2022 Schaumburg Boomers vs Sussex County Miners

Frontier League West Division Preview: Boomers Aim For Title Repeat

Frontier League West Division Preview: Boomers Aim For Title Repeat

Four of the best teams from the 2021 season are now grouped together in the Frontier League's West Division, including the champion Schaumberg Boomers.

Apr 25, 2022 by Briar Napier
Frontier League West Division Preview: Boomers Aim For Title Repeat

Want to witness a Division of Death in the Frontier League this season? Look no further than the West Division.

Four different teams (including the defending champions) won over 50 games last season under the Frontier League’s previous format, and with those squads grouped together as part of the competition’s redesign for 2022, there’s sure to be much drama and jousting toward the top as the season goes along.

Predicting a favorite from the group is the harder choice—after all, the defending champion wouldn’t have made the playoffs under this year’s format. Hot streaks are vital in baseball, and plenty of teams within the West could rip off wins all the way toward success and silverware.

Check out a preview of all eight teams in the division and further coverage of the Frontier League all season on FloBaseball.

Florence Y’alls (Florence, Kentucky)

Last season: 57-38, won West Division, lost in Midwestern Conference playoffs

The lowdown: Florence found its way to the Frontier League’s best regular-season winning percentage by simply riding the wave. The Y’alls were average among their competitors in both team batting average (.269) and ERA (4.47), but that type of consistency proved vital over a full season, as theyrarelyr were caught on an off-night. 

However, when the postseason came and steadiness gave way to sudden hot streaks, the Y’alls couldn’t muster the horsepower to push for silverware. Will that change this year? That may partly ride on how quickly catcher Trevor Craport gets back from the inactive list as the former draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles was the Frontier League’s RBI king last season, knocking in 85 of them. 

Utility man Chad Sedio (.319 avg., 15 home runs, 69 RBI) can more than hold his own at the plate, too, and when both get going, beware of the Y’alls’ lineup. The rotation is where more questions arise: Jared Cheek, the 8-1 ace of the pitching staff and one of the league’s top arms last year, didn’t return to Florence for 2022. The fill-in for him might be Evan Brabrand, a 2019 ninth-rounder to the Miami Marlins who’ll be looking for a fresh start after exiting the team’s minor-league system this past season. 

Evansville Otters (Evansville, Indiana)

Last season: 57-39, second in West Division

The lowdown: The Frontier League’s longest-running team probably has a right to feel robbed. The Otters looked fantastic all season in 2021 and would’ve made the playoffs under this year’s format—or if they’d played in any other division. But a half-game deficit to the Y’alls in the West Division title race separated Evansville from what could’ve been a worthy fight for a third-ever Frontier League championship. 

The strategy now? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The league’s defending best rotation (3.66 ERA in 2021) has kept its pitching staff beefed up for the upcoming season, bringing back the likes of right-handers Tim Holdgrafer (10-4, 3.45 ERA, league-best 121 strikeouts), Ryan O’Reilly (5-4, 2.89 ERA) and Tyler Spring (6-0, 2.54 ERA) from last year’s rotation. 

But Evansville’s bottom-half hitting in 2021 certainly contributed to coming up just short of postseason baseball and must be improved. Getting back second baseman J.R. Davis for a second year (.316 avg., 56 RBI) was a good place to start, but keep an eye on a new addition in outfielder Steven Sensley, a Frontier League rookie that was a three-time MLB Draft pick and possessed some impressive stats during tenures in college (with Louisiana-Lafayette) and the minors (with the New York Yankees organization).

Washington Wild Things (Washington, Pennsylvania)

Last season: 56-40, won Northeast Division, lost in Frontier League Championship Series

The lowdown: Washington was within arm’s reach of winning its first Frontier League championship since 1997 last season, but the Boomers beat them to the punch in the playoffs. 

Evansville and Washington were neck-and-neck all season, and both had elite pitching staffs, but the Wild Things had the Frontier League’s top arm last season in left-hander and Pitcher of the Year Ryan Hennen (11-3 in 2021). Hennen was downright dominant with a league-low 2.11 ERA over 16 starts. However, the Wild Things won’t get him back for 2022 as his contract was picked up by the Kansas City Royals organization earlier in the offseason. 

Reliever Dan Kubiuk’s return—after allowing a 1.28 ERA in 22 appearances last season as a mid-game manager—was additionally important for the Wild Things as they aim to keep the gang together for what they hope is another strong season. The addition of former St. Louis Cardinals farmhand and Gonzaga standout Mac Lardner to the starting rotation was also a big plus to help try and mend the gap left by Hennen. 

Schaumburg Boomers (Schaumburg, Illinois)

Last season: 51-45, won Central Division, won Frontier League Championship Series

The lowdown: One team’s bane can be another one’s blessing, and that’s exactly what happened to the Boomers in the 2021 season. Though the Otters would’ve made the postseason last year had the now-revamped qualifying format been in place, Schaumburg wouldn’t have. 

