Bernard named MWL MVP; Velazquez is Prospect of Year

Whitecaps OF Wynton Bernard plays catch before West Michigan's home opener this year. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Whitecaps OF Wynton Bernard plays catch before West Michigan’s home opener this year. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

West Michigan Whitecaps OF Wynton Bernard was named the Midwest League MVP for 2014, while South Bend Silver Hawks SS Andrew Velazquez was named the league’s Prospect of the Year.

Bernard is batting .328 with 6 HR, 45 RBI, 44 SB, 56 walks and 81 strikeouts in 126 games this season. Heading into today’s games, he leads the league in batting by a comfortable 32 percentage points. Bowling Green Hot Rods 2B Kean Wong is second with a .306 batting average.

On Sunday, Bernard collected his 159th hit of the season, setting a new franchise record for the Whitecaps. The previous record of 158 hits was set by Robert Fick in 1997 and tied by Nick Castellanos in 2011.

All of this is remarkable considering that Bernard was released by the San Diego Padres in late January. (He played five games with the Fort Wayne TinCaps last year.) The Detroit Tigers signed him after he participated in an open tryout in February.

Bernard’s 159 hits lead the Midwest League. Velazquez is second with 149 hits.

Velazquez made headlines earlier this year when he set a new minor-league record for consecutive games reaching base. His 74-game on-base streak eclipsed the previous record set by Kevin Millar in 1997 and tied by Kevin Youkilis in 2003, and is 10 games shy of the Ted Williams’ MLB record of 84.

Velazquez is batting .291 with 8 HR, 52 RBI, 50 SB, 60 walks and 126 strikeouts in 126 games this season. The Arizona Diamondbacks farmhand batted .260 in 65 games with the Silver Hawks last year.

South Bend Silver Hawks SS Andrew Velazquez bats during a game at Four Winds Field earlier this year. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

South Bend Silver Hawks SS Andrew Velazquez bats during a game at Four Winds Field earlier this year. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Mark Johnson was named the Midwest League Manager of the Year. At 86-46, his Kane County Cougars currently have the best record in Minor League Baseball. With eight games left this season, the Cougars need three more wins to set a new franchise record for regular-season victories (set by the 2001 team that won the Midwest League championship).

The Midwest League also announced its postseason all-star team, which is voted on by the league’s 16 field managers. The players named to the team are Fort Wayne TinCaps 1B Jake Bauers, Bowling Green Hot Rods 2B Kean Wong, Lansing Lugnuts 3B Mitch Nay, South Bend Silver Hawks SS Andrew Velazquez, West Michigan Whitecaps OF Wynton Bernard, Quad Cities River Bandits OF Brett Phillips, Great Lakes Loons OF Joey Curletta, Cedar Rapids Kernels C Mitch Garver, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers DH Clint Coulter, West Michigan Whitecaps starting pitchers Buck Farmer (RHP) and Kevin Ziomek (LHP), and South Bend Silver Hawks relief pitchers Silvino Bracho (RHP) and Will Locante (LHP).

Posted in Bowling Green Hot Rods, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Great Lakes Loons, Kane County Cougars, Lansing Lugnuts, Midwest League, Quad Cities River Bandits, South Bend Silver Hawks, West Michigan Whitecaps, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | Leave a comment

Maciel, Williams named MWL players of the week

West Michigan Whitecaps RHP Jonathan Maciel delivers a pitch during a game earlier this season. (Photo by Joel Bissell of MLive.com)

West Michigan Whitecaps RHP Jonathan Maciel delivers a pitch during a game earlier this season. (Photo by Joel Bissell of MLive.com)

West Michigan Whitecaps RHP Jonathan Maciel and South Bend Silver Hawks OF Justin Williams respectively were named the Midwest League pitcher and offensive player of the week for the period of August 18-24.

Maciel was honored for his dominant performance against the Dayton Dragons last Thursday. He allowed only one hit and one walk while striking out 10 batters, including six consecutive ones to finish his seven-inning outing. He also hit a batter.

In 25 games (18 starts) this season, Maciel is 6-6 with a 3.97 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 118 IP.

In seven games this past week, Williams batted .400 (10-for-25) with two home runs, two triples, two doubles, three walks, nine RBI, and eight runs scored.

