Thursday, July 30, 2009

Suspensions from the Florence fiasco

Suspensions handed down from the Frontier League for the benches-clearing incident Wednesday night between the Wild Things and Florence Freedom:

Florence manager Toby Rumfield - 5 games
Washington hitting coach Jon Cahill - 2 games
Washington pitcher Andy Schindling - 1 game

According to WJPA Radio's Randy Gore, Schindling's suspension was not for anything directed at Florence players or coaches, it was for saying something to umpire Jim Scahly.

There was no mention of the league's five-ejection rule that requires a manager to serve an automatic three-game (or is it five-game?) suspension after his team's fifth ejection. Washington has six ejections on the season.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rockford leaving Frontier League

This is a couple of day old, but I haven't seen the stories linked anywhere on the FL site. The Rockford RiverHawks, who joined the Frontier League in 2002 (the same year as the Wild Things) have announced they will move to the independent Northern League next year. The announcement came less than two weeks after the RiverHawks hosted the Frontier League's All-Star game.

The Northern League has a larger salary cap ($105,000) than the Frontier League ($72,000).

"The Frontier League understands economically where we are coming from and where we want to go,” said Rockford general manager and vice president Josh Olerud. “Obviously, with how we’ve been growing, it’s a step back for them. But it sounds like there are new teams interested in that league as well, so it won’t hurt them too much.”

Losing Rockford solves the odd-numbered team problem for the FL. With Normal, Ill., coming into the league, it will be back at 12 teams for 2010.

Read the story here.

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Florence free-for-all

If you're not listening to the Wild Things' game at Florence tonight – and with Florence leading 9-0 in the fourth inning, nobody can blame you for not listening - there was a benches-clearing situation in the sixth inning.

After Ernie Banks hit a long home run to left centerfield to make it 9-2, Florence manager Toby Rumfield took exception to Banks' reaction to the homer and got into a confrontation with Wild Things first-base coach Jon Cahill. According to Florence radio (I'll let you tell me what Radio Randy's version was), Rumfield took two swings at Cahill as the benches emptied.

Rumfield was ejected, as was Cahill and Washington pitcher Andy Schindling.

There have been hard feelings between these teams dating back to the second game of a doubleheader in mid-June when Florence was stealing bases with a 10-run lead during its last at-bat.

Early in tonight's game, Florence's Elvis Andrus was hit by a pitch from Craig Snipp, then stared down the Washington pitcher as he walked to first base. Later, Andrus scored and collided with catcher Alan Robbins and the two had words.

The ejections of Cahill and Schindling gives the Wild Things six ejections for the year. According to Frontier League rules, when a team has five ejections the manager will be suspended for three games. At least I think it's three games. It might be five games. I don't know if the manager gets suspended for any additional games when the ejections total reaches six.

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Of Vancil, Ellis and Maloney

The Wild Things begin a three-game series tonight against Florence at Champion Window Field, where the Freedom have won eight in a row.

Among those eight home wins is a no-hitter Sunday by Preston Vancil (pictured) against the Traverse City Beach Bums. It was the 14th no-hitter in Frontier League history.

Though the only thing the Beach Bums had that remotely resembled a potential hit was John Alonso's fly ball down the right-field line in the eighth inning that landed a foot so foul, it wasn't the cleanest no-hitter you're going to find. Vancil walked seven batters and threw 149 pitches. It brought back memories of Dock Ellis' no-hitter (minus the LSD) against San Diego when he walked eight Padres and hit a batter, and A.J. Burnett's nine-walk no-no several years ago. For this blog's older readers, there was Jim Maloney's 10-inning, 10-walk no-hitter in 1965.

The 149 pitches thrown by Vancil during the no-hitter is an unheard of number in the Frontier League, especially in this age of teams being slaves to closely monitored pitch counts. Heck, it's even unheard of in the major leagues. I did a Google search Monday for 150 pitches and found an old story about how many times a player threw 150 pitches in an MLB game. In 2002, it was none. In 2001, it was one.

