Astros name former River Bandits top minor-league players

Rio Ruiz (left) and Josh Hader were two of the heroes for the River Bandits in the game that clinched the 2013 MWL title for Quad Cities. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Josh Hader (right) and Rio Ruiz were two of the heroes for the River Bandits in the win that clinched the 2013 MWL title for Quad Cities. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

The Houston Astros announced today that LHP Josh Hader and OF Brett Phillips were their top minor-league players this year. Both are former Quad Cities River Bandits.

Hader earned Houston’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year award by going 10-3 with a 3.28 ERA and 136 strikeouts in 123.1 IP between High-A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi. He made five starts for the River Bandits last year, going 2-0 with a 3.22 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 22.1 IP.

Phillips was named Houston’s top offensive player in the minor leagues for hitting .310 with 17 HR, 68 RBI and 23 SB in 130 games split between Quad Cities and High-A Lancaster. He batted .302 with 13 HR, 58 RBI and 18 SB in 103 games with the River Bandits before being promoted to Lancaster for the final month of the regular season. He was a key contributor to Lancaster’s title-clinching win over Visalia on Monday, going 3-for-4 with two RBI and three runs scored.

Brett Phillips bats during the 2014 Midwest League All-Star Game. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Brett Phillips bats during the 2014 Midwest League All-Star Game. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Posted in 2013 Playoffs, 2014 All-Star Game, California League, Corpus Christi Hooks, Lancaster JetHawks, Midwest League, Quad Cities River Bandits, Texas League, Visalia Rawhide | Leave a comment

Report: TinCaps will stay affiliated with Padres

The Fort Wayne TinCaps will sign a new two-year affiliation deal with the San Diego Padres today, according to a report by Reggie Hayes of The News-Sentinel.

This is big news, of course, because the Chicago Cubs were considering Fort Wayne as their new Midwest League affiliate. TinCaps president Mike Nutter told Hayes why the Cubs ultimately didn’t choose Fort Wayne.

Nutter said the TinCaps have always explored being affiliated with a more regionally located parent club, but the Cubs considered Fort Wayne too far away from Chicago despite the first-class stadium and facilities. The Cubs are likely to choose between Kane County and South Bend.

So will the Cubs stay with the Kane County Cougars, with whom they’ve been affiliated the past two seasons, or go with the South Bend Silver Hawks, who are located farther from Chicago than Kane County is, but not so far as to preclude the possibility of them partnering?

The Silver Hawks have been a Diamondbacks affiliate since 1997. If they don’t hook up with the Cubs, they are expected to renew their affiliation with Arizona.

The Beloit Snappers still don’t have a new player development contract (PDC) in place, but are expected to re-sign with the Oakland Athletics if the Cubs remain with Kane County. If the Cubs affiliate with South Bend, the A’s and Diamondbacks will choose between Beloit and Kane County. The Cougars were affiliated with Oakland from 2003 to 2010.

The Lugnuts still haven’t announced a new affiliation deal, but Baseball America‘s affiliation tracker indicates the Toronto Blue Jays have renewed their PDC with Lansing through the 2016 season.

The rest of the Midwest League has PDCs in place through 2016 or longer: the Bowling Green Hot Rods (Tampa Bay Rays), the Burlington Bees (Los Angeles Angels), the Cedar Rapids Kernels (Minnesota Twins), the Clinton LumberKings (Seattle Mariners), the Dayton Dragons (Cincinnati Reds), the Great Lakes Loons (Los Angeles Dodgers), the Lake County Captains (Cleveland Indians), the Peoria Chiefs (St. Louis Cardinals), the Quad Cities River Bandits (Houston Astros), the West Michigan Whitecaps (Detroit Tigers) and the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Milwaukee Brewers).

Posted in Beloit Snappers, Bowling Green Hot Rods, Burlington Bees, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Clinton LumberKings, Dayton Dragons, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Great Lakes Loons, Kane County Cougars, Lake County Captains, Lansing Lugnuts, Midwest League, Peoria Chiefs, Quad Cities River Bandits, South Bend Silver Hawks, West Michigan Whitecaps, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | Leave a comment

Loons and Dodgers extend affiliation through 2016

The Great Lakes Loons announced this morning that their affiliation with the Los Angeles Dodgers has been extended through the 2016 season.

