2008 Kane County Cougars Preview

Since becoming an Oakland A's affiliate in 2003, the Kane County Cougars have grown accustomed to success. In five seasons, the Cougars have posted a .540 winning percentage. After a rough first half in 2007, Kane County recovered to challenge for a playoff spot, only to fall just short. The Cougars are looking to re-establish themselves as one of the top Midwest League teams in 2007.

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Pitching
The 2008 Kane County Cougars will rely on a mix of experienced and youthful talent on the mound. Kane County's rotation will be led by Opening Day starter Craig Italiano. Italiano is a member of the Cougars for a third consecutive year, but he has less than three full months of experience pitching in the Midwest League, as he incurred season-ending injuries early in each of the last two campaigns. He is healthy at the start of this year and will take his high-90s fastball to the mound on Thursday in Wisconsin to start the season.

Hodsdon was selected out of Azusa Pacific last season.
Italiano should be joined in the rotation by Scott Deal, who threw 149 innings for the Cougars in 2007, and a trio of 2007 draft picks – Travis Banwart, Brad Hertzler and Scott Hodsdon. Banwart made his professional debut with Kane County last season and had a 2.60 ERA in 45 innings for the Cougars. Hertzler and Hodsdon both pitched for short-season Vancouver in 2007. Hertzler made headlines when he threw a five-inning, rain-shortened perfect game for the Canadians, while Hodsdson was Vancouver's top starter, posting a 7-1 record and a 4.57 ERA with 67 strike-outs in 67 innings.

In addition, minor league Rule 5 pick-up Scott Mitchinson and former Atlana Braves farmhand Jamie Richmond could see time in the rotation for Kane County in 2007. Both players have Olympic experience for their native countries (Australia and Canada, respectively). Mitchinson is a former Phillies prospect, who missed all of the 2006 season with injuries. In 2007, the 23-year-old right-hander made 14 starts in A-ball and had a 3.74 ERA in 67.1 innings. Richmond, who was acquired with Joey Devine in the Mark Kotsay trade, posted a 3.05 ERA in 138.2 innings for Low-A Rome in 2007. The 22-year-old was the Appalachian League Pitcher of the Year in 2006.

The Cougars' bullpen will once again be anchored by closer Scott Moore, who was an All-Star for Kane County in 2007. Branden Dewing, who split the 2007 season between Kane County and High-A Stockton, will team with Nick Walters to give the Cougars a tough lefty tandem out of the bullpen. They will be joined by 2007 draft pick Justin Friend, a right-handed reliever out of Oklahoma State, who won the Most Improved Pitcher award during the A's off-season Instructional League. Veteran Chris Farley, a minor league free agent pick-up in the off-season, and minor league Rule 5 selection Jose Fragoso will round-out the bullpen.

Offense
The Cougars' offense will feature a good mix of speed and power. Kane County's top offensive player, Corey Brown, has a mix of both attributes. The 2007 supplemental first round pick is a five-tool talent that blasted 11 homeruns for short-season Vancouver last year. Joining him in the outfield will be the speedy Toddric Johnson, who is returning to Kane County for a second year.

Richard had a .400 OBP to go along with his 25 stolen bases in 2007.
In addition, 2007 undrafted free agent signing and former star for NCAA champion Oregon State Mike Lissman will make his full-season debut with the Cougars. He had a .504 SLG for the A's Rookie League team in 2007. Rounding out the outfield will be Shane Keough, who stole 15 bases for Vancouver in 2007 and is coming off of a strong showing at the A's Instructional League. The Cougars outfield will receive a boost when five-tool talent Grant Desme returns to the field. The A's 2007 second round pick will begin the year on the disabled list, but should be a stand-out performer when he returns to the field.

The Kane County infield will feature some veteran names. First baseman Greg Dowling returns to the Cougars after leading the team with 13 homers and 78 RBIs in 2007. Shortstop Michael Richard figures to be the team's primary lead-off hitter. He also could be the Cougars' most exciting player. The fleet-footed infielder stole 25 bases in only 61 games for Vancouver last season. Walter Correa and Matt Ray figure to share time at second and will back-up Richard at short. Christian Vitters, the A's 2006 10th round pick, returns to Kane County for a second season. The third baseman will be looking to rebound after batting only .227 in 2007. He earned the A's Most Improved Position Player award at this past Instructional League.

The Cougars will open the season with a trio of candidates to see time behind the plate. Jake Smith returns to Kane County for a second season. His first campaign with the Cougars was cut short by shoulder surgery. He hit .293 in 37 games before injuring his shoulder last year. Smith will share time with Gustavo Rosendo, who played for Vancouver in 2007, and Jonathan Johnston, a 2007 draft pick who signed out of the Naval Academy.


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