The Kane County Cougars, in conjunction with the Chicago Cubs, have announced the team's preliminary Opening Day roster. The incoming group of 26 players will be reduced to a Midwest League-mandated squad of 25 before Thursday's season opener at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark against the Quad Cities River Bandits. The Cougars' roster includes seven of the top 30 Cubs organizational prospects according to Baseball America, and several key components of last season's Short-A Boise squad that advanced to the Northwest League Championship Series last fall.
Cougars manager Mark Johnson begins his coaching career at Kane County after managing at Boise for the past two seasons. He will be accompanied by pitching coach Ron Villone and hitting coach Tom Beyers. Trainer Shane Nelson and strength and conditioning coach Mike Megrew round out the field staff.
The infield appears to be a formidable group to open the season as Dan Vogelbach, the Cubs' second round pick in 2011, is Kane County-bound. BA ranks Vogelbach as the seventh-best prospect in the Cubs farm system and the best power hitter. Vogelbach hit .322 and belted 17 home runs in 61 games between Rookie-level Mesa and Boise last season. Third baseman Jeimer Candelario (ranked 8th in the Cubs farm system by BA) was the youngest regular in the Northwest League last season and batted .281 with 6 home runs and 47 RBI for Boise as an 18-year old. Middle infielder Gioskar Amaya (ranked 21st in the Cubs farm system by BA) led the Northwest League with 12 triples last season and topped NWL second basemen with a .968 fielding percentage. Marco Hernandez (ranked 20th in the Cubs farm system by BA) split last season between Class-A Peoria and Boise, batting .286 with at Boise in 67 games.
The Cougars' pitching corps features right-hander Pierce Johnson, the 43rd overall selection in last June's draft and the sixth-best prospect in the Cubs organization by BA. Johnson pitched collegiately at Missouri State and made four starts at Boise last season. Jose Arias, another right-handed starter, posted a 3.25 ERA in 13 starts at Boise last season. Right-handed pitcher Tayler Scott, a native of South Africa, made 15 starts at Boise last season, going 5-1 with a 2.52 ERA. Lendy Castillo, a right-handed pitcher who converted from an infielder, appeared in 13 games at the big league level with the Cubs last season. Castillo (ranked 28th in the Cubs farm system by BA) was acquired by the Cubs from Philadelphia in the December 2011 Rule 5 draft.
With pitchers Michael Heesch and Nathan Dorris on the preliminary roster, the Cougars have fielded at least one Illinois-born player for each of the past five Opening Day rosters. Heesch was born in northwest suburban Crystal Lake and graduated from Prairie Ridge HS. The left-hander made 12 relief appearances at Boise last season and posted a 2.66 ERA. Dorris, another southpaw, was born in downstate Carbondale and attended Southern Illinois University. Dorris made 9 appearances out of Boise's bullpen last season, twirling a 1.93 ERA.
Short Hops: Catcher Chadd Krist is noted as the best defensive catcher in the Cubs' farm system by BA…outfielder Trey Martin, ranked 30th in the Cubs system by BA, finished last season at Boise, batted .270 in 57 games, and led Boise with nine sacrifice bunts…the Cougars' preliminary roster includes players from the United States, Canada, Dominican Republic, South Africa, Cuba, Venezuela and Taiwan…a total of 19 players arriving at Kane County spent all or a portion of last season at Short-A Boise…a total of 9 players were part of the Cubs' 2012 draft class.
The team arrives from the Cubs' spring training complex in Arizona Monday afternoon and will have two days of team workouts before opening the 2013 season at home against Quad Cities, a Houston Astros affiliate, on Thursday. Opening Night, and the first game of the Cougars' affiliation with the Chicago Cubs, kicks off at 5:30 p.m. that evening when gates open. Cougars players will sign autographs for fans on the field at 6 p.m. and first pitch is set for 6:30 p.m. The first 1,500 fans through the stadium gates will receive a Cougars Opening Day cap courtesy of Presence Mercy Medical Center, and all fans can run the bases following the game. Tickets are available by calling the Cougars at (630) 232-8811 or by ordering online at www.kccougars.com.