Special Assignment – Kane County Cougars – Aug. 30 – Sept. 1
I had the pleasure of being able to attend the final regular season home series for the Kane County Cougars. I would like to thank Cougars Director of Public Relations Shawn Touney and my daughter Lauren Usiak, who was my photographer. A special thanks to sportswriter Paul Johnson and the Beacon News’ Mike Knapp for all their input, information, and companionship. I will miss you both next season.
I have covered season-ending series’ for the past several years, but none compared to this series. Even though the Cougars had long clinched the playoffs, there was a “we still have business to do” attitude throughout the team. Pre-game drills were crisp and well executed. It seemed as if everyone was willing to do what it took to get them prepared. For example, during one pre-game OF Shawon Dunston Jr. actually donned the catching gear to assist the pitchers in a drill. While Kane County lost two out of the three games, they were in all of the games, including the last regular season game in which they went 12 innings before finally losing.
It was great to be able to catch up with some familiar faces. I spoke with 3B Jeimer Candelario, who stated that he was disappointed that he was not able to do well at Daytona, but he accepts “the ups and downs of the minors.” He said that he was happy to be hitting higher up in the batting order, but he will play anywhere that they ask him.
Right-handed pitcher James Pugliese said that while it was an adjustment to pitch out of the bullpen after starting his whole career, that he was happy he got a shot at being a closer. He stated that, moving forward, the organization was looking at him more in middle relief.
Right-handed pitcher Duane Underwood praised manager Mark Johnson and pitching coach David Rosario for his improvement this season. Underwood said that he will still like to cut down on his walks, and that after the past two seasons at Boise and with the Cougars, he is getting used to winning.
The language barrier was the biggest adjustment he had to make, according to RHP Jen-Ho Tseng, who was able to demonstrate a good command of English.
Right-handed pitcher Daury Torrez and OF Jeffrey Baez spoke though Coach Rosario as an interpreter. Torrez reported that appearing for Kane County late in 2013 helped him prepare mentally for what he would have to face this season. Baez said with a smile that he prefers to steal bases over hitting home runs.
Photography, and editing by Lauren Usiak
Jeffrey Baez – Very good speed and range on defense, with a powerful arm. Thickly built with broad shoulders, appears that he will hit for more power as he matures. Looked a little overmatched at the plate at this time, swinging a little wildly. Baez’s swing looked a lot smoother in batting practice.
David Garner – Right handed reliever was consistently throwing his fast ball in the low-90s. The only change-up used was at 81 mph and his breaking ball was in the mid-80s. However, Garner was leaving all of his pitches up in the zone that evening and was hit hard.
Zak Hermans – It was hard to differentiate his pitches, as he either had a low-90s fastball with some tail away from a right-handed hitter, or a high-80s slider with very little break. He did break out a mid-70s curve that was a real knee-buckler. Seemed to struggle with his release point.
Trey Martin – Very rangy in the outfield, with gliding strides and deceptive speed. He was not tested on his throws, so that was difficult to assess. Tall and very thin, Martin can use some bulking up, which may help him drive the ball more at the plate.
Carlos Penalver – Lives up to the hype defensively. Very smooth in the field, with great range to both sides. Arm strength above average, but he does not have a gun. Speed translates well offensively as he is an above average baserunner. A slap hitter that lacks strength and will be the last part of his game that develops.
Jasvir Rakkar – Right-handed reliever shows a high-80s fastball, mid-80s slider, and a low-80s off speed pitch that is either a curve or a change-up with downward movement. Mixes up his pitches well and keeps the hitters off-balance.
Daury Torrez – Fastball tops out in the 91-93 mph area. He showed a high-80s slider that he was leaving up in the strike zone that evening. Also has a low-80s change-up that has good movement. Torrez was willing to work both sides of the plate.
Michael Wagner – His high-80s/low-90s fastball comes in very straight, with no deception, and is very hittable. He also has a mid-80s slider and low-80s curve.
Chesny Young – Has a very good approach at the plate and is rarely fooled. He has a line drive stroke and sprays that ball around. Played third base and made all the plays, but does not make you sit up and take notice.
Mark Zagunis – He shows some natural pop as the ball seems to jump off of his bat. He needs a little more work in the weight room to turn that into power. Very athletic, good baserunner, and decent in the outfield. Short-hopped second base in his only attempt to throw out a runner at catcher.