River Bandits get new manager for 2015

Josh Bonifay, who managed the rookie-level Greeneville Astros the past two seasons, will be the new skipper of the Quad Cities River Bandits in 2015.

Bonifay was the Appalachian League Manager of the Year in 2013, when he led Greeneville to the league championship series. He played eight seasons in the minor leagues, mostly in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. His coaching career started in the Pirates system before moving to the Astros organization in 2011.

Bonifay is the son of former Pirates general manager and current Cincinnati Reds special assistant to the general manager Cam Bonifay.

Dave Borkowski will return for a third season as pitching coach of the River Bandits. As a Detroit Tigers farmhand in 1997, he went 15-3 with a 3.46 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 164 IP for the West Michigan Whitecaps.

Hitting coach Joel Chimelis also returns for a third season with the River Bandits. His minor-league playing career spanned 14 seasons in the Oakland Athletics, San Francisco Giants and New York Mets organizations, and leagues in Mexico, Korea and Canada.

Tim Garland replaces Vince Coleman as Houston’s Quad Cities-based development specialist. His focus will be on helping River Bandits outfielders, as well as working on baserunning skills with the entire team.

After a 15-year playing career in the minor leagues, Garland made his coaching debut with the Kane County Cougars in 2006.

QC owners buy fourth team

Main Street Baseball, owner/operator of the River Bandits for the past seven seasons, announced Thursday it purchased a fourth team, the Wilmington Blue Rocks of the Carolina League. The High-A team is affiliated with the Kansas City Royals.

In addition to the River Bandits and the Blue Rocks, Main Street Baseball also owns the High Desert Mavericks (a California League team affiliated with the Texas Rangers) and the Billings Mustangs (a short-season Pioneer League team affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds). MSB purchased the Billings team earlier this month.

Posted in Appalachian League, Billings Mustangs, California League, Carolina League, Greeneville Astros, High Desert Mavericks, Kane County Cougars, Midwest League, Pioneer League, Quad Cities River Bandits, West Michigan Whitecaps, Wilmington Blue Rocks | Leave a comment

Mauer to return as Kernels manager in 2015

Kernels skipper Joe Mauer shares a laugh with then-Bees manager Bill Richardson (No. 24) before a game in Burlington this year. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Kernels skipper Jake Mauer shares a laugh with then-Bees manager Bill Richardson (No. 24) before a game in Burlington this year. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Jake Mauer will return for a third season as skipper of the Cedar Rapids Kernels in 2015. It will be his eighth season as a manager in the Minnesota Twins organization.

In 2013, Mauer led Cedar Rapids to the best regular-season record in the Midwest League (88-50) and a playoff berth. In 2014, the Kernels went 73-67 in the regular season and reached the second round of the MWL playoffs before being eliminated by the Kane County Cougars, who went on to win the championship title.

Mauer managed his brother, Twins star Joe Mauer, during Joe’s four-game rehab stint with the Kernels this year. The Mauer brothers played together in the Midwest League in 2002, when Jake batted .226 with 20 RBI in 84 games and Joe hit .302 with 4 HR and 62 RBI in 110 games for the Quad City River Bandits.

Also returning to Cedar Rapids in 2015 is hitting coach Tommy Watkins, who joined the Kernels the same year Mauer did. Next year will be his sixth as a coach. He batted .230 with 2 HR and 16 RBI in 73 games with the 2001 River Bandits.

Henry Bonilla joins the Kernels staff as pitching coach after previously serving in that capacity for two rookie-level teams in the Twins organization. He pitched for the River Bandits in 2000 and 2001, collectively going 7-14 with a 3.88 ERA, 25 saves and 105 strikeouts in 120.2 IP.

Posted in 2013 Playoffs, 2014 Playoffs, Burlington Bees, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Kane County Cougars, Midwest League, Quad Cities River Bandits | Leave a comment

Cubs announce South Bend coaching staff

Jimmy Gonzalez will manage the South Bend Cubs in 2015, the Chicago Cubs announced today.