Where am I going with this? Well, Vancil's normal spot in the rotation will pop up Friday, the final game in the series against Washington. I'm interested to see if Florence will give Vancil an extra day of rest or keep him in his normal spot in the rotation. Pushing Vancil (2-0, 0.00), who has pitched in only two pro games after putting up rather pedestrian numbers (5-6, 3.54) this spring at Abilene Christian University, back one day might not be a bad idea. The downside of such a move is you end up having a relief pitcher make a spot start and pushing back the rest of your rotation by one day. My guess is Vancil will start Friday's game.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Blackstock's journey

The last time Washington's newest player, Josh Blackstock, was at Consol Energy Park, he left in a teammate's Cadillac, not the team bus. It wasn't a nice ride. Blackstock, playing for Chillicothe last season, was doubled over in pain and on the way to the hospital. He would arrive at Washington Hospital and eventually have his appendix removed.

"It was inflamed and I tried to get them to let me go back," Blackstock said. "But they wouldn't let me."

Instead, Blackstock had the surgery and was back on the field 10 days later.
"It was a setback," he said.

But Blackstock knows a lot about setbacks. He's had his share over his 25 years. The small scar he had from his appendectomy was nothing compared to the ugly remnants of an operation seven years earlier to repair his liver, spleen and gall bladder.

In his senior season at Rockdale County High School in Conyers, Ga., just outside Atlanta, Blackstock was involved in an automobile accident that nearly killed him. The impact of the collision lacerated his liver and spleen and damaged his gall bladder. He was bleeding internally. Blackstock was rushed to the hospital, just 30 minutes from bleeding to death.

"At the time, I was hitting the ball well and Alabama was thinking about offering me a scholarship," Blackstock said. "Then, that happened."

Blackstock was in the hospital for 11 days and three weeks later, he was back playing. But it took more time for him to get back into shape. Instead of Alabama, Blackstock attended Brewton-Parker College, located in Southeast Georgia, then jumped to the Tarrant County Thunder of the Continental Baseball League two years ago.

He joined Mark Mason's team in Chillicothe last season and led the Frontier League in walks with 69. He hit .251 in 75 games and drove in 33 runs.

This year, he bounced from team to team in the Frontier League, the final stop at Rockford two weeks ago. Mason called him when he needed to fill a roster spot.
"He can hit," Mason said. "He's very patient at the plate. His on-base percentage is over .400. He's like a left-handed Michael Parker."

Blackstock is happy for the chance to continue playing.

"Mark is a great guy," Blackstock said. "When I got released from Lake Erie, he tried to contact me. I'm excited to get this call."

- By Joe Tuscano


Friday, July 24, 2009

Six-man rotation?

The Wild Things have used six starting pitchers - Andy Schindling, Jason Neitz, Zach Groh, Brian McCullough, Aaron (A.J.) Jenkins and Craig Snipp - since the all-star break. In those starts, the six have combined for a 2.40 ERA, which is a large reason why the Wild Things are 6-1 since the break.

But can a team go with a six-man pitching rotation? Washington doesn't have a pitcher who can be considered an ace, so why not try a six-man rotation?

Manager Mark Mason says that's not a possibility, at least next month.

"If we did that, it would be almost like a seven-man rotation in August, when we're off for four consecutive Mondays," Mason said. "Not enough rest is bad, and sometimes too much enough rest is bad too."

Mason did say that he'll likely continue with the six starting pitchers for one more trip through the rotation.

"We might have to do that because of the rainout and doubleheader we had at Southern Illinois," Mason said. "If we go with a five-man rotation, we'd have to bring someone back on short rest and I don't want to do that."

So who gets dropped from the rotation late next week? The most likely candidate is Jenkins because he would give Washington a left-hander in the bullpen. Another possibility is McCullough, who pitches exclusively from the stretch position and has extensive experience as a reliever.

Here's guessing that Jenkins goes to the bullpen, but if he makes another strong start it will make the decision doubly difficult.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Frontier League gets a K-Nine unit

The expansion team that is set to join the Frontier League in 2011 and play in a new ballpark in Woodstock, Ill., will be called the McHenry County K-Nines. The nickname K-Nines was chosen over Coyotes and Mustangs. The most popular entry in the Name-The-Team Contest was Groundhogs. The Bill Murray movie "Groundhog Day" was shot in Woodstock.

