July 17, 2013
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern has a rich tradition of sending young men into the ranks of professional baseball and this summer, 11 former Wildcats are continuing their careers at ballparks across the United States.
Since current NU skipper Paul Stevens began heading the program in the fall of 1987, 65 'Cats have either been drafted or signed professional contracts to continue playing baseball after their time in Evanston, including three members of the Class of 2013.
In all, 10 former Wildcats are playing with either Minor League or Major League Baseball clubs and one is the manager of arguably the most storied franchise in the history of the game. Joe Girardi played with four different teams over his 15-year career as a player and is now in his seventh season as a manager and his sixth with the New York Yankees. The two-time All-Big Ten backstop led the Bronx Bombers to a World Series title in 2009. New York is currently 51-44 as MLB enjoys this week's All-Star Game festivities.
Two former NU pitchers are currently on big league rosters. Right-hander George Kontos has appeared in 40 games this season for the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants. The Lincolnwood, Ill., product has picked up two wins out of the bullpen and fanned 40 in 42.2 innings of work.
Southpaw J.A. Happ earned a spot in the Toronto Blue Jays starting rotation during spring training, but suffered an injury on May 7 that has kept him off the bump since. The three-time All-Big Ten hurler was 2-2 in seven starts this season prior to going down. The good news is that Happ is expected to begin a rehabilitation assignment soon and could return to the Blue Jays shortly after the All-Star break.
Eight former Northwestern standouts find themselves scattered throughout various levels of Minor League Baseball. After spending much of spring training with the Arizona Diamondbacks, pitcher Bo Schultz
has split time between Class AAA Reno and Class AA Mobile. He has been used primarily as a reliever, but since returning to the Bay Bears (Mobile) on June 8 Schultz has made seven starts. The Dallas, Texas, native is 3-2 with a 2.75 ERA in Mobile, which won the Southern League South Division's first-half crown and currently sits in the top spot 25 games into the second half.
A pair of former Northwestern teammates have found themselves together once again for another Southern League club, the Tennessee Smokies. Left-handed pitcher Eric Jokisch and catcher Chad Noble reunited as members of the Class AA affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Noble, a reliable backstop, has spent time at three levels in Chicago's system this season, including a recent stint at Class AAA Iowa, and has 40 hits, including nine for extra bases, in 51 games.
Jokisch is 8-7 with a 3.21 ERA in 18 starts for the Smokies. The left-hander is 4-1 in his last five outings and currently ranks third in the Southern League with 92 strikeouts. The 2008 Big Ten Freshman of the Year was named the Cubs minor league Pitcher of the Month for the month of April after going 3-1 with a 1.84 ERA in five starts. The Smokies currently lead the Southern League's North Division in the second half with a mark of 16-8.
Also playing in Class AA, but over in the Texas League, is former NU outfielder and first baseman Jake Goebbert. The lefty was dealt to the Oakland Athletics organization by the Houston Astros during spring training and has done quite well in his new surroundings. Goebbert is batting .283 with 16 home runs and 66 RBI for the Midland RockHounds. He ranks second in the Texas League in RBI and sixth in home runs; Goebbert was named a South Division All-Star last month.
Catcher Geoff Rowan is in his first full season as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays organization. After winning a New York-Penn League championship as member of the Hudson Valley Renegades in 2012, Rowan is currently playing for the Class A Bowling Green Hot Rods. He has appeared in 12 games and has a pair of RBI for the Hot Rods who sit tied for first atop the Midwest League's Eastern Division in the second half of the season.
Three more Wildcats extended their playing careers after finishing in Evanston this spring. Pitchers Luke Farrell and Zach Morton and infielder Trevor Stevens have each hooked on with different organizations. Farrell and Morton were drafted both in June by the Kansas City Royals and Astros, respectively, while Stevens has joined the Cubs.
Farrell is pitching in the Pioneer League and has made four starts for the Idaho Falls Chukars. The All-Big Ten performer is 1-1 thus far with 22 strikeouts in 18.1 innings on the mound. Over in the New York-Penn League, Morton is competing for the first-place Tri-City ValleyCats. The Evanston native picked up his first professional victory on Sunday after firing six hitless innings in his second start and currently boasts a miniscule 1.04 ERA. In Morton's first start for the ValleyCats on July 3, he tossed four scoreless innings in which he allowed just one hit and did not issue a walk.
Stevens joined his hometown organization at the end of June. The two-time All-Big Ten selection has appeared in a trio of games for the Arizona League Cubs this month.
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