biggest breakout among our alumni at Triple-A Omaha was Brett Eibner (’11), who batted .303 with 19 home runs and 81 RBI. Eibner cut down on his strikeouts and posted his best batting average as a professional. Eibner, similar to Zimmer, is a high-round pick that the Royals don’t want to give up on yet, by any means.
Omaha pitchers included Andy Ferguson (’12), who went 7-3 with a 3.21 ERA in 14 starts.
At Double-A Northwest Arkansas, Lane Adams (’11-’12) batted .298 in 97 games. Adams made his Major League debut with the Royals in September 2014. Jorge Bonifacio (’12) batted .240 with 17 home runs and 64 RBI. On the pitching side, Malcom Culver (’12) made 43 relief appearances and Brooks Pounders (’12) made 8 starts and posted a 2.19 ERA.
At Class-A Advanced Wilmington, Jack Lopez (’12) batted .238 in 116 games while Robinson Yambati (’12) made 31 relief appearances. Wilmington was managed by Buck Buchanan (’12 Cougars manager).
Despite being five years removed from our affiliation with the Oakland Athletics, there are some remnants of alumni who are still in the A’s system. Pitcher Ryan Doolittle (’10), younger brother of former Cougar and current A’s pitcher Sean Doolittle (’07), made 40 appearances in relief at Double-A Midland. while Jonathan Joseph (’10) went 7-4 with a 4.04 ERA in 32 games. Anthony Aliotti (’10) opened the season at Triple-A Nashville, batting .258 in 88 games before being sent down to Midland for the final part of the season. And Tyler Ladendorf (’09) spent part of the season at Nashville after making his big league debut with the A’s in April.
At Short-A Vermont, the team was managed by Aaron Nieckula, who was Cougars skipper in 2006-2008 before returning in 2010. Nuke’s hitting coach was former Cougar Tommy Everidge (’05). And at Triple-A Nashville, Steve Scarsone (’09 Cougars manager) led the Sounds in Nashville’s first season as an A’s affiliate. Nashville’s field staff included former pitching coach Don Schulze (’07-’08) and former Cougars manager Webster Garrison (’03) as hitting coach.