By: Brandon Vickery
2015 Recap: The Vikings missed the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, finishing the regular season 12-29, in sixth place in the Midwest Collegiate League. Southland hopes to restore its tradition of success after winning back-to-back league titles in 2013 and 2014.
Returning Players: Michael Shereyk (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville) is back for another season on the Southland pitching staff. SIU Carbondale pitcher Alex Lesiak returns to the Vikings after notching Midwest Collegiate League All-Star recognition in 2014.
Key Storylines: Former Major League Baseball player John Ely takes over as the manager of the Southland Vikings this season, replacing Tony Sanchez. Ely, who was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the third round of the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft, made 39 appearances (29 starts) over three big league seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers before Tommy John surgery cut his playing career short.
The Quote: “We’re not going to give in in any situation. At the end of the day, winning is what we want to do. We’ve got some big arms. We’ve got some guys that are going to have some presence in the box. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do. I have a feeling that we’re going to be able to make a little bit of noise.” –Vikings manager John Ely
Northwest Indiana Oilmen
2015 Recap: The Oilmen caught fire over the final week of the regular season, rapping off five straight victories to overtake the Lexington Snipes for second place in the standings. However, the Snipes got the better of the Oilmen in the postseason, winning a decisive Game 3 of the first-round playoffs series on Aug. 3 at Oil City Stadium.
Returning Players: The Oilmen welcome back six players from the 2015 roster, the most returning players in team history. Richard Yelnick (1.72 ERA), Hunter Clark (1.03 ERA) and Christian Howell (1.87 ERA) are all back on the pitching staff. Last year’s starting shortstop Sam Geraci is back on the team, but will be used as a pitcher this season. The Oilmen also bring back their top two offensive players, MCL All-Stars Stefano Belmonte (.341 AVG, 30 RBIs) and MCL MVP Tyler Sroczynski (team-record .397 average, 31 RBIs).
Other Familiar Faces: Chase Fieldhouse joins the Oilmen after spending the 2014 season as a member of the league-champion Southland Vikings. He was teammates with Stefano Belmonte on that Southland team. Fieldhouse batted .384 with three home runs and 18 RBIs in 27 games that summer. He earned all-GLVC second-team honors at St. Joseph’s College in 2015, hitting .339. Bo Fletcher also comes back for a second MCL stint after eight games with the Chicago Zephyrs in 2013.
Key Storylines: The Oilmen have reached the postseason four straight years, but haven’t advanced beyond the first round since 2013. They begin 2016 in search of their first league title since 2012, the team’s inaugural season.
The Quote: “You’re always excited to see everybody because you’ve not gotten a chance to see anybody play throughout the spring. (Having players like Belmonte and Sroczynski back) is a weight lifted off your shoulders. Every year we find somebody who steps up and ends up being a force in our lineup. It makes you sleep easily to have a guy like Tyler leading off and a guy like Stefano in the middle of the lineup every day.” –Oilmen manager Adam Enright.
History: The Bloomington Bobcats have been added as the newest member of the Midwest Collegiate League. The Bobcats are set to resume a rich history of collegiate baseball in Bloomington that has been on hiatus since 2002. The Bobcats were originally run by legendary Illinois Wesleyan University baseball coach Jack Horenberger. Ben Alsene, who ran the team from 1982-2002, gave general manager Mike Brown his stamp of approval to bring the Bobcats back.
Familiar Faces: The Bobcats have several players who played in the league a year ago as members of the Lexington Snipes, including Parkland right-handed pitcher Kody Silverthorn and Illinois Wesleyan infielder / pitcher Tim Smyk.
Key Storylines: Bobcats manager Joe Kelch will jump right into his coaching career after finishing his senior season as a player at Illinois State. He’ll be joined in the dugout by pitching coach Clint Stroud, who pitched in the MCL with the Snipes. The Bobcats have eight players from Illinois Wesleyan. Catcher Pat Mollo (Illinois Wesleyan) was named a Division-I Preseason All-American. Tim Smyk led Illinois Wesleyan in hitting this season at .394 in 29 games. Grant Anderson was among McKendree’s top hitters this season, compiling a .326 average in 41 games.
