Major League Spring Training Camps Include Cougars Alumni

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.

Former Cougar Adrian Gonzalez ('01 Cougar) recorded a National League-best 116 RBI last season.

Former Cougar Adrian Gonzalez (’01 Cougar) recorded a National League-best 116 RBI last season.

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.

Former Cougar Joe Blanton ('03) is hoping to make a return to the big leagues after not pitching in a major league game last season.

Former Cougar Joe Blanton (’03) is hoping to make a return to the big leagues after not pitching in a major league game last season.

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.

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2014 MLB Alumni Report

Cougars fans,

I hope each of you are hanging in there as the off-season cold has sunk its teeth into Chicagoland. The calendar has officially flipped into December and despite the reality that spring training seems so far away, baseball has remained in the news as Major League clubs continue to make moves to bolster their respective rosters. The hot stove is churning, so warm your hands next to the fire and that will get us through the weeks and months ahead.

The 2014 season was a strong season in many ways for the Cougars. Obviously, this year’s Kane County squad displayed the most dominant season in franchise history, winning the Midwest League championship and setting numerous records including 91 regular season wins. The accolades extended into the off-season as the Cougars were named “Team of the Year” by both fans and MiLB staff in the annual MiLBY Awards. You can read the full article HERE.

But it’s also worth noting that this year’s Cougars baseball success extends all the way up to the Major League level, as it’s done every year since 1993 when Brad Pennington – a member of our inaugural ’91 team – became the first Cougar to reach the big leagues on April 17, 1993. Pennington became the first of what is now 128 former Cougars to play in at least one game in the Major Leagues. It’s a great list that continues to grow and we actually display the full list on our press box wall, located on the ballpark concourse behind home plate.

Here are some interesting facts, figures and a few opinions on the Major League side of Cougars baseball in 2014.

– Four of our alumni – Bo Schultz (’10 Cougar), Justin Marks (’10), Aaron Brooks (’12) and Lane Adams (’11-’12) made Major League debuts in 2014. Schultz debuted with our current affiliate (Arizona Diamondbacks) while the other three players debuted with a recent affiliate of ours in 2011 and 2012, the Kansas City Royals.

– By my count, a total of 36 former Cougars played in at least one Major League game during the 2014 season. I’ll post the full list at the bottom of this blog but the names range from All-Star superstars Miguel Cabrera and Nelson Cruz to several under-the-radar players such as Josh Wilson and Max Stassi.

– Just two Cougars from the ’90’s decade appeared in at least one Major League game in 2014. That would be pitcher AJ Burnett (’98 Cougar), who endured an 18-loss season for Philadelphia but recently agreed to terms with Pittsburgh in what will likely be his final season. The other Cougar is Alex Gonzalez (’96) who only played in 9 games with Detroit in April before being released.

– Which former Cougar has been with the same big league club the longest? It appears as if that would be ’03 Cougar Andre Ethier, who has been with the Los Angeles Dodgers for 9 years dating back to his big league debut with them in 2006. Ironically enough, Ethier has been in the hot stove discussion as a possible trade candidate for the Dodgers.

Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier has been in LA since the 2006 season.

Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier has been in LA since the 2006 season.

– Four Cougars (Miguel Cabrera, Nelson Cruz, Sean Doolittle and Tyson Ross) were named to the Major League All-Star Game in July. This was the 18th straight Major League All-Star Game to include at least one former Cougar dating back to the 1997 mid-season classic. That summer, Florida catcher Charles Johnson was the first of our alums to be named a big league All-Star. How long ago was that? All you have to do is look at the complete All-Star roster that year, a squad that included the late Tony Gwynn, Chipper Jones, Cal Ripken, Jr., Albert Belle, Barry Larkin and Dave Justice, to name several. Young Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera was a first-time All-Star that season, too.

– Some of our biggest alumni continue to add more and more ammunition to their star-powered careers. Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera posted his 11th straight season with 100 or more RBI while batting .300 or better for the sixth straight season. Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Adrian Gonzalez set a career high with 116 RBI while winning his second Silver Slugger Award and fourth Gold Glove as the best defensive first baseman in the National League. Closer Huston Street split his season between the Los Angeles Angels and San Diego Padres, saving a total of 41 games in 2014. Street now has 275 saves, good for 30th on the all-time MLB list. San Francisco Giants pitcher Santiago Casilla is a 3-time World Series champion, being a vital part of the Giants’ crowns in 2010, 2012 and 2014. And Baltimore’s Nelson Cruz reached 40 home runs and 100 RBI for the first time in his career.

'04 Cougar Huston Street continues to move up the list of all-time MLB saves leaders.

’04 Cougar Huston Street continues to move up the list of all-time MLB saves leaders.

– A couple of our alumni made enormous strides in 2014. That list must start with Kansas City Royals rookie pitcher Yordano Ventura, who went 14-10 with a .320 ERA in 31 games, while striking out 159 batters. Ventura started 4 post-season games and pitched in 2 games of the World Series as the Royals came up just one win shy of winning the World Series. San Diego Padres pitcher Tyson Ross was a first-time big league All-Star and won 13 games while posting an impressive 2.84 ERA.

