Summer Collegiate : : Story
Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Olinger 'Stars' in NWL All-Star Game

Patrick Ebert        

WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis. – On a lazy, mid-July day in central Wisconsin, the second largest crowd in the 83-year history of Witter Field (2,408 fans) braved the heat and humidity to be a part of the Northwoods League All-Star Game.

Keep in mind, the 2,408 people that came through the turnstiles represents 13-percent of the city of Wisconsin Rapids' population (18,435).

And it wasn't just the presence of Hall of Famer and Wisconsin sports hero Paul Molitor, who was on hand to sign autographs and throw out the first pitch, that caused so many people to come to the ballpark on such a steamy day. The Wisconsin Rapids Rafters draw well each and every game they play.

The Rafters are one of the 11 teams in a 16 team league that averages well over 1,000 fans per game (1,256), which includes all six teams located in the state of Wisconsin.

One of two Northwoods League expansion teams in 2010 (Willmar Stingers), it isn't a surprise that the Wisconsin Rapids organization has enjoyed so much early success. The Rafters are owned and operated by Vern Stenman and Steve Schmitt, the same duo responsible for the unrivaled success of the Madison Mallards, arguably the most successful summer collegiate team. Their involvement and past success were a big part of why Wisconsin Rapids was given the opportunity to host the league's all-star event in its second year of existence.

While the temperature cooled to 90 degrees by gametime, the host South Division faithful unfortunately were not treated to a victory on this night.

It didn't take long for the South to fall behind in a 6-3 loss to the North Division All-Stars. In the top of the first inning, the North scored on back-to-back 4-to-3 groundouts by Mankato's Shaun Cooper (Utah) and Brainerd's Dan Olinger (Minnesota). Brainerd centerfielder Steven Brault (Regis), who led off the game with a walk, and Mankato second baseman Nick Judkins (Creighton), who followed Brault by slapping a double down the left-field line, scored the first two runs of the game.

The top of the order for the North team continued to be productive in the third inning. Judkins and Cooper each scored a run after reaching base via a walk and a hit by pitch respectively. Chris Manship (Kansas) of Duluth drove in the third run for the North team on a fielder's choice, and a single by Alexandria's Mike LeViseur (Setton Hill) drove in the fourth.

Two more runs crossed the plate for the North to put the game away in the seventh, as Willmar teammates Eduardo Gonzalez (Alcorn State) and Sean Dwyer (Florida Gulf Coast) hit back-to-back RBI singles.

Corner infielders Nate Theunissen (Central Michigan) from Madison and Waterloo's Cameron Perkins (Purdue) provided most of the offense for the South team.

Theunisssen, a left-handed hitter, put his team on the board in the bottom of the second. He crushed a solo shot over the fence in deep left-center off of left-handed pitcher Joe Willman, who entered the game second in the league in ERA (1.27). Theunissen added an RBI groundout in the eighth, scoring Perkins, who three batters earlier, drilled a 91 mph Nick Dolsky fastball off the wall in right-center for a double.

Perkins also had an RBI single in the sixth, going 2-for-2 on the day.

Perkins' laser off of Dolsky was the most impressive hit of the game, but thanks to a 3-for-4 effort at the plate, two runs scored an one RBI (and by playing for the winning team), Dan Olinger took home the game's 'Star of Stars' MVP honors.

Olinger, a native of Great Falls, Montana, played for the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters last summer during the team's inaugural season. He hit .265 as a part-time player for the Golden Gophers this past spring as a redshirt freshman. He entered this game hitting .301 with a league-leading 15 doubles and three home runs. At 6-foot-2, 190-pounds, the left-handed hitting Olinger has a well-proportioned frame with room for added strength, showing good bat speed and power to the gaps, and will be draft-eligible as a sophomore next June.

His emergence this summer and overall profile is similar to that of Jordan Smith's, who hit .374 for Willmar as a relative unknown last summer. Smith's success led to him being selected by the Indians in the ninth round of this past year's draft.

Radar love lacking

After seeing flame-throwers such as Jordan Zimmerman and Max Scherzer in recent years, the overall sentiment between coaches and scouts alike the past few seasons is that the pitching has been down. The league's hardest thrower, Mankato's Sam Selman, didn't pitch enough prior to the all-star game to receive consideration since his Commodores played deep into the College World Series.

