There was plenty of excitement throughout Fifth Third Bank Ballpark as the Kane County Cougars prepared for their home opener Thursday.
At its core was the notion the Cougars’ parent club would no longer be hundreds, if not thousands, of miles from Geneva’s Class A organization.
Mark Johnson, a Georgia native who will manage the Cougars this season, is thrilled with the Chicago Cubs’ potential prospects, who will host the Quad Cities River Bandits to open the Midwest League season (6:30 p.m. Thursday, WBIG 1280-AM)).
“We’ve got a lot of big prospects here,” Johnson said during the Cougars’ annual media gathering on Tuesday afternoon. “The Cubs’ way (of conducting minor-league operations) is going to be instilled here. It’s a pretty versatile lineup. We have speed at the top and power in the middle.”
Dan Vogelbach, a strapping 250-pound first baseman with power, is expected to galvanize the Cougars’ infield. The 2011 second-round draft pick from Florida anchors an infield that also includes highly regarded prospects Gioskar Amaya at second, Marco Hernandez at shortstop and Jeimer Candelario at third.
“(The parent organization) is going in the right direction,” Vogelback said. “I think we’re going to win a World Series. I don’t care about prospects’ lists I am on. We’re going to have to prove ourselves (to attract excitement).”
Thirteen pitchers dot the Cougars’ opening-day roster, with Pierce Johnson, a 21-year-old right-hander from Denver, as the highest drafted player on the 26-man roster. Johnson was a supplemental first-round pick last year.
Kane County general manager Curtis Haug is also high on Nathan Dorris, Tayler Scott and Michael Heesch as pivotal members of the Cougars’ pitching staff.
Heesch has the distinction of being the one local product on Kane County; the Crystal Lake native helped Prairie Ridge to the IHSA Class 4A state baseball title in 2008.
For Heesch, the inevitable question came early during his first interviews.
“I was a Cubs fan growing up,” he said. “My dad was a Sox fan.”
Heesch admits he has spent much of his interaction with his new teammates conveying the emotional attachment local fans have for the Cubs.
“It’s one thing to tell them,” he said. “It’s another thing for them to experience it.”
Heesch is certainly well aware of the historic postseason futility Cubs fans have endured.
“It’s been over a century,” said Heesch, who recalled attending the 2003 Game 6 heartbreaker against Florida in the National League championship series.
The Cougars’ interchangeable outfielders will be Pin-Chieh Chen, Trey Martin, Bijan Radernacher and Oliver Zapata, a quartet that reflects the international character of the current Kane County demographic makeup.
“We have players from seven different countries,” general manager Haug said.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.