Former Lugnuts named breakout prospects of year

A pair of former Lansing Lugnuts were named the breakout prospects of the year as part of MiLB.com’s MiLBY Awards.

MiLB.com staff selected LHP Daniel Norris, while fans voted for OF Dalton Pompey. Both players were members of the 2013 Lugnuts and made their major-league debuts with the Toronto Blue Jays this year.

Norris went 1-7 with a 4.20 ERA, 99 strikeouts and 44 walks in 85.2 IP for the Lugnuts. He was much more impressive in the minor leagues this year, posting a 12-2 record with a 2.53 ERA, 163 strikeouts and 43 walks in 124.2 IP across three levels.

After playing five games with the Lugnuts in 2012, Pompey spent the entire 2013 season with Lansing, batting .261 with 6 HR, 40 RBI and 38 SB in 115 games. This year he batted .317 with 9 HR, 51 RBI and 43 SB in 113 games across three minor-league levels.

In other news about former Lugnuts, Miami Marlins RHP Anthony DeSclafani is working on his curveball in the Arizona Fall League. According to Baseball America, he threw a curve in college and his first year of pro ball, but then shelved it until now.

DeSclafani’s first year as a professional player was 2012, when he went 11-3 with a 3.37 ERA, 92 strikeouts and 25 walks in 123 IP for the Lugnuts. He made his major-league debut with the Marlins this year.

Posted in Arizona Fall League, Lansing Lugnuts, Midwest League | Leave a comment

Ventura hurls Game 6 gem, dedicates performance to Taveras

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

One day after losing his close friend Oscar Taveras, Yordano Ventura took the mound Tuesday in Game 6 of the World Series and pitched a gem to keep his Kansas City Royals alive for a winner-take-all seventh game against the San Francisco Giants.

As seen in the photo above, Ventura wrote “RIP O.T. #18″ on his cap to honor Taveras, who died in a car crash in the Dominican Republic on Sunday. Taveras, who won the 2011 Midwest League batting title while playing with the Quad Cities River Bandits, was laid to rest Tuesday.

Ventura told reporters that Taveras’ death weighed heavily on his mind, and he still pitched what arguably was the best game of his young career. He gave up three hits and struck out four batters in seven scoreless innings, his only blemish being five walks that were all stranded on the basepaths. The Royals won 10-0.

According to this Associated Press story, Ventura and Taveras bonded while in the Midwest League, despite playing for different teams.

Ventura and Taveras became friends while rocketing through the minor leagues together. They shared a common bond in their Dominican roots, and both were playing far from home — Ventura for Class-A Kane County and Taveras for Midwest League rival Quad Cities.

They would often visit each other, their clubs close enough that they could make the drive easily. When they were promoted, they kept in contact by phone. Then in June, they got to see each other again when the Cardinals and Royals played a two-city interleague series.

Ventura went 4-6 with a 4.27 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 84.1 IP for the Kane County Cougars. Taveras batted .386 with 8 HR and 62 RBI in 78 games with the Quad Cities River Bandits.

Ventura’s cap honoring Taveras was donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame after Tuesday’s game.

* * *

Game 7 of the World Series will be played Wednesday night in Kansas City. I realized during Game 6 that whether the Royals or the Giants win, I will have seen the World Series champions play in person this year.

This is notable to me because I get to attend only a handful of MLB games each year, mostly because the vast majority of my ballpark visits are in the Midwest League. This year I went to three games at Miller Park, two games at Target Field, and two games at Wrigley Field (including the 100th anniversary game). I saw both the Royals and the Giants play against the Milwaukee Brewers, and got to see Yordano Ventura pitch in person for the first time since he was in the Midwest League. Here is a photo I shot of Ventura and Salvador Perez (2009 Burlington Bees) — you can see a couple more in this post.

Salvador Perez (right) and Yordano Ventura share a laugh on their way from the bullpen to the dugout before a game at Miller Park earlier this year. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Salvador Perez (right) and Yordano Ventura share a laugh on their way from the bullpen to the dugout before a game at Miller Park earlier this year. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

* * *

One more note from Game 6 of the World Series: Giants RP Hunter Strickland gave up his sixth home run of the postseason, setting a new record for most homers allowed by a pitcher in a single postseason.

