Summer Collegiate | Story | 9/22/2011

Northwoods League reports

Patrick Ebert        
Photo: Northwoods League

Official League Website

League Strength: ****

Northwoods League top 75 prospects (list)

The Battle Creek Bombers got hot at the right time and claimed the Northwoods League championship i
n their fifth year of existence. They swept both the Green Bay Bullfrogs and Mankato MoonDogs to go 4-0 in the post-season after winning their final seven games of the regular season.

It was a significant reversal of fortune for the Bombers, who brought up the rear in the 16-team league in 2010 with a combined 20-50 record. But the Bombers made a calculated move to change the team’s direction when it hired veteran minor-league manager and former big-league catcher Donnie Scott to manage the club in 2011, and his wealth of experience was critical in the team’s worst-to-first run.

serving notice that they were a different, more-competitive club by winning the first-half of the South Division, the Bombers also claimed the second-half title with their late-season surge, which enabled them to secure home-field advantage in the playoffs.

The Bombers
closed out their successful 2011 season in convincing style by beating Mankato 13-0 in the deciding game of the finals, scoring six runs in the bottom of the first inning. Outfielder Daniel Rockett (Texas-San Antonio) led the onslaught by hitting his fourth home run of the playoffs.

While he left early and was not part of the Battle Creek team that claimed the championship, Arkansas’ rising sophomore righthander Nolan Sanburn received the most support from scouts and managers as the league's top prospect. He made just six appearances (two starts) for the Bombers after serving primarily as the Razorbacks closer during the spring, but was dominant with a fastball that peaked at 98 mph and a nasty 82-85 slider. He’ll be eligible for the 2012 draft as a sophomore.

Overall, most agreed that the quality of pitching was up across the league this summer, with several hurlers routinely dialing the
ir fastballs into the mid-90s.

In addition to Sanburn, Alexandria's Anthony Bazzani
(Eastern Kentucky), Brainerd's Ray Black (Pittsburgh) and Mankato's Sam Selman (Vanderbilt) all peaked at 97-98 mph. Others who routinely flirted with the mid-90s were Jonathan Crawford (Florida), Matt Milroy (Illinois) and Tom Windle (Minnesota), all of Madison; Dan Child (Oregon State) and Jordan Haseltine (San Francisco) of La Crosse; and Nick Dolsky (Des Moines Area, Iowa, CC) of Rochester. All rank among the top 17 on the accompanying list of the league’s top 75 prospects.

Led by its hard-throwing trio,
Madison's staff in particular was impressive, establishing a new league record by collectively striking out 595 batters.

While pitchers dominate
the list of the league’s top prospects, occupying eight of the top 11 spots, several hitters also made their mark in the league.

Mankato outfielder Shaun Cooper, who went undrafted in June despite hitting .332-8-43 as protection in the Utah batting order for first-round pick C.J. Cron, was named the league's player of the year. He was also saluted by PG CrossChecker as its summer league player of the year.

Cooper established single-season league records for home runs (20), extra-base hits (38), total bases (163) and slugging percentage (.674), and put on an impressive power display to win the league's Home Run Derby as part of All-Star Game festivities held at Wisconsin Rapids' Witter Field.

La Crosse catcher Andrew Knapp (California) won the batting title with a .400 average, becoming only the second player in league history to reach that pedestal (Luis Rivera, .437, 1995). Knapp, a switch-hitter, received limited playing time last spring at Cal working as an understudy to veteran Chadd Krist, but made the most of his opportunity to play every day at La Crosse. In the process, he put his name prominently on the follow list of players eligible for the 2013 draft.

The Northwoods L
eague had a solid 2011 season overall, fielding the same 16 teams it did in 2010. It also broke its own attendance record with 901,652 fans going through the turnstiles, an average of 1,692 per game. Madison once again led the way, and also broke its own summer college records of 213,467 total fans, and 6,278 per game.

With the largest number of clubs of any summer league, along with its
rigorous 70-game regular-season schedule, the Northwoods League obviously plays significantly more games overall than any other summer league, accounting for easily the best attendance nationally.

But the league doesn’t measure its success strictly on the basis of its turnstile count. It
prides itself by most closely emulating the atmosphere a player will experience playing in the minor leagues, with its extended schedule and demanding travel, and the use of both wood bats and the same baseballs used in the professional game.

league also institutes strict pitch counts, which prevented Eau Claire righthander Tony Vocca, in particular, from a chance to complete a no-hitter against Wisconsin Rapids on Aug. 11. Vocca was lifted after eight no-hit innings with 14 strikeouts also to his credit. Reliever Mike Couch was brought on in the ninth to secure the combined no-hitter, and picked up where Vocca left off by striking out the side.


