MANKATO, Minn. -The Mankato MoonDogs, a member of the Northwoods League are very excited to welcome back six full-time players who played for Mankato in 2017. In addition, two more players, Collin Floyd and Reid Browning will be available initially on temporary contracts. The full-time contract players include pitchers’ Brett Newberg and Tyler Lesley along with position players Zac Wiley, Jake Shepski, Kenton Crews, and Jake Ortega.
29 – BRETT NEWBERG, Jr., Austin Peay
An argument can be made that no player has made a bigger impact on the MoonDogs over the past two seasons than Brett Newberg. Newberg, now a junior at Austin Peay University, will join the MoonDogs for a third season to play a combination of pitcher and first base. Last summer, he made 11 starts and compiled 71.0 innings pitched. In those starts, Newberg held a 2.66 ERA and a 5-4 record. He also struck out a team high 54 batters, walked 19, and had a 1.240 WHIP. Newberg also appeared at the plate when he was not pitching and had 58 at bats with a .241 AVG. He had one home run and eight runs batted in.
So far this spring, Newberg has made five appearances out of the Governors bullpen. He is 2-0 with 2.77 ERA (3rd). At the plate, he has four at bats and one hit. The left-handed throwing Newberg made 12 bullpen appearances for the MoonDogs in 2017.
Coach Kragh -“Newberg is a great dugout guy that has been in the league long enough to know what to throw in any given situation. He is the prime example of the type of character guy we try to bring back year after year because of they have the leadership qualities and work ethic that makes everyone around them better.”
8 – TYLER LESLEY, Jr., Angelo State
Lesley returns to the MoonDogs with playoff pitching experience in 2018. Last season, Lesley was the MoonDogs’ starting pitcher in their first round playoff victory over the Eau Claire Express. In the game, Lesley pitched 7.2 innings and did not allow a run while striking out three.
His regular season was almost as impressive. Lesley made 12 appearances (11 starts) and amassed a 4-1 record, 3.35 ERA over 67.0 innings pitched. Lesley will begin his third year with the MoonDogs, joining teammates Brett Newberg and Jake Shepski as senior members of the team. Lesley made two appearances for Mankato in 2016.
Lesley pitched for Incarnate Word in 2016 but transferred to Angelo State last off-season. There he gotten off to a strong start. He has five starts and is 4-1 with 1.77 ERA (1st among starters). In 35.2 innings, he has allowed 7 earned runs and struck out 25.
Coach Kragh – “He knows how to pitch in the league and is another three-year returner, a rarity in the NWL. Tyler is a positive person and a good clubhouse guy. He likes the community of Mankato and understands what playing on a team is all about. He’s a talented player and we’re excited to have him back.”
20 – ZAC WILEY, Jr., Bellarmine
Zac Wiley’s big bat was a welcome addition to the MoonDogs’ lineup last summer. Wiley played outfield and designated hitter and appeared in 50 games over the early and middle parts of the 2017 season. He also had 11 doubles, 2 triples, and 6 home runs, which made him a good fit for the clean-up position in Ryan Kragh’s batting order. Wiley had a three-hit game against Thunder Bay on July 5th and had a .284 season batting average. His 37 runs batted in were good for second best only to Ethan Valdez (although Valdez played 13 more games).
At Bellarmine, Wiley has started six games this spring and already has 9 hits. He has 2 doubles and 1 home run for the Knights. Wiley’s first game of the spring was his best and he stacked up 3 hits, 3 runs batted in, 1 run, and 1 home run, along with a stolen base against the University of Montevallo on Feb. 16.
Coach Kragh – “We expect Zac to play a number of roles this summer, like he did last year for us. He can play D.H. and anywhere in the outfield and at the plate he has almost unlimited power. It was a no brainer to bring him back because he’s a great person off the field and his skill on the field is only going to get better over time.”
00 – JAKE SHEPSKI, Jr., Xavier
Jake Shepski will be joining the MoonDogs for a third straight season after a very productive first two summers. In 2016, Shepski broke out for 21 doubles and 11 home runs. He also batted .333 and won the Northwoods League Most Valuable Player. Last year, Shepski returned and played 49 games, including both playoff contests. He hit .242 in the regular season and had 29 runs batted in. He also garnered 2 home runs, 5 doubles, and 3 triples. Perhaps the most memorable moment of his 2017 campaign was a three run home run in the 4th inning of the Aug. 14 playoff game against the Eau Claire Express, which helped Mankato advance to play in the division finals against St. Cloud.
Shepski proved he was more than capable of pitching in relief for the MoonDogs last year as well. He held a team best 0.87 ERA in seven appearances and a 0-0 record. In 10.1 innings pitched, he struck out 9 and walked 3 while earning 1 save. Shepski spent his first two years of college at Notre Dame but announced he would be transferring to Xavier this spring, where he will have to sit out due to NCAA transfer rules.
