Cougars unveil updated mascot

The Kane County Cougars unveiled a new version of their mascot, Ozzie T. Cougar, via social media Thursday. Here is what he looks like:

Kane County Cougars mascot Ozzie has a new look this year. (Photo from Cougars social media)

Kane County Cougars mascot Ozzie has a new look this year. (Photo from Cougars social media)

Here is what Ozzie looked like previously:

Ozzie

Ozzie T. Cougar in 2014 (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Ozzie’s makeover is part of a team rebranding effort that includes new logos and uniforms. You can read about and see graphics of those things in my previous post about the changes here.

The Cougars are one of three Midwest League teams that updated their logos and uniforms this offseason. The others are the Bowling Green Hot Rods — see their new look here — and the Great Lakes Loons, who will unveil their new logos and uniforms during a fan event Saturday.

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KC’s official landscaper wins prestigious award

KCC Landscaping Baseball

The Acres Group, official landscaper of the Kane County Cougars, recently received a prestigious Excellence in Landscape Gold Award from the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association for its work at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.

Floral additions to the ballpark last year include a large begonia baseball nestled in a carpet of verbena outside one of the entrances (as seen at the top of this post), and more than 350 annuals planted around the sign display seen when entering the ballpark grounds from Cherry Lane (seen below).

KCC Landscaping Entry

The Acres Group also planted 36 maple trees inside the ballpark, and added “The Patio,” which consists of multi-colored Adirondack patio furniture, Rosetta stone walls, and a limestone path in the first-base lawn seating area.

KCC Patio

“We’d like to congratulate Acres Group on receiving such a prestigious award in recognition of their impressive work at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark,” Cougars owner Cheryl Froehlich said in a press release. “We heard compliments from numerous fans throughout the season regarding the large baseball when entering the ballpark, the planting of maple trees and a landscaped area which perfectly framed our vision of ‘The Patio’ inside the ballpark.”

*All photos courtesy of the Kane County Cougars

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White Sox sign Latos to 1-year, $3M deal

The Chicago White Sox signed former Fort Wayne pitcher Mat Latos to a one-year, $3 million contract Tuesday.

Latos is a seven-year veteran of the major leagues, pitching for the San Diego Padres from 2009 to 2011, the Cincinnati Reds from 2012 to 2014, and three different MLB teams during an injury-laden 2015 season.

As a Padres prospect, he pitched for Fort Wayne in 2008 and 2009. (The team was known as the Wizards in 2008 and the TinCaps in 2009.) He cumulatively went 3-3 with a 1.80 ERA, 50 strikeouts and 11 walks in 50 innings (11 games/7 starts).

Here is an uncredited photo I found of Latos pitching at Memorial Stadium, home of the Fort Wayne Wizards from 1993 to 2008:

Mat Latos pitching for Fort Wayne Wizards

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Clippard signs 2-year, $12.25M deal with D-backs

Right-handed pitcher Tyler Clippard agreed Monday to a two-year, $12.25 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The veteran reliever, who pitched for the New York Mets last year, has a 2.88 ERA in 562 innings spread over nine major-league seasons.

Clippard pitched in the Midwest League in 2004, for the now-defunct Battle Creek Yankees. He went 10-10 with a 3.44 ERA, 145 strikeouts and 32 walks in 149 innings (26 games/25 starts).

Battle Creek had a Midwest League team from 1995 to 2006. The team moved about two hours north to Midland to begin play as the Great Lakes Loons in 2007.

Battle Creek was affiliated with the Yankees in 2003 and 2004. Those are the only two seasons when the Yankees had a Midwest League affiliate, though the 1949 Belleville Stags also were a Bronx Bombers team. Belleville was part of the Mississippi-Ohio Valley League, the Midwest League’s predecessor whose statistics count in the MWL record book.

The league has had three different names: the Illinois State League (1947-48), the Mississippi-Ohio Valley League (1949-55), and the Midwest League (1956 to present).

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Former Kernel Kendrick re-signs with Dodgers

Former Cedar Rapids Kernels second baseman Howie Kendrick re-signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday, returning to the team from which he rejected a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer in November.

Kendrick ended up with a two-year, $20 million contract with the Dodgers after all other teams either weren’t interested or didn’t want to lose a draft pick as compensation for signing him. The Dodgers were the only team that could sign him without giving up a draft pick.

