LOVES PARK, Ill. – The Northwoods League is all about opportunity. Some players have the opportunity to use regular playing time in the NWL to improve their status with their college programs come fall. For some, it’s a chance to increase their value to major-league teams come their draft-eligible year. For two junior-college pitchers joining the staff of the Rockford Rivets, it’s a chance to make a transition to a four-year program.
The Rivets announced on Tuesday that they had signed lefthander Joey Cooner of Crowder Community College and righthander Harry Gard of Paradise Valley Community College and. Both are freshmen.
“Joey is going to be one of the guys we are expecting to be in our starting rotation,” Rivets manager Brian Smith said. “Joey had a tremendous amount of success with Gravel baseball (an elite travel team) last summer. He is coming to the NWL looking to pitch himself into a college scholarship.”
Cooner has been a mainstay in the rotation for NJCAA Division I Crowder, located in Neosho, Mo. He’s 7-2 with a 5.97 earned-run average in 13 appearances, 10 as a starter. The resident of Warsaw, Mo. has struck out 46 and walked 23 in 57 1/3 innings for the Roughriders.
“It is very common for freshman to have a roller coaster season,” Smith said. Joey is currently going through one this spring. He will have some time off at the end of his college season to getting physically and mentally prepared for our season. I'm excited to see him work this summer.”
Gard plays both pitcher and outfield at NJCAA Division II Paradise Valley, located in Phoenix. The native of suburban Glendale has no record and an 8.56 earned-run average in eight relief appearances spanning 13 2/3 innings. At the plate, Gard has a .302 batting average, a .397 on-base percentage, and has 10 steals in 13 attempts.
“Harry is a big athletic kid,” Smith said. “He has seen a few innings in the outfield and on the mound this spring. Harry will be used primarily out of our bullpen this summer. His ability to change speeds will help with our transition to the back end of the bullpen.”
The Rivets open their inaugural season in the Stateline at 6:35 p.m. May 31, when they host the Wisconsin Woodchucks at Rivets Stadium.
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.