(Pictured above 2014 Rafter Zach Jackson)
Former Rafters Players On The Rise In Professional Ranks
Former hurler Zach Jackson selected in 3rd round of 2016 MLB Draft
By: Jake Serwe
Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. –September marked the conclusion of the minor league seasons for a number of former Rafters’ players. Following the MLB First Year Player Draft in June and the first former Rafter to make his Major League debut, the future looks bright for many Rafters alumni.
Ben Heller’s (2012) road to the big leagues this season began in the International League (Cleveland Indians Triple-A). On July 31st Heller was part of a trade to New York Yankees along with another former Rafter J.P. Feyereisen in exchange for Andrew Miller. Before getting the call to the Major Leagues with the Yankees on August 11th, Heller finished with a 1.69 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 48 innings. Heller has appeared in 9 Major League games to date with the Yankees punching out 5 in 6 innings of relief. Another former Rafter, J.P. Feyereisen (2013), started 2016 in The Eastern League with the Akron RubberDucks (Cleveland Indians Double-A). Feyereisen owned a 2.23 ERA along with 56 strikeouts in 40.1 innings. Following the Andrew Miller trade, he was sent to the Trenton Thunder (New York Yankees Double-A Affiliate) where he continued to shine to the tune of a 0.50 ERA in 18 innings.
Another former Rafter on the rise is Brandon Downes (2012). Coming off a good season in the South Atlantic League, Downes continued his solid hitting with 12 home runs and 36 doubles for the Wilmington Blue Rocks (Kansas City Royals Single-A Advanced). Downes earned a late season call up to the Omaha Storm Chasers (Triple-A) of the Royals. He hit .308 in 5 games played with Omaha.
Sean Godfrey (2012) spent much of his 2016 season battling the injury bug. Godfrey split time between three affiliates in the Atlanta Braves organization, the GCL Braves (Rookie) Carolina Mudcats (Single-A Adv) and the Braves’ Double-A affiliate Mississippi Braves. Godfrey hit at a .274 clip, appearing in only 31 games.
The Inland Empire 66ers (Los Angeles Angels Class A+) was the home of former Rafter Ronnie Muck (2012) during the 2016 season. Muck recorded 54 strikeouts in 59.2 innings of work. Nestor Bautista (2012) pitched only 16.2 innings striking out 7 for the Greensboro Grasshoppers (Miami Marlins Single-A) due to injury.
After finishing the 2015 season strong with the Kane County Cougars (Arizona Diamondbacks Single-A) of the Midwest League, Colin Bray (2013) began his 2016 season in Kane County. It wasn’t long before Bray was moved to the Visalia Rawhide (Single-A+). The outfielder laced 118 hits and stole 25 bases during his 2016 campaign.
Joey Wagman (2013) spent parts of the 2016 season with two different affiliates in the Oakland A’s system, but made the majority of his appearances with the Stockton Ports (Single-A Adv). Wagman appeared in 37 games and struck out 87 batters.
Greg Maisto (2013) faced an injured riddled season tossing 16.1 innings posting a 2.20 ERA with two different Tampa Bay Rays Affiliates. A teammate of Maisto was Tyler Willman (2013) who ended the season with Beloit Snappers (Oakland A’s Single-A) Tyler appeared in 20 games in 2016 holding opponents to a 1.70 batting average against him.
Rounding out the 2013 alumni is the highest Rafters draft pick ever, Donnie Dewees (2013), who was taken in the second round by the Chicago Cubs in 2015. Dewees began 2016 with the South Bend Cubs (Chicago Cubs Single-A) and was promoted to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Single-A+) on July 26th. The Midwest League All-Star had both an incredible season at the plate and on the bases. Dewees hit .284 with 25 doubles, 14 triples and drove in 73 runs. Donnie stole 31 bases while only being caught only 5 times.
Domenic Mazza (2014) had a solid season for the San Francisco Giants affiliate in the South Atlantic League finishing 8-3 with a 3.93 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 84.2 innings. Mazza’s battery mate from 2014, Campbell Wear, spent 2016 with the Boise Hawks (Colorado Rockies Single-A Short Season) playing in 26 games with a fielding percentage of .990 and threw out 12 base runners.
Hector Lujan (2014) pitched for the Minnesota Twins affiliate in the Appalachian League, finishing 3-0 with 30 strikeouts in 35.1 innings. Jason Freeman (2014) spent 2016 with the Idaho Falls Chukars (Kansas City Royals (Rookie) going 3-2 in 36 innings with 46 strikeouts. Brian Bass (2015) also pitched very well out of the bullpen for the Great Lake Loons (Los Angeles Dodgers Single-A), converting 5 of 6 save opportunities.
The 2016 MLB First Year Player Draft in June saw the most players with Rafters ties selected, including the second highest draft pick ever with pitcher Zach Jackson (2014) being taken in the third round by the Toronto Blue Jays. Jackson appeared in 13 games out of the bullpen for the Vancouver Canadians (Single-A Short Season) posting a 3.57 ERA and held opponents to a minuscule batting average of .206. Arkansas Razorback teammate Clark Eagan (2014) was drafted in the 9th round to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Eagan played for the West Virginia Black Bears (Single-A Short Season) of the New York Penn League. Clark batted .277 with 31 hits in 30 games and showed great defense, committing just 1 error in the outfield for a .982 fielding percentage.
Nick Blackburn (2014) pitcher saw action with three different Arizona Diamondbacks affiliates but ended the season with the AZL Diamondbacks (Rookie) Blackburn appeared in 8 games while only walking 5 batters.
Nolan Blackwood (2015) was promoted to Beloit Snappers (Oakland A’s Single-A) on July 20th where he pitched in 18 games out of the bullpen in total while converting 6 of 9 save opportunities.
The Tri-City Dust Devils were home for Nate Easley (2015). Easley stroked 63 hits and tallied 5 triples. Nate also showed patience at the plate with 46 walks was rewarded with 13 steals on the year. Justin Kelly (2015) went 2-1 striking out 33 in 36.1 innings for the Orem Owlz (Los Angeles Angels Rookie).
Brook Carpenter (2015), after being drafted in June, spent the season with the Ogden Raptors (Los Angeles Dodgers Rookie) of the Pioneer League. Carpenter batted .241 with 11 doubles. The slick fielding 3rd basemen committed only 6 errors at the hot corner. Seattle University teammate catcher Mike McCann (2015) appeared in 5 games for the AZL Royals (Kansas City Royals Rookie)
Vinny Santarsiero (2016) who signed as free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers on August 19th pitched 8.2 innings out of the bullpen and converted 2 of 3 saves opportunities late in the season with the Ogden Raptors (Rookie).
Blair Lakso (2016) key set up man for the Rafters during the 2016 championship season signed a free agent contract on August 28th with the Minnesota Twins and was assigned to the Gulf Coast League Twins (Rookie).
The Wisconsin Rapids Rafters are a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League. The 23-year-old summer collegiate 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, more than 160 former Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (WAS) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (CWS), Jordan Zimmermann (DET), Curtis Granderson (NYM), Lucas Duda (NYM) and Ben Zobrist (CHC). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League portal. For more information, visit www.raftersbaseball.com or download the new Northwoods League Mobile App on the Apple App Store or on Google Play and set the Rafters as your favorite team.