59 games played and 223 At Bats logged and the GLBL has a player hitting .395. Cal McNiven, has flown under the radar of many having played for a team that is not very often in the mix for a playoff berth. He’s a prankster that keeps the Neptunes loose in the dugout but in the batters box he’s anything but funny to the opposing pitchers. Cal has hit .344 and .355 (2017 & 2018) but this season he is eclipsing even those stellar performances. Think he can’t do it? He’s had 2 hits or more in 7 of the last 8 contests. A long shot? Yes. But with each week his average is going up, not down.
The Duluth Sea Gulls won their first ever USA Championship with an 82-62 record than rallied from 0-2 to finally overtake back to back GLBL Champs, the Chicago Architects in a tight 7 game series for the rights to represent the USA League Having scored 563 runs they had offense enough to get the job done, but would the pitching hold up?
From the Canadian League the Mounties steam rolled the Owen Sound Waveriders, winners of the most games in the GLBL in 2020, by surprising outscoring them 27-12 in the four game sweep. Only Chicago of the USA League has notched more W’s than Hamilton but still the Mounties had not one a championship in the brief 6 year history of the league.
When Duluth won the first 3 games of the series it looked pretty much over as scores of 2-1, 4-1, and 3-1 didn’t make much of a case for a Hamilton miracle and many thought Tate Cosby’s 1-0 shutout in game 4 was only a stall for what surely would be a Duluth championship.
Eyebrows were raised when Hamilton won Game 5 by a 5-2 score. And, when Dave Teague hit his 2nd homer of the post-season in a 4-1 win at Duluth many wondered if the GLBL was not primed for yet another 0-3 deficit on way to a championship.
In Game 7 Norm Blooms 2 run single helped the Mounties cling to a 2-1 league. But, when Mr. Teague launched a solo shot in the top of the 9th it really did appear that the Mounties were destined to win their first championship.
Randy Costello was called on to close it out for Hamilton but when the first two batters singled you could feel the hope swell in Sea Gull Ball Park as it now seemed entirely possible that Duluth might come back. Danton flew out bringing on pinch hitter Karl Swerdlove who ripped a pitch into the gap and just like that 2 runs scored and the game was tied, 3-3. Blashill saved the Mounties from a 9th inning walk off but having lost the lead so late in the game could they rally, again?
In the bottom of the 11th Jim Danton doubled with 1 out putting runners on second and third with one out. After the intentional walk Jerry Gauthier a .207 hitter during the year, but a .308 one in the post-season grounded a ball past 3rd base and into left field giving the Sea Gulls the 4-3 win.
The Duluth Sea Gulls are the 2020 Champs!
The 2020 Season is about to celebrate Opening Day.
Spring Training has been completed and the results are in. But, do they actually mean anything? There may be more questions than answers right now. Let’s take a peek into Season #6 of the Great Lakes Baseball League and preview some of the anticipated action.
Question #1: Will the Chicago Architects three peat?
If the spring results are a harbinger of things to come then it’s hoist the pennant flag time in the windy city as Chicago put up an impressive 13-5 record. Twenty three year old Jimmy Preston hit .342 and dazzled the team with his speed and defense. Thirty year old Chris Anderson was used primarily in relief last year turned in three perfect 4 inning stints this spring not allowing any runs and yielding but 6 hits. With Cardy and Northeast the team has ‘nasty’ starting pitching and look out for 25 year old Foster Broun who did not allow a run in his 3 starts in spring to make things even more miserable for opposing batters. With a full season under his belt this kid is getting stronger and once he masters the change up he will spell trouble for opposing hitters. Actually, he is already trouble.
Runner up MVP in the American League Lake Superior Award, C Bill Durand
Question #2: Will Windsor take the final step and win a championship?