Last year was Kendrick’s first with the Dodgers after spending his first nine major-league seasons with the Angels. He batted .295 with 9 HR and 54 RBI in 117 games.

Kendrick had a standout season for the Kernels in 2014, when he batted .367 with 24 doubles, 10 HR, 49 RBI and 15 SB in 75 games.

Ex-MWLers Butler, Murphy suspended

Two former Midwest League pitchers, RHP Ryan Butler and RHP Sean Murphy, each were suspended 50 games Thursday after testing positive for drugs of abuse a second time.

Butler posted a 0.83 ERA, 10 saves and 30 strikeouts while walking only six batters in 18 relief appearances (21.2 innings) for the 2014 Fort Wayne TinCaps. The San Diego Padres farmhand finished last year in Double-A.

Murphy pitched 93 innings (23 games/14 starts) for the 2011-12 Burlington Bees. He went 4-7 with a 3.97 ERA, 86 strikeouts and 27 walks. The Oakland Athletics farmhand last pitched in 2014, when he reached Triple-A. He spent the entire 2015 season on the disabled list.

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Dodgers add Maddux, Ibanez to front office

The Los Angeles Dodgers have added Greg Maddux and Raul Ibanez to their front office, the team announced today. From ESPN’s report:

Maddux, a Hall of Famer, and Ibanez, a 19-year major-league veteran, will assist in every aspect of running the club, according to the Dodgers, from scouting to player development and even as instructors with the major-league club, as well as in the minor leagues.

Both former players are ex-Midwest Leaguers.

Maddux went 13-9 with a 3.19 ERA, 125 strikeouts and 52 walks in 186 IP (27 starts) for the 1985 Peoria Chiefs. He pitched six complete games (no shutouts) for the Chiefs. After Maddux was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014, I took a look at some early scouting reports on him, which you can read here.

Maddux’s most notable Midwest League teammate was Rafael Palmeiro, who batted .297 with 5 HR and 51 RBI in 73 games with the Chiefs. Palmeiro is a member of MLB’s 3,000-hit and 500-HR clubs, but so far has been left out of the Hall of Fame because he tested positive for a banned substance in 2005.

Ibanez played 143 games with the 1993-94 Appleton Foxes, batting .300 with 12 HR and 80 RBI. His most notable Foxes teammate was Alex Rodriguez, who batted .319 with 14 HR, 55 RBI and 16 SB in 65 games with the 1994 team. After being suspended for the entire 2014 season, Rodriguez may face a fate similar to Palmeiro’s when he is eligible for the Hall of Fame, despite having more than 3,000 career hits and nearly 700 career homers.

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Four ex-MWLers among MLB.com’s top 6 prospects

MLB.com ranks 2013 Great Lakes Loons SS Corey Seager as the top prospect in baseball right now. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

MLB.com ranks 2013 Great Lakes Loons SS Corey Seager as the top prospect in baseball right now. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Four former Midwest League players are among the top six prospects ranked by MLB.com this year.

The website’s Top 100 Prospects list, which was released Friday and can be viewed here, is topped by Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager, who played for the Great Lakes Loons in 2013. He batted .309 with 12 HR and 57 RBI in 74 Midwest League games.

Seager unseated another former Midwest Leaguer, Minnesota Twins outfielder Byron Buxton, from the top spot. Ranked No. 2 this year, Buxton was the Midwest League MVP and Prospect of the Year in 2013, when he batted .341 with 8 HR, 55 RBI and 32 SB for the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

Byron Buxton heads back to the dugout between innings of a 2013 Cedar Rapids Kernels game. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Byron Buxton heads back to the dugout between innings of a 2013 Cedar Rapids Kernels game. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

The top Dodgers pitching prospect, LHP Julio Urias, is ranked No. 4. Urias made his professional pitching debut as a 16-year-old in the Midwest League; it is rare for a pitcher that young to play in the MWL, as I previously wrote about at length here. Now 19, the Mexican phenom made 18 starts for the 2013 Loons; he went 2-0 with a 2.48 ERA, 67 strikeouts and 16 walks in 54.1 innings.

Top Dodgers pitching prospect Julio Urias pitched for the Great Lakes Loons in 2013. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

At 16 years old, Julio Urias made his pro pitching debut for the Great Lakes Loons in 2013. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia — another alumni of the MWL’s 2013 season — is ranked No. 6. He batted .251 with 4 HR, 39 RBI and 20 SB in 120 games with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers that year.

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