In 20 games with the Silver Hawks this season, he is batting .278 with 2 HR and 17 RBI. He also played 46 games with the rookie-level Missoula Osprey, batting .386 with 4 HR and 40 RBI.

Posted in Dayton Dragons, Midwest League, Missoula Osprey, Pioneer League, South Bend Silver Hawks, West Michigan Whitecaps | Leave a comment

Snappers make most of few hits to beat Rattlers

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The Beloit Snappers beat the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 4-2 on Sunday despite being outhit 13-3.

The Timber Rattlers scored first, taking a 1-0 lead on a solo homer by SS Angel Ortega in the bottom of the 3rd inning.

Wisconsin Timber Rattlers SS Angel Ortega batting in the bottom of the 3rd inning, right before he hit a solo homer.

Wisconsin Timber Rattlers SS Angel Ortega bats in the bottom of the 3rd inning, right before he hit a solo homer.

Timber Rattlers SP Preston Gainey didn’t give up a hit until the top of the 5th inning, when Snappers 1B Michael Soto homered to tie the score 1-1.

Beloit Snappers 1B Michael Soto hit a home run with this swing.

Beloit Snappers 1B Michael Soto hit a home run with this swing.

In a sidetracking moment of serendipity, here is a photo I shot featuring both Ortega and Soto:

Angel Ortega slides back to first base as the baseball heads for Michael Soto's glove.

Angel Ortega slides back to first base just before the baseball reaches Michael Soto’s glove.

The Snappers scored another run in the 6th before plating two more on a Ryan Mathews home run in the 7th.

Beloit Snappers LF Ryan Mathews rounds 2nd base after homering in the top of the 7th inning.

Beloit Snappers LF Ryan Mathews rounds 2nd base after homering in the top of the 7th inning.

Mathews hit two home runs at Pohlman Field on Saturday, and almost had another two-dinger day in this game, but Timber Rattlers CF Johnny Davis robbed him with a fantastic leaping catch that you can watch here on YouTube. Had Mathews successfully went deep again, I would’ve seen him hit four home runs within 24 hours’ time.

Wisconsin Timber Rattlers CF Johnny Davis

Wisconsin Timber Rattlers CF Johnny Davis

Snappers SP Matt Stalcup got the win. He gave up one run (Ortega’s solo homer) on nine hits, a walk and a wild pitch in five innings. He struck out six batters.

Beloit Snappers SP Matt Stalcup

Beloit Snappers SP Matt Stalcup

Gainey got the loss after giving up four runs (two earned) on three hits, no walks, a wild pitch and a hit batsman. Both teams committed two errors.

Wisconsin Timber Rattlers SP Preston Gainey

Wisconsin Timber Rattlers SP Preston Gainey

Three pitchers from the 1964 Fox Cities Foxes — Tim Sommer, Hank King and Ed Petryshyn  — threw out ceremonial first pitches before the game. They were at Fox Cities Stadium to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their team’s Midwest League championship.

From left: Hank King, Ed Petryshyn and Tim Sommer after throwing out ceremonial first pitches.

From left: Hank King, Ed Petryshyn and Tim Sommer after throwing out ceremonial first pitches.

Sommer went 13-2 with a 2.20 ERA and 151 strikeouts in 139 IP for the 1964 Foxes. He threw 10 complete games, including one shutout.

Petryshyn went 9-3 with a 2.80 ERA and 110 strikeouts in 135 IP for the 1964 Foxes. He threw four complete games, including two shutouts.

King went 9-7 with a 1.84 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 83 IP for the 1964 Foxes. He started only one of the 46 games he appeared in that season — and threw a shutout.

None of them reached the major leagues, but their pitching staff briefly included future MLB All-Star and 1977 A.L. Cy Young Award winner Sparky Lyle, who went 3-1 with a 2.31 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 35 IP for the 1964 Foxes. Lyle pitched three complete games in his six starts.

From left: Former 1964 Fox Cities Foxes pitchers Hank King, Tim Sommer and Ed Petryshyn signed autographs on the concourse before the game.

From left: Former 1964 Fox Cities Foxes pitchers Hank King, Tim Sommer and Ed Petryshyn signed autographs on the concourse before the game.

