(Pictured: Justin Jirschele)
First Rafter Reaches Triple-A Level
Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.- September 1st marked the end of the regular season throughout much of Minor League Baseball. The 2014 season was one that saw 13 former Wisconsin Rapids Rafters participate throughout multiple levels of the minor leagues.
Justin Jirschele (2010-11) became the first Rafters player to advance to the Triple-A level when he suited up for the Charlotte Knights (Chicago White Sox) of the International League. Beginning the year with the Winston-Salem Dash of the Carolina League (Class A Advanced), Jirschele excelled at the plate hitting .315 with six doubles before earning the promotion. After traversing through the Atlanta Braves’ Appalachian League (Rookie) and South Atlantic League (Class-A) teams, Sean Godfrey (2012) finished the 2014 season with the Lynchburg Hillcats in the Carolina League. Godfrey is with Lynchburg as they begin the Carolina League playoffs on September 3rd, against the Potomac Nationals.
Out east in the New York-Penn League (Class A-Short Season), the Rafters had two former pitchers finish with strong 2014 campaigns in JP Feyereisen (2012-13) and Augey Bill (2012). Feyereisen was dominant in his 17 innings pitched, compiling a 3-0 record without allowing a single run while tallying 24 strikeouts with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Cleveland Indians). Representing the Aberdeen Ironbirds (Baltimore Orioles), Bill appeared in 13 games and notched 27 strikeouts in 33 innings pitched.
The Appalachian League (Rookie) was home to former Rafters players representing two organizations. Pat Kelly (2012) spent a majority of the season as the primary second baseman for the Elizabethton Twins (Minnesota Twins). The Twins were knocked out of the Appalachian League playoffs by the Johnson City Cardinals. Greg Maisto (2013) finished with a record of 3-3 for the Princeton Rays (Tampa Bay Rays). In 44 innings pitched he struck out 33 while walking only 11.
In the Pioneer League (Rookie) Brandon Downes (2012) had a tremendous year for the Idaho Falls Chukkars (Kansas City Royals) at the plate finishing with a .309 batting average, 14 doubles, three triples, and three home-runs. Beginning the year with the Orem Owlz (Los Angeles Angels) of the Pioneer League, Ronnie Muck (2012) earned a promotion to the Burlington Bees of the Midwest League (Class A) after going 1-0 with a 1.84 ERA and striking out 23 in just 14.2 innings.
The lone former Rafters representative in the Class-A Advanced Florida State League was right-handed pitcher Beck Wheeler (2011). Pitching out of the bullpen for the St. Lucie Mets (New York Mets) Wheeler tallied nine saves to go along with 63 strikeouts in just 41.1 innings of work.
Also having a successful season in the bullpen for a pair of Cleveland Indians affiliates was Ben Heller (2013). Beginning with the Lake County Captains in the Midwest League (Class A) before moving to the Carolina Mudcats (Class-A Advanced) Heller finished the summer with a 5-1 total record and a 2.38 ERA. Opponents hit just .148 for the year against Heller. Also spending some time in the Midwest League during the 2014 season was Colin Bray (2013) with the South Bend Silver Hawks (Arizona Diamondbacks).
Nestor Bautista (2012) pitched very well for the Miami Marlins affiliate in the Florida Gulf Coast League, while Tyler Willman (2013) saw time in the equivalent Arizona League for the Oakland Athletics organization.
The Wisconsin Rapids Rafters are a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League. Playing its 21st season of summer collegiate baseball, 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 115 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (DET) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (CWS), Jordan Zimmermann (WAS), Curtis Granderson (NYM), Allen Craig (STL) and Ben Zobrist (TB). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League YouTube channel. For more information, visit www.raftersbaseball.com.