In their history the worst record they have posted is 69-71. Three times they have been to the post-season including an improbably come back against the Maples in the 2019 first round before giving up a 3-0 lead to Chicago and falling 3-4. How close can you get? Jerry Barker has been added but he’s not a high impact guy. Luca Carlier may be ready to wrestle the catching job from vet Kenny Shaw but either way will production rise from the catching position? Still, the Vigilantes remain a threat to advance to the Championship Series based on what they bring forward from 2019.
Question #3: What about that new guy in Owen Sound?
The Waveriders have been the most active team in the off-season inking star power to Owen Sound contract dotted lines in the form of Longchamps, Berger, Alvarez, Trudel, Ralph, and none more significant than Kevin Thomas former mainstay of the Toronto Maples. With Dave Corbin falling off last year the decision was made to allow him to enter the free agent market and he is now a Duluth Sea Gull. Ronnie Peyton purportedly has made huge steps forward while playing for the Herons in AAA as his athleticism could be boost to Owen Sound if not breaking spring training then later in the season. The same could be said for SS Erik Howell. This is a team to watch moving forward.
Question #4: Can Toronto keep moving forward?
Could a team have been any more on the cusp of a date with the League Championship in 2019 than the Maples? No need to relive the heartbreak and angst the Maples move forward and this season without 3b Kevin Thomas. While Thomas signed for $14M with Owen Sound 3b Roberson signed for $20M with Toronto. Roberson will mean more big flies than Thomas but that doesn’t necessarily mean he will bring more to the table. Yet, the Maples are in good hands with Roberson at the hot corner. His superior range should also help the Maples pitching, too.
Question #5: Will the additions in Duluth be enough?
Next to Owen Sound the Sea Gulls have been very busy, too, landing Silas Carvalo and Dave Corbin. Gone are John Freake (no small loss), Bill Starr, and Daniel Pepys. Key to the pitching staff might be just how well AAA SP Jeff Munson performs as the 24 year old had a fine 2.72 ERA at Green Bay last season. 23 year old Stinson was even better with his 2.31 ERA and throw in 23 year old emerging star Charles Colle and you have the makings of a very revamped Sea Gull squad for 2020. AA Catcher Jim Danton has a shot at being the team’s catcher this season and probably is the leading candidate to replace Freake.
Question #6: They won the inaugural GLBL championship, so what about this years Caribou squad, can they get back to the big dance?
Inaugural champs Thunder Bay quietly improved to 76-64 last season good for 3rd place. But, they lost a ton of star power in Lefebre, Ramos, Li, and Trudel. Bringing Derek Savary on board will help but it’s going to take more unless the Caribou can get some WAR from the minor leagues. Both Corrigan and Harris may need more seasoning in AAA Pointe Pelee.
Question #7: Does the Comets first place spring finish mean anything?
It’s hard to argue that the Comets will not be a better team on the field in 2020. Coming off their 12-6 spring they have some new pieces in Dennis Picard and Mooney who will help the pitching. This is a team that builds from the inside out (think Cardinals and Dodgers) and we’re close to seeing the likes of SP’s Palma and Estrada along with outfields Graham and Rogers. 23 year old All Star and GG winner Nabhan Ubadah has a full 2 seasons under his belt and is likely to begin building on his consistent 3.9 WAR contribution each of the past two years. Brown, Torres, and Joyner form a capable outfield so one of the biggest question mark franchises will be interesting to watch. I can see them going either way.
Nabhan ‘Wacky’ Ubadah
The GLBL is ready for Opening Day!
The Chicago Architects were the repeat champs of 2019. An amazing season. But, before we get to the post-season let’s take a run down on all the teams and their season.
Huh, what? Say it ain’t so? It so. It was a long slow decent (95, 87, 85, 76 wins) but what a four year run it was….4/4 playoff years and 2 championships before GM Mike Trigwell made the decision to look ahead. One tangible working in favor of the Eagles is that they have money to spend. Down, but not out. Stephen Lonchamps did his best to keep the team tradition of winning alive as he posted a fine .286/.371/.526 line. He was at his best in high leverage situations hitting .340.
