1. Merchants (7-1, – GB); Week: 4-0, W4
Description: The Merchants have not looked back since a heartbreaking walk-off 4-3 loss to the BlueCaps on Friday, May 26, the only time this season they scored less than 4 runs. Since then, the Merchants have won six straight, sweeping two rotations through the rest of the KCL, propelling them to 7-1, and an early three-game lead over the second-place Sloths. Their 4-0 week saw them beat the BlueCaps 8-4 as the home team before winning as the away team against the other 3 KCL Teams (7-2 vs. Sloths, 12-8 vs. Bobcats, and 7-5 vs. BlueCaps). Through eight games, the Merchants are the best team on both sides of the ball. Starting with hitting, the Merchants lead the league in team average (.317), OBP (.436), OPS (.815), R (55), H (71), BB (39), BABIP (.438), and RC (35.55), but not in any of the power stats (2B, 3B, HR, OPS, OPS+, etc.), marking them as a small ball team that capitalizes on its walks and singles. Hitting trio Logan Van Heuklon (.500/.680/.562), Camden Porter (.333/.440/.524), and Chris LeCrone (.407/.500/.470) all find themselves within the top five for qualified OPS and AVG, while Van Heuklon, Porter, and Shields (.286/.333/.464) are top 5 in SLG. Their usual leadoff hitter Zach Otten also leads the league in QABs to go along with his 3 SBs. In terms of pitching, they also find their team stats at the very top, leading the league in ERA (3.42) by nearly two whole points, as well as WHIP (1.34), BAA (.237), and S% (.618). Their ace looks to be Nate Garard (1-0, 9 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 9K) as he leads the league in S% (.727) and WHIP (0.67), in addition to being fourth in both ERA (1.56) and K (9). Behind him, the Merchants have a multitude of strong options, including starter/reliever Ryan Bredeson (2-0, 1 GS, 1 SV, 7K, 2.40 ERA), Wes Hunt (2-0, 1 GS, 6 K, 2.17 ERA), and Nick Hainline, their debut player of the week, as they look to keep their strong start to the season going.
Debut of the Week: Nick Hainline, LHP (Triton JC Commit)
After Hainline’s Richwoods HS team lost to 33-5 Washington in the Washington Sectional Regional Final, Nick Hainline joined the Merchants for the second week of KCL action. He debuted in their first game of the week against the BlueCaps, entering with the Merchants down 2-1 in the third inning. When he left the game four innings later, the Merchants led the game 8-4 securing him and the Merchants a victory. With his 67 pitches, he allowed only 5 hits and 2 runs (1 earned) with 6 K, giving the Merchants the chance to come back and win the game. Now that he is with the Merchants for the rest of the season, look to see Hainline in more long-relief roles for the first-place team.
2. Ground Sloths (4-4, 3 GB); Week: 1-3, L3
Description: The Ground Sloths started the week right where they left off, with a dramatic late-game comeback against the Bobcats on Wednesday night, ending with another derby win led by Peyton Dillingham and Garrett Latoz. However, it seems all the intense games and heart-pounding finishes finally caught up with the Sloths as they limped through the rest of the weekend, going winless in their next three games and failing to put a competitive product on the field during that stretch. The team struggled mightily in the pitching department during this losing streak, giving up 7, 11, and 9 runs to the Merchants, BlueCaps, and Bobcats respectively on consecutive days. The bullpen in particular will need to improve in a big way if the Ground Sloths want to return to their winning ways, as they have had a difficult time holding leads and keeping games close to give their offense a chance to come back from early deficits.
Debut of the Week: Chase Adams, LHP/OF (Southern Miss. Commit)
Chase Adams made his KCL season debut this week for the Ground Sloths and quickly got off to a hot start, going 3 for 5 with 3 walks, 1 extra-base hit, and 2 RBI for an impressive .750 OBP and .800 SLG in his first two games at the plate. The two-way player also made his pitching debut last week, logging 2.1 scoreless innings on Thursday against the Merchants, during which he allowed 0 hits, 0 runs, and struck out 4 batters. It’s only a small sample size, but Chase Adams figures to be a difference-maker for the Sloths on both sides of the ball for the rest of this KCL season.