The Loons have been affiliated with the Dodgers since their inaugural season in 2007.

Besides the Loons, the Midwest League franchises that have player development contracts (PDCs) in place through 2016 or longer are the Bowling Green Hot Rods (Tampa Bay Rays), the Burlington Bees (Los Angeles Angels), the Cedar Rapids Kernels (Minnesota Twins), the Clinton LumberKings (Seattle Mariners), the Dayton Dragons (Cincinnati Reds), the Lake County Captains (Cleveland Indians), the Peoria Chiefs (St. Louis Cardinals), the Quad Cities River Bandits (Houston Astros), the West Michigan Whitecaps (Detroit Tigers) and the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Milwaukee Brewers).

That leaves the Beloit Snappers, the Fort Wayne TinCaps, the Kane County Cougars, the Lansing Lugnuts, and the South Bend Silver Hawks. Baseball America‘s affiliation tracker says the Lugnuts have renewed their PDC with the Toronto Blue Jays, but neither team has made an official announcement in that regard.

The status of the other four teams hinges on whether the Chicago Cubs decide to continue their affiliation with Kane County or move elsewhere (Fort Wayne or South Bend). You can read my thoughts about this situation in my last post.

Besides the Cubs, the other MLB teams currently without a Class-A affiliation are the Arizona Diamondbacks (most recently affiliated with South Bend), the Oakland Athletics (Beloit), and the San Diego Padres (Fort Wayne). The 14 MLB teams that weren’t in the Midwest League the past two seasons all have PDCs in place with South Atlantic League teams through at least 2016.

Posted in Beloit Snappers, Bowling Green Hot Rods, Burlington Bees, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Clinton LumberKings, Dayton Dragons, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Great Lakes Loons, Kane County Cougars, Lake County Captains, Lansing Lugnuts, Midwest League, Peoria Chiefs, Quad Cities River Bandits, South Atlantic League, South Bend Silver Hawks, West Michigan Whitecaps, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | Leave a comment

Status of Midwest League affiliations

Now that the Midwest League postseason is over, it’s time to shift my focus to the status of team affiliations.

I’ve written about this year’s player development contract (PDC) renewals as they’ve been announced, but now it’s time to put it all in one post. I’ll start with the Bowling Green Hot Rods and the Kane County Cougars, two teams whose PDC statuses are in the news today.

Bowling Green is the easy one to write about because the Tampa Bay Rays renewed their affiliation with the Hot Rods through the 2016 season. Tampa Bay is the only parent club Bowling Green has had, dating back to when the Hot Rods were part of the South Atlantic League during their inaugural season of 2009. (Bowling Green moved to the Midwest League in 2010.)

Kane County is more complicated. When the Cougars announced their planned ballpark renovations earlier this month, I thought it seemed practically a done deal for the Chicago Cubs to re-up with Kane County. (Read the linked post for why I believed this.) But today, the Daily Herald‘s Bruce Miles reported there’s a 50-50 chance whether the Cubs will extend their affiliation with the Cougars. He mentioned the Silver Hawks as a potential partner for the Cubs — a possible course of action being reported by South Bend media sources, too.

Both the Silver Hawks and the Cougars are going to be making major renovations to their training facilities, so I think it’s unlikely the Cubs would jolt Kane County for South Bend if they are making the same kind of upgrades. But would the Cubs leave Kane County for Fort Wayne? The TinCaps have an all-around top-notch facility in Parkview Field — arguably the best in the Midwest League — so that might be attractive to the Cubs.

Other Midwest League teams that currently don’t have a PDC agreement are the Beloit Snappers, who won’t be tempting the Cubs with their facility, and possibly the Great Lakes Loons and the Lansing Lugnuts. Baseball America and the website Ballpark Digest list the Loons and the Lugnuts as off the table (perhaps due to unannounced automatic PDC renewals by the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Toronto Blue Jays, respectively), but I personally haven’t seen any announcements saying those teams have re-upped as of when I’m writing this.

Regardless, I’ll be keeping tabs on any PDC news and share it with you here and on Twitter when I learn anything new.

