By IAN WILSON
It looks like it’s all starting to come together.
Major League Baseball (MLB) is in full swing, and last month marked the start of the minor-league baseball season. June welcomes college World Series play, as well as the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) Olympic qualifiers for Canada and the Americas down in Florida. In addition, the Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) is expected to open its 2021 campaign on June 18th.
Needless to say, there’s a lot of baseball taking place and we couldn’t be more thrilled to see all the action happening at diamonds across North America.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the recent success stories from Alberta-related products who are excelling at all levels in this edition of Box Score Beauties.
Andrew Kittredge showed off his abilities as a swingman for the Okotoks Dawgs in 2011 before taking on the same role in the majors with the Tampa Bay Rays. Now in his fifth MLB season, the righthander is putting together a great campaign. Through 26 innings and 19 games for the Rays, Kittredge has a 5-1 record with two saves and three holds. The Spokane, Washington native has struck out 23 batters while posting a 1.38 earned run average (ERA).
Another former Dawg made an MLB debut of a different variety recently. Alex Jensen, who was a force out of the bullpen for Okotoks during their WCBL three-peat championship seasons of 2007-2009, went into broadcasting after he hung up his glove and cleats. Jensen was called up for radio play-by-play duties for the Oakland Athletics on May 24th, when the A’s faced the Seattle Mariners. The first big-league homer he called came off the bat of Mark Canha.
A pair of WCBL alumni, Saskatchewan’s Andrew Albers and Vauxhall Academy graduate Ben Onyshko, helped shut the door on Colombian hitters during Canada’s opening game of the WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier on May 31st.
Albers went seven no-hit innings before handing the ball over to Brendan McGuigan and Onyshko, who finished off the no-no in what ended up being a 7-0 victory.
Onyshko – who pitched for the Lethbridge Bulls in 2014 – is joined on the Canadian roster by another former WCBL hurler, John Axford; recent Prairie Baseball Academy (PBA) coach Dustin Molleken; and Scott Richmond, who played for the Edmonton Cracker-Cats from 2005 to 2007.
Molleken picked up the win and Axford nabbed the save in Canada’s second game, a 6-5 triumph over Cuba. The result knocked Cuba out of Olympic contention for the first time since 1992 and allowed Canada to advance to the Super Round. Tournament updates can be found on the WBSC website.
AFFILIATED AT BATS
The start of the minor-league season in May means a smattering of players with ties to Alberta are chasing the MLB dream from the Single-A to Triple-A levels.
Backstop Jordan Procyshen, a Dawgs Academy graduate and frequent coach at catching clinics in Okotoks, has played 11 games for the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders in the Texas Rangers system. In his 35 at bats, Procyshen is batting .314, with a .429 on-base percentage (OBP), six runs, six RBI and a long ball.
The expectant father has also pitched in a couple of games, although that hasn’t gone quite as well. Through 3.1 innings, he’s given up a pair of homers and has an 8.10 ERA.
The Chattanooga Lookouts, meanwhile, have benefited from the potent bat of Alejo Lopez, another Dawgs Academy grad. The 25-year-old third baseman from Mexico is batting a robust .362, with 13 RBI, 18 runs and nine doubles in 25 games for the Double-A club, whose parent team is the Cincinnati Reds. Lopez is swinging such a hot stick that he was just called up to the Louisville Bats in Triple-A.
Sherwood Park outfielder Tanner Kirwer, who played for the Edmonton Prospects in 2015, is looking stellar for the Vancouver Canadians. In 20 games and 75 at bats for the High-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, Kirwer has four home runs, 16 runs, 10 RBI, and 13 stolen bases. He’s also batting .293 with a .448 OBP.
Vauxhall Academy alum Adam Macko has been posting nutty strikeout numbers in the Seattle Mariners organization. The southpaw has 37 Ks in four starts and 18.1 innings for the Modesto Nuts, the Low-A affiliate of the M’s. The Slovakian-born pitcher also has a 2-0 record and a 4.42 ERA this season.
Kody Funderburk, the 2017 MVP of the WCBL, looks untouchable for the High-A Cedar Rapids Kernels, a team in the Minnesota Twins system. The former Okotoks Dawgs and Edmonton Prospects two-way player has started four games and picked up a save coming out of the bullpen. In his 18.1 innings pitched, Funderburk has recorded 23 strikeouts and posted a 0.98 ERA.
