All-star matchup: Cougars' best vs. Midwest League alums
One of the great things about getting out to baseball-related events and games is visiting with the fans and readers.
That's true whether it's a Daily Herald event, one put on by a team or just stopping by during batting practice at the ballpark to visit with a reader.
A couple of months back, I had the chance to attend a big night put on by the Kane County Cougars for their fans.
The Cougars, who set up shop in Geneva in 1991, are entering their first season as the Class A Midwest affiliate of the Cubs. Snow covered the field that night, but fans were revved up about the Cougars' upcoming season and their new affiliation. They also had a chance to ask questions of the Cubs brass and Cougars manager Mark Johnson.
Reader Dan McQuade (I joked with him that he had to pronounce his name like former Cubs manager Mike Quade) of Hoffman Estates was kind enough to visit with me during the festivities.
McQuade told me he is a 22-year season-ticket holder to Cougars games, spanning affiliations with the Orioles, Marlins, Athletics and Royals.
During the course of our conversation, Dan told me he could put together all-star teams of former Cougars and their Midwest League opponents. I encouraged him to go for it.
So get out your best computer simulations and let's tee up an all-star game between the Cougars and the MWL. We'll break them down position by position for each "team."
Kane County Cougars:
Catcher: Charles Johnson (1993). Johnson made his mark with the Marlins and played for the White Sox for part of the 2000 season.
Infield: 1B Adrian Gonzalez (2001), 2B Luis Castillo (1995), 3B Miguel Cabrera (2001), SS Edgar Renteria (1993). Not much to add to this.
Outfield: Nelson Cruz (2003), Andre Ethier (2003), Josh Willingham (2001).
DH: Kevin Millar (1994). I'm sure he was a talker then, too.
Starting rotation: Josh Beckett (2000), A.J. Burnett (1998), Dontrelle Willis (2002), Trevor Cahill (2007), Joe Blanton (2003). The Cubs traded Willis to the Marlins. He and Beckett were on the winning side for Florida during the 2003 NLCS against you-know-who.
Relievers: Huston Street (2004), Andrew Bailey (2007).
My all-star selector McQuade adds: "And just for good measure, as manager, there is new Marlins manager, Mike Redmond, who was the Cougars catcher in 1994."
Midwest League all-stars:
Catcher: Joe Mauer (2002 Quad Cities). Drafted ahead of Mark Prior.
Infield: 1B Albert Pujols (2000 Peoria), 2B Ian Kinsler (2004 Clinton), 3B David Freese (2006 Ft. Wayne), SS Alex Rodriguez (1994 Appleton). Game on. That Pujols guy made brief stops at Potomac and Memphis in 2000 and then played in 161 games for the St. Louis Cardianls the next season.
Outfield: Johnny Damon (1993 Rockford), Torii Hunter (1994 Ft. Wayne), Mike Trout (2010 Cedar Rapids). I'm liking this team's chances.
DH: David Ortiz (1996 Wisconsin)
Starting rotation: Clayton Kershaw (2007 Great Lakes), Johan Santana (1999 Michigan), Johnny Cueto (2006 Dayton), Roy Oswalt (1999 Michigan), Felix Hernandez (2003 Wisconsin).
Relievers: Billy Wagner (1994 Quad Cities) and Fernando Rodney (2000 West Michigan).
Among the players "coming off the bench," as McQuade put it, would be Yadier Molina, Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Edwin Encarnacion, Asdrubal Cabrera, Garret Anderson, Jay Bruce and Shin-Soo Choo.
And if you needed another DH, you'd have one in Raul Ibanez.
A few additional pitchers are Dan Haren, Mat Latos and Kyle Lohse, who was in the news this week for signing a three-year deal with the Brewers after going 16-3 with the Cardinals last year. Lohse was at Rockford in 1998. At the time, he was a Cubs farmhand, having been drafted in 1996. In May of 1999, then-Cubs GM Ed Lynch traded Lohse to the Twins in a deal that brought closer Rick Aguilera to the Cubs.
McQuade's list can go on. I'd also mention that former Cubs starter and closer Ryan Dempster pitched for the Cougars for part of 1996. Another ex-Cubs closer, Joe Borowski, pitched for the Cougars in 1991, going 7-2 with a 2.56 ERA and 13 saves. On the staff at Kane County that year was Oneri Fleita, who would go on to run the Cubs' farm system for many years.
Who knows? In a few years, we might be adding outfielder Albert Almora to an all-star team as a Cougar. The Cubs drafted Almora in the first round last year. Almora is likely out until May with a hand injury, but the Cougars' season begins at home Thursday evening against Quad Cities.
Maybe we can update our lists at this year's all-star break.