It's a different name for sure, but by reading the comments on the story in the Northwest Herald, it's not a popular one with the locals. There's only one or two comments in favor of the name.

Read the story here.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Motivating ballplayers, businessmen ...

The Frontier League season is only four months long, so do you ever wonder what a FL manager does during the offseason?

Southern Illinois manager Mike Pinto probably has the most unique second job of any FL manager. Since 1990, Pinto has been a motivational speaker and president of Brand Champions International, a Chicago-based consulting firm.
According to the company's website, Pinto speaks regularly at corporate meetings, conferences and conventions through the U.S., Canada and Australia.

You can check out Pinto in action during some of his presentations by going to the company's website below and clicking on the Soundstage tab.

Brand Champions link.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Watch the Wild Things

The Wild Things begin a three-game series tonight at Southern Illinois and the Miners' website offers live video of their home games. You should be able to access the videostream at this site:

Watch the game here.

If it doesn't work, you can go to the Miners' homepage and click on the Minecast link at the bottom of the page. I watched one of the Wild Things' games at Southern Illinois last year and it was a slick (as far as webcasts go) multi-camera telecast with the audio being the Miners' radio broadcast. Mac users might need to download a plug-in to watch the game.


Friday, July 17, 2009

First move of second half

The Wild Things have made one roster move as they begin the second half of the season. Left-handed pitcher Aaron Fuhrman (1-2, 7.66) has been released and outfielder Matt Cotellese (pictured) has been signed.

Fuhrman was a pitcher the Wild Things had expected to make the starting rotation this year after he advanced to Class A in the Tigers system by age 20. However, he struggled from the beginning of camp and never found a role on the staff.

Cotellese (6-1, 200) is from Boyertown and played collegiately at West Chester University, where he was a two-time NCAA Division first team All-American. He played center field for the Golden Rams.

This spring, Cotellese was named the PSAC East Division Player of the Year for the second year in a row and led West Chester to the Division II World Series. He batted .427 with a school-record 25 doubles, 11 home runs, 71 RBI and 14 stolen bases. His numbers as a junior were almost identical, as he batted .415 with 19 doubles, 12 home runs, 58 RBI and 21 stolen bases. He played right field as a junior.

Cotellese is a right-handed batter.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

What will it take?

The Frontier League’s four-day all-star break is a time for recovery, for starting over, wiping the slate clean – except for the won-lost record – healing injuries and laying the groundwork for a push for the playoffs over the season’s final two months.

For the Wild Things, the break might have come at the wrong time. After a dreadful start to the season, the Wild Things spent much of the first half trying to extract themselves from last place in the East Division. They would show promise one week only to return to their last-place look the next. When the Wild Things finally climbed out of the basement by putting together a five-game winning streak in the first half’s final week – it would have been a six-game streak had it not been for a ninth-inning meltdown in their last game – they get four days off.

Will it kill what momentum the Wild Things had going? Did the break come at a bad time?

“I don’t think so,” manager Mark Mason said. “We’ve been running the same position players out there every night. They’ve been looking for a breather. We are taking momentum into the break and the second half. I don’t think, in the middle of the year, breaks like this can be a bad thing.”

The Wild Things can use all the rest they can get because it’s going to be a long and hard climb to make the playoffs. At 21-27, they are in fifth place in the East. Though they’ve earned the reputation of being a good second-half team, the Wild Things have never been lower than fourth place or more than one game below .500 at the break.

So what’s it going to take for the Wild Things to go from also-ran to playoff team? How many wins will they need in the second half?

The saying around the Frontier League is a playoff contender plays .500 ball on the road and wins two of every three at home. Let’s say the Wild Things follow that script and go 12-12 on the road and 16-8 at home in the second half. That gives Washington a 49-47 record. History tells us that won’t be enough. They will need several series sweeps.

In the Frontier League, the two division winners and two remaining teams with the best records qualify for the playoffs. Since the league went to a 96-game schedule in 2004, the fourth-best team has averaged 53.4 wins. It’s probably going to take at least a 33-15 record the rest of the way for Washington to jump five teams in the standings and make the postseason as a wild-card. With that in mind, it’s not a stretch to say the six-game road trip to Evansville and Southern Illinois to start the second half is very important. Washington is the second-worst road team (7-17) in the league and has won only one series away from Consol Energy Park. That trend must change starting with this road trip.