One common theme that has continued in the league, for both pitchers and hitters alike, is size, which was evident with each of the two starting pitchers.

Mankato's Blake Schwartz (Minnesota State) started the game for the North and picked up the win. He entered the game with one of the league's best ERAs (1.54) among those that qualified, and was crisp in his clean inning of work. There are some Jered Weaver physical qualities to the 6-foot-3, 205-pound right-hander, who worked down in the zone with an upper-80s fastball and a slurvy breaking ball to quickly retire the side.

Ben Ballantine (Michigan), the ace of the South Division leading Battle Creek Bombers, entered the game with a 1.88 ERA but picked up the loss in this game. At 6-foot-7, 225-pounds, Ballentine throws on a downward plane with a mid-to-upper-80s fastball and mid-70s curve, but struggled to throw strikes early.

Rafters pitcher Skyler Debilzen (UW-La Crosse), a Wisconsin native and obvious fan favorite, was much more crisp for the South team in the second inning. Armed with one of the sharper breaking balls in this game, Debilzen was able to retire two North Division batters via a strikeout in his inning of work.

La Crosse's Brandon Tessar and Waterloo's Chase Stevens were among the harder throwing South Division pitchers.

After serving primarily as a reliever for the Oregon Ducks this spring, Tessar has assumed a starting role this summer. Not overly intimidating at 6-foot, 195-pounds, Tessar has good upper body strength and projectability. Although the results weren't pretty, giving up two runs in his inning of work, he sat in the upper-80s and threw one of the nastier breaking pitches with a sharp 80 mph slider.

Stevens (Seminole State CC) employs a very aggressive approach that allows him to miss bats frequently, entering the game third in the league in punchouts with 51. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound righty could stand to brush up on his control, as he has also walked 24 batters this summer, but showed a live arm throwing a 89-91 fastball and a sharp 79-80 slider.

Madison's Matt Milroy (Illinois) was the most impressive of the South arms. An athletic, well-proportioned 6-foot-3, 205-pound right-hander, Milroy showed good command with a quick arm and easy delivery. He struck out the two batters he faced, both swinging, the first on a 92 mph fastball and the second with 90 mph heat. He also flashed a low-80s slider that shows promise.

The hardest thrower and most impressive overall pitching prospect on the day was Rochester's Nick Dolsky (Nebraska). With a super-tall and plenty strong 6-foot-8, 235-pound stature, it's easy to perk up before watching him even throw a pitch. He uses his size well to throw his 91-93 fastball on a downward plane, adding a slurvy 80-81 breaking ball. He stands to gain more experience next spring as a draft-eligible sophomore, pitching sparingly both this spring for the Huskers and last summer for the Honkers.

Size continued to be evident with most of the North Division pitchers. 6-foot-2 right-handers Jason Forjett (Florida Gulf Coast) and Kye Winter (Augustance), 6-foot-4 right-hander Anthony Bazzani and 6-foot-5 right-hander Matt Mazzoni (Fresno Pacific), Anthony Bazzani were among the more notable.

Forjett repeated his delivery well with a very easy upper-80s fastball and room for added strength. He pitched one of the quicker innings in the game, needing just seven pitches (6 strikes) to retire the side in the fourth. He entered the game fourth in the league in ERA (1.50) for Brainerd.

Brainerd teammate Kye Winter showed some effort in his upper-80s fastball that touched the 90 mph mark, with good arm strength and a sharp upper-70s breaking ball.

Bazzani of Alexandria and Mazzoni of Mankato are very similar athletes. Bazzani, third in the league in ERA at 1.29 serving as the Beetles' closer, threw consistently harder (90-91) than Mazzoni (85-88).

The North turned to the 6-foot-3, 200-pound John Straka (North Dakota State) to close out the game. After missing all of the 2010 season due to injury, Straka pitched sparingly for the Bisons this past spring, but has taken a starting role for Thunder Bay and is among the league leaders in innings pitched. He's not overpowering, but he showed good command of a 89-91 fastball and a slurvy 75-78 curveball.