Baseball Winter Meetings Update

Be sure to follow next week’s Baseball Winter Meetings as the hot stove could be smoldering with trades and acquisitions across Major League Baseball. Several of our staff will be in San Diego for the meetings and while there, we’ll have updates on the Cougars’ Facebook page and Twitter feed. This will be the third winter meetings to ever be held in San Diego and the first one since 1985.

Winter Meetings

As always, thanks for reading and for your support of Cougars baseball!

-Shawn Touney

Full list of Kane County alumni who appeared in the Major Leagues in 2014:

Lane Adams (’11-’12) – Kansas City Royals
John Baker (’03) – Chicago Cubs
Josh Beckett (’00) – Los Angeles Dodgers
Ronald Belisario (’02) – Chicago White Sox
Aaron Brooks (’12) – Kansas City Royals
Corey Brown (’08) – Boston Red Sox
AJ Burnett (’98) – Philadelphia Phillies
Jared Burton (’03) – Minnesota Twins
Miguel Cabrera (’01) – Detroit Tigers
Trevor Cahill (’07) – Arizona Diamondbacks
Santiago Casilla (’03-’04) – San Francisco Giants
Michael Choice (’10) – Texas Rangers
Nelson Cruz (’03) – Baltimore Orioles
Sean Doolittle (’07) – Oakland Athletics
Andre Ethier (’03) – Los Angeles Dodgers
Pedro Figueroa (’09) – Texas Rangers
Adrian Gonzalez (’01) – Los Angeles Dodgers
Alex Gonzalez (’96) – Detroit Tigers
Ian Krol (’10) – Detroit Tigers
Justin Marks (’10) – Kansas City Royals
Vin Mazzaro (’06) – Pittsburgh Pirates
Cliff Pennington (’05) – Arizona Diamondbacks
Gregorio Petit (’05) – Houston Astros
Anthony Recker (’06) – New York Mets
Henry Rodriguez (’07) – Miami Marlins
Tyson Ross (’08) – San Diego Padres
Bo Schultz (’10) – Arizona Diamondbacks
Justin Sellers (’06) – Cleveland Indians
Max Stassi (’10) – Houston Astros
Dan Straily (’10) – Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs
Huston Street (’04) – Los Angeles Angels, San Diego Padres
Yordano Ventura (’11) – Kansas City Royals
Ryan Webb (’05) – Baltimore Orioles
Jemile Weeks (’08) – Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox
Josh Willingham (’01) – Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals
Josh Wilson (’01) – Texas Rangers

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Your Favorite Moments From The 2014 Season

Last month, we asked Cougars fans to share some of their favorite moments from the 2014 season. We’d like to thank everyone for their thoughts and photos through social media as well as by email. The 2014 season was filled with historic record-breaking achievements that were set by the team who ultimately delivered a Midwest League Championship. And off the field, it was a season filled with fan-friendly fun and special memories enjoyed by more than 400,000 fans. These are the stories we love to hear and will inevitably get us through another Chicago winter as we count down to Opening Day on April 9, 2015!

Gregory P. (via Facebook): Had never been to a Cougars game. My son won tickets thru the Elmhurst historical society. Outstanding seats. My son had never gotten a baseball from the field (and we’ve been to a ton of baseball games all over), whether foul ball or being thrown from a player…until this trip. Thanks to Cael Brockmeyer, my sons dream of getting a ball from a player came true (he threw it to us and I actually caught it)! The evening was topped off by your wonderful fireworks! Perfect day for all. My son will never forget.

Gregory Pas's photo.

Michelle B. (via Facebook): Storm trooper selfie!!

Michelle Bell's photo.

Kristine F. (via Facebook): Our family LOVES attending Cougars games! We went to many this year, but the one that really stands out was on July 3rd. The POW/MIA Table of Remembrance was so moving! I cried through the whole pregame ceremony. My mom had a cousin who was MIA in the Korean War so it was especially touching for me. Thank you!

Brigid B. (via Facebook): Getting married in the super suite! Wonderful customer service provided by Paul and a delicious dinner prepared by Chef Jon!

Darcy K. (via Email): It was of course special to me and my husband Mike Knapp (a reporter covering the Cougars for the past 15 years for the Aurora Beacon) because we had a wedding celebration at the Cougars game on July 26. The Cougars Game was the site of one of our first dates in 2011!  

DM (123)

Vicki L. (via Facebook): The Ozzie Homerun walk! I was dead last, but I made it after 3 back surgeries & a total knee replacement!

This one was particularly poignant from a Cougars fan.

I am so glad for this opportunity to thank you, Kane County Cougars. During a summer of financial crisis, no vacations, working 2 jobs just to make ends meet….we could come to a Cougars game for a reasonable fee for a night full of good baseball, people having fun, and even fireworks. 

But to stumble across Thirsty Thursdays was almost too good to be true! We were able to have a couple of beers, a few hotdogs and still stay under 10 bucks! Unbelievable.

