Another impact player from the 2017 Wild Things’ roster has re-signed with the team for 2018, as the Wild Things announced Friday the extension of 2017 Frontier League All Star and Post-Season All Star first baseman Kane Sweeney.
Sweeney, the team-proclaimed “Big Red Machine,” was a driving force behind the 2017 playoff run for the Wild Things, as he was the first position player for the team to be named to the league’s post-season all-star team since 2014 (OF CJ Beatty). Furthermore, he became the first 1B to be given those laurels since Ernie Banks in 2009.
On the season, Sweeney hit .296 with a .457 on-base percentage. That percentage was so high largely in part to Sweeney setting the new franchise record for walks drawn in a season. Walking became vintage Kane Sweeney, as he drew 87 walks in 398 plate appearances during the 2017 campaign. He also belted 15 home runs and drove in 61 runs, to go along with 21 doubles and three triples.
He was also one of a franchise-record eight All Stars for the Frontier League All-Star Game in Joliet, Illinois, and started the game for the East Division at first base. The Millstadt, Illinois, native was no slouch defensively either, as he made just two errors all season in 821 chances. He had a part in the second triple play in franchise history in a win against Southern Illinois in late May, too.
“Kane’s arrival for 2018 will be slightly delayed due to his coaching responsibilities but he is a key contributor here in Washington,” said general manager Steven Zavacky. “On the field, his style of play is so unique. His power and situational hitting is forefront but to have a first baseman who led the league and set a franchise record in walks is remarkable. Defensively, he is as good as it gets in minor-league baseball. Kane embraced the leadership role put before him, something we stressed when we signed him. This year we challenged Kane to take more of a role assisting our hitters. We look forward to seeing the Sweeney family, including Kane’s wife, throughout the season and appreciate the support they show. We are very happy to welcome back such a special player/person to Washington for 2018.”
Having a high on-base percentage, putting up good numbers offensively and doing solid glove work are all things Sweeney is familiar with. At Morehead State, Sweeney’s OBP was never lower than .385, and was three times better than .423. His best season was arguably his senior season, as he hit .353 with a career-best .482 OBP and a 1.108 OPS. He hit 15 home runs and drove in 62 runs that season in the OVC.
Sweeney is top five all time at Morehead State in career games played, at-bats, plate appearances, hits, total bases, RBI and walks. He is the record holder for at bats, plate appearances and walks with the Eagles.
He’d go on to be drafted in the 29th round of the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft by the New York Yankees, an organization in which he’d go on to play two seasons between three different teams. His on-base percentage never dipped below .333 and he hit eight home runs and had 71 RBI in the two seasons. The highest level he played at was A-ball, when he played for the Charleston RiverDogs of the South Atlantic League.
Upon his release, Sweeney signed with the Wild Things, and, according to him, the 2017 season was the most fun he’s had playing baseball in a long time.
“My thoughts on coming back are pretty simple,” said Sweeney. “I really enjoyed last season. We had great fans and a great community that supported us all year long. It was the most fun I’ve had playing baseball in a long time. Our locker room was great [and] I felt like we had great chemistry. [Coach Gregg Langbehn] did a great job of making it fun to come to the field every single day.”
He continued, “It helps that our fans and showed up every single night too; it was a pretty electric atmosphere. Dilly dilly.”
The success on the field for Sweeney last year was partly a result of some differences between independent and affiliated baseball, according to Sweeney.
“[In] affiliated ball there’s a lack of communication at times from the staff to the players and you show up and it gets repetitive. Sometimes you’re on a roll and you may find yourself out of the lineup just because upper management wants someone else to get at-bats,” said Sweeney. “In Washington, you knew if you performed, you played. It was really whoever gives us the best chance to win.”
At times even, Sweeney said he thought last season might be his last.
“In all honesty, I went into last year feeling like it was probably going to be my last season playing,” said Sweeney. “After the success I had, having the great group of guys and getting knocked out in the playoffs, it kind of feels like we have some unfinished business left to take care of. I’m excited to build off last season and see if we can make a championship run this year.”
Sweeney said he wants to become more of a leader; a guy other players can expect to bring energy and count on day in and day out. From the team’s end, Sweeney said with what the team is bringing back, there’s no reason a championship couldn’t be secured.
He also offered some general thoughts on returning and the experience he had in 2017.