3. Bobcats (3-5, 4 GB); Week: 2-2, W1
Description: It’s been a tale of two weeks offensively for the Bobcats. After week one, their slash was .175/.287/.258, but week two was a different story with a slash line for the ‘Cats of .314/.387/.512. Although the hitting was much better this week, the ‘Cats only had a 2-2 record. The Bobcats lost a 3-run 6 inning lead on Wednesday and ultimately fell in a home run derby. Thursday, Will Jackson pitched another 3.0 strong innings, while the team overall survived blowing a 7-0 lead by winning the homerun derby. Friday night, the Bobcats lost to the Merchants 12-8. Finally, Sunday afternoon, the Bobcats defeated the Sloths 9-7 and avenged the homerun derby loss on Wednesday. For the Bobcats to succeed, they need to get more from the bullpen. The bullpen lost leads in all four games this week and what could have been a 4-0 week for them turned into 2-2. On the positive side, Will Jackson has looked like the best starting pitcher in the league through two weeks and the offense has looked better with the addition of Auggie Rasmussen and the hot-hitting of Jackson Blemler. The Bobcats are also still awaiting the arrival of Shai Robinson to the lineup. Look for the Bobcats to move up the standings this week with two games against the last place BlueCaps, while the second place Ground Sloths have two games against the first place Merchants.
Debut of the Week: Drew Martin (Heartland CC Freshman)
Drew Martin made his KCL debut on Sunday against the Ground Sloths, with 3.0 IP, 2H, 1ER, 1BB, and 6 strikeouts. With the Bobcats needing any pitching they can get to help Will Jackson, Martin could be another guy that helps lead the Bobcats up the standings.
4. BlueCaps (2-6, 5 GB); Week: 1-3, L1
Description: Even though their record for the week was 1-3, the BlueCaps had a decent week. They had a number of close games, one of which was lost in the home run derby. Their most notable game was their blowout of the Ground Sloths, in which they scored 11 runs and allowed no Sloths players to score. For the BlueCaps, their pitching staff was able to get it done throughout the week. McCluskey dominated the Ground Sloths in his only start of the week, however, it looked like the three-headed monster of McCluskey, Sanchez, and Buksa formed the most dominant pitching trio in the league. Plus, throw Pemberton back into that mix and it could potentially be the best pitching staff in the league. At the plate, Carpita and Maloney shined. Carpita was a home run away from a cycle on Sunday and Maloney posted an impressive .353 average in 17 at-bats. Perhaps the most interesting player was Sean Lynch, who had one hit all week, but it was a 3-run homer. However, he posted an outstanding .412 on-base percentage earning many walks.
Debut of the Week: Julius Sanchez, RHP (Illinois Commit)
Julius Sanchez made his first start of the season on Wednesday, June 1st. He went four innings and struck out 5 batters. He only allowed one run, giving him a 1.75 ERA on the season so far. Being one of the more anticipated players this season, his debut certainly did not disappoint. He hovered in the high 80s into the low 90s and didn’t give up much hard contact, which is very good for the BlueCaps. Expect Julius to throw again this upcoming week and continue to pitch well, perhaps even going deeper than 3-4 innings.
Hitter of the Week: Bobcats #11 Auggie Rasmussen, OF (Iowa West CC and ISU Commit Freshman) – 10/15, 3 2B, 2 HR, 15 RBI, 5 R, 1.954 OPS
Auggie Rasmussen put together the best offensive performance we’ve seen in the KCL so far this summer, going 10 for 15 with 5 extra-base hits, including 2 home runs, driving in 15 runs, and scoring 5 more while only striking out twice in four games last week. Rasmussen was a big reason why the Bobcats saw a huge spike in their offensive numbers from the previous week, posting an eye-popping .667 AVG and .733 OBP and logging multiple hits in every game during this stretch that saw the Cats go 2-2 with a couple of close losses. If Auggie can continue to ride the wave he is currently on offensively, he will quickly establish himself as one of the most dangerous hitters in the KCL, and with a little help from the rest of the lineup, the Bobcats can turn around their slow start and set themselves apart as true contenders this season.
