2019 was a year of great success for the Waterloo Bucks, as they hosted the Northwoods League All-Star Game, saw four players earn All-Star recognition and returned to the postseason for the first time since 2013. Following a season in which they owned the worst record in the Northwoods League at 20-52, the Waterloo Bucks etched themselves in NWL lore by winning the inaugural 2019 Great Plains-East First Half Championship. First-year field manager Casey Harms guided the Bucks to a 34-35 record, including a 20-16 first half finish. Despite falling in the Sub-Divisional Series, Waterloo maintained status as a dominant team loaded with big-time talent throughout the summer.
Returning to the Cedar Valley for another season, slugging junior first baseman Patrick Ferguson (Kent State) earned Team MVP honors while being named to both the midseason and postseason Northwoods League All-Star teams. A Home Run Derby participant, Ferguson played in 67 games and slashed .271/.435/.440 for a team-best .875 OPS. “Ferg” cracked 14 doubles and led the Bucks with eight home runs and 42 RBI. The lefthanded bruiser set a Waterloo Bucks single-season record by drawing 65 walks. With runners in scoring position, Ferguson slashed .365/.524/.595 for a jaw-dropping 1.119 OPS and a .474 wOBA.
Fellow midseason and postseason All-Star Alonzo Rubalcaba (Santa Barbara City College) handled the primary catching duties for the Bucks, belting nine doubles and a homer while stealing eight bases along with participating in the Major League Dreams Showcase. Some of Rubalcaba’s best work came against southpaws, versus whom he slashed .321/.426/.453 for an .879 OPS. Defensively, “Zo” started 43 games behind the dish and threw out 32.4% of opposing basestealers while committing just two errors and three passed balls.
Dylan Phillips (Kansas State) joined Rubalcaba as Waterloo’s second Major League Dreams Showcase participant and earned midseason All-Star recognition during a campaign in which he started 53 games and posted a .324/.393/.471 triple-slash with a team-best 15 doubles, three triples, and three home runs while driving home 40. Bennett Hostetler (North Dakota State) gained notoriety as one of the league’s very best shortstops, hitting .287 with an .870 OPS while blasting 13 doubles, a pair of triples and three home runs. Defensively, Hostetler committed just nine errors across 45 games at short. Corner outfielder Blake Wagenseller (Cal Poly) led Waterloo down the stretch with a .281 average, seven doubles, three home runs and 28 RBI. Full-season Buck Mike Nyisztor (Rutgers) doubled 12 times and homered once while stealing 18 bases across 68 games, spending time in the outfield and at second base. Nyisztor haunted lefthanded pitching with a .313 average and an .851 OPS.
On the pitching side of things, Waterloo’s strength came in their bullpen. Anchored by “The Four Horsemen” Jimmy Smiley (Columbia), Alec Holcomb (North Dakota State), Brett Lockwood (Kansas State) and Phillips, the Bucks found great success leaning on their leverage arms. A midseason All-Star, Smiley went 4-0 with five saves and a 1.76 ERA over 23 relief appearances. Striking out 40 (20.7%) and walking just 7 (3.6%) across 46.0 frames, Smiley held batters to a .225 average and a .599 OPS. Holcomb also saved five games, firing 38.1 innings to the tune of a 1.88 ERA with 47 strikeouts. “Hulk” limited opposing batters to a .177 average and a .501 OPS to go with his gaudy 28.0% strikeout rate. “Lockdown” Lockwood went 3-0 with a pair of saves and a 2.03 ERA across 20 appearances. Striking out 21 and walking seven over 31.0 innings, Lockwood owned a .579 opponent OPS. Rounding things out, Phillips tossed 20.0 innings with a 2.85 FIP, punching out 24 and finishing 10 games.
Jack Parkinson (Rutgers) earned Bucks Pitcher of the Year honors after going 4-4 with a 3.80 ERA over 10 appearances and eight starts. Tossing 45.0 frames, Parkinson struck out 31 while holding batters to a .266 average. Luke Mattson (UC-San Diego) joined the Bucks following the All-Star break, going 3-1 with a 3.21 ERA and a 2.99 FIP across his six starts while anchoring the rotation behind Parkinson. Prior to hitting his innings limit, Zach Jones (Spaulding) went 3-2 with a 3.29 FIP over seven appearances and five starts. Jones picked up a save while striking out 29 across 32.0 frames.
Players Moving into the Bucks’ Single-Season Top 10 Lists:
- Patrick Ferguson (Kent St.) – 65 Games – Tied for 8th most with Landon Anderson (2010, Dallas Baptist) – Record is 72 by Jay Schuyler (2017, San Diego)
- Patrick Ferguson (Kent St.) – 65 Walks – Sets new single-season record
- Mike Nyisztor (Rutgers) – 69 Games – Tied for 2nd most with Zach Malis (2017, Grand Canyon) & Brendan Hueth (2018, St. Joseph’s) – Record is 72 by Jay Schuyler (2017, San Diego)
- Dylan Phillips (Kansas St.) – 3 Triples – Tied for 10th most with Alex Boxwell (2016, Minnesota), Matt Cepicky (1997, SW Missouri St.), Chris Curry (1997, SW Missouri St.), Joe Ferin (2002, Texas), Kevin Kaczmarski (2014, Evansville), Chris Lotterhos (1998, Mississippi St.), Jon McAllister (2014, Long Island), Zach McKinstry (2015, C. Michigan), Dan O’Neill (1997, Illinois), Keaton Presley (2017, C. Arkansas), Luis Rivera (1995, Florida Southern), & Chesny Young (2013, Mercer) – Record is 8 by Dan DeMent (1998, UAB)
Players Moving into the Bucks’ Career Top 10 Lists:
- Patrick Ferguson (Kent St.) – 11 Home Runs – Tied for 8th most with Clint Barmes (1999-00, Indiana St.), Ryan Gripp (1997, Creighton), Phillip Hawke (2004, Louisiana-Lafayette), & David Kerian (2013-14, Illinois) – Record is 21 by Shayne Carnes (1995-97, UAB)
- Patrick Ferguson (Kent St.) – 82 Walks – 2nd most – Record is 109 by Pat MacKenzie (2013-14, C. Michigan)