Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Wrapping Up Winter Ball

The 2009 Caribbean Series is over, bringing the 2008-09 Winter season to an end, so let's take a look back at two notable RailCats performances that you may have missed while digging out of a mountain of snow.

The one-time blogger, one-time closer and 2008 Northern League leader in ERA, Cogan got off to a bit of a slow start in the early going but pitched well down the stretch for Caguas in the Puerto Rican league. The former Kansas City Royal went 4-3 with a 4.32 ERA over 13 appearances, including eight starts. Cogan fired 50.0 innings (third on the team) and allowed only 53 hits and 13 walks for a solid 1.32 WHIP.

After Caguas was eliminated from the postseason, Cogan was dealt to the Dominican Winter League, where he pitched for the Azucareros del Este.

Cogan was looking to impress some big league scouts during his trip to the Caribbean, and his late-season effort could be enough to earn the 32-year-old another crack at affiliated baseball. Cogan rose quickly through the Royals organization and reached the majors in 2001, before arm injuries derailed his career. The Highland Park, Ill. native has spent the last four years in independent baseball, but here's hoping his success in 2009 comes at AA, AAA or above.

The now former RailCats star got his first crack at winter ball in Puerto Rico this year and made the Florida Marlins (who signed him in December) look awfully smart.

Townsend had some ups and downs in the regular season - including some surprising struggles in the field - but still batted .284 with 11 RBIs in 18 games. His club, Arecibo, reached the four team postseason and that's when Townsend found his groove. The Kentucky native hit .378 (third in the league) in nine playoff games, helping Arecibo to the final round of the Puerto Rican playoffs. Townsend collected a league-leading 25 total bases in the playoffs, racking up three doubles, a triple and two home runs. His .676 slugging mark and 1.070 OPS both ranked second in the league.

Townsend will be in minor league camp with the Marlins later this month, looking to latch on at the AA or AA level. Needless to say, if the 2008 Northern League Player of the Year hits like he did in the playoffs in Puerto Rico, his dream of reaching the major leagues may not be that far away.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Costner Bringing New Team to Northern League

The most exciting announcement of the winter came Tuesday morning on the WGN News [watch the clip here] when actor Kevin Costner announced he and Schaumburg Flyers owner Rich Ehrenreich are forming a new independent franchise in Zion, Illinois - just northeast of Six Flags Great America and Gurnee Mills Mall - that will play in the Northern League in 2010 [check out the team website].

Everyone associated with the league agrees there has been a need to expand since the departure of Calgary and Edmonton left the Northern League with only six teams for the 2008 and 2009 seasons. This announcement will have to coincide with the addition of an eighth team to balance the schedule in 2010 - even if that's a traveling team.

On the surface, Zion seems to be an excellent location, far enough from north-suburban Schaumburg but close enough to Chicago where there should be an available fan and advertiser base. And the addition of Costner gives the team instant publicity and, hopefully, credibility.

For more on this story, check out some of the coverage in the local media:

The other sort of under-the-radar story here is that it appears the Flyers are now for sale. Ehrenreich is one of the Flyers three principal owners of the Schaumburg franchise and says of offers to buy the club, "for the first time, I'm listening."

Read the full story here.
So what do you think? Let us know in the comments what you feel about this new team.