*NOTE* This is the fifth of a multi-part series that recaps the 2015 season of Cougars baseball with news on former and current Cougars players throughout Minor League and Major League Baseball. This fifth part provides updates on many of our alumni who spent all or a portion of the 2015 season at the Major League level.
Part One – Cougars 2015 Season Recap
Part Two – 2015 Season Recap on Cubs Minor Leaguers who played at Kane County in 2013-14
Part Three – 2015 Season Recap on Athletics/Royals Minor Leaguers who played at Kane County
Part Four – 2015 Season Recap on Cougars Minor League Alumni (Other MLB Affiliates)
With the Major League Baseball season officially over, Cougars alumni were once again highlighted throughout not only the regular season, but the postseason as well. For 25 years now, Cougars fans have been treated to the best in Major League affiliated Minor League Baseball in Geneva, and then seeing countless Cougars players move up the ladder and one day realize their big league dreams. Making the Major Leagues, whether it’s for 10 seasons, just one season – or even one at-bat or inning pitched – is an incredible accomplishment. Cougars fans should take a lot of pride in the distinguished list of alumni who have advanced to the Major Leagues. I know that we do as an organization.
Through the end of the 2015 season, the list of Cougars Major League alumni now stands at 137 players. That list got a nice bump in 2015 as a total of nine players made their big league debut this season. Not since the 1998 season, when 15 Cougars made their MLB debuts, had more Cougars gotten their first taste of Major League Baseball.
In total, 36 Cougars alumni appeared in at least one Major League game in 2015. Ironically enough, this figure was the same as the number of our 2014 alumni who appeared in the big leagues.
The Kansas City Royals, our Major League affiliate in 2011 and 2012, not only returned to the World Series this season, they brought home the world championship after coming up just short in 2014. It was the Royals’ first World Series championship since 1985 and several former Cougars were either part of the postseason roster or at least suited up for the Royals at one point or another this season.
Pitcher Yordano Ventura (’11) was a little up-and-down during the 2015 season. The flame-throwing right-hander came off an eye-opening 2014 season so the expectations were naturally, a little high going into 2015. Ventura went 13-8 with a 4.08 ERA in 28 starts and struggled in the postseason, taking the Game 3 loss against the New York Mets.
Ventura, however, is still very young. The 24-year old, after making his big league debut in late 2012, now has more than 60 career starts and has pitched in 10 postseason games, too. Ventura is a competitor and more than once has drawn the ire of opposing teams for his actions on the field. But his development since making his Cougars debut in May of 2011 has really been impressive. I still think back to his first start here, a May game with temperatures hovering in the 40’s. Ventura, a lanky 145-pound pitcher at the time, was huddled inside the clubhouse before the game, buried underneath a large coat. He’s really come a long way in four years’ time.
There were quite a few alumni who played with the Royals this season, but their on-field time was fairly limited. Infielder Cheslor Cuthbert (’11), one of our Cougars big league debuts this season, batted .217 in 19 games. Infielder Orlando Calixte (’11-’12), Dusty Coleman (’09) and pitcher Scott Alexander (’12) combined to appear in a total of 10 games this season while all making their big league debuts with Kansas City.
Some of the biggest names in Major League Baseball are familiar ones to Cougars fans. Excellent careers continue for quite a few players, starting with Seattle outfielder Nelson Cruz (’03). A huge off-season signing by Seattle, Cruz set a career high with 44 home runs, which trailed only Baltimore’s Chris Davis for the major league lead. His .302 batting average was his highest since 2010 and Cruz was named a Major League All-Star for the fourth time in his career.
Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera (’01) endured a lower body injury which resulted in the fewest games played (119) since his rookie season in 2003. Still, Cabrera batted .338 which was the best in the Major Leagues – and hit his 400th career home run in 2015 while being named a Major League All-Star for the 10th time in 12 years. He should reach 1,500 RBI in 2016 (only 52 players have ever reached that number) and should also advance into the top 100 in all-time big league hits. His prodigious offensive numbers just continue to grow.
Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Adrian Gonzalez (’01), a teammate of Cabrera’s from the 2001 Cougars Midwest League championship team, continues to display his all-around skill that has made him one of the game’s biggest stars. Gonzelez earned his fifth career All-Star nod and his 28 home runs were the highest output since 2010 with San Diego. Gonzalez now has more than 1,000 RBI for his career and while most postseason awards have not been announced yet, keep in mind that Gonzalez is a four-time Gold Glove winner and a two-time Silver Slugger award winner. Without question, he’s one of the best players to have ever come through Kane County.
Several pitching alumni had solid seasons in 2015 as well. It always seems as if Huston Street (’04) never seems to get the most headlines year in and year out, but he deserves them. Street was 5th in the Major Leagues with 40 saves in 2015 for the Los Angles Angels. Street’s 315 career saves now put him 20th on the all-time list. A season similar to this past year’s could have Street knocking on the door of baseball’s top 10 saves list by the end of 2016. Street is just 32 years old too, and it will be interesting to see how long his career plays out as he carves his name alongside some of the best closers in baseball history.
San Francisco closer Santiago Casilla (’03-’04) saved a career-best 38 games for the Giants and with 3 World Series rings in his 12-year big league career, it’s been a good run so far for the right-hander in his big league tenure.