“I couldn’t have enjoyed my summer more. My wife was very supportive last year. Hopefully she can make a few more games this year. She knows how much I enjoyed the summer with the Wild Things and I’m very thankful she’s been so supportive of me and my career. I know my family was big on tweeting back and forth with the Wild Things’ account. They followed almost every game and made a lot of the games in Illinois. It’s nice to get an opportunity to play in front of them. Banger [Langbehn] was awesome; he kept things loose in the clubhouse and on the field. I felt like I really learned a lot from him and I plan to utilize what he’s taught me in my future baseball endeavors. Tony [Buccilli] and the rest of the front office were cuzzos the same way keeping things loose and letting us truly be ‘Wild Things.’ We had some characters on our team last year and it was awesome we could all just be ourselves. Everyone got along great and a big part of that was no one had to fake it.”
Sweeney will be a few weeks late to the party in 2018, as he wraps up some coaching duties, but once he arrives, he’s sure to be a big part of the team in Washington.
The Wild Things also announced the signing of right-handed pitcher Garrett Alvarez to a deal. Alvarez was most recently with the Bakersfield Train Robbers of the Pecos League in 2017. Prior, he pitched for the White Sands Pupfish in the Pecos League in 2016, and for Western Oregon University from 2015-2016.
Alvarez, a native of Madera, California, comes to the Wild Things after a successful, All-Star season with Bakersfield last summer. The then-25 year old posted a 5-3 record and a 2.76 earned run average in 13 appearances (10 starts). Alvarez, who turned 26 in November, logged 71.2 innings for the Train Robbers in those 13 games, and surrendered just 22 earned runs, walked 23 and struck out 72.
For White Sands in 2016, Alvarez pitched 31 innings over the course of seven appearances and struck out 26. As a junior in 2015 at WOU, the right-hander appeared in 12 games with 10 starts, tossing a total of 61.2 innings. He was 6-2 with a 4.38 ERA, while owning a strikeout to walk ratio of 48 to 20.
In 2016, Alvarez went 7-0 in 12 games (11 starts) with a 3.40 earned run average. He pitched 76.2 innings and gave up 29 earned runs, walked 24 and struck out 55. In both seasons at WOU, Alvarez was awarded All-Great Northwest Athletic Conference laurels.
“Quality rookies come from all parts of the country, all levels of play and differing backgrounds. Garrett has a very unique story and his perseverance is quite remarkable. Garrett should be one of the older players on the roster but his maturity should benefit him as a rookie,” said general manager Steven Zavacky. “Even talking with him, he has a great understanding of who he is as a pitcher and is very detail oriented when it comes to his preparation.”
He added, “We thought it was worthwhile to take a gamble on Garrett but he is aware that this opportunity is just the beginning. His goal is to make our Opening Day rotation and we anticipate him to walk into Spring Training with something to prove.”
For Alvarez, the opportunity is one he is excited for, and he said he can’t wait to get to work.
“This group is one the rise, bringing their phenomenal talent back into 2018, and I cannot be more excited to get to work on and off the diamond as a Wild Thing to bring the people of Washington County something great,” said Alvarez.
In terms of his past experience, Alvarez thinks it’s something that can benefit him as he tries to make the roster, and he also thinks he’ll benefit from some of the things he brings to the table.
“The relationships I made with my closest teammates have been the best part of the time in [professional baseball],” said Alvarez. “In the dugout, as well as in the game, I’m a player who loves seeing teammates find a way to compete every pitch, from the first to the last. [Personally], I’m a player bringing a little charismatic intensity and [I’m] expressive with excitement in the pivotal moments of the game.”
Off the field, Alvarez said he’s just like any other guy. He said he enjoys watching other sporting events, going fishing, hitting the gym and binge-watching his favorite shows. He’s also an uber driver on the side, and loves being in the community.
“Overall, being a part of the community with sports is a big inspiration of mine, specifically coaching baseball with the younger crowds, from little-league to even the college level,” he said.
He’s got his expectations, but said the coaches will decide what role potentially fits best for him.
“From my end, the expectation is to be professional in every possible way,” said Alvarez. “[I’ll give] 100-percent effort [and] 100-percent attitude. Every effort given on that mound reflects all the work put in this off-season and upcoming spring for the team. The expectation is to be successful.”
Alvarez is under contract and will compete for a starting rotation spot in Spring Training with the Wild Things.
The Washington Wild Things are a professional baseball team in the Frontier League that plays in Washington, PA. The Wild Things open the season May 11 at Evansville, with the 2018 home opener scheduled for Tuesday, May 15. Season ticket packages, with new benefits, are available, as well as other promotions going on throughout the offseason. Call the box office at 724-250-9555 for inquiries and purchases.