1. Merchants (New Team), 23 Points
Description: The Merchants seem to be set up to perform very well in their first year in the KCL. They have the most experienced pitching staff, averaging 28.14 college innings pitched per pitcher this season (which excludes players coming out of high school). While nobody jumps off the page as having Ace-level stuff they absolutely have both the deepest rotation and bullpen in the league. Moving on to their hitting they once again seem to have the most experience at the plate this season. They average 94.08 College at-bats per hitter this season which leads the league by a whopping 34.18. On top of all that experience, they also have the player who, based on his stats from this past season at Illinois Central, projects to be the best hitter in the league this year, Ben Nofsinger, who leads the league with 20 HRs, 13 more than #2. Expect the Merchants to lean on their pitching depth as well as their experienced bats and finish as the number 1 seed this season.
Hitter to Watch: Ben Nofsinger, OF (Illinois Central R-Junior )
A local outfielder from Washington, IL outside Peoria, Ben Nofsinger had a breakout season this year for the Illinois Central College Cougars hitting .357 over 168 AB with 39 R, 50 RBI, and a .448/.815/1.263 slash line. The most noteworthy element of Nofsinger’s game is his power, hitting 20 home runs this season, an ICC school record good for the most in the Midwest Atlantic Conference, and tied for 3rd-most in all of National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Baseball. His strong hitting performance on the field led to him being named to the All-Region 24 Team, 1st Team All-Midwest Athletic Conference. However, he was also impressive with his glove, making the Rawlings Gold Glove for Team 24 behind his .956 fielding percentage and 6 outfield assists, as well as his speed, totaling 9 SB last season. With tremendous bat speed, bat control, and an ability to hit both left and right-handed pitching, expect to see Nosfinger’s name high up in the MVP voting at the end of the season.
Pitcher to Watch: Nathan Garard, C/1B/OF/RHP (Eureka College Junior)
Nathan Garard is a Junior at Eureka College and stands at 6’0 tall and 198lbs. The two-way player started a team-high 10 games on the mound for the Red Devils this past season. He allowed 38 earned runs in 64.2 innings of work, giving him an ERA of about 5.29. On the hitting side of things, he managed to get 43 at-bats and got hits in 10 of them, which rounds out to a .233 batting average. On the season he batted in 4 runners and scored 6 himself. He recently pitched in Eureka’s conference tournament game, where he went 6.2 innings and gave up one run on a passed ball. When he is not playing for the baseball team, he also serves as a quarterback for their football team. Overall, it will be a great time watching him play on both sides of the ball all summer long at the Corn Crib.
Opening Day Lineup
Pitcher: Nathan Garard, RHP – Eureka
- Zach Otten, CF – ICC
- Derek Botaletto, SS – WIU
- Jack Kuethe, RF – Monmouth College
- Logan Van Heuklon, DH – Carl Sandburg
- Karter Hostetler, 1B – Eureka
- Jack Shields, LF – ISU
- Chris LeCrone, 3B – Milwaukee Tech
- Anthony Martinez, 1B – Triton
- Camden Porter, 2B – ICC
2. BlueCaps (2021: 23-16, 1st), 17 Points
Description: The BlueCaps are a very interesting squad filled with highly talented players at every level. College stats-wise the BlueCaps find themselves in the middle of the league just about everywhere; ERA, IP, AB, BA, HR, etc. College stats do not tell the whole story of this squad with lots of raw talent on the roster. They have fireballing reliever Spencer Smith who throws in the very high nineties, starter Julius Sanchez who is garnering draft attention out of high school, and five-tool threat Mike Maloney is likely to be near the top of the league in both homers and stolen bases. The swing factor for this team will be in their pitching. If their more inexperienced starters can click and put up quality games this team could finish as the best team in the league.
Hitter to Watch: Mike Maloney, IF (Southwestern Illinois College Freshman)
A versatile infielder who burst onto the scene in his first season with Southwestern Illinois College, Mike Maloney led the Great Rivers Athletic Conference in games played and thrived at the plate in an everyday role. In 2022, he hit safely in 62 of his 163 at-bats for a .380 batting average slashing .485/.583/1.068. More than just a contact hitter, Maloney put his great patience and zone awareness at the plate on display this year, highlighted by his .485 OBP and the fact that he was in the top 10 in his conference for plate appearances but ranked only 84th in strikeouts. Needless to say, Maloney likes to put the ball in play and when he does, good things usually happen. In addition to his on-base prowess, Maloney has shown substantial power this year as he slugged .583 with 17 extra-base hits, including 7 homers, and 40 RBI. In the field, Mike has proven to be a capable defender to the tune of a .945 fielding percentage while logging innings all across the infield, with occasional outfield stints as well. With his recent success, Mike Maloney seems primed for a breakout debut season, aiming to provide a quality at-bat anytime he steps up to the plate. Always a tough out, he figures to be right in the thick of the action for the BlueCaps offense this season.