It will be a coin flip to see who gets the coveted #1 pick. But, after years of rotating GM’s the Owen Sound franchise recruited and landed Canadian born and local baseball man David Jones to right the ship. The beleaguered franchise on the Huron does have the #3 ranked minor league system and three time all star Dave Corbin as it heads into 2020. But, even Corbin was not immune to the woes of the franchise as he hit below .300 for the time ever (.279). Lefty Jon Wilson was the most consistent SP for the Waveriders as went 11-10 with a 2.57 ERA.
Deeeeeeeeetroit won just 59 games with Silas Carvahlo and Richard LeClerc in the line up which seems like impossible given the 5.7 and 7.7 WAR they each bring to the table. But, pitching and defense are where the team needs help and maybe Chris Farnell can help with the former. At 26 he accomplished all he could at AAA and with Biliard the Birds might have a decent 1-2-3 punch. Trites, a four time all star and Lake Ontario Relief Award winner had a sensational year for Detroit amassing a 2.1 WAR in the closer role. Just 35 hits in 67.1 IP. They will select 3rd in the draft.
Kingston had the largest negative run differential (-118) of all the teams yet boasted a 40-30 record at home. Road woes held the Comets back exemplified by their 20-50 record. Twenty two year old Nabhan ‘wacky’ Ubadah won a gold glove and earned all star recognition as his 4.0 WAR tied Ryan Brown, OF, for the club lead. The Comets are tied with the Sea Gulls for the 4th highest ranking minor league system. Twenty two year Phil Joyner struggled in 268 PA’s with a .567 OPS while being thrown out 13 out of 28 times stealing but he displayed strong center field skills with a +4.2 ZR. Alfonso Romero tied for the most wins (11-10). Ken ‘Cubby’ Lau (24 yrs of age) went 11-12/ 3.91 using predominately a sinker and cutter as his weapons, with the change-up being a work in progress. Jim Copeland’s 26 dingers led the Comets in the power department.
34-23 through the first two months had Duluth in the running but come June they changed their tune with a 6-16 month and that set the tone for losing months for the rest of the season save the 14-14 August. Daniel Pepys 12-7/ 1.74 ERA led the pitchers and 5 time All Star, 2 time GG, 2 Time Lake Superior, and 2016 Lake Erie award winner Jim Nichol .336/.411/.550 with a whopping 9.2 WAR defined offense for Duluth and all this without a supporting cast of bats. Mark Holland turned in 26 saves to lead the pen. Chuck Ball stole 23 bags (44 the year before) but he needs to figure out how to get on base more often
Perennial All-Star Dave Teague (5 times) and winner of numerous other awards .287/.394/.522 turned in another stellar year for Hamilton. 69 BB/ 42 K’s are old school type stats that allowed him to lead the league in OBP. Geoff Boyd (22 yrs old) made a successful jump from AAA ball demonstrated by his .297/.342/.401 line as he filled the #2 spot in the line up quite nicely. Collectively Boyd has a +9.6 ZR at his position as he leap frogged from AA to AAA to GLBL Majors. Two time All Star Stephen Gilbert had unfortunate luck in the decision department (9-11) but his 2.76 ERA speaks to a worthy campaign as he took the ball 28 times in the starting role. Of course, Tate ‘the Ape’ Crosby was the man on the mound for the Mounties as he won the coveted Lake Michigan POY award for the second time in his career. His 14-7 record makes him a career 65-39 (two teams).
29 year old lefty Bill Lehman re-established himself as the staff ace after an off year in 2018 and led the Neptunes with 13-8/ 2.85 ERA. Lehman tossed 2 CG’s and fanned 133 batters with 34 walks. It might surprise some to that the Neptunes were a huge offensive force.
Harry Norman stroked 19 homers, cather Homer Gilbert batted in 64 and posted a 5.8 WAR, and it was INF Cal McNiven who was an on base machine as his .427 OBP demonstrates. Corner OF’s Lee and Cross hit .287 and .284 respectively. And, of course, infamous Ryan Johnson of the consecutive save streak record finished 3rd in the Reliever of the Year Award. Ryan finished with 29 Saves for the season.
