GENEVA – Cougars players instinctively remove their laundry or food scraps from the clubhouse floor, so the vermin circulating about the space have nothing to do with messiness.
“Baseball rats” fast became a buzz phrase for the club with the Midwest League’s best record entering the weekend. Manager Mark Johnson started the trend, and the Cougars soon followed.
After much of the team’s core played together at Short-A Boise last season, the Cougars insist they’d be arriving early and staying late even if things weren’t looking up.
“Just having the feel of the guys, and we know each other,” infielder David Bote said. “We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we can build each other up and improve on those strengths, as well.
“It happens over time, of course, but also you can tell that first game there’s a good vibe. We’re baseball rats. ‘What can we do better? How can I push [infielder Daniel] Lockhart? How can he push me?’ Day in and day out.”
The Cougars rank last in the 16-team Midwest League in home runs this season but also are in the same position in strikeouts.
Hitting coach Tom Beyers and the video staff have helped facilitate a persistent approach Johnson also calls “grindy.”
“They put us in position to win every game with the videos, the drills that we do, how we approach the game, how they teach us to approach the game each day,” Bote said. “And with every game, we work and we believe. That’s all you can think of. That’s all you can say, is just if we believe it, I think we can do it.”
Catching on to DH: As do the rest of his teammates in the Cougars’ catching rotation, Ben Carhart would prefer the chance to play every day, especially since he’s in his first full season behind the plate.
Because that’s not feasible in developmental ball, Carhart happily populates whatever part of the lineup he can, even the seemingly less-involved role of designated hitter.
“DH, I learned in college, you’ve just got to stay in the game,” Carhart said. “Everyone does something different. Some people run, some people work out. … Just something to keep your body flowing. It’s definitely not any different in my eyes. Some people don’t like it; I personally enjoy it. I mean, you get to hit still, so, I mean, it’s no different to me.”
Stop shivering: Cold MWL weather hasn’t shaken its novelty just yet. Until that happens – or June rolls around – pitching coach David Rosario remains firm with the Latin American-born players on his staff who aren’t accustomed to the temperature swings.
“Winning and competing is all about who’s tougher and who wants it more,” Rosario said. “And sometimes, those are details we use to teach and help them grow into better pitchers.”
Infielder Danny Canela has hit safely in his past seven starts dating to April 18, batting .370 (10 for 27) in that span.
Before Friday, shortstop Carlos Penalver was 7 for his last 38, a .184 batting average.
Defending Midwest League champion Quad Cities, which concludes a four-game series against the host Cougars today and Sunday, features six pitchers rated among Baseball America's top 30 prospects of the parent Houston Astros. Dominican right-hander Michael Feliz, an undrafted free agent, was the highest of those prospects at No. 9. He entered the series 1-1 with a 5.00 ERA in seven starts.
Right-hander Justin Amlung had compiled seven scoreless appearances in his nine games entering Friday. "Just letting the two-seamer work a little more in the zone," Amlung said. ... Pitching coach David Rosario reached Triple-A with the Cubs, New York Yankees and Montreal Expos organizations. ... Mascot Ozzie T. Cougar is set to appear at the Elmhurst Historical Museum – which recently debuted a free "Sox vs. Cubs" exhibit documenting the crosstown rivalry – from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday. Ozzie is set to visit the Learning Express in Geneva from 1 to 2 p.m. May 31.