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Druley: Cougars going through the grind of a long season

Published: Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013 5:31 a.m. CST
Caption
(Sean King for Shaw Media)
Cougars third baseman Jeimer Candelario fields a Cedar Rapids grounder for an out Monday at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva. The rigors of a 140-game season – the first full professional season for Cougars such as 19-year-old Candelario – undoubtedly became apparent in August.

GENEVA – The white board in the Cougars’ clubhouse lists one more English class for foreign-born players, set for the final homestand over Labor Day weekend.

Any other crash courses are not imminent, even as the winding spring and summer session that is the 2013 baseball season nears its final out.

“Everything’s been harped on a lot. A lot,” Cougars manager Mark Johnson said. “It’s a matter of them just doing it, going out there and playing. I think as a group, the younger guys have settled down a little bit. Whether they’re tired, whatever the case is, I think they’re starting to understand they’ve got to take care of business. They’re getting tired, and they’re supposed to be tired. It’s supposed to be like this.”

Although a handful of players are doing the whole “first professional season” thing over again – some because of injury, others underperformance – that’s what most Cougars and the rest of their brethren encounter in the Midwest League.

First baseman Dan Vogelbach, a second-round draft pick of the parent Cubs in 2011, fell into that category, and sported the team’s “Iron Man” label until his recent promotion to Advanced-A Daytona.

Vogelbach played in 114 of 115 games, only taking a day off when manager Mark Johnson decided he needed one two weekends ago.

Understandably flustered – Vogelbach often was the first to tune in big league games on the clubhouse TV after showing his trademark vigor on the field – he still did not let the move play with his head.

There were far more important things on his mind – in this case, the next day’s game.

“It’s a grind. Every day. You have to come to the park mentally ready, each and every day,” Vogelbach said. “You can’t take any days off. Like they tell us, the guys that are the best are the ones who focus for every single pitch. And when you don’t focus for every pitch, you give pitches away, which turn into at-bats.”

Three members of the Cubs’ 2013 draft class – infielder Giuseppe Papaccio and pitchers Tyler Skulina and Rob Zastryzny – have received a taste of the routine on the heels of full college seasons.

“I honestly can’t imagine [a full pro season]. I guess we’re going to learn pretty soon,” Papaccio said. “...And to still think we have about 25 games left. It’s just a ton of games, because at school you usually play 60 and then you play 40 in the summer leagues. But this is a ton of games.”

A ton of games, again, is what players sign up for. It’s the litmus test, and the hurdle Johnson has seen creeping up since the All-Star break.

“It’s a good thing. It’s good for them to experience it and it’s good for them to have to grind through it, and I think it’s helping a lot of guys out,” Johnson said. “They see that it’s a marathon and not a sprint.”

• Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or kdruley@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kevindruley.

IN THE COUGARS' DEN

Who’s hot Outfielder Reggie Golden entered Wednesday’s series opener at Burlington with three hits in his past eight at-bats – a .375 average – after beginning August in a 3 for 27 (.111) slump.

Who’s not The Cougars’ defense. The club committed nine errors while losing a three-game series to Cedar Rapids, leading to 10 unearned runs.

Star watch Burlington third baseman Sherman Johnson, a 14th-round draft pick of the parent Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2012, has been one of the Bees’ steadiest contributors this season. Through Tuesday, he was batting .263 with 13 stolen bases in 93 games

Noteworthy The Cougars, 48-67 overall entering Wednesday, could lose no more than nine games to avoid setting the franchise record for most single-season losses. The 1992 and 2007 clubs both lost 76 games, although the ‘07 team was in second-half playoff contention after starting 2-13. ... Cougars second baseman Giuseppe Papaccio grounded out against former Seton Hall teammate Brad Gilbert of Cedar Rapids to end Saturday’s game. The at-bat came about two months after the players were drafted by the Cubs and Twins, respectively. “That’s funny,” Cedar Rapids manager Jake Mauer said. “You sometimes run into that in pro ball, you bump into former teammates or former guys you played against in college. That’s always kind of fun.” ... The Cougars rank sixth in the 16-team Midwest League with a .263 team batting average but are 15th with a 4.53 team ERA.

– Kevin Druley, kdruley@shawmedia.com

LEADERS IN THE KANE COUNTY COUGARS’ CLUBHOUSE (THROUGH TUESDAY)

BATTING AVERAGE Albert Almora, .329 Gioskar Amaya, .269 Jeimer Candelario, .258HOME RUNS Rock Shoulders, 17 Willson Contreras, 10 Jeimer Candelario, 8RBIS Rock Shoulders, 62 Jeimer Candelario, 47 Oliver Zapata, 42STOLEN BASES Marco Hernandez, 17 Gioskar Amaya, 13 Oliver Zapata, 12ERA Sheldon McDonald, 1.29 Stephen Perakslis, 3.00 Nathan Dorris, 3.23WINS Nathan Dorris, 6 Tayler Scott, 5 J. Amlung/ F. Pena, 4

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