Gonzalez played 14 seasons in the minor leagues after being drafted by the Houston Astros in June 1991. Mainly a catcher, he played in the Midwest League in 1992, 1993 and 1995.

In 1992, Gonzalez batted .176 with 4 HR and 21 RBI in 91 games with the Burlington Astros.  In 1993, he batted .227 with 15 RBI in 47 games with the Quad City River Bandits. In 1995, he batted .244 with 1 HR and 14 RBI in 35 games with the River Bandits. (The River Bandits were affiliated with the Astros at that time, as they are again now.)

The South Bend Cubs will be the first full-season team managed by Gonzalez. (He managed Chicago’s short-season Arizona League team this year.) He replaces Mark Haley, who managed the South Bend Silver Hawks from 2005 to 2014, earning Midwest League Manager of the Year honors in 2005, 2008 and 2013. The Silver Hawks were affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks during Haley’s managerial tenure.

After the team changed its MLB affiliation from the Diamondbacks to the Cubs, Haley decided to stay in the city he calls home, leaving the D-backs organization to run the player development academy being built adjacent to Four Winds Field by South Bend team owner Andrew Berlin.

Gonzalez will be joined on the South Bend Cubs staff by pitching coach Brian Lawrence and hitting coach Jesus Feliciano.

Lawrence pitched for the San Diego Padres from 2001 to 2005, and for the New York Mets for part of the 2007 season. He pitched for the Clinton LumberKings in 1998, going 5-3 with a 2.80 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 80.1 IP (12 starts). The 2015 season will be his fourth as a pitching coach (second year in the Cubs organization).

Feliciano played 54 games with the 2010 Mets and 16 seasons in the minor leagues. He joins South Bend after serving as hitting coach of the short-season Northwest League’s Boise Hawks in 2014.

The Chicago Cubs also announced that Mark Johnson, the 2014 Midwest League Manager of the Year, will be skipper of the High-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans in 2015. He led the Kane County Cougars — affiliated with the Cubs the past two seasons — to a 91-49 regular-season record (best in Minor League Baseball) and the Midwest League championship title in 2014.

Posted in 2014 Playoffs, Boise Hawks, Burlington Bees, Carolina League, Clinton LumberKings, Kane County Cougars, Midwest League, Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Northwest League, Quad Cities River Bandits, South Bend Silver Hawks | Leave a comment

Chad Tracy to manage Bees in 2015

Chad Tracy — son of former major-league manager Jim Tracy, not the former MLB infielder — will manage the Burlington Bees in 2015, the Los Angeles Angels announced Tuesday.

Burlington is the first managerial assignment for Tracy, who played nine years in the minor leagues, including the 2007 season with the Clinton LumberKings (affiliated with the Texas Rangers at that time). He batted .250 with 14 HR and 84 RBI in 134 Midwest League games; he mostly played left field, but also caught 11 games and played first base in seven contests.

(Side note: The other Chad Tracy, who played nine years in the major leagues, also spent time in the Midwest League. As an Arizona Diamondbacks prospect in 2001, he batted .340 with 4 HR and 36 RBI in 54 games with the South Bend Silver Hawks.)

The new Bees manager is the son of former big-league skipper Jim Tracy, who began his managerial career at the helm of the 1987-88 Peoria Chiefs (affiliated with the Chicago Cubs at that time). His players included 1989 National League Rookie of the Year Jerome Walton (.335, 6 HR, 38 RBI, 49 SB in 128 games) and current Diamondbacks pitching coach Mike Harkey (2-3, 3.55 ERA, 48 Ks in 76 IP).

Rounding out the 2015 Bees coaching staff are Ethan Katz as pitching coach and Ryan Barba as hitting coach. Both played in the minor leagues, but not in the Midwest League.

Four other Midwest League teams have announced their 2015 managers. Click on the links below to read about them.