Close to the post-season, but two games out of the wild card for the home run champs of the Canadian League with 104. Thirty one year old RHP Vasa Trevino led the Caribou with 21 dingers but received support from Li and Wheaton who tallied 17 apiece. Dale O’Brien was the clear ace of the staff as he posted a 17-4 record with a 2.03 ERA. Dale was twice POM in 2019 and was voted to the All-Star team. Curiously, RHB batted .234 vs LHB who hit just .181. In the pen it was a brilliant season for Steven Foster who finished 3rd in ROY voting as his 39 Saves and 2.07 ERA earned him a contract extension for 2020.
Big year for Rick Bradley 19-5 who missed winning the POY Award in the Canadian League by a whisker. The 35 year old pitcher posted a 1.86 ERA and netted a 4.5 WAR for the season. Forest Furlong flew under the radar but his 0.91 ERA out of the pen was huge given he logged 59.2 innings while winning 4, saving 4, and losing 0. Just 24 years of age young Harry O’Connell earned a bevy of awards and accolades.
The Bears defied their stats as they actually scored 9 less runs than they gave up but going 30-12 in one run games goes a long way towards righting some wrongs. But, it wasn’t all smoke and mirrors as William ‘Deranged’ Anderson had an incredible year going 14-8/ 1.80 while offering up 27 QS out of 30 attempts. All Star and winner of the Lake Ontario Relief Award Kurt Peddle saved 44 games. Journeyman and 34 year old vet Kevin Boivin had his best year ever .304/.406/.573 earning him a 4.3 WAR. Enigma, Martin Ortiz only batted .185 but smacked 21 homers and 19 doubles.
The Maples have increased their win total every year of their existence and for 2019 that was good enough for first place by 2 games over Windsor. Jean Villain pitched a no hitter against Windsor this year while going 14-13 with a 2.75 ERA. All Star and 3rd placer in the POY Award Henri Francois had a 1.88 ERA, while Villegas went 13-8, and Geddes 12-5. This team can pitch! All Star and 3rd place finisher in the Lake Superior Player Award Stephen Gilbert had a 5.7 WAR. Hilton Madore batted .302 and Kevin Thomas .291.
The defending champs won the most games and cruised to a title in the USA League. Jean Cheron, 2nd in POY voting, went 17-7 with a 1.94 ERA. Carl Cardny went 13-8 and Nathan Ball saved 32 in the pen. Bill Durand finished 2nd in a close vote for the Lake Superior Award as his 1.001 OPS and 8.8 WAR were career highs, although it should be noted he netted 8.7 WAR’s the two previous seasons. Cyril LeClerc smashed 27 homers and batted in 85.
THE PLAYOFF TEAMS AND THEIR SERIES
This was a series that saw the Vigilantes rally from being down 1-3 to take the series and break the hearts of the Toronto faithful. Little did we know that an even grander comeback would take place before the end of the post-season.
This one was pretty much all Chicago as they won in 5 games. But, great season for TC!
The Vigilantes shocked the world when they won the first two games in Chicago and then the opener in Windsor. Down 0-3, the Architects did what no other team has done in GLBL history as they rallied to win 4 straight games and claim their second championship in a row. Back to Back, Chicago, Chicago!
The Windsor Vigilantes are looking for one more W to claim their first ever GLBL championship and they don’t have far to go. The Chicago Architects, reigning GLBL champs have finally won a game but are down 1-3 leaving no room for error.
The Vigilantes have been on post-season fire winning the final three from the favored Maples, erasing a 1-3 deficit, and winning the first three from the Architects. Henri Picard who has slugged 114 homers in Windsor has led the way a 1.182 Post Season OPS.