Thank you for those Thursdays. For a couple of hours, summer fun became a reality!

ps. As Geneva residents, we were at your very first opening day when our oldest son was just a toddler. Four sons have grown up and we are all planning on returning next season to enjoy a Cougars game. 

And as far as the dream season on the field, perhaps this fan said it best as their experience centered around one of many impressive home wins by the club in 2014:


For my son Evan and I, our favorite moment of the season came on August 19.  It was the last day of summer for my son, as he had his first day of school the following day.  So we were both a little bummed about that as we love the summer and equally love going to Cougars games.  This happened to be our 13th game of the season.  

It was a beautiful night, perfect temps and blue skies to start the evening.  The game itself was slow moving and the Cougars were struggling to find base runners.  They were trailing most of the game.  In the 8th they got two on with two out, and our favorite Cougar of the season came to the plate.  Jake Rogers smashed a shot over the center fielders head to drive in two to give the Cougars the lead.  Burlington pushed back in the 9th but left the tying run on 3rd base with the last out of the game. It was an amazing win and equally amazing to see Jake Rogers get another game winning hit. He’s been our favorite player all summer and he capped a ‘perfect Cougars summer’ for my son and I.  

With the win the Cougars ran their streak to 9 straight victories, and pushed to 37 games over .500.  Was this our last Cougars game of the year?  Nope!!!  We went to five more games including a home playoff game in each of the three series, including the last Cougars home game of the year & playoffs.  If I had the money we would have surely drove to Ohio to see them win it all. I had more fun watching this team than any other in my entire life.  Thank you Cougars!  You gave us a magical season that we will never forget.

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2014 Season Recap

Where do we start with summing up the 2014 season of Cougars baseball?

Whether you’re a fan, coach, player or front office staff member, a season such as the one we just witnessed in 2014 doesn’t happen very often. It might not ever happen. That said, this might be the most fun, yet challenging, blog entry to piece together because simply put, there’s no way to put into words what Cougars fans were treated to this season. But we’ll try. And of course, I’ll look for your feedback as well on what parts of this year’s team were most enjoyable for you. We’ll start chronologically when the team arrived from spring training camp in April and take you through September when the Cougars left eastern Ohio with the Midwest League Championship trophy in hand.


I’ll say this: the announcement of the Cougars’ 2014 Opening Day roster just didn’t have the same level of excitement as the previous season’s Opening Day roster did.

Let’s go back to April 2013 when our initial roster was announced. That squad had name after name after name of Cubs prospects that fans were clamoring to see: Dan Vogelbach, Pierce Johnson, Jeimer Candelario, Marco Hernandez, and Gioskar Amaya were just several of the big-name Cubs prospects who broke camp that spring as Cougars. And by May that season, Cougars fans were treated to 2012 Cubs first round pick Albert Almora who joined the squad. But that team, for whatever reason, could not find their way through a 55-80 season – the worst in Cougars history.

Fast-forward to this past April and the list wasn’t as large as far as the big-name Opening Day roster prospects: Paul Blackburn, Jake Hannemann, Tyler Skulina were a few of the Baseball America Top 30 prospects who were sent to Kane County in April. Aside from that, there wasn’t too much of an early-season buzz as the ’14 season began.

Lesson learned? A successful season as a team in no way correlates to the quantity of prospects on a roster.

The Cougars’ 8-4 win over Quad Cities to open the season was a sign of things to come. Sprinting out of the gates, the Cougars’ 18-7 month of April was, by winning percentage (.720) the finest April in franchise history. It was also among the top 3 records across all classification levels of Minor League Baseball, which would be a familiar vantage point for Kane County for the remainder of the season.

Catcher Will Remillard was named Cubs Minor League Player of the Month for April, setting off a streak of four straight months in which a Cougars player received a monthly organizational award by the Cubs. Remillard toughed it out for much of the season with back discomfort before his season ended prematurely.

On May 17, the Cougars re-opened the record book when pitchers Tyler Skulina and Nathan Dorris combined for the 8th no-hitter in franchise history. Skulina worked 7.1 innings while Dorris, a left-handed reliever who pitched with the Cougars in 2013, worked the final 1.2 innings to preserve the feat. It was the first no-hitter thrown at home for the Cougars since a tandem effort by Craig Italiano and Branden Dewing in 2008.

Pitchers Nathan Dorris (left) and Tyler Skulina (right) acknowledge the crowd after combining for the 8th no-hitter in team history.

Pitchers Nathan Dorris (left) and Tyler Skulina (right) acknowledge the crowd after combining for the 8th no-hitter in team history.

On May 26, Cougars infielder Jordan Hankins saw one pitch in the 11th inning and that was enough, as the left-hander launched a walk-off home run in a see-saw contest against Peoria. For me, that was the game where at that point, you had a feeling that this could be a special season.

By early June, a total of four Cougars (just four?) were named Midwest League All-Stars – Paul Blackburn, Jordan Hankins, Will Remillard and Jose Arias.

On June 7, the Cougars clinched the Western Division first half title. It was the first time the Cougars clinched a first half division championship since 2009 but most importantly, it meant that the Cougars were back in the postseason since 2011 after a two-year absence.