Pitcher to Watch: Julius Sanchez, RHP (Illinois Commit)
Julius Sanchez is a 6’0 210lbs player fresh off his senior season at Lasalle-Peru High School. The young prospect is drawing draft attention as of recently with Perfect Game having him as a top 300 draft prospect. As a right-handed pitcher, he consistently throws a fastball above 90mph. Recently he’s been able to reach mid-to-upper 90s as well. Before this high school season, he found himself on the Preseason All-Central First Team 2022. As of now, he is committed to playing baseball at the University of Illinois in the Big Ten Conference. Expect Sanchez to have a good KCL season against high-level competition from all over the state and more.
Opening Day Lineup
Pitcher: Kolby Pemperton, RHP – Ave Maria University
- Liam McGill, SS – Millikin
- Mitch Murphy, 2B – SWIC
- Mike Maloney, 3B – SWIC
- Dom Ferrari, DH – SWIC
- Trevor Davis, C – EIU
- Joey Hagen, CF – EIU
- Ty Coartney, LF – Lakeland CC
- Pat Mulcahey, 1B – Blackhawk CC
- Brock Minor, RF – Lakeland CC
3. Bobcats (2021: 23-18, 2nd), 11 Points
Description: The Bobcats look like they will be a very gifted group of hitters and although not incredibly experienced we expect their pitchers to come in hungry and looking to prove something. Let’s talk about the pitching first, the Bobcats have a very young core of pitchers, more specifically 4 incoming freshmen and 6 who just finished up their first seasons of collegiate baseball. Having extensive college experience is not the end all be all, players who haven’t really been given a shot all season could come out and torch the whole league upon being given a chance. It is important to note that Isaac Riegler does not fit this mold and looks to be an effective starter based on his 51 innings pitched in that role at Roosevelt university this year. They also have Mitchell Sampson and Nick Barlow who were incredibly effective in relief at their respective colleges with Sampson looking like the best reliever in the whole league statistically. Now the real strength of the Bobcats can be seen in their hitters. Auggie Rasmussen and Alec McGinnis project to be the best one-two punch in the entire league, both of them had averages over .300 and each had over 25 RBIs during their college seasons. Coming out of high school they have SS Shai Robinson who is seeing some draft buzz, the Bobcats could have the best middle infield in the league between Robinson and McGinnis. When looking at the whole roster every hitter with over 50 at-bats has an average above .250 most being significantly higher than that. When you come to a Bobcats game expect to see some elite offense.
Hitters to Watch: Alec McGinnis, MIF (Augustana College Freshman) and Auggie Rasmussen, OF (Iowa West CC and ISU Commit Freshman)
Alec McGinnis, a local kid who should feel right at home at the Corn Crib this summer, is a sure-handed middle infielder who is ever-improving at the plate. After committing only 3 errors all season, McGinnis posted an impressive .981 fielding percentage for the Augustana Vikings in 2022 while primarily manning second base. At the plate, McGinnis continues to develop into a quality contact-focused hitter, lowering his strikeout rate by over 5% from last year alone and raising his OBP by almost 90 points in the process. McGinnis isn’t just making more contact than in years past though, he’s also making better contact than ever before. In 2022, Alec more than doubled his extra-base hit total from the previous season which significantly increased his run production stats as he set new career highs in RBIs and SLG%. Expect McGinnis to build on his recent growth and take the KCL by storm this summer as a leader for the Bobcats on both sides of the ball.
Auggie Rasmussen makes up the other half of what projects to be the best duo in the KCL. He brings a scorching hot lefty bat into the top half of this Bobcats lineup. He slashed .345/.394/.511 this past season at Iowa Western with 14 stolen bases. Expect him to be an elite bat and a rangy outfielder if the fact he was only caught stealing 1 time in 24 attempts is any indication of his speed. If he can stay hot this season he will be a gold glove outfielder and a silver slugger from the plate.
Pitcher to Watch: Mitchel Sampson, RHP (Heartland Community College Sophomore – WIU commit)
Last week here in the Corn Crib, Sampson pitched a masterful 3.1 innings of scoreless relief for the Heartland Community College Hawks en route to an 8-4 victory over the Lincoln Land Loggers in the 2022 NJCAA Region 24 Tournament as part of their championship run. This outing allowed him to pick up his fourth save of the year as Heartland’s closer, a position he will likely continue to hold for the Bobcats, leading the league in saves among all non-temporary college players. In addition to his 4 saves, Sampson boasts a 1.57 ERA with 44 K to only 12 BB in 28.2 innings of work with the Hawks, holding his opponents to a mere .134 average against. Primarily a fastball pitcher, throwing it 69%, he still possesses a four-pitch mix with a changeup (16%), slider (12%), and curveball (3%). Although Sampson will start the season at the 2022 NJCAA DII World Series in Enid, OK, once his postseason play ends, he looks to be lights out closer for the Bobcats as part of their 2022 KCL run.