On Twitter, Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus noted that Strickland has allowed more home runs this postseason than Hall-of-Famer Greg Maddux did during the entire 1994 season (four).

Maddux pitched in the Midwest League in 1985, going 13-9 with a 3.19 ERA, six complete games, and 125 strikeouts in 186 IP for the Peoria Chiefs. I took a look at some early scouting reports on Maddux, including one from the year he pitched for the Chiefs, in this post.

Posted in Baseball Hall of Fame, Burlington Bees, Kane County Cougars, Midwest League, Peoria Chiefs, Quad Cities River Bandits | Leave a comment

Cougars awarded Best MiLB Team honor

The 2014 Midwest League champion Kane County Cougars pose with the championship trophy. (Photo by Lianna Holub/MiLB.com)

The Kane County Cougars pose with the championship trophy after winning the Midwest League title at Lake County’s Classic Park in September. (Photo by Lianna Holub/MiLB.com)

The Kane County Cougars had the best record in Minor League Baseball, won the Midwest League championship, and posted the best winning percentage in all affiliated baseball this year. That said, it was no surprise they were named the best team in Minor League Baseball by MiLB.com staff and fans.

The Cougars — affiliated with the Chicago Cubs during the 2014 season — finished the year with a 98-64 record, which includes their 7-0 run in the Midwest League playoffs. They went 54-17 at home during the regular season, went on a 13-game winning streak during their 24-6 August, posted a 2.85 team ERA, and pitched a combined no-hitter on May 17.

The Cougars were part of a bigger picture that earned the Cubs recognition as having baseball’s best farm system, as determined by MiLB.com staff.

The Cubs changed Midwest League affiliates after the season, moving from Kane County to South Bend.

Posted in 2014 Playoffs, Kane County Cougars, Midwest League, South Bend Silver Hawks | Leave a comment

Clinton’s 16-run comeback wins Game of the Year award

LumberKings (from left) Lonnie Kauppila, Justin Seager, Jeff Zimmerman, Ian Miller, Zach Shank, Emilio Pagan, manager Scott Steinmann, and Marcus Littlewood posed for this photo in their home dugout for a Sports Illustrated article about Clinton's 16-run comeback. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

LumberKings (from left) Lonnie Kauppila, Justin Seager, Jeff Zimmerman, Ian Miller, Zach Shank, Emilio Pagan, manager Scott Steinmann, and Marcus Littlewood posed for this photo in their home dugout for a Sports Illustrated article about Clinton’s 16-run comeback. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

The Clinton LumberKings’ 16-run comeback against the Burlington Bees on May 7 was named the Minor League Baseball Game of the Year by MiLB.com staff.

Only 558 people attended the game at Burlington’s Community Field, but thousands more would soon hear about it via ESPN and other media outlets. Perhaps the crowning achievement, coverage-wise, was a four-page spread in the May 19 issue of Sports Illustrated.

Here’s the Clinton comeback in a nutshell: The Bees led 17-1 after five innings, then the LumberKings scored 19 unanswered runs to beat Burlington 20-17 in 12 innings. The highlight of the comeback was a grand slam by Marcus Littlewood to tie the score 17-17 in the top of the 9th inning.

Tyler Maun of MiLB.com did a great job of recapping the game here, and you can read my post about it here. My post includes tidbits about the two teams that combined to set the Midwest League record for most runs scored in a game back in 1956.

Buxton suffers another setback

Minnesota Twins prospect Byron Buxton dislocated his left middle finger Monday while diving for a ball during an Arizona Fall League game.

He was limited to 31 regular-season games this year because of a bruised left wrist suffered while diving for a ball during spring training, and a concussion suffered during his Double-A debut in late August.

Buxton was the Midwest League MVP and Prospect of the Year in 2013 after hitting .341 with 8 HR, 55 RBI and 32 SB in 68 games with the Cedar Rapids Kernels. He also played 57 games with the High-A Fort Myers Miracle that year, hitting .326 with 4 HR, 22 RBI and 23 SB.