But the Boomers didn’t take that fortune for granted, getting hot at the right time during the playoffs and eventually rolling all the way to their fourth Frontier League title since joining the competition in 2012. Now, after being grouped with title-challenging rivals in the West Division, a Schaumburg repeat might be possible—but it’ll be much harder to pull off than last season. 

The departure of second baseman Quincy Nieporte (.343 avg., 17 home runs) to the Detroit Tigers organization will be a tough presence to replace. Watch for a potential breakout from newly-signed shortstop William Salas, a veteran making his Frontier League debut with a .294 average and 72 stolen bases across 207 career games in various independent leagues.

Windy City ThunderBolts (Crestwood, Illinois)

Last season: 43-53, second in Central Division

The lowdown: Productive offense was a major problem for the ThunderBolts last season as they hit a league-low 52 home runs combined with a .244 team average, the third-worst in the Frontier League. Rattled with injuries and an ever-changing lineup, Windy City is hoping for a night-in, night-out reliance on its hitting this season. 

Grabbing a pair of standouts at the plate last season from the Pioneer League appears to be a good place to start. Shortstop Jason DiCochea was nabbed from the Boise Hawks after the 24-year-old hit .334 with 66 RBI in 72 games in 2021, while third baseman Jackson Raper (.316 avg., 34 RBI in 35 games with the Great Falls Voyagers) was a contributing starter during his senior season at Illinois before moving on to the independent league scene last year. 

In total, 11 pitchers from last year’s staff return in hopes of improving upon a 4.19 team ERA. One of those coming back, left-hander Miguel Asusa (9-5), who was solid but inconsistent on the mound a year ago, with an ERA (5.13) that must drop if the Puerto Rico native wants to make the move to a true All-Star-caliber arm this upcoming season. Veteran and third-year ThunderBolt pitcher Kenny Matthews (8-9, 4.81 ERA) will look to help establish some stability on the bump, as well.

Lake Erie Crushers (Avon, Ohio)

Last season: 41-55, third in Central Division

The lowdown: One of the bright spots from 2021 Crushers, catcher Karl Ellison, is now gone after having signed with the Philadelphia Phillies organization. But utility man Kokko Figueiredo, who hit .407 with 50 RBI for the Tucson Saguaros of the Pecos League last season, is one of the league’s most exciting additions on paper and could be a nice replacement for the minors-bound Ellison. 

In addition to Figueiredo, Lake Erie added infielder Bryant Flete, who averaged .339 over the past two seasons with the Southern Illinois Miners, and first baseman Sam Abbott, a former Chicago White Sox draft pick and minor leaguer who was solid during his last foray into independent baseball while playing in the Pioneer League in 2019. 

Last season’s ace—and former major-leaguer—Ryan Feierabend left the organization, so it’ll be up to someone else in the pitching staff to make up for the 108 strikeouts (second-best in the Frontier League) he was responsible for last season. 

Joliet Slammers (Joliet, Illinois)

Last season: 39-56, fourth in Central Division

The lowdown: Last season, the Jailbirds—another nickname for the team—won its fewest games in a season since 2013, just three years after winning the Frontier League outright in 2018. The team hopes new manager and former major-league pitcher Daniel Schlereth can help right the ship. Acquiring right-hander Mark Mixon (6-1 last season) in a trade from the Pioneer League’s Ogden Raptors earlier this offseason looks like a solid way to start. 

Still, hitting was the major issue with Joliet’s roster last year, as it had the lowest batting average (.237) in the Frontier League and had just one player (Braxton Davidson, who didn’t return this season) hit double-digit home runs. 

Second-year second baseman Lane Baremore—who led the Slammers last year in RBIs with 45 at just 21 years old—has the potential to be one of the league’s young breakout stars if he bulbs on an impressive 2021 season. Then there’s catcher Kyle Kaufman—also acquired in the Mixon trade in December—who batted .305 in 42 games for the Raptors last season. 

Gateway Grizzlies (Sauget, Illinois)

Last season: 38-57, fourth in West Division

The lowdown: It’ll be lonely in downstate Illinois as the Grizzlies, located in the St. Louis suburb of Sauget, won’t have a regional rival to play against anymore (the Southern Illinois Miners folded following the conclusion of last season). Maybe it’s better for the squad in the short run, however, as Gateway’s team had the worst record in the Frontier League last year. 

There’s much that needs to be improved upon from a variety of different points on the field, but the eye-watering 5.64 ERA and league-most 108 home runs allowed were especially alarming figures from this past season. 

So, what did the Grizzlies do? Pluck a few talents from the rotations of their now-defunct neighbors. The Miners were one of the better rotations in the Frontier League over the past few years, and Gateway got a trio of hurlers who last played for the Marion, Illinois-based team in Justin Ferrell, Steven Ridings and Augie Voight. 

However, injuries may already be an issue as the team has listed 11 players on its inactive list before playing a game in 2022. That’s notable for the pitching staff especially as it appears new signings Manuel Rodriguez (3.50 ERA over six seasons in the minors) and Austin Dubsky (8-2 with the Idaho Falls Chukars of the Pioneer League last season) have the stuff to contribute immediately on the bump. Until then, however, the Grizzlies will have to manage and find a way to navigate through the tough teams of the West Division.