A.J. Burnett (’98) capped his 17-year big league career by going 9-7 with a 3.18 ERA in 26 starts. Burnett was a first-time Major League All-Star in 2015, putting the exclamation point on a wonderful career that included more than 2,500 strikeouts and 164 career wins. Burnett, now retired, was officially the final Cougars player from the 90’s decade to actively play in the big leagues.
Easily one of the biggest storylines not just here in Chicago but nationwide, was the emergence of Kyle Schwarber (’14). Schwarber made his much-anticipated big league debut in June as interleague play opened up. Schwarber was the first Cougar to debut within one year of playing at Kane County since the aforementioned Huston Street. From mid-July on, Schwarber was a mainstay in the Cubs’ lineup and batted .246 with 16 home runs. His postseason numbers as the Cubs advanced to the NLCS were phenomenal. Schwarber batted .333 with 5 home runs, including some round-trippers that will be talked about well into next year and beyond. His mammoth home run in the NLDS against St. Louis landed on a right-field sign above the video board and was encased soon after.
Schwarber will enter 2016 as one of the most talked-about Cubs as the team advanced to the NLCS this past fall for the first time since 2003. A young team with much promise, Schwarber will likely be counted on in the outfield while also catching. His bat speaks for itself and despite only playing at Kane County for 23 games in 2014, fans can claim him as one of Kane County’s own who shot through the Cubs’ minor league system like a comet to reach the big leagues.
Schwarber wasn’t the only ’14 Cougar to make an impressive MLB debut in 2015. Pitcher Zack Godley went 5-1 with a 3.19 ERA for the D-backs in 2015. He was the first pitcher in the Modern Era (since 1900) to throw at least six scoreless innings with seven or more strikeouts and no walks in his first career game.
Other solid ’15 storylines involving Cougars alumni include the following:
Pitcher Trevor Cahill (’07) made 11 appearances with the Cubs late in the regular season, posting a 2.12 ERA. Cahill had had a rocky 2014 and early 2015 season before a change of scenery to the Cubs seemingly did the trick. The right-hander, working exclusively out of the bullpen, had success in a new role after spending much of his career as a starting pitcher.
Joe Blanton (’03), similar to Cahill, endured a career crossroads as Blanton was on the verge of retirement after a 2-14 season in 2013, and never pitched in a big league game in 2014. Blanton was part of the Royals’ spring training squad in March 2015 and after beginning the season at Triple-A Omaha, returned to the majors by May and never looked back. The righty was a spot starter but worked more out of relief for the Royals and then Pittsburgh following a mid-season trade to the Pirates. With Pittsburgh, Blanton went 5-0 with a 1.57 ERA in 21 bullpen appearances.
Blanton, an ’08 World Series champion with the Phillies, is still one of our more recognized MLB alumni, having enjoyed an 11-year big league career.
Pitcher Bo Schultz (’10) continues to be such an easy guy to root for. The right-hander, who pitched collegiately at Northwestern made his big league debut in 2014 with Arizona and between 2010 and 2013, bounced around several organizations including independent league baseball.
In 2015, Schultz made 31 relief appearances for the Blue Jays, which advanced to the ALCS for the first time since 1993.
Other Cougars to record Major League time in 2015 include:
Michael Choice (’10), TEX. The ’10 Cougar appeared in one game with the Rangers.
Andre Ethier (’03), LAD. Ethier, the longest-tenured Cougar to remain with the same team, batted .294 with 14 home runs and 53 RBI for the Dodgers. Ethier has been in the Dodgers white and blue since his big league debut in 2006.
Tyler Ladendorf (’09), OAK. Ladendorf batted .235 in nine games with the A’s.
Cliff Pennington (’05), TOR and AZ. Pennington split his 2015 season between the D-backs and Blue Jays. Pennington even pitched in a postseason game for the Blue Jays, becoming the first full-time position player to ever pitch in a postseason game.
Gregorio Petit (’05), NYY. Batted .167 in 20 games.
Anthony Recker (’06), NYM. Batted .125 in 32 games.
Max Stassi (’10), HOU. Batted .400 in 11 games.
Jemile Weeks (’08), BOS. Batted .333 in 3 games.
Josh Wilson (’01), DET. Batted .316 in 21 games.
Andrew Bailey (’07), NYY. The former American League Rookie of the Year made 10 relief appearances for the Yankees after returning to big league action for the first time since 2013 due to injuries.
Ronald Belisario (’02), TB. Made 6 relief appearances.
Aaron Brooks (’12), KC and OAK. Made 13 appearances.
Sean Doolittle (’07), OAK. Made 12 relief appearances after missing most of the season because of injury.
Ian Krol (’10), DET. Made 33 relief appearances for the Tigers.
Sugar Ray Marimon (’11), ATL. Made 16 relief appearances for the Braves.
Vin Mazzaro (’06), MIA. Made 10 relief appearances for the Marlins.
Andrew McKirahan (’13), ATL. Made 27 relief appearances for the Braves in his rookie season.
Tyson Ross (’08), SD. Ross was a 10-game winner for the second straight season with the Padres, making 33 starts.
Dan Straily (’10), HOU. Appeared in four games for the Astros.
Ryan Webb (’05), CLE. Made 40 relief appearances for the Indians, his sixth straight season of 40+ appearances.
As always, thanks for reading and for your support of Cougars baseball!