When the season’s midway point was reached by late June, the Cougars’ first half record was a remarkable 45-25. Only the 2001 Cougars team, which included present-day Major League superstars such as Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez, won more first half games with 47 that season.

On top of that, the team amassed an amazing first half home record of 28-7, and the team’s ERA was a remarkable 3.07. These attributes were consistent throughout the rest of the season, too.

The byproduct of a successful team was the reality that many contributors to the first half success would be promoted to High-A Daytona. The promotions were plentiful. Players such as Jordan Hankins, Justin Amlung, Nathan Dorris were out the door and were moving upwards in their minor league careers.

But guess who was coming in through the other door? That would be Cubs’ 2014 first round pick Kyle Schwarber. Schwarber’s arrival brought some of the largest anticipation for a Cougars player in franchise history, as you’ll see in the below photo when he met with the media for the first time. Schwarber was the 4th overall pick in the June draft and was the highest draft selection to play for the Cougars since Adrian Gonzalez, who was the #1 overall pick in 2000.

On June 20, Schwarber swatted his first home run as a Cougar, sending the pitch well over the batter’s eye in centerfield, 400 feet away from home plate. Fans were treated to seeing a polished hitter and solid catcher, but it was unfortunately short-lived. Schwarber was promoted to Daytona within a month of arriving here, giving Cougars fans a taste, albeit a small taste, of a potential future Major Leaguer.

Schwarber Media

Towards the end of June, a pair of notable events took place. On June 24, outfielder Trey Martin stole 5 bases which set a franchise record. The old mark of 4 swipes was held by ’08 Cougar Michael Richard. And on June 29, catcher Cael Brockmeyer completed the cycle, the first Cougars cycle since Tommy Everidge in 2005.

As June turned into July, the Cougars had reached the 50-win mark and by early July, the team had actually equaled last season’s squad for total wins.

Dominant pitching – starters and bullpen – were seemingly taking the Cougars to a new ascent that rivaled the ’01 championship squad. At one point in July, each of the Cougars’ SIX starting pitchers – Paul Blackburn, Tyler Skulina, Duane Underwood, Juan Paniagua, Jen-Ho Tseng and Daury Torrez – held ERA’s of under 3.00.

Transactions continued to saddle the Cougars, particularly when Jake Hannemann was promoted to Daytona in late July. All of a sudden, the Cougars lost their lead-off hitter, everyday centerfielder and top base stealer.

Enter Shawon Dunston, Jr.

Dunston, who was part of the Cougars’ Opening Day roster, was placed into Hannemann’s spot and he never looked back. Dunston was as instrumental as any other player in terms of the Cougars making their late season push into the playoffs and all the way to the championship.

Manager Mark Johnson continued to see key contributors leave the team because of promotions, injuries, and even trades. Roster promotions included Skulina and Paniagua in the starting rotation as well as reliever Gerardo Concepcion. Bullpen arms Jose Arias and Tyler Bremer were dealt to the Marlins and the Cougars endured extended absences from Yasiel Balaguert, Danny Lockhart and Will Remillard due to injuries.

The Cougars did receive a pair of highly-regarded prospects through big league trades as pitcher Jonathan Martinez came to Kane County through a trade involving Darwin Barney, while catcher Victor Caratini joined the Cougars via a trade with Atlanta. While both players were out of the mix come playoff time, each player made an impact in the during the dog days of summer.

One of the Cougars’ biggest clubhouse leaders, catcher Ben Carhart, was promoted to Daytona on August 13. Losing Carhart was a big blow but the Cougars received Mark Zagunis, the Cubs’ 2014 3rd round draft pick who was a key contributor in the postseason. Zagunis, along with Chesny Young, added stability to Johnson’s lineup as the roster shuffle continued.

By the final week of the season, the Cougars received good news as Johnson was named Midwest League Manager of the Year, a deserving honor for the Cougars second-year skipper. Some more important news hung in the balance, though as the Cougars had yet to learn of their first round opponent in the playoffs. Wisconsin finally clinched the second half wild card spot with just two days remaining in the regular season, meaning the Timber Rattlers would meet Kane County in an opening round best-of-three series.

By the time the regular season ended, the Cougars’ 91-49 record was a franchise best, eclipsing the ’01 team which won 88 regular season games. The team not only won the first half Western Division championship, but won the second half division title as well with a 46-24 second half mark. The team’s 54 home wins was a club record, as well as a 13-game win streak and a team ERA of 2.85.

Team Recognition

Against Wisconsin in Round 1, solid pitching, clutch hitting and consistent defense were the ingredients to victories as they often were during the regular season. The Cougars swept Wisconsin, with the clinching win being a 13-inning walk-off celebration courtesy of infielder Jeimer Candelario, who laced a single up the middle. A timely big league rehabilitation appearance by Cubs infielder Mike Olt added some pop to the Cougars’ offense in those two games.

The Cougars’ second round opponent was a stern one in Cedar Rapids, as going into that series, six of the last seven games between both clubs were decided by one run. With Game 1 on the road, the Cougars rode the bat of Mark Zagunis, who tripled and homered in a 5-2 victory.

