2022 Sussex County Miners vs New York Boulders

Frontier League East Division Preview: Four Teams Prep Inaugural Seasons

Frontier League East Division Preview: Four Teams Prep Inaugural Seasons

The Frontier League is back with new teams and updated divisions, making for an exciting summer season of competitive baseball.

Apr 25, 2022 by Briar Napier
Frontier League East Division Preview: Four Teams Prep Inaugural Seasons

Something look different to you?

If you’re preparing for the start of the Frontier League season and seeing a lot of team names and league formats you aren’t used to—we’re here to help. And with FloSports striking a brand-new deal to broadcast the Frontier League throughout the summer, it’ll be in full view in all its glory.

The reformatted league—where four divisions have shrunk down to two—has come just in time as several new teams join the party and get their own taste of one of the premier independent baseball leagues in America. For a division that was already set to be wide-open, that likely means more parity, too. 

Check out the previews for each East Division team below. 

*NOTE: Due to COVID-19 and related border restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, the Québec Capitales, Trois-Rivières Aigles and Ottawa Titans did not compete as individual teams in 2021. A traveling squad was formed in its place named Équipe Québec (Team Québec), finishing 52-44 and winning the Atlantic Division before being eliminated in the Can-Am Conference playoffs by the Washington Wild Things.

Tri-City ValleyCats (Troy, New York)

2021 season: 50-46, second in Atlantic Division

The lowdown: Tri-City celebrates its 20th season of baseball this year (and second in the Frontier League). The team’s list of MLB alumni from its minor-league days is pretty eye-popping: established major-leaguers Jose Altuve, George Springer and Dallas Kuechel, among others, can all claim themselves as former ValleyCats. 

But the goal for the moment is to put silverware back in the trophy case, as they did by winning the Class A Short Season New York-Penn League three times from 2002 to 2020. Twenty-five players will be returning from Tri-City’s opening season in the Frontier League last year, including power-hitting outfielder Denis Phipps—whose 21 home runs last season ranked second in the league. Right-handed closer Trey Cochran-Gill will also return—he was dominant in the late innings out of the bullpen with 24 saves to his name. 

Chicago White Sox fans may also remember the name Willy Garcia, who played 44 games at the MLB level for the team in 2017, as the 29-year-old outfielder is back in the fray for the ValleyCats this season after being a solid midseason addition from the Schaumburg Boomers. With the best returning record in the restructured East Division, expect Tri-City to have the talent to push for a deep run.

Sussex County Miners (Augusta, New Jersey)

2021 season: 49-46, second in Northeast Division

The lowdown: Perhaps no team in the entirety of the Frontier League could’ve dropped better news than what Sussex County did Thursday when it announced third baseman Martin Figueroa would be returning to the Miners for the 2022 season. 

The former Rhode Island Ram, and MLB Draft pick of the Houston Astros, is the reigning Frontier League hitting champion. A .352 batter last season, Figueroa will return for his fourth season overall for Sussex County. First baseman Kaleo Johnson, a former draft pick of the Tampa Bay Rays, returns as well after batting .317 over 67 games last season to help the Miners come back strong from a 2021 season in which they ranked second in the Frontier League in hitting as a team (.281). 

Sussex County missed out on the playoffs last season partly due to a lackluster pitching staff that recorded the second-fewest strikeouts in the league and a team ERA of 5.03. That rotation will need to be ready in time for a big test in the season-opening series next month against the defending league champion Boomers. 

New York Boulders (Pomona, New York)

2021 season: 43-52, third in Atlantic Division

The lowdown: Only the ValleyCats blasted more home runs in the 2021 season than the Boulders, who struggled to find consistency but sure played some entertaining baseball doing it. 

Third baseman Ray Hernandez led the Frontier League in deep shots with 23, while three other players joined him in smacking double-digit long balls during the season. However, only second baseman Tucker Nathans (who had 11 homers) returns that power to the plate for the upcoming season, meaning the Boulders are going to have to find producers in that regard elsewhere on the roster. 

But make no mistake, pitching is the more-alarming need on the roster: New York’s 5.73 team ERA and .277 batting-average-allowed ranked among the worst marks in the Frontier League last season, with the bullpen additionally needing some work after recording a league-low 15 saves in 2021. 

Left-hander McKenzie Mills (3.82 ERA in 16 starts with the Wild Things last season) may have been the best team acquisition, especially if the former Washington Nationals draft pick can improve upon his decent first year in the Frontier League. 

New Jersey Jackals (Little Falls, New Jersey)

2021 season: 39-56, third in Northeast Division

The lowdown: The Jackals had no shortage of offense in 2021, finishing third in the league in RBIs and batting average (.280). So how was New Jersey two losses away from having the worst record in the Frontier League this past season? There’s really no sugarcoating it: the pitching rotation was bad. 

The lone team in the league not to record a shutout the entire year, the Jackals allowed nearly six earned runs (5.99 team ERA) and over a home run (104 in 95 games) per game as New Jersey was constantly pressured at the plate to produce runs. 