Coach Kragh – “We know what Jake Shepski is capable of and we know he can get back to playing at a very high level if put in the right environment. He was looking for a fresh start last year and transferred to Xavier and had to sit out a year but felt very comfortable coming back to Mankato where he has found succeess. We are expecting big things from him this summer and we’ll be expecting him to play multiple positions again including pitcher.”
14 – KENTON CREWS, Soph., Evansville
Outfielder Kenton Crews played 60 regular season games for Mankato in 2016 plus 2 playoff contests. In the MoonDogs first round matchup against Eau Claire, Crews shined with 4 runs batted in and a walk. The MoonDogs eventually went on to win the game 12-0. During the regular season, he hit .242 with 13 doubles, 2 home runs, 20 walks, and 23 runs batted in. In the field, Crews played all three spots at different points in the summer. He was 9 of 10 in stolen base attempts and hit anywhere from leadoff to No. 9 in the batting order.
Crews returned to Evansville for his sophomore spring where he has gotten off to a strong start. Crews has started all ten games and is batting .277 including 3 doubles and 1 home run. On the base paths, he is 4 for 8 in stolen bases. He also has zero errors committed for the Purple Aces in the outfield so far.
Coach Kragh – “Kenton is having a really good year so far with Evansville this spring and we are excited to get him back. We’ll find a spot for him somewhere in the outfield again and he is another guy that has allot of upside for getting better because of his work ethic.”
11 – JAKE ORTEGA, Jr., California State University, Bakersfield
Four catchers found themselves in and out of the MoonDogs lineup in 2017, but Jake Ortega was perhaps the most consistent. Ortega played 47 regular season games over the summer and was in the lineup for both playoff games as well. Ortega batted .240 and amassed 12 RBI’s, 5 doubles, 1 triple, 26 walks, and 30 runs scored. Defensively, Ortega was among the league best. He had a .990 fielding percentage and threw out 11 base-runners on 31 stolen base attempts.
In his junior year with the Roadrunners, Ortega is hitting .267 (4th) in 12 games with 1 triple and 4 runs batted in. He is also 1-2 in stolen base attempts and has 9 runs scored. In the field he has made 1 error.
Coach Kragh – “Jake is great to have on the team because he can do more than just catch. He can play third, second, outfield. Offensively he stepped it up in the last stretch of the season in 2017. We try to bring back guys who know how we do things Jake is definitely one of those guys who understands the game and how we operate as a team.”
24 – COLLIN FLOYD, Jr., Youngstown State
Collin Floyd was a Northwoods League All-Star and the MoonDogs top starter in the rotation in 2017. He will return on a temporary contract to begin his 2018 campaign. The left-hander had a 4-0 record and a 2.70 ERA in 8 games (7 starts) in 46.1 innings pitched. Floyd was a force in the first half of the season and struck out 36 while walking just 15. Floyd’s best performance with Mankato was on June 8, against the Waterloo Bucks. He pitched 7.0 innings and allowed zero runs on 6 hits, walked 2, and struck out 4. Floyd returned home following the NWL All-Star game on July 18.
Floyd has 3 starts to his credit this spring so far is 0-3 with a 5.65 ERA. In 14.1 innings pitched, he has allowed 9 earned runs, struck out 17, and walked 10.
Coach Kragh – “Floyd was one of our best pitchers last year, so we knew we wanted to try and sign him for 2018 in some capacity. It would be nice to get him to a full contract down the road and there is a possibility depending on a few factors. We wanted to upgrade our temps this year, especially pitching and Collin Floyd was an obvious choice.”
Coach Kragh – “Reid is a player with a lot of upside that we think hasn’t shown his full potential yet. He’s very tall and imposing on the mound and throws strikes from a weird arm angle to keep hitters off-balance.”
The MoonDogs have made the Northwoods League playoffs seven times and last year was the first time they have ever lost in the second round. The MoonDogs lost in the NWL championship series on three occasions, all under field manager Mike Orchard (2011, 2012, 2014). Ryan Kragh has led the team to two straight playoff appearances since taking over the team in 2016. He hopes the large number of returning players in 2018 will continue to be a winning formula for a team that has been building a stronger tradition in the Mankato community since 2002. The MoonDogs are also under new ownership this season and have a number of ballpark renovations that will be ready in time for opening night.
The MoonDogs home opener is scheduled for Tuesday, May 29 at 7:00 p.m. against the Duluth Huskies. Tickets can be purchased on mankatomoondogs.com or by calling the office at 507-625-7047.
The Mankato MoonDogs are a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League. Entering its 25th anniversary season, the Northwoods 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 185 former Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including three-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 (LAD) and Lucas Duda (TBR). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League portal. For more information, visit www.mankatomoondogs.com or download the new Northwoods League Mobile App on the Apple App Store or on Google Play and set the MoonDogs as your favorite team.