Pitcher of the Week: BlueCaps #27 Griffin McCluskey, RHP (Valparaiso Freshman) – 4.0 IP, W, 1H, 0 ER, 7 K
McCluskey went 4.0 innings, giving up one hit and two walks while punching out seven en route to a victory on Friday against the Ground Sloths to stop a four-game slide. The BlueCaps pitching has had a tough start with a Week 2 ERA of 6.16 and a season team ERA of 5.25, but Griffin McCluskey has been fantastic with 8 scoreless innings and a 1.00 WHIP with 13 strikeouts on the season. McCluskey has been getting ahead of hitters, throwing strikes, and inducing soft contact. If McCluskey keeps doing these things, he will continue to succeed this year and could challenge the rest of the league for the pitcher of the year in the KCL. With the arrival of Julius Sanchez, who also had a good start this week, McCluskey now has a running mate, and the pitching should improve for the BlueCaps in the following weeks.
Co-Clutch Performance of the Week: Garrett Latoz and Peyton Dillingham Combine for Another Sloths Derby Victory – Wednesday, June 1 Game 1
Peyton Dillingham and Garrett Latoz worked together to flip the script on the Bobcats in the night cap of last week’s first KCL doubleheader on Wednesday. The duo hit a pair of two-run homers in the bottom of the 6th inning to erase a 3-run deficit and give the Ground Sloths a 1 run lead heading into the final frame. The extra run proved to be crucial as the Bobcats rallied for a run to tie the game in the top of the 7th inning and force a home run derby to decide a winner. Dillingham and Latoz would come up clutch again during the derby, as Dillingham belted one out to match the Bobcats hitter and extend the swing off for his teammate Latoz, who launched his own homer to walk it off for a 5-4 Ground Sloths win after the Bobcats went homerless in the second round.
Co-Clutch Performance of the Week: Auggie Rasmussen Hits 2 HR in HR Derby Capping 5 RBI Day – Thursday, June 2 Game 1
On Thursday, June 2nd, the Bobcats and the BlueCaps battled one out at the Corn Crib. At the end of the seventh inning, the two teams were tied 9-9. Auggie Rasmussen already had five runs batted in on the day, but it wasn’t over yet. In KCL fashion, rather than have the teams go to extra innings, both teams compete in a home run derby in which each player gets 10 swings. Whoever hits the most home runs in those swings wins the game. None other than Auggie Rasmussen himself stepped up to the plate and hit two home runs in the ten swings. Sean Lynch from the Bluecaps was able to hit one, and a few other shots to the warning track, but he couldn’t match Rasmussen’s two bombs. Auggie ended the day with 5 RBIs and a home run derby win as the Bobcats ended up winning 10-9.
Last Week’s Predicated Game of the Week: Merchants 7 Ground Sloths 2, Thursday, June 2 Game 2
A matchup between the top two teams in our power rankings was predicted to end up being either a shootout or a pitchers duel. However, it ended up being a lights out performance by Ryan Bredeson who lead them to the 7-2 win. Bredeson totalled 5 strikeouts, no walks, 5 hits, and 1 run. The most stunning part of that is his pitch count, needing only 66 pitches with a 15-22 (68.1%) first pitch strike percentage. For the Sloths starter, life wasn’t as easy. Jones went 3.2 innings, allowing 4 hits, 4 runs, 4 walks, and only striking out 2 on 71 pitches and having a 13-18 (72.2%) first pitch strike percentage. Adams came in relief and stopped the bleeding, allowing no hits, no runs, 4 strikeouts, and only two walks. Closing out the game was Lohman who had a rocky outing: 4 hits, 3 runs, no strikeouts, and 1 walk. Travis Lutz was our player of the game, totalling 3 at-bats, 1 run, 2 hits, 1 RBI, and a walk.