Year League Established:
States Represented in League: Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ontario (Canada).
No. of Teams in League: 16 (16 in 2010).
Regular-Season Champion (best overall record): Alexandria Beetles (44-25).
Post-Season Champion: Battle Creek Bombers.
Teams, PG CrossChecker Summer 50/Final Ranking: No. 9 Battle Creek Bombers, No. 12 Alexandria Beetles, No. 23 Mankato MoonDogs, No. 38 Green Bay Bullfrogs, No. 44 La Crosse Loggers.
No. 1 Prospect, 2010 (per PG CrossChecker): Kyle Gaedele, of, Madison Mallards (Valparaiso; Padres/6th round).
First 2010 Player Selected, 2011 Draft: Madison Boer, rhp, La Crosse Loggers (Oregon; Twins/2nd round).

Player of the Year:
Shaun Cooper, of, Mankato MoonDogs.
Pitcher of the Year: Blake Schwartz, rhp, Mankato MoonDogs.

BATTING LEADERS (League games only)

Batting Average:
Andrew Knapp, c, La Crosse Loggers (.400).
Slugging Percentage: Shaun Cooper, of, Mankato MoonDogs (.674).
On-Base Average: Ben Magsig, 3b, Alexandria Beetles (.510).
Home Runs: Shaun Cooper, of, Mankato MoonDogs (20).
RBIs: Shaun Cooper, of, Mankato MoonDogs (61).
Stolen Bases: Carlos Lopez, of, St. Cloud River Bats (26).

PITCHING LEADERS (League games only)

Kevin Vangheluwe, rhp, Alexandria Beetles (8).
ERA: Blake Schwartz, rhp, Mankato MoonDogs (1.71).
Saves: Anthony Bazzani, rhp, Alexandria Beetles (16).
Strikeouts: Michael Fagan, lhp, St. Cloud River Bats (81).


Best Athlete:
Phillip Ervin, of, Green Bay Bullfrogs.
Best Hitter: Andrew Knapp, c, La Crosse Loggers.
Best Power: Shaun Cooper, of, Mankato MoonDogs.
Fastest Base Runner: Garrett Nash, of, Wisconsin Rapids Rafters.
Best Defensive Player: Ty Forney, ss, Eau Claire Express.
Best Velocity: Anthony Bazzani, rhp, Alexandria Beetles.
Best Breaking Ball: Jonathan Crawford, rhp, Madison Mallards.
Best Command: Blake Schwartz, rhp, Mankato MoonDogs.


1. NOLAN SANBURN, rhp, Battle Creek Bombers (Arkansas/SO in 2012)
SCOUTING PROFILE: Sanburn was a significant part of a promising freshman class at Arkansas last season, although he wasn't quite as heralded as teammates Ryne Stanek and Dominic Ficociello to begin his college career. Stanek came in as an unsigned third-rounder from the 2010 draft, while Ficociello would have been taken about the same spot had he been considered more signable. Ficociello slipped to the Detroit Tigers in the 23rd round—11 rounds before the same team drafted Sanburn, as an outfielder. Though Sanburn pitched and played the outfield, and also caught at an Indiana high school, the Razorbacks targeted him as a pitcher from the start. He had just as strong an impact as a freshman as Ficiociello and Stanek did, serving as the team’s primary closer, and posting eight saves and a 3.62 ERA in 24 relief appearances. He carried that success into the summer, although appeared in only six games for Battle Creek, two of which were starts. He posted a 2.33 ERA over 19 innings for the eventual NWL champions, while allowing only nine hits and striking out 24 during his abbreviated summer stay. Most impressive, he showed impressive command of his 90-94 mph fastball, which topped out at 98. His slider also projected as a plus pitch. By working as a starter, it gave Sanburn an opportunity to work on developing a promising changeup. His fastball is his best pitch, not only for its velocity but for the angles he throws it. His aggressive, bulldog-like approach on the mound makes it a true swing-and-miss pitch. With an athletic 6-foot, 190-pound frame, he employs a compact, repeatable delivery, and while he is expected to again assume the closer role for the Razorbacks as a sophomore, his repertoire should allow him to be used as a starter at some point in his career. That may be at the professional level, and sooner than later as Sanburn is draft-eligible as a sophomore and has the potential of being selected in the first-round in 2012. With a July 21, 1991 birthdate, he is eligible for next year’s draft by one day. His teammate, Stanek, on the other hand, is not eligible, even though he is just five days younger than Sanburn.

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