LOVES PARK, Ill. – Two University of Illinois sophomores are the first player signings announced for the Rockford Rivets’ 2017 season.
The Rivets announced Wednesday that they have signed pitcher Cole Bellair and third baseman/outfielder Bren Spillane for the Northwoods League season. Bellair was a member of the All-Big Ten Conference Freshman Team last season, then spent the summer with the Rivets. Spillane, drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates coming out of high school, was also in the Rivets’ 2016 plans at one point.
Bellair, a right-hander, was the first freshman in three years to crack the starting rotation at Illinois. He went 2-3 with a 3.34 ERA in 16 games. Bellair struck out 35 and walked 13 in 59 1/3 innings. He was unscored upon in his seven relief appearances.
In the Northwoods League, Bellair was 1-3 with a 6.75 ERA in six starts.
“We are glad to have Cole back with us in 2017,” Rivets manager Brian Smith said. “Cole didn’t have the best summer last year, but his impact to the team was more than just the final box score on nights that he pitched. He brings a leadership style that is hard to describe. He is the ultimate competitor and we are excited to have him back.”
Bellair averaged better than a strikeout an inning in both his junior and senior years at Lockport High School.
After an All-State senior year in 2015 at Wheeling High School, Spillane was drafted in the 34th round by the Pirates. He turned down the Pirates to play for the Illini, and was in their opening-day lineup in February. Spillane was limited to five games, and went 0-for-9.
“We signed Bren early last winter, but the Illinois coaches shut him down due to a medical issue,” Smith said. “Those issues have all cleared up and Brenden is excited to get out to play next summer.”
The two Illini will spend the summer playing some of the best college talent in the country. In the 2016 MLB Draft, five first-round picks and one-sixth of all selections had NWL experience.
The Rivets’ season begins May 30 at Kalamazoo. The home opener is at 6:35 p.m. June 2 against the Wisconsin Woodchucks. The Rivets are offering a $50 four-game pack that includes a replica Rivets jersey, tickets to four select games and all-you-can-eat food (burgers, brats, hot dogs, grilled chicken, popcorn and fountain soda) for the following dates: Friday, June 2; Saturday, June 24; Friday, July 14; Friday, July 28. The four-pack can be purchased only by calling the Rivets at 815.240.4159 or in person at the Rivets Stadium box office. There are a limited number of jerseys available, so don’t wait to order this four-pack.
The Rockford Rivets are a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League, which will play its 24th season of summer collegiate baseball in 2017. 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, 160 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including two-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (Washington Nationals), two-time World Champion Ben Zobrist (Chicago Cubs) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (Chicago White Sox), Jordan Zimmermann (Detroit Tigers), Curtis Granderson (New York Mets) and Lucas Duda (Mets). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League Website, NorthwoodsLeague.com.