Carl Cardny , 0-2 in the post-season, will try and rebound from the 3-1 loss in the opening game of the series. Arvin Northeast and Jean Cheron will follow in the rotation if Cardny can keep the ship afloat.
Thirty five year old Rick Bradley, who went 19-5 in 2019 and has yielded 3 runs on 10 hits in his last 25 innings pitched, will likely be the man asked to bring it home in five for the Vigilantes.
In a league that is starving for more offense which young players might step up to add more pop to their teams? Here is a partial list:
Phil Joyner at 22 years of age has already logged 74 games in the outfield, mostly in CF and LF. However, it is his fielding that stands out more than his bat. With a ZR of +3.2 he covers ground in Center for the Comets but his bat challenges the fact that he is the #1 prospect as rated by OSA. .198/.247/.304 are stats that belong to a one Mario Mendoza and not the likes of a second coming of Tony Gwynn. Phil’s AAA stats only reached a .652 OPS which begs the question, ‘does he belong at the top level’? Time will tell as his starting duties have been decreased of late.
Juan Ibarra signed a minor league contract out of Mexico with the Sea Gull organization in 2017. The ceiling is sky high on this 18 year old SS from Juchitlan now in his second year in AA ball. One of the younger players in AA he has experienced a modest step forward improving his OPS from .552 to .664 but has strung together 4 multi-hit games in his last 6 indicating he may be catching up with the rest of the competition. The prototype 5 tool player will be fun to watch.
22 year old SS Geoff Boyd has graduated from AAA .313/.360/.403 and joined the Hamilton Mounties and actually improved his numbers this season, .318/.359/.464. The switch hitting SS from Germantown, Wisconsin brings an even tempered disposition to the team belying his mantra of ‘winning is not everything, it’s the only thing’, a little tidbit he picked up from another Wisconsin legend back in the day. This athletic SS can play his position with the best (+2.5 ZR), can swipe bases, bunt for hits, and will flash some occasional power.
Fred ‘Bad Company’ Darrach is another 22 year old that is already on the GLBL scene as teams desperate for offense, any offense, are hoping that the young players can do what many of the journeymen players cannot…generate offensive productivity. Fred had a .720 OPS in AA and made the jump straight to the Caribou parent team apparently without a blip as he’s posted an identical .720 OPS having moved up two levels, pretty impressive. He smacked 10 round trippers last year in the minors and has already hit 9 this year while raising his SLG. average to .409. He’s a spray hitter and while his BB/K is a weak 21/83 most scouts think that will change as he matures and learns how to hit the dominant pitchers of the league.
Ray ‘Glance’ Blue was the #1 overall pick in last years rookie draft. The 22 year old had a .827 OPS in 199 AB’s in AA ball and was promoted to AAA ball where he posted a decent .744 OPS in 257 AB’s. Collectively he hit 15 dingers and 31 doubles. This season in AAA with the Bay City Rollers Ray 13 homers and 31 doubles (pretty consistent) and is batting .265 with a .770 OPS. Like many young players his BB/K is tilted 40/127 but he projects to be a bat on the ball guy as he matures. Slow afoot Scouts consider Ray smart, motivated, and not a guy who will accept playing for a .500 team, something the T-Birds desperately need in their locker room. Blue is yet another of the promising SS’s to be waiting in the wings although his future may be 3b down the road. Blue is popular nation wide so the T-Birds best look for additional pieces if they want to keep ‘Glance’ in the fold beyond his required years.
Harry Norman, at 22 years of age, is a player who this season started out AAA a ‘house of fire’ with his .329/.407/.600 line and got the promotion to the Neptunes. In 344 AB’s he is standing up to the league pitching by virtue of his .247/.328/.416 line as he is one of the many left handed batters that traditionally fill out the Toledo line up. Norman has collected 39 RBI’s while belting 14 homers near the bottom of the line-up yet it won’t be long before he moves up if his progress continues.