Besides Bowling Green, the Midwest League franchises that definitely have PDCs in place through 2016 or longer are the Burlington Bees (Los Angeles Angels), the Cedar Rapids Kernels (Minnesota Twins), the Clinton LumberKings (Seattle Mariners), the Dayton Dragons (Cincinnati Reds), the Lake County Captains (Cleveland Indians), the Peoria Chiefs (St. Louis Cardinals), the Quad Cities River Bandits (Houston Astros), the West Michigan Whitecaps (Detroit Tigers) and the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Milwaukee Brewers).

Posted in Beloit Snappers, Bowling Green Hot Rods, Burlington Bees, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Clinton LumberKings, Dayton Dragons, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Great Lakes Loons, Kane County Cougars, Lake County Captains, Lansing Lugnuts, Midwest League, Peoria Chiefs, Quad Cities River Bandits, South Atlantic League, South Bend Silver Hawks, West Michigan Whitecaps, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | Leave a comment

2014 season ends with Cougars as MWL champs

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

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

As you probably know by now, the Kane County Cougars beat the Lake County Captains 7-2 last night to win the 2014 Midwest League championship. You can read my post about the championship-clinching game here and scroll back from there to read my other coverage from throughout the postseason.

Additionally, you can read the Cougars’ game story from Saturday’s win here. It includes three paragraphs that I believe summarize how dominant the team was from wire-to-wire this year:

The Cougars completed an unbeaten postseason, having swept first-round opponent Wisconsin, division finalist Cedar Rapids, and East Division champion Lake County. The team’s 7-0 playoff record, combined with a franchise-best 91-49 regular season, reflect a remarkable 2014 season record of 98-49 (.666 winning percentage). Kane County also set franchise records this season with a 13-game win streak, 2.85 team ERA and 54-17 regular-season home record.

The Cougars got out of the gates quickly, putting together an 18-7 record in the month of April. Kane County clinched the Western Division first-half championship in June with a 45-25 first-half record to punch their ticket for September’s postseason. Midwest League Manager of the Year Mark Johnson saw a majority of the team’s Opening Day roster move upwards through the Cubs farm system as 11 Cougars players were promoted to Class-A Advanced Daytona during the season. The Cougars lost multiple relievers out of the bullpen, as well as their top leadoff hitter in Jake Hannemann, to promotions by mid-summer. By August, the Cougars had lost 15 of the 25 players on their April Opening Day roster. Not including Major League rehabilitation appearances, more than 50 players were on the Cougars roster at one point or another in 2014. Despite a nearly continuous turnover of personnel, the Cougars actually outpaced their first-half efforts by winning the second-half division championship with a 46-24 mark.

Individual accolades came in bunches for the team throughout the season. At least one Cougars player received a Cubs monthly organizational award as Minor League Pitcher or Player of the Month for four straight months — Will Remillard in April, Paul Blackburn in May, Juan Paniagua in June, and Jen-Ho Tseng in July. 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 in June. Five players (Jacob Rogers, Daury Torrez, Jeimer Candelario, Duane Underwood and Kyle Schwarber) were named Midwest League Player or Pitcher of the Week this season.

This year’s Cougars team will be a fun one to keep tabs on as its players move through the Chicago Cubs system (or whichever organization they end up in).

While this is Kane County’s second Midwest League championship, it is the Cougars’ first without an asterisk of sorts. The 2001 team was named MWL champions after playing only one game of the finals that year; the rest of the series was cancelled because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

This year marked Lake County’s first trip back to the championship series since the Captains won the MWL title in 2010. They beat the Clinton LumberKings three games to two in that series; since then, three of the four championship series resulted in sweeps by the winning team (Kane County this year, Quad Cities in 2011 and 2013).

On a personal note, this completes my fourth season writing about the Midwest League on this website, and I want to thank everyone who supports my work by reading it. I do this mainly because of my love of the league and baseball in general, and will continue to write here during the offseason. I hope you’ll continue to check back here from time to time throughout the fall and winter months, but even if you don’t visit again until next spring, know that I appreciate all of you!