Before the Wild Things and the playoff race can be mentioned together, Washington’s pitching must improve significantly. When Aaron Ledbetter aged out of the league and three other pitchers were traded during the offseason, it left Washington without its top four starters from last year. You knew the pitching wouldn’t be as good as past Wild Things teams, but nobody expected the new staff to be next-to-last in ERA (6.00) and leading the league in walks.

Washington has only two starting pitchers – Jason Neitz and Brian McCullough – with more than one win. It’s a pitching staff without an ace and the bullpen that has more blown saves (9) than saves (8).

“We have to get wins from all our starters. If not, we have to get quality starts to give our offense a chance to come back and win,” Mason said. “That’s what we weren’t getting in the first half. Early in the season, too often we’d fall behind big early, then come back and lose by a run.

“You have to be able to win with pitching and defense on most nights. The hitting will have peaks and valleys, but pitching and defense has to be a constant.”

Hitting has not been the Wild Things’ problem, even with outfielders Chris Sidick and Matt Sutton batting .187 and .238 respectively. Playing in a pitcher’s ballpark, Washington is second in the league in home runs (69). Ernie Banks, Jacob Dempsey and Grant Psomas give Washington a formidable middle of the lineup, left fielder Phil Laurent was an outstanding early season pickup and second baseman Michael Parker has been among the league leaders in on-base percentage. If the latter five continue to produce, you have to think Washington has enough offense to make a run at the playoffs. After all, Sidick and Sutton can’t possibly struggle as much at the plate in the second half, right?

Second-half turnarounds are nothing unusual in the Frontier League. In 2005, the Wild Things went from second place at the break to division winner – by 10 games – after winning 13 in a row. Last year, Windy City struggled in the first half, fired its manager at midseason and went on to win the championship.

“One thing I’ve learned about this league is the team that gets hot last wins,” Sidick said early this season.

In other words, nobody is eliminated by the all-star break, so it’s the team that puts together an extended winning streak in August that will still be playing in mid-September.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wild Things shine at All-Star Game

The Wild Things had a big impact on the 2009 Frontier League All-Star game Wednesday night at Road Ranger Stadium in Loves Park, Ill.

Washington's Grant Psomas and Jacob Dempsey each hit a home run and Wild Things reliever Nick Peterson was the winning pitcher as the East All-Stars defeated the West, 5-2.

Florence's Ryan Basham, who was named the game's Most Valuable Player, broke a scoreless tie with a two-run homer in the top of the sixth inning. Psomas, who won the Home Run Derby on Tuesday night, then made it back-to-back homers for the East. Psomas' blast gave came on the first pitch he saw from Rockford's Tanner Watson, the winningest active pitcher in the Frontier League.

After a hit by Lake Erie's Luke Hetherington in the top of the seventh, Dempsey worked the count to 3-2 before hitting a two-run homer to give the East a 5-0 lead.

The West scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh.

Peterson pitched a perfect fifth inning, striking out two of the three batters he faced.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Psomas wins HR derby

Here is the story from the Rockford Register-Star about Washington third baseman Grant Psomas (pictured) winning the Frontier League's Home Run Derby Tuesday night in a tiebreaker against Southern Illinois first baseman Brad Miller:

Read the story here.


Useless knowledge

The following is recap of the Wild Things' record and attendance figures at the all-star break each season, along with a hitting statistic that Washington first baseman Ernie Banks (pictured) leads the league in by a large margin.

This is the first time Washington has been as low as fifth place in the standings at the break and eight games out of first place is the most they've trailed the division leader. In 2006, they were in fourth place, 7 1/2 games out of first, and still made the playoffs.

The first-half attendance slipped for the second year in a row (though only by 165 per game, which in this economy isn't bad) and is at the franchise's all-time low. A game this year against Gateway drew a paid attendance of only 1,340 – the smallest in franchise history – and there couldn't have been more than 500 people in the park.