Actual Game of the Week: Bobcats 10 BlueCaps 9 F/8, Thursday, June 2 Game 1
The true game of the week was “The Battle for Third” that ended via an extra-innings home run derby thriller. The Bobcats got out to a hot start, jumping ahead 7-0 headed into the bottom of the 4th inning. However, the Caps didn’t surrender, bouncing back by posting a 6-run 4th after Will Jackson was pulled. The Cats responded putting up two runs of their own, and the Caps followed by doing the same thing. Going into the bottom of the 6th, Hagen stroked a double to left field, setting up the potential tying run. Minor grounded out to the second baseman, but it was just enough for Hagen to get to third. McGill came to bat and on a 2-1 count, lined a double to Rasmussen in center, thus tying the game up. Both closers did their job, and sent it to the home-run derby. The Bobcats sent up Auggie, who had two long-balls. The Bobcats sent up Lynch, who only hit 1 long ball, thus crowning Auggie the HR Derby winner, and the game’s MVP.
Will Jackson was on the bump for the Bobcats, pitching a no-hitter during his 3 IP, totalling 6 SO and 4 BB on 68 pitches. He worked himself out of a few jams, but was eventually pulled. This game was a “pitch-by-committee” for the ‘Cats, using 4 relievers, none of which went over 1.1 IP. Short came in after Jackson, and he lasted 0.1 IP and allowed 3 H, 5 R. Badorek followed and had a better outing, going 1.1 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 2 SO, 2 BB, and 1 long-ball to Sean Lynch. Barlow came in relief after that and went 1.1 IP as well, allowing 3 H, 1 R, and 1 SO. Ryne Willard came in to close it out, going 1 IP and 1 SO. Auggie Rasmussen continued his hot streak, going 2-4, 5 RBIs, one long-ball, and winning the eventual home run derby.
For the BlueCaps, Pemberton got the start on the mound. He went 3.1 IP, 6 R with 5 being earned on 6 H, 2 SO, 1 BB, and also allowing the Auggie homer. Telford came in relief and went 2.2 IP, allowing 3 H, 3 R with 2 being earned, 3 SO and 1 BB. O’Gorman closed out the game for the Caps going 1 IP and allowing 1 BB. The MVP for the BlueCaps was Liam McGill, who went 2-3 with two hits, two RBIs, a walk, and a strikeout.
Next Week’s Game of the Week: Ground Sloths at Bobcats, Sunday, June 12 5:30 PM (Sunday Night Baseball)
With the Sloths coming off a somewhat disappointing week and the Bobcats starting to heat up, it makes sense that this game is the one to look forward to. This game takes place at the end of the week, so it will be interesting to see how different players play throughout the week. For the Bobcats, it is probable that you will see Jackson Blemler and Auggie Rasmussen, both of whom are on fire. On the mound it is too early to tell, but Will Jackson could be the potential starter, making it a hard day for Sloths’ hitters. Speaking of the Sloths, they have plenty of firepower as well. Dillingham and Latoz are coming off of a great week with Adams and Gauthier having stellar weeks at the plate as well. Whatever the pitching matchups may be, expect a lot of offense on display this coming Sunday.
Just For Fun: The Corn Crib Cafe
Two weeks into the KCL season and one weekend into the Cornbelters, the Corn Crib interns have already spent a lot of time at the Corn Crib this season, and just like the fans, interns also need to eat. This week, the interns were polled on their favorite item available at the Corn Crib Cafe, the main concessions stand at the ballpark. Although it was close, Funnel Cake Fries took home the top spot, with a ballpark classic, Chicken Tenders and Fries, taking home a close second. As a slight side note, one hotly debated item at the Cafe is the Picklesicle, which is simply frozen pickle juice on a stick. Try yours today for only 50 cents!
See you next week!
- June 3
- Ground Sloths sign #23 Trey Krause (LHP) from ISU
- June 2
- Ground Sloths sign #13 JP Gauthier (UTL) from ISU
- June 1
- #34 Spencer Smith (RHP) assigned to Normal Cornbelters from the BlueCaps as a temporary player
- Ground Sloths release #11 Dom DiLello (DH)