The following evening at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, the Cougars found an unlikely offensive hero in shortstop Carlos Penalver. Penalver, who had only connected on one home run in 478 regular season at-bats, ripped a two-run smash in the seventh inning to put the Cougars on top for good, 3-2.

With that, the Cougars were in the Midwest League Championship Series for the first time since 2006, and they would face the Lake County Captains, an unlikely Eastern Division champion who, despite a sub-.500 regular season record, brought some second half momentum into the playoffs and into the league’s championship round.

With home field advantage in the LCS alternating between the West and East Division winners each season, the Cougars opened the best-of-five series at home for Games 1 and 2.

Cougars starter Jen-Ho Tseng allowed three runs to begin Game 1, but the 19-year old settled down and went on to strike out 8 Captains batters as the Cougars eeked out a 4-3 win.

The following night, the Cougars carried a no-hitter into the 8th inning with starter Duane Underwood and reliever Tyler Ihrig silencing Lake County’s bats. With a 6-0 win, the Cougars completed the season with an overall home record of 58-17 and traveled to Ohio in high spirits, needing just 1 win in 3 games to win the championship.

Following a travel-day of more than 400 miles to get from Geneva to Eastlake, the Cougars and Captains squared off in Game 3 on a chilly Saturday evening in eastern Ohio.

The Captains broke a 16-inning scoreless streak by jumping out to a 1-0 lead. But the Cougars, as they did in so many games this season, immediately responded and calmly, methodically began the offensive attack. Infielder Jacob Rogers belted a two-run homer as the Cougars took the lead. Then the Cougars started to pull away and used a pair of Lake County errors to open up a 7-1 lead. The Cougars leaned on one of their aces, pitcher Daury Torrez, for a big-time performance and turned it over to Michael Heesch in the bullpen.

Closer Francisco Carrillo recorded the final 3 outs to begin the mob scene on the infield with players running to the middle of the field from the bullpen and the dugout to join in on the celebration.

The Game 3 win gave the Cougars not only the Midwest League Championship, but a perfect 7-0 postseason record and an overall record of 98-49. In the past decade, only 3 other Minor League Baseball teams had won more than 98 games. Talk about a dream season.

Cougars manager Mark Johnson shares a celebratory moment with infielder Jacob Rogers following the championship win.

Cougars manager Mark Johnson shares a celebratory moment with infielder Jacob Rogers following the championship win.


As best I can tell, some of the key attributes from the Cougars’ historic season were the following.

Filling the holes. More than 50 players filled the Cougars’ roster at one point or another during the season, offering daily challenges for Mark Johnson and his staff to find the right pieces and keep the momentum throughout the season.

Leadership. You can’t say enough about the leadership from some of the Cougars this season, such as Jordan Hankins, Jacob Rogers, Ben Carhart, Cael Brockmeyer and so many more. Rogers was one of the best feel-good stories of the season. A 40th round pick by the Cubs in 2012, Rogers was the Cougars’ everyday first baseman and belted 18 home runs in the regular season and postseason combined.

Pitching. Simply put, the Cougars’ pitching corps put on a full-season display of excellence that you won’t have the privilege of seeing very often. Dominant starting pitching and effective relief was the name of the game from April to September. Consider that the Cougars were forced, time and time again, to re-discover who their closer would be as pitchers such as Zack Godley, Tyler Bremer, Nathan Dorris and Jose Arias were all effective 9th inning pitchers, but were eventually shuttled from Kane County to other destinations. The one closer the Cougars had at the end was Francisco Carrillo, who joined the club in early August and from that moment on, was the go-to stopper out of the bullpen.

Lead-off man. As mentioned earlier, Jake Hannemann’s departure was an opportunity for Shawon Dunston, Jr. Dunston was a table setter on offense and all too often, opponents during the game encountered Trey Martin in the 9-spot followed by Dunston at the top of the order. Both of those players, when on the basepaths, set the table for hitters such as Rogers and Balaguert, among others. It was an explosive lineup and for much of the summer, Dunston was the catalyst.


Playoff Thoughts

For all of the regular season success the Cougars team experience this season, the collective thought was that the playoffs, more than anything, would define this team’s story years from now.

That said, the team’s unblemished 7-0 record in the postseason when the stakes were highest was incredible to see. It’s safe to say that the Cougars were the consensus to win the Midwest League championship, based on their regular season merits. But strange things can happen in the postseason. Usually, the hottest team for the 10 day-length of the playoffs is the team that holds the trophy.

To me, the championship series held quite a few of those moments that you’ll want to latch onto for a long time. The Cougars’ dominance at home during the regular season was evident in the championship round as the Cougars decisively took Games 1 and 2 to seize the series momentum.

Cougars fans and staff enthusiastically sent the team eastward on the travel off-day between games, complete with a police squad escort down Kirk Road. It was a small-town, sending the high school team to state-type of moment that was special for everyone involved.

