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.
in mind, the 2,408 people that came through the turnstiles represents
13-percent of the city of Wisconsin Rapids' population (18,435).
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.
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.
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
the temperature cooled to 90 degrees by gametime, the host South
Division faithful unfortunately were not treated to a victory on this
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.
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.
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.
infielders Nate Theunissen (Central Michigan) from Madison and
Waterloo's Cameron Perkins (Purdue) provided most of the offense for
the South team.
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.
also had an RBI single in the sixth, going 2-for-2 on the day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
common theme that has continued in the league, for both pitchers and
hitters alike, is size, which was evident with each of the two
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.
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.
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.
Crosse's Brandon Tessar and Waterloo's Chase Stevens were among the
harder throwing South Division pitchers.
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.
(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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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
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
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).
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.
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.
Cooper among the North Division All-Stars were Wass, Manship and
Rapids' Kyle Peterson (Eastern Michigan), Scheffert, Rockett and
Theunissen represented the South.
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.
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.
Peterson and Cooper are products of Arizona high schools, playing for
Catalina Magnet in Tucson and Hamilton in Chandler respectively.
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.
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.
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
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.
is a quick summation of the best tools from the 2011 Northwoods
athlete: Billy Moon, OF, Green Bay (Gonzaga)
hitter: Dan Olinger, 3B, Brainerd (Minnesota)
power: Cameron Perkins, 3B, Waterloo (Purdue)
player: Jason Leblebijan, SS, Willmar (Bradley)
defender: Ty Forney, SS, Eau Claire (New Mexico State)
arm, defense: Zac Fisher, C, Eau Claire (New Mexico State)
fastball velocity: Nick Dolsky, RHP, Rochester (Nebraska)
breaking ball: Brandon Tessar, RHP, La Crosse (Oregon)
command: John Straka, RHP, Thunder Bay (North Dakota State)