Chinooks in the Minors: There’s Nothing Like Winning
A look at how Lakeshore Chinook alumni performed throughout baseball in 2016!
Grafton, WI – In five short seasons, the Lakeshore Chinooks have assisted numerous major league hopefuls in their quest to reach the major leagues. An often overlooked factor in the individual progress of a player is the opportunity to compete with a winning club. While many experienced the excitement of playoff baseball in the Northwoods League, as the Chinooks qualified for the playoffs in three of their first five seasons and won the league title in 2014, four Lakeshore alums experienced the thrill of winning minor league championships in 2016.
Mike Papi (LAK 13) was promoted to the AA Akron Rubber Ducks on June 1 and found himself in a playoff chase for the Eastern League Championship. Adding power with 8 home runs and 40 RBI, Papi settled in as an outfielder for the Ducks and used his patient approach to post a .340 on-base rate and a .738 OPS. Akron’s sweep of the Trenton Thunder for the EL title has inspired Papi’s confidence in the Cleveland Indians saying, "Not only was it great to be on a championship team but to be a part of such a special organization this year. Our top three affiliates all made playoffs and most importantly our big league squad reached the World Series.” But it also inspired him as a player saying, “It was great to watch but even more so to be a part of and play in that type of atmosphere. It is always fun to win a championship and I was extremely fortunate to be able to share the experience with such a great group of guys."
TCU’s Jerrick Suiter (LAK 13) experienced team success with the Horned Frogs, but his ride to the Florida State League (Adv. A) with the Bradenton Marauders proved to the 26th round pick of the Pirates what can happen when group of players commits collectively to a call. The Marauders’ championship came one year after a core group, which included Suiter, lost in the finals of the South Atlantic League Championship (A) in 2015. The physical first baseman contributed six hits and three runs as the Marauders beat the Tampa Yankees three games to one. Suiter commented, “It’s awesome to see what happened when we all worked hard in the offseason and shared the common goal to win a title. We all moved up together and even though two of our guys were traded (to the Yankees) just a week or two ahead of the playoffs, we pushed each other. Popping the corks and taking a celebration ride in some golf carts around the field was magical.”
Luke Raley (LAK 15) and Karch Kowalczyk (LAK 13) each contributed to the Midwest League title won by the Great Lakes Loons in 2016. In his first year in the Dodger’s system, Raley burned through rookie ball quickly and spent most of the season with the Class A Loons. The 7th Round selection hit .245 with 11 doubles, four triples, two home runs and 17 RBI's as Great Lakes qualified for the playoffs on the second to last day of the season, but was sidelined by injury just prior to the playoffs and experienced the title from the dugout. The 2016 Chinook MVP took in the entire experience saying, “For my career I'd say it gives me an edge – knowing the feeling of winning a championship and what it takes to do so.”
Kowalczyk took a much different path to the title. The former 37th round pick of the Dodgers got off to a hot start as the closer for the Adv. A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes with six saves in the first months of 2016 only to be sidelined by injury for most of the summer. On a late season assignment to Great Lakes, Kowalczyk picked up the decisive win in the championship series, a 9-8 thriller over Clinton in which he pitched a scoreless sixth inning to steady the Loons. Champagne showers never get old! I've won championships in both of my full seasons, so you can't really beat making a statement and going out on top. It was brief stay for me in Michigan after a frustrating year dealing with a nagging lat injury, but winning the title definitely helped put a positive spin on it as a whole,” commented Kowalczyk.
Each of these players will now head into the all-important off-season armed with the confidence that winning a title can provide!
To follow the progress of any of the Lakeshore alums who are playing professional baseball, click on the Alumni tab under the Team section at the top of this page. Click on a specific player’s name to open a link to view their MiLB bio page.
The Lakeshore Chinooks are a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League. The 23-year-old summer collegiate league is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 20 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 160 former Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including two-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (WAS), two-time World Series Champion Ben Zobrist (CHC) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (BOS), Jordan Zimmermann (DET), Curtis Granderson (NYM) and Lucas Duda (NYM). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League portal. For more information, visit www.lakeshorechinooks.com or download the new Northwoods League Mobile App on the Apple App Store or on Google Play and set the Chinooks as your favorite team.