In response, the Jackals have added a plethora of new faces to the pitching staff that they hope will usher it into playoff contention. Such an impact could come from the likes of 22-year-old right-hander Luke Drummond, who went 4-0 with a 1.40 ERA over 35 innings with the British Columbia Bombers of the California Winter League this past season. As for the offense, many familiar names return for 2022, including the team’s top hitter in catcher Jason Agresti (.316 avg., 39 RBI). 

Québec Capitales (Québec City, Québec, Canada)

2021 season: Did not play due to COVID-19, border restrictions*

The lowdown: Équipe Québec's calling card throughout the 2021 season was its league-leading offense that had 45 more RBI (521 total) than any other team in the Frontier League. With the combined team gone and those players dispersed elsewhere, a storyline to follow throughout the season’s early days will be how the Canadian teams fit in among the fray. 

For the Capitales in particular, they’re off to a solid start as the team took a lot of what made Équipe Québec elite with them. Second baseman David Glaude and catcher Jeffry Parra, who combined for 148 RBIs between them last season for Équipe Québec, both made the switch to reunite with the Capitales for the 2022 season, while the lineup will also feature some major-league experience in former Pittsburgh Pirate and Toronto Blue Jay infielder Gift Ngoepe, who returns after a full season with Équipe Québec in 2021. 

Ace pitcher Frank Moscatiello, who went 9-0 with a 2.94 ERA for Équipe Québec last year, is now a Capitales player, as well. If there’s any Canadian team in the Frontier League that is league-ready and prepared to damage opponents from the first pitch next month, it’s Québec City’s team.

Trois-Rivières Aigles (Trois-Rivières, Québec, Canada)

2021 season: Did not play due to COVID-19, border restrictions*

The lowdown: The Aigles and the Capitales finally get the ball rolling toward a league move that started initially after the conclusion of the 2019 season when the now-defunct Can-Am League merged into the Frontier League prior to what was supposed to be the 2020 season. 

With all that being said, the Aigles hope their inaugural Frontier Season will be worth the wait. The team didn’t get the amount of players—or returning talent—that the Capitales did from the Équipe Québec phase, but Trois-Rivières should still be able to put up a fight. 

That’s not just because one of the league’s most unique players—6-foot-11 pitcher Eric Hegadoren—is on the roster, but also because the Aigles got a big addition in first baseman Juan Kelly from the Miners after the Dominican Republic native averaged .330 at the plate in 57 games last season. Throw one of Équipe Québec’s top hitters in L.P. Pelletier (.328 avg., 37 RBI) into the mix, and the Aigles (“Eagles” in French) could be flying high. 

Ottawa Titans (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada)

2021 season: Did not play due to COVID-19, border restrictions*

The lowdown: Ottawa’s foray into professional baseball looked touch-and-go for a bit after the Ottawa Champions—who were part of the Can-Am League prior to its folding—disbanded itself as its owner couldn’t find a buyer. 

But the Frontier League opted to start a team in Ottawa anyway, and nearly two years after its original announcement in September 2020, they finally get to play a game. It’s officially one of two East Division teams that’ll be playing their inaugural Frontier League seasons in 2022, making the Titans’ expected placement among the division hard to predict. 

Still, there’s plenty of players on the current roster that Frontier League and independent baseball fans will recognize. Right-hander Gavin Sonnier went 5-2 with a 3.90 ERA in 24 appearances with the Miners last season, while shortstop Clay Fisher batted an incredible .405 over 61 games with the Missoula Paddleheads of the Pioneer League last summer. 

Outfielder Rodrigo Orozco, meanwhile, has heavy experience at the Triple-A level with the San Diego Padres and, having just turned 27, maybe hasn’t reached his full potential quite yet. Baseball’s return to Ottawa could go either way in Year 1, but after a tumultuous couple of years, it’s indeed good to be back in Canada’s capital. 

Empire State Greys (Tupper Lake, New York)

2021 season: N/A (New team)

The lowdown: The traveling team is uncommon but not unheard of in independent baseball, with Équipe Québec just last season, managing to pull off the feat as it bounced around multiple locations throughout the 2021 season. 

Enter the Greys, who’ll do the honors in 2022 as they play all their games on the road after replacing the void filled in the Frontier League by Southern Illinois Miners, which ceased operations following last season. Most of the roster is filled with rookies new to independent baseball—making the atmosphere around them seem especially like a trial-by-fire—but there are some veterans at the pro level mixed in. Outfielder Jordan Scott played in 13 games with the Sussex County Miners in the 2019 season, when the team was part of the Can-Am League. 

With no home ballpark to call its own and many players up against a new level of baseball that they’ll likely need some time to adapt to, the Greys are staring upon a mountain of adversity. But if they get out to a solid start and get used to the grind of extra travel quickly—much like Équipe Québec did in 2021—things might not be so bad.