Meanwhile, Edgar Barclay has appeared in seven games for the Low-A Tampa Tarpons, registering a save, a 3.38 ERA, and 20 Ks in 16 frames. Barclay suited up for the Edmonton Prospects in the summer of 2018 and was later drafted by the New York Yankees.
Dawgs Academy product Ben Thompson has also looked good at the Low-A level while pitching for the Augusta GreenJackets. The New Zealander is 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA and 19 strikeouts in seven games and 14 innings of work for the Atlanta affiliate.
College and university baseball programs watched regular-season play convert to conference tournaments and World Series bids across the United States in May. It was also a month where awards were handed out to some of the best pitchers and batters in the nation.
Riley Jepson, a star with the Lethbridge Bulls in 2019, was recently named the Co-Male Athlete of the Year at the University of Texas at Tyler. The senior led the Patriots with a .353 batting average, his second straight season of leading the team in that category. Jepson also led the squad in RBI (40), runs (43), and hits (55).
Landon Bourassa, of Lethbridge, garnered All-West Coast Conference second-team honours for his outstanding campaign with the San Francisco Dons. He went 7-4 with a 2.88 ERA. Bourassa’s win total was tied for tops in the conference and his 75 Ks were sixth best.
Former Fort McMurray Giants slugger Max Hewitt was acknowledged with an All-Big 12 honourable mention for his year with Oklahoma State University. Hewitt served as a catcher and a middle infielder while batting .275 with 44 RBI.
Shawn Grandmont helped Northwest Nazarene University capture a West Regional championship. The Nighthawks are the first Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) team to advance to the NCAA Division II World Series tournament. The Vauxhall grad, who batted .329 with nine homers, also received second-team All-West Region honours.
Starting pitcher Corey Jackson, who played for both Dawgs Academy and the Okotoks Dawgs summer collegiate club, was named the North Star Athletic Association Pitcher of the Year and he earned All-Conference first team kudos. The Calgarian went 9-3 for the Bellevue Bruins with a 2.43 ERA and 176 strikeouts in 111 innings.
Over in the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference (KJCCC), a number of Albertans got a tip of the cap. Graham Brunner, a Dawgs alumni, was selected for the first team of the All-Conference awards and to the first team of the All-Region roster, while Tyler McWillie (Dawgs), Johnny Vulcano (Vauxhall) were picked for the second team. Brayden Cust, who played in the Sherwood Park Minor Baseball Association, and Cleary Simpson, who trained at St. Joseph High School Baseball Academy in Red Deer, were given honourable mentions. Brunner played for Barton College, while the others were Colby Trojans.
Tristan Peters, the reigning WCBL playoff MVP and Canadian Rookie of the Year, added to his trophy case, too. Peters was dubbed an All-Missouri Valley Conference second-team star and he also landed on the All-Conference defensive team. He batted .355 with 14 stolen bases and 55 RBI.
Dylan Borman, meanwhile, was tabbed for the National Collegiate Athletic Writers Association All-Central Region team for his efforts with the University of Arkansas at Monticello Weevils. The former Lethbridge Bulls batsman, who hails from Camrose, hit .338, launched 16 long balls, and punched through 40 RBI.
A pair of former Vauxhall Academy pupils made good on their seasons with the Canisius Golden Griffins. Max Grant was named to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) rookie team and the second team as a utility player. The Fredericton, New Brunswick native batted .355 while playing second base, third base and catcher. Carlin Dick also made the All-MAAC rookie team after hitting .348.
Freshman Logan Grant put in a season that would’ve made Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams smile. Through 37 games with the Bismarck State Mystics, he smashed through the .400 batting average mark and finished with a .423 average. Add in eight home runs and 58 RBI and you’re looking at a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II All-Region XIII team and the 2021 Mon-Dak All-Conference squad.
While several ball players are polishing up their awards, Ayden Makarus and Louisiana State University (LSU) Eunice just keep advancing. The Dawgs Academy slugger helped the Bengals punch their ticket to the NJCAA Division II championship for the eighth time in program history. They now face Western Oklahoma in a best-of-three title series.
Wetaskiwin’s Matt Coutney, a former Edmonton Prospect, is also gearing up for action in the 2021 NCAA Division I baseball championship after his Old Dominion University team won the Conference USA (C-USA) title recently. Coutney hit .290 with nine homers and 37 RBI during the season.
Congratulations to all of the award winners and players who had outstanding seasons, as well as to the seniors who are putting the finishing touches on their college baseball careers.
If we missed acknowledging any worthy players, please hit us up in the comments or give us a holler on social media.