*All photos by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler

Posted in Beloit Snappers, Midwest League, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | Leave a comment

Reed drives in four to lead QC to victory

Quad Cities River Bandits 1B A.J. Reed connects with a pitch during Saturday's game.

Quad Cities River Bandits 1B A.J. Reed connects with a pitch during Saturday’s game.

The Quad Cities River Bandits got a great start from RHP Andrew Thurman and a hot bat from A.J. Reed in their 5-2 win over the Beloit Snappers on Saturday.

Thurman pitched six innings, giving up only one run (a solo homer by Ryan Mathews) on two hits and a walk while striking out six.

Quad Cities River Bandits RHP Andrew Thurman

Quad Cities River Bandits RHP Andrew Thurman

Reed went 2-for-4 with a three-run homer and an RBI double. Chase McDonald drove in the other Quad Cities run on a RBI double.

Mathews accounted for both of Beloit’s runs with solo homers in the 4th and 9th innings.

The game lasted two hours and 31 minutes. There was a good-sized crowd for Pohlman Field: 1,707. Many people probably came to honor outgoing Midwest League president George Spelius, who is retiring after 28 years. Spelius, who was instrumental in bringing professional baseball back to Beloit in 1982, didn’t give a speech or throw out a ceremonial first pitch, but he watched the game from his usual front-row seat behind home plate. Minor League Baseball President Pat O’Connor lauded Spelius in a short speech before the game.

Minor League Baseball President Pat O'Connor waves after speaking to the crowd about Midwest League President George Spelius.

MiLB President Pat O’Connor waves after speaking to the crowd about MWL President George Spelius.

The Snappers gave away Spelius bobbleheads to the first 600 fans who entered the gates. I don’t have a photo of it to share because I haven’t opened the box yet, but here is a photo of a sign inside Pohlman Field thanking Spelius for all he’s done for Beloit and Midwest League baseball:

THANK YOU MR SPELIUS

I’ll see the Snappers in action again today (Sunday) at Fox Cities Stadium. They play against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, who are hosting a 1964 Fox Cities Foxes reunion. Members of the 1964 team will be on hand to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their championship season. (I love when Midwest League history comes alive, like when former manager Jim Leyland returned to Clinton last weekend.)

RHP Preston Gainey (5-7, 4.30 ERA, 106 strikeouts in 113 IP) is slated to start for the Timber Rattlers. A starting pitcher has not been announced for the Snappers as of this writing.

The Timber Rattlers are coming off a hard-fought battle against the Peoria Chiefs, which Wisconsin won 11-7 in 11 innings. Both managers were ejected. The Timber Rattlers are now two games ahead of the Chiefs in the race for the Western Division’s second-half wildcard spot, with nine games left to play.

*All photos by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler

Posted in 2014 Playoffs, Beloit Snappers, Clinton LumberKings, Midwest League, Peoria Chiefs, Quad Cities River Bandits, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | Leave a comment

Kernels hand Bees their 5th straight loss

The Cedar Rapids Kernels used two big innings to beat the Burlington Bees 8-2 on Friday. The loss was Burlington’s fifth in a row.

The Kernels scored four runs in the 2nd inning, chasing Bees SP Sean Newcomb, who took the loss. Newcomb lasted only 1 2/3 innings, allowing four runs on four hits, two walks, and two wild pitches.

Burlington Bees SP Sean Newcomb has given up four earned runs in each of his last two starts.

Burlington Bees SP Sean Newcomb has given up four earned runs in each of his last two starts.

The Kernels scored three more runs in the 4th inning to take a 7-1 lead. 3B Jonatan Hinojosa hit a two-run triple; if that sounds familiar, that’s because he hit a bases-clearing triple against the Bees on Thursday.

Jonatan Hinojosa has four triples in 11 games with the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

Jonatan Hinojosa has four triples in 11 games with the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

Kernels 2B Logan Wade drove in three runs on two hits.

Cedar Rapids Kernels 2B Logan Wade

Cedar Rapids Kernels 2B Logan Wade

Kernels SP Ryan Eades (W, 9-11) pitched well, giving up only one run on five hits and a wild pitch. He struck out two and walked none in his six innings of work.