2002 - 23-16
2003 - 26-20
2004 - 30-17
2005 - 27-18
2006 - 21-22
2007 - 28-17
2008 - 26-24
2009 - 21-27

2002 - 2,942
2003 - 3,390
2004 - 3,242
2005 - 3,048
2006 - 3,133
2007 - 3,180
2008 - 2,899
2009 - 2,734

One of the sabremetric categories is Batting Average on Balls in Play. This is a measure of the number of batted balls that safely fall in for a hit. The sabremetrics people do not include home runs when calculating this, but for our purposes we will. If you take every Frontier League hitter with at least 100 at-bats and toss out their strikeouts, no player has a higher batting average than Ernie Banks, not even Rockford's Jason James, who has a 38-game hitting streak. In other words, when Banks makes contact, he's been hitting like, well, the other Ernie Banks.

The 5 highest batting averages of balls in play:

.526 - Ernie Banks, Washington
.480 - Joseph Scaperotta, Gateway
.473 - Jason James, Rockford
.446 - Charlie Lisk, Gateway
.436 - Frank Meade, Evansville

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Rockford's Double-J goes for record

Rockford outfielder Jason James hit safely in both games of the RiverHawks' doubleheader sweep of Traverse City on Thursday night to increase his consecutive game hit streak to 35. That tied the Frontier League record held by Kevin Holt, who did it over two seasons (1996-97). I found it interesrting that Holt's streak happened while he played for two teams, Johnstown in 1996 and Richmond 1997.

James will try to break the record tonight when Rockford plays at Kalamazoo.

James hit safely in the first five games this season, then went five in a row without a hit. Since then, it's been 35 straight with a hit. Since the all-star break last year, James has hit safely in 76 of 87 games. When the RiverHawks visisted Consol Energy Park last August, James was injured and played in only one game, going 0-for-1.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Who's watching in K-zoo?

Here's the link to the story in the Kalamazoo Gazette about the Kings' attendance woes despite having the best record in the Frontier League. The Kings have a 29-14 record but are next-to-last in attendance, averaging only 1,489 fans per game at Homer Stryker Field. I've never been to Kalamazoo, so I can't give you any first-hand knowledge about why the Kings don't draw better, but everyone I've talked to about this says the ballpark is in a terrible location.

Read the story here.


Dempsey added to all-star team

Washington designated hitter Jacob Dempsey has been added to the East Division roster for the Frontier League All-Star game next week at Rockford. Dempsey was one of three players added to the team by East manager Fran Riordan of Kalamazoo.

Dempsey is batting .290 with 12 home runs and 40 RBI. He hit a two-run homer in the first inning of the Wild Things' 8-2 victory last night over Southern Illinois.

Dempsey will join teammates Grant Psomas and Nick Peterson in the all-star game.

With Southern Illinois in town for the series finale tonight, I thought it was a good idea to throw in this tidbit: Clay Zavada, who pitched last year for Southern Illinois when the Miners played at Consol Energy Park, earned his second win of the season Wednesday when he pitched a perfect inning of relief in the Arizona Diamondbacks' 6-2 victory over the San Diego Padres. Zavada, I believe, is the only player to go from the FL to the majors in less than one year.


On the Mark

During the Wild Things' game Tuesday against Southern Illinois, Wild Things manager Mark Mason made some interesting decisions that paid off with a 4-1 victory.

One of those decisions was to replace starting pitcher Andy Schindling with one out in the 8th inning, though Schindling had allowed only one run (unearned), four hits and one walk. The pitching change wasn't popular with the crowd at Consol Energy Park, but Mason explained that Schindling was bascially in his private no-man's land. he was a reliever for 4-plus years in the Baltimore Orioles' system and didn't pitch more than nine innings as a high school player. Pitching in the eighth inning was new to Schindling, and Mason wanted a pitcher with more experience in the game at that point with a tie score.

"I was debating whether to send him out or not there for the eighth inning," Mason said. "He had done a good job against their 9-1-2 hitters all night, so I let him go back out there and face the No. 9 guy (Travon Jackson). Once they turned the order over, I said that was it."

Mason didn't replace Schindling with one of his regular relief pitchers. He went with Keith Meyer, a Pittsburgh native who had signed with the Wild Things earlier in the day. It's risky, when the game is tied 1- in the 8th, to bring in a guy who you haven't seen pitch in a game.