Ex-MWLers involved in MLB first

The first no-pitch intentional walk in a Major League Baseball-affiliated game took place Monday in the Arizona Fall League when Surprise Saguaros manager Delino DeShields called for Milwaukee Brewers prospect Nick Ramirez to be given a free pass.

The no-pitch walk is one of the rule changes MLB is testing out in the AFL in an effort to speed up games.

DeShields managed the Dayton Dragons in 2011-12, winning a second-half division title in 2011. He also played in the Midwest League, batting .252 with 12 HR, 46 RBI and 59 SB in 129 games with the 1988 Rockford Expos.

Ramirez played 132 games with the 2011-12 Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, batting .235 with 19 HR and 93 RBI.

Pitcher Ben Klimesh was on the mound for the no-pitch walk. He went 3-0 with a 2.60 ERA, five saves, and 45 strikeouts in 34.2 IP for the 2013 Dayton Dragons.

Bonus photo!

As you may already know from a post I wrote last week, a major renovation project is underway at Cooley Law School Stadium, home of the Lansing Lugnuts. The team has been sharing photos of the construction via social media, including this one from last Friday:

Lugnuts wall painting

Removal of the stadium’s batting cages revealed a sight usually hidden from view: a wall with the Lugnuts logo painted on it.

Posted in Arizona Fall League, Burlington Bees, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Clinton LumberKings, Dayton Dragons, Florida State League, Fort Myers Miracle, Midwest League, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | Leave a comment

Cardinals rookie Taveras killed in car crash

St. Louis Cardinals rookie Oscar Taveras and his girlfriend were killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic on Sunday. He was 22.

“Obviously, we have deep condolences to his family,” Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak told MLB.com. “We are still waiting for more details before issuing a full statement.”

Taveras won the Midwest League batting title in 2011 when he hit .386 in 78 games with the Quad Cities River Bandits. He helped lead the River Bandits to the Midwest League championship that year.

Taveras made his major-league debut on May 31 and homered in his second at-bat, off San Francisco Giants RHP Yusmeiro Petit.

Oscar Taveras homered in his MLB debut with the St. Louis Cardinals on May 31. (Jeff Roberson/AP Photo)

Oscar Taveras homered in his MLB debut with the St. Louis Cardinals on May 31. (Jeff Roberson/AP Photo)

Posted in Midwest League, Quad Cities River Bandits | Leave a comment

PHOTOS: South Bend projects progress

The conversion from artificial turf to natural grass at Four Winds Field is almost complete. Here is a look at the field at 4:30 p.m. EST, courtesy of the South Bend Cubs:

SB grass almost all in

For comparison, here is a photo of Four Winds Field — then known as Coveleski Stadium — that I took during a visit there in 2011 (the first year there was artificial turf at The Cove):

Look closely and you'll see Myron Noodleman in the forefront of this photo.

Look closely and you’ll see Myron Noodleman in the forefront of this photo.

Click here to see more grass-installation photos from earlier this week.

Work also began this week on the area where the new Four Winds Field batting facility will be located (behind the right-field wall, where there previously was a parking lot). Crews leveled the ground and began to set the foundation of the facility, as seen in this photo from the South Bend Cubs:

Cubs Cage work begins

All construction work is expected to be completed by Opening Day 2015.

Posted in Midwest League, South Bend Silver Hawks | Leave a comment

Davis, Coles join new teams as hitting coaches

Former Midwest League players Chili Davis and Darnell Coles were announced Thursday as the new hitting coaches of the Boston Red Sox and the Milwaukee Brewers, respectively.

Davis started his professional baseball career in the Midwest League, as a catcher and outfielder for the 1978 Cedar Rapids Giants. He batted .281 with 16 HR, 73 RBI and 15 SB in 124 games. (I wrote more about Davis in this post when he was hired as hitting coach of the Oakland Athletics in November 2011.)