Saturday evening’s game in eastern Ohio had a very small amount of Cougars fans who made the long trek across Indiana and much of Ohio. By the 7th inning, there was a quiet anticipation at Lake County as you could tell that tonight would be the night for the clincher. Lake County’s backs seemed broken and it was obvious. By the 8th inning, I grabbed the championship t-shirts out of my car that would be distributed to the team and staff on the field following the win. And by the 9th inning, our video staff, along with myself, were at field level to record the final 3 outs.

An unassisted putout by Jacob Rogers at first base set off a jubilant scene that you see all the time on TV, but rarely feel a true connection with.

Soon after, manager Mark Johnson accepted the league championship trophy and banner at home plate before passing them onto the team. T-shirts were distributed and a team photo was taken. Smiles were seen everywhere. And at that point, it was a mad dash into the Captains’ visiting team clubhouse, in which all lockers were covered in plastic.

Once my game duties subsided, I walked into the clubhouse. Nearly 30 minutes had passed and the celebration was in full force. All too often, the visions of reaching the major leagues and celebrating a division title or better yet, a championship, simply do not come to fruition. Baseball is a numbers game and many times, is a cruel numbers games. For these players, wherever their career goes, this season, and that evening in particular in Eastlake, Ohio, will remain in their memory banks forever, as it will be with those of us who were there to see it in person.

My only regret? That more Cougars fans, staff, and media were not able to be part of the final game due to the far-reaching geography in the championship round.

The team returned to Geneva the following morning and had a supportive crowd welcoming them back to town outside the ballpark. Jacob Rogers carried the trophy off the bus and was very much deserving, as fans posed for photos with the hardware while the team unloaded the bus for the final time in 2014. Inside the clubhouse, executive chef Jon Williams fired up a celebratory dinner that included prime rib, potatoes, and a dessert cart that would infuriate any dentist or dietitian.

The celebration continued on Monday as the team took their charter bus to Wrigley Field to watch batting practice and be recognized on the field before the evening game. And by Tuesday morning, players and staff were headed to their respective homes, all baseball equipment was turned in, and the clubhouse was stone-cold silent for the off-season.


Cougars fans, be sure to enjoy this one. Whether you were at 1 game or more than 70 home games this season, you were given a treat as this year’s Cougars squad put it all together in an unforgettable season that re-wrote countless records in our 24-year history. Thanks to the following players and staff who wrote the story.

-Shawn Touney



2014 Kane County Cougars


Mark Johnson
David Rosario
Tom Beyers
Chris Gutierrez
Jonathan Fierro
Ed Kohl
Fox Sung
Scott Anderson
Mike Langill


Justin Amlung
Jose Arias
Paul Blackburn
Tyler Bremer
Francisco Carrillo
Gerardo Concepcion
Josh Davis
Alberto Diaz
Nathan Dorris
Scott Frazier
David Garner
Zack Godley
Michael Heesch
Zak Hermans
Corbin Hoffner
Tyler Ihrig
Pierce Johnson
Jonathan Martinez
Juan Paniagua
James Pugliese
Jasvir Rakkar
Tyler Skulina
Daury Torrez
Jen-Ho Tseng
Duane Underwood
Michael Wagner
Ben Wells
Cael Brockmeyer
Victor Caratini
Ben Carhart
Will Remillard
Kyle Schwarber
Antonio Valerio
Mark Zagunis
David Bote
Jeimer Candelario
Danny Canela
Jordan Hankins
Danny Lockhart
Giuseppe Papaccio
Carlos Penalver
Jacob Rogers
Tim Saunders
Chesny Young
Jeffrey Baez
Yasiel Balaguert
Kevin Brown
Shawon Dunston, Jr.
Jake Hannemann
Trey Martin

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Cougars Mid-Season Report

Hello Cougars fans,

It’s been a fast season – time to take a breath as we’re officially at the midway point of the 2014 Midwest League season!

And it’s been a very fun one so far. Despite a series sweep at the hands of Beloit to close the first half, the Cougars lead the 16-team league with a 45-25 record. Kane County actually went into the final weekend of the first half with an opportunity to break the franchise mark for most wins in one half of a season, which is 47 first half wins by the 2001 Midwest League champion Cougars squad. The total of 45 wins is good for second-best in the 24-year history of the franchise.

Perhaps even more impressive was the team’s home record in the season’s first half. At the friendly confines of Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, the Cougars were 28-7 (.800 winning percentage).

Back to the 2001 team for a second, which included present-day big league stars such as Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Willingham. The ’01 team blazed through a 50-20 home record during that season. So, while this year’s team is on pace to contend for that record as well as the ’01 team’s franchise high of 88 wins, time will tell if this year’s team can come close to matching or even breaking these records.

The Cougars clinched the first half Western Division title on June 7 – their most recent first half division title since the ’09 squad, which was led by then-Cougars manager Steve Scarsone. Kane County will be in the playoffs this fall with the opening round best-of-three series beginning Wednesday, September 3. The Cougars will hit the road for that evening’s game against a to-be-determined opponent (it will be the second half Western Division wild card winner). Kane County will host Game 2 on Thursday, September 4 at 6 p.m. and if necessary, Game 3 on Friday, September 5.

The Cougars clinched the Western Division first half title on June 7.