"The guys we had in the bullpen were overworked last week," Mason explained. "Even with the day off Monday, it still wasn't enough rest. We had some guys throw more than two innings at Kalamazoo and some pitch two days in a row. I wanted to see someone new at that point. of the guys we brought in, Meyer's the most experienced."

Meyer retired five of the six batters he faced to get the win.

Mason also mentioned that he has pushed for outfielder Phil Laurent to be one of the manager's additions to the East Division all-star roster and that infielder Chris Raniere will be activated from the DL sometime this week. Raniere is eligible to be activated today but Mason said he hasn't ruled out giving Raniere another day or two to recover from a hip flexor injury.

UPDATE: There was a note on here earlier in the day about a telephone call I received. I was told that Consol Energy Park is being sold to a group in Pittsburgh. That is NOT true. That much has been confirmed to the O-R by BSI's attorney. The ballpark is not for sale. However, my guess is the tipster to the O-R was confused on what is being purchased. I wouldn't be surprised if the mentioned Pittsburgh company – which has ties to Major League Baseball - is interested in buying into the Wild Things' ownership group. Stay tuned. And no, it's not Mylan.

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Two headed to all-star game

Two Wild Things have been voted to the Frontier League's 17th annual all-star game, which will be played July 15 at Road Ranger Stadium in Loves Park, Ill., with the Rockford RiverHawks as hosts.

Corner infielder Grant Psomas was chosen as a backup infielder and closer Nick Peterson also was selected to the East Division team. Psomas entered the Wild Things' game Sunday at Kalamazoo with a .275 batting average and teams highs of 11 home runs and 37 RBI. Peterson has an 0-2 record with six saves and a 5.94 ERA. He has 29 strikeouts in 16.2 innings.

The two managers for the all-star game will add three players of their choosing to their respective teams. This will likely happen Thursday.

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Friday, July 3, 2009

Record night

The Evansville Otters set a team attendance record Thursday on Fireworks Night as the River City Rascals beat the Otters, 3-1. A crowd of 7,782 showed up at historic Bosse Field (pictured, but the photo is not from last night). This was the largest crowd for an Otters game, and with Bosse being the largest ballpark in the league, I'm assuming this was the biggest crowd to watch a Frontier League game.

Rockford also had a big gate Thursday as attendance at Road Ranger Stadium was 5,677 for the RiverHawks' 6-2 win over Gateway.

The largest crowd for a game in Wild Things history is 6,820, also at Bosse Field, July 24, 2004. The largest crowd at Consol Energy Park - and this is a record that is unlikely to be broken because was simply too many people in the ballpark that night - was 4,247 for a game against Florence Aug. 23, 2003.

Rockford also had a big gate Thursday, as the attendance at Road Ranger Stadium was 5,677 for the RiverHawks' 6-2 win over Gateway.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Had a chance to talk to Florence manager Toby Rumfield about a few topics last night, including Freedom second baseman Billy Mottram, pictured, who hit for the cycle against the Wild Things. Mottram became the first Frontier League player to hit for the cycle in a game in Washington.

Mottram is leading the league in home runs (15) and is third in RBI (37).

Rumfield spent two years as a scout for the Kansas City Royals, so I asked him what major league scouts like and dislike about Mottram.

"The knock is his defense," Rumfield said. "That's the only knock you can put on him."

Mottram has committed 11 errors, which is very high number when you consider he plays home games on an artificial turf surface at Champion Window Field. You don't get bad and unpredictable bounces on turf like you do on grass.

"But he still makes good defensive plays for us," Rumfield continued. "We feel like he's irreplaceable. He can hit for average, hit for power and he has speed. He steals bases and he runs well."

Mottram was a late-round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs in 2007 out of Dowling College in New York. He had only 21 hits in 134 at-bats (.157) in his one season in the Cubs' system and was released. Last year, he hit 10 home runs in 90 games for Florence, but his hitting has reached another level this season.

"A player is supposed to get better each season, and Billy has," Rumfield said. "His approach at the plate this year is good. He has a plan in mind each time he goes to the plate and he executes that plan. The bat hasn't been the question with him."

Rumfield said he expects interest from scouts in Mottram to pick up during the Frontier League's all-star break later this month.