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ONE STEP CLOSER: Hoppe & Steele

ONE STEP CLOSER:  Jason Hoppe

Los Angeles Angels / Burlington Bees (Class A)

Hoppe2Mequon, WI – After posting the fourth best ERA (2.05) in Chinooks’ history in 2012, Jason Hoppe’s pitching career took an unexpected turn this past summer as Hoppe was traded from the Texas Rangers (816th pick of the 27th Round of the 2014 MLB Draft) to the Los Angeles Angels. The former Minnesota State Maverick and one of the top pitchers in NCAA Division II baseball over his college career found himself playing closer to his home state of Minnesota when the trade meant he would spend most of the 2015 season in Iowa playing for the Burlington Bees. After pitching 34.1 innings with a 1-4 record and 5.50 ERA for the Spokane Indians in 2014, Hoppe had a similar season at Class A Burlington in the Midwest League. In 14 appearances, all in relief, Hoppe posted a 5.04 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 25 innings of work.

As a member of a new organization, Hoppe will aim to impress the Angels enough during spring training to be considered for promotion to the team’s Class A-Advanced team, the Inland Empire 66er’s in California. The 6’1 right-hander was open and thoughtful when he commented about his experiences in the minor leagues thus far:

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1.  The next step for me is to end up on the High-A squad by the end of this upcoming year.  To reach my goal, I'm going to have to become more consistent with control of my fast ball down in the zone and start off on the right foot.  

2.  My best moment so far has been developing those relationships with other players who go through the daily grind of baseball with me.  

A personal moment I had this past season with the Rangers was having the opportunity to throw 20 straight pitches to the 2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton when he had returned back from the Angels. There's no need to go into detail, but I mark that day in the books as Hoppe-1 and Hamilton-0.  Being given the chance to throw against one of the greatest hitters to live was a pretty unbelievable experience that I won't forget.

3.  The best promotion I've seen so far is when two fans suit up into a giant inflated bubble and go running full speed into one another sending the weaker individual flying into the air and landing safely on his bubble surrounding his body.  

4.  The toughest part of being in the minor leagues for me, is the sacrifices I make in order to chase my dream of pitching in the big leagues (Believe me, the last thing I'm looking for is sympathy here). Most people don't realize that we are away from family and loved ones for seven months. A month after we arrive home from the season, our focus must once again be turned to training in order to prepare to be successful for the upcoming season. 

Fans can follow the next step in Hoppe’s career at:

http://www.milb.com/player/index.jsp?sid=milb&player_id=641706#/career/R/pitching/2014/ALL

 

ONE STEP CLOSER:  Keaton Steele

Minnesota Twins / Cedar Rapids Kernels (Class A)

27 Keaton Steele (2)Mequon, WI – As the Lakeshore Chinooks prepare for their fifth season on Northwoods League competition, it can be difficult to keep up with the number of former Chinook players who have advanced to the professional ranks. Keaton Steele from the University of Missouri made a brief appearance during the club’s opening season of 2012. After leading the Iowa Western CC to the Junior College National Championship, Steele’s future coaches at Mizzou limited his action to just nine appearances for the Chinooks giving fans only a small glimpse at the potential in the righty from St. Joseph, MO.

Since that time, Steele was selected by the Minnesota Twins (230th overall in the 8th round of the 2014 MLB Draft) after a stellar career for the Missouri Tigers and pitched well during his 2014 rookie campaign hurling 30.2 innings in 19 games with the Elizabethton Twins rookie. This past season, Steeled earned a promotion to the club’s Class A team, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, where he logged 89.2 innings and recorded a 7-4 record with a solid 3.41 ERA. Though armed with a 90+ mph fastball, Steele certainly wasn't a big strikeout pitcher in his first full season – he totaled just 60 K's in 89 2/3 innings – but showed he's capable of setting down batters in the postseason. In his first Midwest League playoff outing, the 23-year-old righty struck out a career-high nine batters while holding Peoria to a run on two hits over eight innings for the win September 12. The 6’3 righty then struck out five and kept West Michigan to a run on four hits in seven innings on September 19. Steele will look to build off that post-season finish as he heads into spring training for 2016. With that in mind, Steele told us:

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1.  The next step for me is to go through another full season and stay healthy. I was injured at the start of the 2015 spring training and it really set me back in development. This year I really need to take care of myself better and stay healthy throughout the entire season and do my job. I'm really going to have to take all aspects of my career more seriously and really commit to the process meaning: waking up at certain times every day, extra training room work, better food for my body even when we are on the road and you only have fast food choices. I need to wake up every day with a purpose.

2.  The best minor league moment so far was playing in the league championship and all the traveling on the road, as well as getting to listen to Tori Hunter in spring training talk about his career and what it takes to get to the big leagues and stay there.

3.  Best promotion is the "chicken fling".  A promotional employee would sling a rubber chicken in the air and have a fan try to catch it in a fish net.  his is always fun because they do it right in front of our bench and it gives you a chance to interact with fans.

4.  Most difficult part of the minor leagues is just the belief you can move up and keep playing well. Some games you do really well and others you wish you could just quit. You see guys move up and down the system and want to be one of the guys moving up but sometimes it just doesn't happen, which is something as a player you cannot control. You just have to go out and play and be consistent and commit to the process and all will take care of itself.

Follow Steele’s career at: http://www.milb.com/player/index.jsp?sid=milb&player_id=623489#/career/R/pitching/2014/ALL

The Northwoods League is the proven leader in the development of elite college baseball players. The 22-year old summer collegiate league is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 18 teams, drawing significantly more fans, in a friendly ballpark experience, than any league of its kind. A valuable training ground for coaches, umpires and front office staff, more than 140 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (WAS) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (CWS), Jordan Zimmermann (DET), Curtis Granderson (NYM), Lucas Duda (NYM) and Ben Zobrist (CHC). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League website. For more information, visit www.northwoodsleague.com.