After two second place finishes in 2015 and 2016 (one Championship Series appearance) the Chicago Architects fell to 58-82 in 2017. It was the third straight year they reduced the payroll ($114M). Following the mandate of the owner Gregory Boquet they reduced the 2018 payroll even further to $101M. But, then the team got busy.
Todd Walter was inked to a 2 year extension (2.52 ERA)
Nathan Ball signed a 5 year deal (35 saves 0.79 ERA)
Ivan Diaz signed a 4 year deal (3-3/3.07 ERA)
Greg Myers 1 year deal (5-0, 1 Saves, 2.25 ERA)
Cyrill Leclerc 2 year deal (.283/.360/.511 w/27 HR’s)
Larry Dares 2 year deal (.278/.345/.438)
Lewis McTeel 3 year deal (7-10, 3.10 ERA)
Chris Dunlap signed in June (4-1, 2 Saves, 1.56 ERA)
Traded for Jean Cheron (3-2, 2.70 ERA for CHI)
With existing stars C Bill Durand, SP Arvin Northeast, SP Carl Cardny, Edward ‘Avenger’ Hudson, the Architects were the ball club with the most wins in the regular season (84) while winning both of their playoff series by 4-1 margins over Milwaukee and then ultimately the Canadian champs Windsor, 4-1.
Congratulations to Al and his Chicago Architects, 2018 Champs!
The Toronto Maples seemingly own the Hamilton Mounties by virtue of their 14-8 edge over the season. The last time the Maples visited Hamilton they dropped the first two games of the series but somehow pulled out a 3-2 win in the finale managing but 2 hits as the Mounties wasted a fine performance by Tate Crosby (8 IP/2 hits/1 BB/8 K’s….but 2 HR’s). Prior to that contest Hamilton had a 5 game lead over the 37-39 Toronto club. But, things have flipped since that June afternoon.
Hamilton will have to do without their big bat and 4 time All Star Dave Teague for this series. Meanwhile, the Maples will do without a bevy of players and not the least their big first baseman Stephen Gilbert (22 HR’s in 116 games).
How close are these teams? Toronto has a season run differential of +17 while Hamilton one of +19. The Maples are 28-20 post all star while the Mounties have struggled with a 22-25 record. The teams are separated by 2.5 games so clearly Hamilton must win at least 2 of 3.
The Mounties have been averaging +37,000 crowds during their 30-24 home season and tickets will be scarce for this set. The Maples actually play better on the road at 35-29. Should be a good one!
The Toronto Maples are looking every bit like a playoff team for the first time in their history. After a typical April/May where they played 26-31 ball June ‘changed their tune’ with a 14-9 record and July ‘they let it fly’ (thanks Paul Simon) going 19-10. This morning their record is 59-51 as they find themselves 5 games back of the league leading Windsor Vigilantes.
The Maples lead the Canadian League in Runs Scored, OBP, and Batting Average. The Starting Pitching is ranked 3rd.
Kevin Thomas…just 1 HR but a .343 BA and a .432 OBP means he’s the ultimate table setter. His 135 hits is only second to one player in the league.
Hilton Madore, LF, leads both leagues in Hits with 146 and he has 15 HR’s.
Henri Francois, quite possibly the pitching face of the GLBL has not missed a beat since he defected from the World Champion Milwaukee Eagles as he has a 12-3/ 1.96 ERA line for Toronto.
Stephen Gilbert 1b in his 3rd season with Toronto gets better and better with the bat as he has turned in a .284/.377/.513 line up to now.
When it comes to closers, lights out closers, River Guiterrez is the man. River is practically unhittable as he has allowed 26 hits and 8 walks in 46 innings pitched which translates to a 0.38 ERA and a 0.72 WHIP. No surprise as this guy has turned in WHIP’s of 0.76 and 0.77 in previous years. His K/BB ration is 12.9.
The Hamilton Mounties trail Toronto by 4.5 games so the fortune of the Maples could go either way. Some big Sunday – Tuesday series coming up this week and next as Toronto faces Hamilton next week and Windsor the week after.