The Quote: “It’s been fantastic. People are excited; we’ve had a lot of alumni responses. It’s been a lot of fun.” –Bobcats general manager Mike Brown on the returning of the team
Michigan City Lakers
2015 Recap: The Lakers came on strong late in the year and pushed for a playoff spot in their first season in the Midwest Collegiate League. They narrowly missed a postseason berth, finishing fifth in the MCL at 13-25. The Lakers made an appearance in the NABF World Series
Returning Players: The bulk of the Lakers roster returns from last season. They have also added Purdue North Central sophomore Jacob Lane, who played for the Southland Vikings a year ago.
Key Storylines: PNC ace Dan Snyder is back healthy after missing last summer with Tommy John surgery. Eastern Michigan’s Joe Kennedy is back after an outstanding season with the Lakers in 2015. Kennedy was named the MCL All-Star Game MVP and finished the season with a .425 batting average and 20 RBIs.
The Quote: “The more I see Joe Maddon, the more we’re kindred spirits. I let the kids play loose and have fun, and that seems to make them play much better.” –Lakers manager Tim Jahnz
2015 Recap: The Admirals reached the postseason for the first time since 2011 – then known as the Rockford Foresters. They secured the final playoff spot by finishing the regular season with a 16-23 record. They won Game 1 of the MCL Semifinal Series against DuPage County, but couldn’t pull off the series upset as the heavily-favored Hounds roared back to win the final two games.
Returning Players: None. Manager Tom Barry said his goal each summer is to teach his players everything he can and help them improve, then encourage them to go somewhere else and get a different experience the following season.
Key Storylines: Barry intentionally signed as many two-way players as possible to give his team flexibility between the position players and the pitching staff. In addition, the majority of the players on Joliet’s roster have the ability to play multiple positions. The Admirals are expected to have a lock-down late-inning relief corps this season.
The Quote: “I expect us to be in the playoffs and right on the doorsteps of a championship again. Last year, we won Game 1 and we were up 3-1 going to the eighth inning of Game 2. We were four outs away from moving onto the championship, we just couldn’t shut the door.” – Admirals manager Tom Barry
DuPage County Hounds
2015 Recap: The DuPage County Hounds won their first Midwest Collegiate League title by capturing playoff series wins over the Joliet Admirals and Lexington Snipes. They were the league’s top team nearly from start to finish, winning the MCL regular season title with a 31-14 record, 3 ½ games ahead of the second-place Oilmen.
Returning Players: Catcher Billy Hayes (College of DuPage), infielder Dustin Krob (South Suburban, pitcher Tom Conklin (Washington and Lee), Thomas Goodyear (Rockford College) pitcher Peter Hamot (Lewis University) and pitcher Joe Palasiewicz are all back from last year’s team. Christian Bokich, who pitched for the Hounds in 2014 before appearing with the Michigan City Lakers last season, returns to DuPage County. Catcher Mike Roberson (Mesa CC) is back after missing most of last summer with an injury.
Key Storylines: The return of Conklin gives the Hounds a formidable ace, as he went 8-0 with a 1.03 ERA at Washington and Lee this spring. He earned MCL Pitcher of the Year honors in 2015 by compiling a 2.36 ERA. Conklin pitched six innings of two-run baseball in Game 1 of the 2015 MCL Finals, a 4-2 win over the Snipes. Sean Osborne, who managed the Hounds the last four seasons, has assumed the role of general manager this season. In the dugout, former assistant coach Ben Caple will take the reins for his first year as Hounds manager. Osborne was the last remaining manager from the 2012 season, leaving Caple and Adam Enright as the only active coaches who have been involved in the league since 2012. The Hounds expect to have an improved pitching staff this season after going through arm issues a year ago.
The Quote: “For all of us, it’s nice to finally get a league championship under our belts. We’re coming into this year as nothing different. We’re starting fresh. We get a whole new group of guys, and we’ve just got to get them to jell together. We’re going to try to develop an identity early.” –Hounds manager Ben Caple
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