Coles spent the 1981 season in the Midwest League playing for the Wausau Timbers, who posted a league-best 84-48 record and won the MWL championship series. He batted .274 with 9 HR, 48 RBI and 9 SB in 111 games with the Timbers.

Fans who watched baseball in the 1980s and 1990s will recognize the names of some of Coles’ Wausau teammates:

Harold Reynolds, currently part of the FOX Sports broadcast team announcing the World Series, batted .296 with 11 HR, 59 RBI and 69 SB in 127 games with the Timbers. He was named the Midwest League Prospect of the Year.

Ivan Calderon batted .306 with 20 HR, 62 RBI and 26 SB in 117 games.

Jim Presley batted .279 with 12 HR and 53 RBI in 57 games.

Donell Nixon, brother of Otis Nixon, batted .284 with 5 HR, 26 RBI and 20 SB in 59 games.

Ed Nunez went 16-3 with a 2.47 ERA and 205 strikeouts in 186 IP. He completed 13 of his 25 starts; none were shutouts.

Kershaw voted player of year

Los Angeles Dodgers LHP Clayton Kershaw edged Los Angeles Angels CF Mike Trout by three votes to win the 2014 Sporting News MLB Player of the Year award. Both players are former Midwest Leaguers.

Kershaw went 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA, two shutouts, 239 strikeouts and 31 walks in 198.1 IP for the Dodgers during the 2014 season. He led the National League in ERA for the fourth consecutive season, and is expected to win his third Cy Young Award in four years.

Kershaw started 20 games for the 2007 Great Lakes Loons, going 7-5 with a 2.77 ERA and 134 strikeouts in 97.1 IP.

Trout batted .287 with 36 HR, 39 doubles, 111 RBI and 115 runs scored in 157 games with the Angels during the 2014 season. He is expected to win his first American League MVP award after finishing second to Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera the past two years.

Trout was the Midwest League MVP and Prospect of the Year in 2010 after hitting .362 with 6 HR, 39 RBI and 45 SB in 81 games with the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

Other player notes

The Philadelphia Phillies signed OF Grady Sizemore to a one-year, $2 million deal. He played in the Midwest League as a Montreal Expos prospect, batting .268 with 2 HR, 61 RBI and 32 SB in 123 games with the Clinton LumberKings. (All three of that team’s starting outfielders — CF Sizemore, RF Jason Bay and LF Brandon Watson — made it to the major leagues.)

Angels RP Cam Bedrosian, son of 1987 NL Cy Young Award winner Steve Bedrosian, was named the top relief pitcher in Minor League Baseball by MiLB.com staff. He had a breakout season that included 17 relief appearances for the major-league team. After missing the 2011 season because of Tommy John surgery, he went 3-11 with a 6.31 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 82.2 IP for the 2012 Cedar Rapids Kernels, and 1-5 with a 5.30 ERA, 69 strikeouts and seven saves in 54.1 IP for the 2013 Burlington Bees. This year in the minor leagues, he posted a 2.00 ERA with 82 strikeouts and 18 saves in 45 IP across three levels.

Former Lansing Lugnuts infielder Balbino Fuenmayor agreed to a deal with the Kansas City Royals after an impressive 2014 season that led to Baseball America naming him its Independent League Player of the Year. (He batted .347 with 23 HR and 99 RBI in 95 games with Les Capitales de Quebec of the Canadian-American Association.) He played all of the 2009 and 2010 seasons with the Lugnuts, and part of the 2011 and 2013 seasons, too. Check out his Baseball-Reference.com page for a breakdown of his Midwest League statistics, and read Lugnuts broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler’s story about Fuenmayor for a fuller picture of Balbino’s baseball career.

SB turf project continues

As I noted here earlier this week, installation of the new natural grass surface at South Bend’s Four Winds Field began Tuesday. This latest photo shared by the South Bend Cubs shows that the foul area on the first-base side of the field was finished Thursday.

SB grass update 10-23-14

Posted in Burlington Bees, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Clinton LumberKings, Great Lakes Loons, Lansing Lugnuts, Midwest League, South Bend Silver Hawks | Leave a comment