Posted in 2011 Playoffs, 2013 Playoffs, 2014 Playoffs, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Clinton LumberKings, Daytona Cubs, Florida State League, Kane County Cougars, Lake County Captains, Midwest League, Quad Cities River Bandits, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | Leave a comment

Cougars down Captains to win second MWL championship

The Lake County Captains and the Kane County Cougars line up on the field during pregame introductions Saturday. (Photo tweeted by Michael Picha)

The Captains and Cougars line up on the field for the pregame ceremony Saturday. (Photo tweeted by Michael Picha)

The Kane County Cougars beat the Lake County Captains 7-2 Saturday to sweep the Midwest League Championship Series and win their second MWL title.

The Captains scored first on an RBI double by Clint Frazier in the bottom of the 1st, but the Cougars responded with seven unanswered runs spread out over the next five innings. Jacob Rogers drove in three of those runs, including two on a third-inning homer. Rogers and teammate Jeimer Candelario each had three hits.

Jacob Rogers bats for the Cougars in Game 1 of the Midwest League Championship Series. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Kane County Cougars 1B Jacob Rogers (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Kane County’s pitching dominated Lake County’s offense. SP Daury Torrez gave up one run on five hits and no walks while striking out three in five innings. RP Michael Heesch gave up one run on two hits, a walk and a wild pitch while striking out six in three innings. Closer Francisco Carrillo finished off the Captains with a perfect 9th inning that included two strikeouts.

The Cougars finish their 2014 campaign with an impressive 98-49 record (91-49 in the regular season and 7-0 in the postseason). This is their second Midwest League championship, with the other coming in 2001 when future major-leaguers Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Willingham were on the team.

Posted in 2014 Playoffs, Kane County Cougars, Lake County Captains, Midwest League | Leave a comment

Cougars take 2-0 lead in Midwest League finals

final score

The Kane County Cougars beat the Lake County Captains 6-0 Thursday to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five Midwest League Championship Series.

Lake County was dominated by Kane County’s pitching, but also made too many errors (four) and failed to capitalize on the few opportunities they had to score (bases loaded and one out in the 4th, two runners on base and no outs in the 8th).

3B Grant Fink (foreground) committed a fielding error, and SS Ivan Castillo made a fielding error and a throwing error.

3B Grant Fink (foreground) committed a fielding error, and SS Ivan Castillo made a fielding error and a throwing error.

Still, the driving force in this game was Kane County’s pitching. Despite walking five batters, Cougars SP Duane Underwood kept control of the game during his six innings of work. He didn’t give up a hit — the Captains managed to get only two of those in the game (back-to-back singles off RP Tyler Ihrig in the 8th inning) — and Underwood got out of the 4th-inning jam I mentioned earlier. He struck out eight batters.

Kane County Cougars SP Duane Underwood

Kane County Cougars SP Duane Underwood

Ihrig earned a save for pitching the final three innings of the game, giving up only two hits and a wild pitch while striking out four batters. He also hit a batter.

Kane County Cougars RP Tyler Ihrig

Kane County Cougars RP Tyler Ihrig

Offensively the Cougars were led by Mark Zagunis, who had three hits and a stolen base, and Shawon Dunston Jr., who had two hits, a walk, two stolen bases and a RBI. Dunston had three hits, two stolen bases and a RBI in Wednesday’s game.

Kane County Cougars DH Mark Zagunis and Lake County Captains 1B Nellie Rodriguez

Kane County Cougars DH Mark Zagunis and Lake County Captains 1B Nellie Rodriguez

Official attendance at Thursday’s game was 1,604, more than double the 761 who attended Wednesday’s game. It rained on and off during Wednesday’s game, but the temperature was much colder during Thursday’s game; the second game surely drew more fans because of the Thirsty Thursday ($1 drinks) promotion because, well, people like to drink cheap beer.

The series pauses Friday so the two teams can travel from Kane County to Lake County, a distance of approximately 400 miles. Game 3 will be played Saturday evening. The scheduled pitching matchup is Captains LHP Anderson Polanco (3-0, 1.95 ERA) vs. Cougars RHP Daury Torrez (11-7, 2.74 ERA). If the Cougars win, they become this year’s Midwest League champions, but the Captains can force a fourth game Sunday if they win Saturday, and a fifth game Monday if they win Saturday and Sunday.

*All photos by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler

Posted in 2014 Playoffs, Kane County Cougars, Lake County Captains, Midwest League | Leave a comment