LOVES PARK, Ill. – The University of Illinois baseball program burst onto the national scene last season with a Big Ten pennant, a program-record 50 wins, and a deep run in an NCAA superregional. Two Illini freshmen will help the Rockford Rivets compete for a Northwoods League title this summer.
The Rivets announced on Wednesday that it had signed pitcher Cole Bellair and third baseman/outfielder Brenden Spillane for its NWL season.
Bellair’s 2.48 earned-run average leads the Illini. He’s 0-1 after nine appearances, four as a starter, and has a 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
“Cole was a dominating high school pitcher in Chicago and highly recruited around the country,” Rivets manager Brian Smith said. “His ability to repeat his delivery is what makes him so successful. His future is extremely bright. Cole has already proven to be a front line starter and a back end of the bullpen arm. However it shapes up, Cole is going to be a player to watch for in the NWL.”
In each of his last two years at Lockport Township High School, Bellair averaged more than a strikeout an inning.
As a senior at Wheeling High School last spring, Spillane was named by USA Today to its all-state first team. Four games into his college career, Spillane is 0-for-8.
“Brenden is an extremely toolsy player,” Smith said. “He's a big-bodied kid with can run and hit for power. Brenden will see a lot of time in the outfield and at a corner infield position this summer. His size and athleticism will allow us to be flexible with him. He has made a few mechanical adjustments at school and is slowing gaining more confidence. The (Pittsburgh) Pirates saw enough of Brenden to draft him in the 34th round last year. Once he gets used to the speed of the college game, Brenden is going to be a force to be wreckin' with.”
Rockford is a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League, which will play its 23rd season of summer collegiate baseball in 2016. The Northwoods 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 (Washington Nationals) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (Chicago White Sox), Jordan Zimmermann (Detroit Tigers), Curtis Granderson (New York Mets), Lucas Duda (Mets) and Ben Zobrist (Chicago Cubs). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League Website, NorthwoodsLeague.com.