The Cougars clinched the Western Division first half title on June 7.

Season ticket holders had the first opportunity for playoff tickets, with tickets going on sale to the general public this Thursday, June 19 beginning at 9 AM.

When a team such as the Cougars clinches a first half division title, you can find great storylines up and down the roster. I’ll start with the team’s cohesiveness as a determining factor in what has transpired so far this season. Needless to say, this year’s team is a very tight-knit bunch. From my vantage point, it’s noticeable everyday in the locker room and on the field.

The team’s pitching has been consistently strong through the season’s first 70 games. The Cougars’ team ERA of 3.07 ranks second among all 16 Midwest League clubs and is on pace to surpass the ’03 Cougars squad, which posted a franchise-best 3.22 ERA.

Notable starting pitchers who have made solid contributions in the rotation include Paul Blackburn (2.78 ERA), Tyler Skulina (2.70), Jen-Ho Tseng (2.48), Juan Paniagua (3.25), Duane Underwood (2.32) and Daury Torrez (3.74). Pitcher Tyler Bremer has inherited the closer’s role since the promotion of Zack Godley in May. Bremer has 8 saves in 10 chances. Middle relief has come in the way of James Pugliese (1.05 ERA) and Jose Arias (2.16), among several other bullpen arms who have also contributed.

Cougars pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng has been one of many contributors to Kane County's first half success.

Cougars pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng has been one of many contributors to Kane County’s first half success.

The Cougars have lost some solid arms so far due to promotions such as the aforementioned Godley, Nathan Dorris (who combined with Skulina on a no-hitter last month), and Justin Amlung. But the pitching corps, both starters and relievers, have maintained what has been a strong group of arms in 2014.

Defensively, the Cougars have committed 67 errors, the third-cleanest defense in the Midwest League and just three errors behind West Michigan for the top spot. If you’ve been at some Cougars games this season, you’ve likely noticed the crisp defensive play, particularly around the infield.

Offensively, the Cougars’ theme has been a balanced offensive attack in which 8 players have driven in 20 or more runs this season. With the Cougars, each win seems to feature a different player coming through, whether it’s a Jordan Hankins walk-off home run on May 26 or the following day’s game, where Trey Martin’s grand slam catapulted the team to a win.

Two Cougars players, Will Remillard in April and Paul Blackburn in May, were recognized as a Cubs organizational player or pitcher of the month. In May, a pair of Cougars pitchers, Tyler Skulina and Nathan Dorris combined for the 8th no-hitter in franchise history. A quartet of Cougars (Remillard, Blackburn, Jose Arias and Jordan Hankins) were selected to participate in the Midwest League All-Star Game, to be held this evening in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Needless to say, it’s been a fun first half of Cougars baseball. Inevitably, the question comes up: How many of the current Cougars will still be on the roster come September 3 when the postseason begins? Obviously, there is no rhyme or reason for the promotions as the ebb and flow of the team’s roster changes in the second half. But you have to think if this core group of players remains at Kane County, there’s every reason to believe that the Cougars will be in the mix for a season that culminates in a Midwest League championship. 70 games in, we’ve seen the definitive proof.


In year 2 of our affiliation with the Cubs, it’s been fun to follow some of the other teams in the system, including players from last year’s Cougars team.

Let’s start with Class-A Advanced Daytona which naturally, has the largest amount of ’13 Cougars due to them being one rung above the Cougars on the ladder.

Daytona struggled through a brutal April. Despite a 25-41 record currently, there’s been some success stories on their roster.

The names I’ll lead with might surprise you, but they deserve mentioning. Outfielder Bijan Rademacher was named a Florida State League All-Star (he was also a Midwest League All-Star last season) and is batting .288 with an OBP of .392. A pair of young infielders, Gioskar Amaya and Marco Hernandez, are each batting .275. Starter Felix Pena (another MWL All-Star with us last season) is 1-6, but has a 2.59 ERA in 12 starts. Reliever Andrew McKirahan has posted a 0.95 ERA in 18 appearances.

Outfielder Albert Almora is batting .241 with 2 home runs and 30 RBI, infielder Dan Vogelbach is batting .259 and Rock Shoulders is batting .201. It’s been a tough go for Jeimer Candelario, who is batting just .195. One half doesn’t make a season and it will be interesting to see how the rest of the season goes for the above players.

At Double-A Tennessee, the story has been all-everything prospect Kris Bryant, who is currently batting .355 with 22 home runs and 58 RBI. While Bryant skipped Kane County and went directly from Short-A Boise to Daytona last season, he’s a name at the forefront of every Cubs/Cougars fan.

Some Cougars names to throw at you include pitcher Armando Rivero, who was named a Southern League All-Star. The Cuban pitcher is 2-1 with a 1.56 ERA in 26 appearances. I still think he’ll be the first Cougar as part of our Cubs affiliation to make the big leagues.

Pitcher Pierce Johnson has battled a few injuries that has slowed down his 2014 campaign. At the present, Johnson is 1-1 with a 4.39 ERA in 5 starts for the Smokies.

