Sunday, August 4, 2013

Northwoods League "Big League Dreams Showcase"

 All photos of inaugural Big League Dreams Showcase available on Flickr.

The Northwoods League currently boasts more future major leaguers than any other summer collegiate league, and this past Monday the league took another step in cementing that claim.  An inaugural "Big League Dreams Showcase" was held in Madison to display some of the top talent in the league.  When I first heard about the event, my initial reaction was just that Madison was sore about not hosting the all-star game again this year, so hey we'll just hold our own separate game a week later.  Madison draws over 1/4th of the league's total attendance, plays in the largest capacity stadium, and 2nd largest market to Mequon, so by all rights they should be holding the All-Star game just about every year.  However, unlike a true all-star game that selects the best players of a particular season, this Showcase is composed of the top 100 prospects in the league as determined by amateur scouts.  Any Major League Baseball fan knows that an all-star game is not always the "best" players - sometimes guys like Michael Cuddyer go on a tear and deservedly make the team, sometimes the fans vote in who they want to see regardless of stats, and sometimes players considered to be among the elite, like Josh Hamilton or Ryan Braun, are hurt or underperform and do not make the team.  This Big League Dreams Showcase is just a chance for the league to promote its top talent in front of a barrage of scouts in one succinct day of baseball, and it is one more opportunity for all of these kids to get great exposure for next year's draft.  Because in the end, that's what the point of the Northwoods League is all about.  Yes entertainment and profit are big parts of it, but at its roots it is a league meant to simulate minor league conditions and to prepare these kids for the trials and competition of playing professional baseball, and ultimately give them the experience they need to help them get drafted.  The Showcase was split into a doubleheader of North-South matchups, and almost an entire section of seats behind homeplate was filled with scouts charting players and measuring pitch speeds.

The doubleheader started at 4, so I cut out of work as early as I could but still missed the first few innings of the first game.  The Northwoods League website did not post official statistics of the games on its website, but the doubleheader was split with the North and the South each winning a contest.  The Mallards actually had so many players featured in the showcase - 10 in all - that John LaPrise had to get moved to the first game.  The Mallards have had a very potent offense all the way up and down the lineup this year and have been fun to watch, and LaPrise has led the squad by hitting well over .400 for most of the season.  He tied the game at 4 in the 4th with a single and the South ended up pulling away for the 9-4 victory.  Green Bay's Nick Torres and Battle Creek's Tyler Moore paced the way for the South by gathering half of the team's 14 hits.  The 2nd game was pretty much the North vs. the Mallards, as the South's manager started nearly the entire Mallards starting 9, save a couple of Chinooks filling in the gaps.  The South fell to the North in this game, 7-6.  St. Cloud's Adam Martin launched a booming homerun in the win, and Waterloo's Adam Dian needed only a few pitches to nail down the save in the 9th.  Through nearly two months of the season, his ERA is still below a half-run. 

I'm not a professional scout, so it was hard for me to separate any one particular player from any other in terms of talent, but the passion these players have was definitely prevalent.  Every pitcher was amped up to strike guys out, every infield hit was ran out, everybody was trying to hit homeruns and stretch singles into doubles, and nearly every single player that made it to 1st base attempted to steal 2nd.  These players really wanted to show what they could do, and you have to respect that they gave it a 100% effort in an exhibition game.  All in all, I thought this was a great event for the league, but at the same time I am glad it did not have the pomp and circumstance of the All-Star game - I think it would be a mistake to detract from that at all.  This event was clearly catered to the players and scouts, as it should be, but I of course still had a great time watching about 15 innings of ball.  Two additional hours of baseball just meant that many more beer batters striking out and more delicious food, so despite a rare sparse crowd, I had no complaints.  I hope that this is the first of many years of this event held at the Duck Pond.

2013 NWL Big League Dreams Showcase rosters
first half winners - Waterloo (N), Madison (S)
pitchers of record - Bryce Bellin (GB) and JD Moore (WAT) W, Nick Bates (WIL) and Taylor Cherry (MAD) L
stadium - Warner Park, Madison WI

Brewers 46-64, -20.0 (4 @ Giants, 3 @ Mariners)
Reds 61-50, -5.5 
(2 v. Athletics, 3 v. Padres)
Twins 47-60, -15.5 (3 @ Royals, 4 @ White Sox)

Erik - 10 (+22 worked)

Peter - 30

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