It might not feel like spring in Wisconsin yet, but Spring training is in full swing! This year there are 17 former Woodchucks taking part in MLB spring training!
Both Daniel Descalso and Ben Zobrist join the Chicago Cubs this year. Daniel Descalso is in his first season with the Cubs after spending the last two seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Descalso played for the Wisconsin Woodchucks in 2006. He was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2007. In 2011, he was named a finalist for the Rawlings Golden Glove Award at third base and won the World Series. Descalso continued his success with the Cardinals from 2012-2014, joining the team in four straight postseason appearances. In 2017, Descalso joined the Arizona Diamondbacks and helped lead the team to win the National League Wild Card Game vs. the Rockies with a two-run home run in the bottom of the third inning. In 2018, Descalso hit 13 homers and 22 doubles with 57 RBI. He also had a .436 slugging percentage. Descalso will help the Cubs in a variety of ways in the 2019 season. He will help split time at second base, offer depth at third base, and in the corner outfield spots.
Ben Zobrist will enter his fourth season with the Chicago Cubs. Zobrist is coming off of one of his best seasons in 2018 where he posted a career-best .305 batting average with nine home runs, 28 doubles, three triples and 58 RBI. The two-time World Series champion and 2016 World Series MVP played for the Wisconsin Woodchucks in 2003. He was drafted by the Houston Astros and later traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays where he made his MLB debut. Zobrist played for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays from 2006 to 2013 earning team MVP honors in 2009 and three trips to the MLB All-Star Game. In 2013, he joined the Kansas City Royals, and won the 2015 World Series with the team. After that season he signed a four year contract with the Chicago Cubs. He earned the 2016 World Series MVP by hitting .357 with five runs and two RBIs that included the game winning RBI in game seven..
Kevin Pillar enters spring training for his seventh season as center fielder for the Toronto Blue Jays. In 2018, Pillar hit 15 home runs with 59 RBI and 14 stolen bases. He has been nominated for three Gold Glove Awards and in 2015, Pillar was named the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year for center field. He has made two post-season appearances with the Blue Jays. Pillar played for the Woodchucks in 2010.
Paul DeJong will enter his third season with the St. Louis Cardinals. The 2017 Rookie of the Year Finalist had 19 home runs last season with 68 RBI. DeJong played for the Woodchucks in 2014 when he set the franchise record for home runs with 20. He is second all-time for the Cardinals with 25 home runs as a rookie.
Players Jerad Eickhoff and Pat Neshek, will both continue as pitchers for the Philadelphia Phillies. Jerad Eickhoff, 2010 Woodchuck, will spend his fourth spring with the Phillies. Eickhoff saw limited action on the mound in 2018 due to injury. In 2017, Eickhoff had a 4-8 record with 118 strikeouts in 128 innings pitched.
Pat Neshek, 2000 Woodchuck, will return to the Phillies for his second season. Neshek is a two-time MLB All-Star and has made five postseason appearances. In 2018, Neshek posted a 2.59 ERA in 24.1 innings pitched.
Infielder J.D. Davis, will be starting his first season with the New York Mets this year after being traded from the Houston Astros. Davis debuted with the Astros in August of 2017. With the Astros, he had five home runs and 12 RBI. Davis played for the Woodchucks in 2012.
Sam Freeman, is starting his third season as pitcher for the Atlanta Braves. He was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2008 and made his MLB debut in 2012. Freeman spent time with the Texas Rangers and Milwaukee Brewers before the Atlanta Braves picked him up in 2016. As a relief pitcher, Freeman has posted a 3.61 ERA with 226 strikeouts through 226.2 innings on the bump. Freeman was on the Woodchucks pitching staff during the 2007 season.
Beginning his first year in spring training with the San Francisco Giants is pitcher Pat Venditte. Best known for being the only active professional switch pitcher, Venditte was drafted by the Yankees in 2008. He spent time in the Yankees minor league system before signing with the Oakland A’s as a free agent in 2015. He made his MLB debut with the A’s in 2015 and has since moved around to a variety of teams in the minors. Venditte was with the Woodchucks in the 2007 season.
Mike Gerber also joins the San Francisco Giants in training camp. Gerber made his MLB debut last year with the Detroit Tigers where he played 18 games. He was drafted by the Tigers in 2014. Gerber was with the Woodchucks in 2011 and 2012.
Also pitching with the Giants, Sam Wolff joins Venditte and Gerber at spring training as a non-roster invitee. Wolff was drafted in 2013 by the Texas Rangers and played for the Woodchucks in 2010.
The Los Angeles Dodgers invited Jake Peter to training camp this year. Peter is a second baseman and has played on five minor league teams. He was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2014. Peter played for the Woodchucks during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
Drafted in 2016 to the Seattle Mariners, Eric Filia is attending spring training as a non-roster invitee for the first time. Filia had a .274 batting average with two home runs and 38 RBI with the Mariners’ AA team last season. Filia played for the ‘Chucks in 2012.
For the Oakland A’s we have pitcher, Parker Dunshee, at training camp as a non-roster invitee. Dunshee was drafted by the A’s in 2017 MLB Draft and has spent the last two seasons in their minor league system. He played for the Woodchucks in 2014.
Tyler Heineman got invited to the Arizona Diamondbacks training camp. Heineman was drafted in 2012 by the Houston Astros and has spent his time with a variety of teams in the minor leagues. He was with the Woodchucks in 2011.
Sharif Othman joins the Miami Marlins training camp this year. The catcher was drafted in 2011 by the Marlins and has spent his time in the minors. He played for the Woodchucks in 2010.
The last former Woodchuck at spring training this year is Steve Foster as a pitching coach with the Colorado Rockies. Foster will join the Colorado Rockies at spring training in his fifth season as their pitching coach, coming off another post-season appearance. Prior to working for the Rockies, Foster was the bullpen coach for the Kansas City Royals from 2010-2014 and the bullpen coach for the Florida Marlins from 2007-2009. Foster was the head coach of the Wisconsin Woodchucks in 1998 and in 2002-2003, leading the Woodchucks to win their second NWL World Series in 2003. He has the most wins of any Woodchucks manager with 103 and coached in both the 1998 and 2003 Northwoods League All-Star Games.
*Photos courtesy of the MLB*