Just below us, Short-A Boise kicked off their season last week. There’s quite a few familiar names who have landed on the Hawks’ roster including some of this year’s team. David Bote, Danny Canella, Josh Davis and Scott Frazier are several players that are trying to work their way back up to Kane County. You might remember Giuseppe Papaccio and Oliver Zapata, a pair of ’13 Cougars who are currently at Boise.

With the most interest among fans is catcher and 2014 Cubs first round pick, Kyle Schwarber. The calls to have him join Kane County are already coming in as Schwarber is batting .563 through 4 games. Be patient, Cougars fans. Hopefully you’ll see him soon enough.

Pitcher Jeff Antigua deserves a shout-out as the left-hander is the lone ’13 Cougar currently at Triple-A Iowa. Antigua has appeared in 10 games and has a solid 3.06 ERA. This season, there’s also been a fun connection between the Cougars and Cubs in ’03 Cougar John Baker, who has been starting catcher Welington Castillo’s back-up.

As always, thanks for reading! We hope to see you at one or more games starting this Thursday as the Cougars open up the 2nd half of the season.

-Shawn Touney




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2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook

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.

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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?

Jeimer Candelario led the Cougars with 35 doubles last season.

Jeimer Candelario led the Cougars with 35 doubles last season.

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.

Royals prospect Lane Adams was a Midwest League All-Star with the Cougars in 2012.

Royals prospect Lane Adams was a Midwest League All-Star with the Cougars in 2012.

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.

2010 Cougar Bo Schultz is hoping to build on a strong '13 season in the Diamondbacks farm system.

2010 Cougar Bo Schultz is hoping to build on a strong ’13 season in the Diamondbacks farm system.

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!

-Shawn Touney

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Hello, Orlando: Winter Meetings Update

Greetings from Orlando! It’s Wednesday morning at the Baseball Winter Meetings. Cougars staff have been here at the Disney complex after arriving on Monday. We’ll be leaving tonight for Chicago, and it’s been a nice week as the baseball world centers its attention towards the happenings that the Winter Meetings typically provide. Yes, we are trying to bottle up the weather to bring back home for everyone-  but I can confirm that there’s something a little weird and even unsettling about hearing Christmas music and seeing holiday decorations in 85-degree weather. I’m a Midwesterner, so it’s time to get back home – even if it’s in the midst of an arctic plunge.

Last night, we enjoyed a reception hosted by the Cubs. All of the affiliates were invited, ranging from Short-A Boise to Triple-A Iowa, and we had the opportunity to meet (and reunite) with quite a few people, including new Cubs manager (and former Cougars manager) Rick Renteria, new farm development director Jaron Madison, and Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts. Each of the above individuals took a few minutes to share some thoughts on the upcoming season and you just get the sense that the overwhelming sentiment is one of confidence and trust that the plan instilled by the Cubs a couple of years ago, is progressing nicely. Numerous publications have continued to rate the Cubs farm system as one of the deepest and strongest in the Major Leagues, and Class-A Advanced Daytona was named Minor League Team of the Year by Baseball America. There’s a lot of excitement as well regarding the Cubs new spring training home in Mesa, which will surely be enjoyed by players, Cubs staff and fans who will attend games there for the first time in March.

It’s also nice to have each of the people I mentioned take the time to talk personally with each of us last night.

Many of the activities, whether it’s the job fair, trade show or league-wide meetings have taken place inside the Swan and Dolphin resort. It’s a very nice spot within the Disney property that has a beautiful lake running near it, with a boardwalk that includes various shops, restaurants and a dueling piano bar. If you’ve never had the opportunity to check out a dueling piano bar, do yourself a favor and make a night of it there. Any musician that can seamlessly transition from a Lady Gaga cover to REO Speedwagon to Bob Marley deserves some recognition.

I know I mentioned this in last year’s Winter Meetings blog, but the job fair is a large part of the week. Interested job seekers invest their time, money and more to attend this event, to see and interview for countless jobs and internships throughout Minor League Baseball. It’s always a good idea to take a walk through that part of the Winter Meetings to realize that we all were once there – young and anxious to get a job working in baseball, and working in such a rewarding, humbling and unique environment that only Minor League Baseball can provide.

Some other important parts of the week: a massive trade show where we’re able to see vendors who can provide products to use at our games next season, marketing meetings, workshop sessions and much more.

Inevitably, there is the people-watching component of the Winter Meetings where there’s an opportunity to see former players, managers and executives throughout the week. Recently-retired manager Jim Leyland is one person we’ve just happened to see 10 or so times this week – simply coincidental. Others include Tommy Lasorda, Andre Dawson, Jack McKeon, Mark Prior, and Leyland’s successor as Tigers skipper, Brad Ausmus.

I’ll close out this blog with some photos from the week. As always, thanks for reading!


Some very cool Disney technology. These wristbands were our room keys.

Some very cool Disney technology. These wristbands were our room keys.

A 5 million calorie holiday display - made entirely of chocolate!

A 5 million calorie holiday display – made entirely of chocolate!

The walkway connecting the Swan and Dolphin resorts.

The walkway connecting the Swan and Dolphin resorts.


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