Beloit Snappers

Dayton Dragons

Peoria Chiefs

West Michigan Whitecaps

Posted in Beloit Snappers, Burlington Bees, Clinton LumberKings, Dayton Dragons, Midwest League, Peoria Chiefs, South Bend Silver Hawks, West Michigan Whitecaps | Leave a comment

Angels and Rays swap former Midwest Leaguers

The Tampa Bay Rays traded OF Matt Joyce to the Los Angeles Angels for RHP Kevin Jepsen today. Both players are former Midwest Leaguers.

Joyce batted .254 with 9 HR and 52 RBI in 140 games with the Rays this year. As a Detroit Tigers prospect in 2006, he batted .258 with 11 HR and 86 RBI in 122 games with the West Michigan Whitecaps.

Jepsen went 0-2 with a 2.63 ERA, two saves and 75 strikeouts in 65 IP for the Angels this year. He spent two seasons with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, going 6-3 with a 2.65 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 51 IP (10 starts) for the 2003 Kernels, and 8-10 with a 3.43 ERA and 136 strikeouts in 144.1 IP (27 starts) for the 2004 Kernels.

Posted in Cedar Rapids Kernels, Midwest League, West Michigan Whitecaps | Leave a comment

Kruzel to return as Chiefs manager in 2015

Peoria Chiefs manager Joe Kruzel and Wisconsin Timber Rattlers manager Matt Erickson meet with umpires before a game in Peoria. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Peoria Chiefs manager Joe Kruzel and Wisconsin Timber Rattlers manager Matt Erickson meet with umpires before a game in Peoria. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that Joe Kruzel will return as manager of the Peoria Chiefs in 2015. It will be his second season as Chiefs skipper.

Kruzel led the Chiefs to a 72-67 record in 2014. The team missed a playoff berth by one game in both halves of the season.

Before managing the Chiefs, Kruzel spent time in the Midwest League as hitting coach of the Quad Cities River Bandits, from 2008 to 2012. The River Bandits were affiliated with the Cardinals during Kruzel’s time with the team.

Jobel Jimenez will return for his second season as hitting coach of the Chiefs. Newcomer Dernier Orozco will be Peoria’s pitching coach after two seasons serving in the same capacity for the State College Spikes, the Cardinals’ affiliate in the short-season New York-Penn League.

Side note: Seeing Dernier Orozco’s name made me think of former major-leaguers Bob Dernier and Jesse Orosco. Both men have a past with the Peoria Chiefs. Dernier worked with Chiefs players as the Chicago Cubs’ roving minor-league coach for baserunning and outfielders from 2007 to 2010. Orosco made two rehab appearances with the Chiefs in 2000, pitching 1.2 scoreless innings.

Posted in Midwest League, New York-Penn League, Peoria Chiefs, Quad Cities River Bandits, State College Spikes, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | Leave a comment

Whitecaps get three awards at Winter Meetings

The West Michigan Whitecaps were presented with three awards Monday at the Baseball Winter Meetings in San Diego.

The team received a Minor League Baseball Presidential Citation, a special award presented by MiLB President and CEO Pat O’Conner to recognize exemplary service on behalf of Minor League Baseball. The Whitecaps earned the award for their successful efforts to get their ballpark rebuilt in time for their scheduled 2014 home opener after a January 3 fire damaged approximately 40 percent of the facility.

Whitecaps Vice President of Sales Steve McCarthy was honored as the 2014 Midwest League Executive of the Year (as I wrote about here in September). The award is presented to an individual who had a successful season in the areas of leadership, attendance accomplishments, marketing initiatives, promotions, stadium projects/enhancements, game day and non-game day events, community/charity involvement and overall baseball operations.

The Whitecaps also won Baseball America’s Bob Frietas Award (Class A division), which is presented to the organization with the best overall operation. This is the second time the Whitecaps won the award since it first was given out in 1989 — they also won in 1998 — making them the first Midwest League team to be a repeat winner. (One other Class A team has won twice — the California League’s San Jose Giants in 1990 and 2009.)

Posted in California League, Midwest League, San Jose Giants, West Michigan Whitecaps | Leave a comment