Opening Day Lineup
Pitcher: Tommy White, RHP – Illinois Commit
- Jackson Blemler, SS – Parkland CC
- Jacob Mote, 3B – Danville CC
- Evan Hutson, 1B – IWU
- Parker Mathieson, CF – St. Thomas
- Lucas Ryan, C – Millikin
- Tyson Mickie, LF – SWIC
- Hayden Stork, DH – Kankakee CC
- Brady Alexander, 2B – Saulk Valley CC
- Ryne Willard, RF – SWIC
4. Ground Sloths (2021: 15-23, 4th), 9 Points
Description: The Ground Sloths are a very young team led by the senior pitcher and prospective ace Ryan Behling along with former KCL Champion Peyton Dillingham. Although the team has a championship pedigree it seems as though they will be a team that lives and dies by the success of their young players. Luckily for them, they have some young players who look like they’ll be very successful this season. Jayden Comia comes from a family of ballplayers, specifically his relatives Branden and Jared both play at Illinois where Jayden has committed. Branden, who is a junior, just made the All-Big10 second team and is considered a top 25 draft prospect in the state so you can only assume that Jayden will have some scout’s eyes on him as well. They also have other productive young hitters like Daniel Pacella who had a .423 BA in about 80 at-bats in high school. If their young players can click this season don’t be surprised to see the Ground Sloths shoot up these power rankings.
Hitter to Watch: Peyton Dillingham, OF (UIS Grad Student)
Peyton Dillingham is the KCL’s most experienced player. The 6-foot-tall outfielder has played a lot of baseball in his career, including two seasons at Heartland CC, two seasons at Morehead State, and one as a grad student for the McKendree Bearcats. On top of all of that this will be his third season playing in the KCL, including a championship in its inaugural season. If there’s one thing you could expect out of Dillingham this season, aside from him bringing great leadership qualities to this young Ground Sloths squad, it’s that he is going to get on base. Throughout his 5 seasons of collegiate baseball, Dillingham has a career on-base percentage of .393 (which for the record is better than any currently qualified MLB player not named Mike Trout or Joey Votto).
Pitcher to Watch: Ryan Behling, RHP (North Central College Senior)
Ryan Behling is a 6-1, 180lb Right Handed pitcher from Itasca, Il, who just finished up his senior season at North Central College. He tossed 77.1 innings this year to a 4.66 ERA. In 2021, Behling threw 81 innings with a 1.67 ERA and pitched the first nine-inning no-hitter in program history. Behling’s 2021 performance garnered him First-Team All CCIW, D3baseball.com Third Team All-Central Region, and ABCA Third Team All-Central Region. In 2022, Behling gave up more extra-base hits and had a lower K/BB ratio than in his outstanding 2021 season. Look for Behling to regain his 2021 form and have a solid KCL season.
Opening Day Lineup
Pitcher: Garrett Swingler, RHP – IWU
- Cale Steinbaugh, SS – Heartland CC Commit
- Bryce Bishop, CF – UIS
- Peyton Dillingham, RF – UIS
- Davey Fitzpatrick, 3B – Lewis
- Gavin Gonzalez, LF – Lakeland CC
- Garrett Latoz, C – Kankakee CC
- Jon Latham, 1B – NIU
- Dom DiLello, DH – IWU
- Eli Moore, 2B – Lakeland CC
Game of the Week: Merchants at BlueCaps, Friday 5 PM
On Friday, May 27th Game 1 features a heavy-hitting matchup between the top 2 teams in the Power Rankings. The BlueCaps will take on the Merchants at 5 pm CDT. With a loaded rotation, it isn’t out of the question to think that the BlueCaps could have one of their best pitchers going on Friday. No matter who they pitch, he will have to face off against the Merchants’ big power bat, Ben Nofsinger. Plus, it is Find Bigfoot Night, where you can look for Bigfoot throughout the stadium. So, as always, it is shaping up to be a great night at the Corn Crib.
Just for Fun: Best Baseball Name Poll
As voted on by the Corn Crib’s summer interns, Auggie Rasmussen of the Bobcats has been declared the best baseball name in the KCL this year.
Stay tuned for more in next week’s weekly update following KCL Opening Weekend!