Cedar Rapids Kernels SP Ryan Eades

Cedar Rapids Kernels SP Ryan Eades

As for the three Eades-Eaves showdowns of the game, Bees 2B Kody Eaves singled in his first at-bat, popped out to the third baseman in his second at-bat, and flew out to left field in his third at-bat. Eades was taken out of the game before Eaves’ fourth at-bat, which resulted in a groundout to first base.

Burlington Bees 2B Kody Eaves bats in the bottom of the 1st inning.

Burlington Bees 2B Kody Eaves bats in the bottom of the 1st inning.

Kernels RHP Chris Mazza was perfect in his 1 2/3 innings of work, striking out all five batters he faced.

Midwest League notes

The Kane County Cougars beat the Clinton LumberKings 9-1 on Friday, extending their winning streak to 12 consecutive games. The Cougars are 11-0 at home this month and have an overall record of 85-45, the first time the team has been 40 games over .500 in its 24-year history.

The West Michigan Whitecaps notched 16 strikeouts in their 3-2 win over the Dayton Dragons on Friday. SP Kevin Ziomek struck out 10 batters in six innings, RP Nate Fury struck out five in two innings, and closer Zac Reininger struck out one in his lone inning of work.

The Peoria Chiefs scored twice in the bottom of the 9th inning to beat the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 3-2 on Friday. A day earlier, the Chiefs announced that they agreed to a four-year extension (through the 2020 season) of their player development contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Snappers to honor Spelius

On Saturday the Beloit Snappers will honor MWL president George Spelius, who is retiring next month after 28 years heading the Low-A league. I’ll be at the 7 p.m. game, hopefully arriving early enough to get a Spelius bobblehead! That seems like something the Midwest League Traveler should have on display in his office space, doesn’t it?

Spelius is one of the founding fathers of the Beloit franchise, and has served as league president since 1987. That’s 11 years before Bud Selig was elected commissioner of Major League Baseball!

MWL vice president and league counsel Richard Nussbaum will take over as president when Spelius’ retirement takes effect. He previously served as special counsel to former Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan, who owned the South Bend Silver Hawks from 2005 to 2011.

*All photos by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler

Posted in Beloit Snappers, Burlington Bees, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Clinton LumberKings, Dayton Dragons, Kane County Cougars, Midwest League, Peoria Chiefs, South Bend Silver Hawks, West Michigan Whitecaps, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | Leave a comment

Hinojosa gets big hit in CR’s win in Burlington

Jonatan Hinojosa leads off Thursday's game for the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

Jonatan Hinojosa leads off Thursday’s game for the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

Cedar Rapids Kernels 3B Jonatan Hinojosa had two hits and four RBI, including three driven in on a bases-loaded triple, to lead his team to a 6-5 comeback win over the Burlington Bees at Community Field on Thursday.

The Bees led early, but Hinojosa’s three-run triple tied the score 5-5 in the top of the 7th inning. The Kernels took the lead when a passed ball allowed Hinojosa to cross the plate.

Hinojosa’s big hit came two innings after the third baseman committed an error that allowed the Bees to take a 4-2 lead. That half-inning also featured a misplayed flyball that dropped for a hit, and a RBI double by Bees 1B Eric Aguilera.

Burlington Bees 1B Eric Aguilera

Burlington Bees 1B Eric Aguilera

LHP Lewis Thorpe started for the Kernels, but did not get the win. He gave up five runs (two earned) on six hits, a walk, and a wild pitch in 4.2 IP. He struck out seven batters.

Cedar Rapids Kernels SP Lewis Thorpe

Cedar Rapids Kernels SP Lewis Thorpe

After Thorpe was taken out of the game, the Kernels bullpen took control and shut down the Bees offense. Three pitchers combined to throw 4.1 innings of relief, giving up only one hit and one walk while striking out five.

RHP Victor Alcantara started the game for the Bees. He gave up two runs on five hits and two walks in five innings. He struck out five batters.

Burlington Bees SP Victor Alcantara

Burlington Bees SP Victor Alcantara

Bees CF Bo Way hit a triple in the bottom of the 1st inning to extend his hitting streak to 11 games. He later hit a single, drew a walk, and drove in a run.

