Special Assignment – Kane County Cougars v. Peoria Chiefs
I had the pleasure of being able to cover the final series of the season between the Kane County Cougars and Peoria Chiefs. I’d like to thank Shawn Touney, Director of Public Relations and the Kane County Cougars. I’d also like to mention reporter Mike Knapp of the Beacon News, who has been an excellent resource, a great baseball conversationalist, and was a welcoming presence in the press box, as well as Kevin Druley of the Kane County Chronicle.
The two in-state members of the Midwest League have a good rivalry. However, the series was tempered by that fact that neither the Cougars nor the Chiefs were going anywhere in the post-season. Therefore, the opportunities that usually present themselves during batting practice and pre-game drills were not there. Both teams did some minor warming up, but they were both clearly in “playing out the string” mode. However, the relaxed atmosphere along with my familiarity with Cougars management gave me a new experience, my first access to the clubhouse.
After making the rounds with a few players I was familiar with, I introduced myself to a player I had never seen before, who turned out to be pitcher Scott Baker on a rehab assignment. Baker told me that the plan was to go six innings (he went 5.2 that day) and then wait for word from the Cubs’ front office. Baker would make his first start for the Cubs five days later.
The other highlight of the series happened on Sunday night. As it turned out there was a Hall of Famer among a rather large Labor Day weekend crowd. Wayne Gretzky and family were there to see left-fielder Trevor Gretzky. And Trevor showed off his power by hitting a towering home run into the right field stands.
Interview: Michael Hamann
The CCO was fortunate to be able to interview two of the three pitchers we named Short-Season Pitcher of the Year. I was able to catch up with soft-spoken Michael Hamann prior to the Peoria game on August 31.
ChicagoCubsOnline: Congratulations on a fine season. You were drafted last year and played at Boise, but had your first season cut short by an injury. Can you take us through that?
Michael Hamann: After signing with the Cubs, I went to Arizona for a while and was sent up to Boise. I was pitching in a game and came off the mound to field a ground ball. As I was moving toward the ball I felt something give. My coaches told me I had to come off the mound faster, but when I explained something was wrong with my ankle, they had me looked at it. It turned out to be a severe ankle sprain, and I was shut down for the rest of the season.
CCO: How does your ankle feel now?
MH: It feels great. The idea was to let it fully heal, so I didn’t work out this winter, and then eased my way back into things come spring.
CCO: What went into the decision to become a relief pitcher as opposed to starting?
MH: I like the pressure that is involved with closing.
CCO: What do you believe is your best attribute as a closer?
MH: My composure. I’m usually able to keep my cool regardless of the situation.
CCO: Do you have an assignment for the off-season?
MH: Not yet. We’ve talked about going to strength camp.
Interview: James Pugliese
James Pugliese, along with Boise’s Corbin Hoffner, were the other co-winners of the CCO’s Short-Season Pitcher of the Year. The burly right-hander had just finished his side work after starting the previous night. He was delighted to sit down with the CCO, which he follows on Twitter.
ChicagoCubsOnline: Congratulations on your fine season. You spent all last year at Boise and had to return there again this season. How did it feel having to repeat that level?
James Pugliese: We were working on a mechanical change to my delivery. The previous season I had been a “drop and drive” pitcher. The coaches were working with me to stand tall on the mound, and have pitches come more on a downward plane.
CCO: It certainly looks like the change has been successful.
JP: Yeah, with my new delivery, I’m able to pound the bottom of the strike zone better.
CCO: Does it disappoint you to be leaving Boise with them being close to locking up a playoff spot?
JP: They have a great group of guys up there. I’m sorry to be leaving them, but I’m glad to be here.
CCO: Do you have an assignment for the off-season?
JP: They haven’t told me yet, but I know that I’ll probably be returning here (to Kane County) next season.
The Scouts’ Corner
Once again, I was able to meet up with a few scouts who were taking in some of the action. Most of them had just come from Des Moines, where they had been watching the Iowa Cubs. Here is what they had to say about some of the Cubs’ prospects.
One said that Cubs’ management is very impressed with the athleticism displayed by Brian Bogusevic. He felt that Bogusevic will get a long look in the final month of the season, with him being in their 2014 plans if he does well. None of the scouts were able to see Kyle Hendricks, but felt that Justin Grimm was a “five inning” pitcher at best.
The scouts felt that Jae-Hoon Ha remains a good prospect, but that he has “a long way to go”. Among the issues they feel Ha has is that he is always looking for something inside, and that he has trouble with breaking balls and outside pitches. All felt that Ha’s defense was outstanding.
There was also some talk of a few prospects at Double-A Tennessee. One scout said that outfielder Matt Szczur is one of the fastest players he has seen, but he’s not sure whether he can develop any further than a reserve outfielder in the majors. Another said that outfielder Rubi Silva has a “crazy, wild swing”, but seems to get his bat on most pitches. Lastly, a direct quote on Javier Baez, “He’s a real turkey, but he’s a damn good ballplayer”.
Here are what the off-season plans of the players I had a chance to speak with.
Fall Instructional League – Jose Dore, Giuseppe Papaccio, Tyler Skulina
Strength Camp – Michael Hamann, Tyler Skulina
Working Out on Their Own – Reggie Golden, Trevor Gretzky, Tayler Scott, Rock Shoulders
School – Carlos Escobar
The Cubs instructional league begins on Sunday and the roster was released on Wednesday that includes several of the top prospects in the system.
- Jose Arias
- Paul Blackburn
- Johermyn Chavez
- Trevor Clifton
- Scott Frazier
- David Garner
- Zach Godley
- Trevor Graham
- Tyler Ihrig
- Trey Lang
- Erick Leal
- Dillon Maples
- Jeferson Mejia
- Juan Paniagua
- Brad Renner
- Jose Rosario
- Tyler Skulina
- Daury Torrez
- Jen-Ho Tseng
- Duane Underwood
- Michael Wagner
- Sam Wilson
- Tyler Alamo
- Cael Brockmeyer
- Ben Carhart
- Erick Castillo
- Mark Malave
- Alberto Mineo
- Wilfredo Petit
- Will Remillard
- Gioskar Amaya
- Jeimer Candelario
- Frandy De La Rosa
- Kelvin Freeman
- Jordan Hankins
- Jesse Hodges
- Daniel Lockhart
- Giuseppe Papaccio
- Carlos Penalver
- Gleyber Torres
- Jeffrey Baez
- Yasiel Balaguert
- Charcer Burks
- Rashad Crawford
- Jose Dore
- Shawon Dunston
- Eloy Jimenez
- Trey Martin
Video – Player Sideshow
The CCO would like to thank the management of the Ozric Tentacles for permission of use of their music.