Big bats, too

Size has been one of the league's strengths in recent years when it comes to hitters as well, producing big-bodied athletes including Kyle Gaedele, Harold Riggins, Tony Thompson, Cory Vaughn and Mike Kvasnicka.

Theunissen, Perkins, Manship, Olinger, Cooper, Gonzalez, Jeremy Boyd (Alexandria/Southern Poly), Zac Fisher (Eau Claire/New Mexico State), Josh Scheffert (Eau Claire/Nebraska) and Wade Wass (Brainerd/Meridian CC) were among the most obvious physical specimens the took the field on Monday.

And while Perkins and Theunissen in particular showed premium bat speed to match their impressive size and obvious strength, arguably the most promising hitter to take the field was Willmar's Sean Dwyer (Florida Gulf Coast).

Dwyer played for Willmar last summer as well, doing so before even stepping onto the campus of Florida Gulf Coast. With a strong, well-proportioned 6-foot-1, 190-pound frame, Perfect Game ranked Dwyer as the 14th best prospect in the Northwoods League last year. While he shows exceptional bat speed at the plate, he can get too aggressive, as shown by the three whiffs in this game and 36 in 41 games so far this summer. He is hitting .278 with four doubles and three home runs, and was drafted in the 15th round out of high school by the Padres.

Derby drama

The game's home run derby was conducted on Sunday evening, with the league's home run leader at the break, Shaun Cooper, appropriately winning the contest.

Joining Cooper among the North Division All-Stars were Wass, Manship and Boyd.

Wisconsin Rapids' Kyle Peterson (Eastern Michigan), Scheffert, Rockett and Theunissen represented the South.

Peterson, who was not selected to participate in the game itself, entered the break second in the league with nine home runs, although was hitting only .177. The stocky and strong 6-foot, 210-pound catcher put on a power display through the first two rounds of the derby with 27 home runs, leading all hitters with 37 bombs overall.

Cooper, who at .338-12-39 is flirting for the league's triple crown, hit 33 home runs overall and 12 in the final round to take the title. Peterson did make things interesting, hitting four straight home runs with only one out remaining to pull himself within two of Cooper, but was unable to get any closer.

Both Peterson and Cooper are products of Arizona high schools, playing for Catalina Magnet in Tucson and Hamilton in Chandler respectively.

Web gems, almost

Aside from a small handful of big hits, in a game that didn't have too many dramatic, game-changing plays, the top of the seventh inning saw two outstanding individual defensive efforts that unfortunately weren't meant to be.

On a ball hit up the middle off the bat of Olinger, South Division shortstop Ty Forney (Eau Claire/New Mexico State) ranged far to his left, making the pick behind the second base bag before spinning and firing to first base, showing excellent athletic and acrobatic ability. Nate Theunissen, playing first base, gloved, but dropped the less-than-perfect yet playable throw.

Wass, the next hitter, hit a soft single up the middle, and with Olinger going from first to third on the play, South Division centerfielder Daniel Rockett (Battle Creek/Texas-San Antonio) fired a seed to third baseman Cameron Perkins that he too was unable to handle. In Perkins defense, it looked as though the lights from the outfield made it difficult for him to track the throw, but these two potential highlight-reel plays led to another two-run inning for the North team.

Best tools

Due to the excessive heat, the league conducted a somewhat abbreviated workout, yet an elongated batting practice prior to the game. There was no 60-yard dash, since a pair of players were injured as part of this event two years prior when the all-star festivities were held in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Here is a quick summation of the best tools from the 2011 Northwoods All-Star Game:

Best athlete: Billy Moon, OF, Green Bay (Gonzaga)
Best hitter: Dan Olinger, 3B, Brainerd (Minnesota)
Best power: Cameron Perkins, 3B, Waterloo (Purdue)
Fastest player: Jason Leblebijan, SS, Willmar (Bradley)
Best defender: Ty Forney, SS, Eau Claire (New Mexico State)
Best arm, defense: Zac Fisher, C, Eau Claire (New Mexico State)
Best fastball velocity: Nick Dolsky, RHP, Rochester (Nebraska)
Best breaking ball: Brandon Tessar, RHP, La Crosse (Oregon)
Best command: John Straka, RHP, Thunder Bay (North Dakota State)

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