Burlington Bees CF Bo Way

Burlington Bees CF Bo Way

Before the game, the Bees held a moment of silence for Hawk Eye sportswriter Susan Denk, who died early Monday of a heart attack. She covered the Bees and Iowa football for the newspaper, where she worked since 1999. She was 39.

Personally, I will remember Susan for her friendliness to me whenever I visited Burlington. One time in particular stands out, when she invited me to stay in the press box for a game in 2012. It was early during Addison Russell’s 16-game stint with the Bees, and Kyle Zimmer was pitching for the Kane County Cougars; it possibly was Russell’s home debut with the Bees, because I recall Susan tweeting about his various “firsts in Burlington” (first hit, first RBI, first stolen base, etc.). I tried not to bother her as she worked, but being a consummate pro, she knew how to seamlessly sprinkle in conversation during slow spots of the game, with topics ranging from our dogs to the quality of The Wallflowers’ second album. She made me feel like I belonged there, and I appreciated that more than she ever knew.

She will be missed.

The Burlington Bees (foreground) and the Cedar Rapids Kernels lined up in front of their dugouts for the moment of silence honoring Susan Denk.

The Burlington Bees (foreground) and the Cedar Rapids Kernels lined up in front of their dugouts for the moment of silence honoring Susan Denk.

*All photos by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler

Posted in Burlington Bees, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Kane County Cougars, Midwest League | Leave a comment

Loons’ De Leon strikes out 14 in win over TinCaps

Los Angeles Dodgers prospect Jose De Leon pitching for the Ogden Raptors earlier this season. (Photo from Baseball America)

Los Angeles Dodgers prospect Jose De Leon pitched for the Ogden Raptors earlier this season. (Photo from Baseball America)

Great Lakes Loons RHP Jose De Leon struck out 14 batters, including nine in a row, in his team’s 5-1 win over the Fort Wayne TinCaps on Tuesday.

It was only his second start since being promoted from the rookie-league Ogden Raptors earlier this month, but it was one for the record books. In his six innings of work Tuesday, De Leon set a new Loons record for strikeouts in a game, breaking the old record of 12 set by LHP Clayton Kershaw in 2007 and tied by LHP Victor Garate in 2008 and LHP Greg Wilborn in 2010.

De Leon also came close to matching the Midwest League record of 10 consecutive strikeouts, set by Burlington Bees RHP Art Groza in 1966 and matched by Dayton Dragons RHP Daniel Renken in 2011.

De Leon has appeared in 12 games (10 starts) this season, split between Ogden and Great Lakes. He is 7-0 with a 2.31 ERA, 98 strikeouts and 19 walks in 66.1 IP. He didn’t walk anyone in either of his two Midwest League starts.

De Leon wasn’t listed among the Los Angeles Dodgers’ top 30 prospects in this year’s Baseball America Prospect Handbook, but here is what Baseball America had to say about the 22-year-old righty in its August 15 Prospect Hot Sheet:

With a young pitcher, a tweak here or there, or a new pitch can often make a dramatic difference. A year ago, De Leon, a 24th-round pick out of Southern in 2013, was way over his head in the Pioneer League. But over the offseason, he got in better shape, and the Dodgers moved him from the third-base side to the middle of the rubber, which allowed him to be more direct to the plate with his cross-fire delivery. Pair that with a jump in his velocity (he now pitches at 92-96 mph) and De Leon is a force to be reckoned with. He’s allowed four earned runs in his last 37 2/3 innings and dominated in his Midwest League debut, allowing one run on three hits while striking out seven in six innings.

De Leon’s Midwest League debut was against the Bowling Green Hot Rods last Thursday.

Matos drives in six for Rattlers

Third baseman Sthervin Matos hit a grand slam and drive in six runs for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, who rallied for two runs in the 9th inning to beat the Clinton LumberKings 10-9 on Tuesday. He joined the team Monday after being promoted from the rookie-league Helena Brewers.

LumberKings DH Tyler O’Neill, the reigning Midwest League offensive player of the week, also homered in the game. He now has 13 HR and 35 RBI in 45 games with Clinton this season. He is batting .284.

Posted in Bowling Green Hot Rods, Burlington Bees, Clinton LumberKings, Dayton Dragons, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Great Lakes Loons, Helena Brewers, Midwest League, Ogden Raptors, Pioneer League, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | Leave a comment