(By Brian Adamowsky, LCSC)
Throughout its run of unmatched success in NAIA baseball, Lewis-Clark State College has not only churned out successful collegiate baseball players year after year, but has produced players that are not only desirable to Major League Baseball, but successful once they get to the pros.
It’s been the hallmark of Warrior baseball during Ed Cheff’s iconic tenure in Lewiston, it was continued by Gary Picone and now Jeremiah Robbins has picked up the torch.
At the close of the 2012 season, 13 former Lewis-Clark State baseball players were plying their trade in all levels of professional baseball, from the majors all the way down to short-season rookie ball.
Of those, five were continuing their seasons either on the international stage or in the Arizona Fall League, an MLB-run off-season league designed to accelerate the development of top young prospects.
One of those players in the AFL is former Lewis-Clark State pitcher Tyler Knigge, who was with the Warriors from 2008-2010. A 10th-round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010, Knigge split his time between Single-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading last spring.
He was 4-1 with a 0.60 earned run average in 44.2 innings at Clearwater with nine saves, and earned a promotion to Reading in mid-July. After some early struggles at Double-A, Knigge settled down to the tune of a 2.92 ERA in 21 games with the R-Phils, adding two more saves.
Here’s a video of his first strikeout with Double-A Reading.
“I can’t even explain how much fun it’s been this year. All the hard work has paid off,” Knigge said. “The biggest improvements I know I’ve made have been my conditioning level and my want and drive to make it to the top. All of that helped me bring my fastball to life. I started throwing a slider too, and being able to throw that for strikes helped my fastball.”
Knigge is currently playing for the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League.
“Guys out here are the best of the best, and I learned that very quickly,” Knigge said of the AFL, after the Javelinas beat the Mesa Solar Sox 8-2 on Oct. 25. “Sixty to 65 percent of these guys will be in the big leagues next year, so this is a huge growing experience for me. I’m not going to let it go to waste.”
After the Arizona Fall League ends in mid-November, Knigge plans to return to his hometown of Lewiston to work out before heading out to spring training in Florida. His goal is to begin the 2013 season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, but if he is assigned to Reading again, it will only fuel his desire to one day pitch for the Phillies.
“All that will do is push me harder to get to that top level,” he said. “You get to this level on talent, but after that success is based on how hard you work.”
Catcher Brian Ward is also playing in the AFL after his season at Double-A Bowie in the Baltimore Orioles organization. Ward, who played at LCSC from 2008-09, hit .217 in 50 games for the BaySox, but continued to impress the organization with his defensive skills behind the plate.
Ward is spending the fall with the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League, where he’s hitting .231 with a pair of RBI through six games.
Chris Kissock, a Trail, B.C. native who played for the Warriors from 2005-2007, is pitching for Canada in qualifying action for the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Kissock spent the year with the Clearwater Threshers of the Single-A Advanced Florida State League, where he played with Knigge. He also played in five games with Double-A Reading. In total, he went 3-1 with an 8.87 ERA in 16 games during the season between the two stops.
In his only action of the three-game qualifying round, Kissock went 1.1 innings to earn the save in Canada’s opening win over Great Britain in qualifying on Sept. 20. Canada won all three of its games in qualifying to earn a berth in the World Baseball Classic next summer.
Zach Arneson headed Down Under after his 2013 season, which was split between the Gulf Coast League Yankees and the Charleston River Dogs of the Low-A South Atlantic League.
Arneson is playing for the Melbourne Aces of the Australian Baseball League this summer after the Yanks selected him the ninth round of the 2011 MLB Draft.
Blaine Hardy, a left-handed pitcher who played for Lewis-Clark State in the 2008 season, is playing in Venezuela this fall after another successful season with the Kansas City Royals' Triple-A affiliate in Omaha.
Hardy is suiting up for Bravos de Margarita after compiling a 3.79 ERA in 30 appearances out of the bullpen for Omaha.
Sean Halton moved up to Triple-A Nashville in the Milwaukee Brewers’ system in 2012 and hit .274 for the Sounds, with 17 home runs and 57 RBI in 119 games. Halton is also playing in Venezuela this winter, as a member of Navegantes del Magallanes in an effort to make the big club in 2013.
Carlos Fisher already knows what it’s like to be in The Show after pitching 26.1 major league innings for the Cincinnati Reds since 2009, including 10 in 2012. Fisher played at LCSC in 2004 and 2005 and made 52 appearances for Triple-A Louisville this season.
Seattle Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan is the only Lewis-Clark State alumnus currently on a major league roster. Ryan played for the Warriors from 2001-2003, and though he hit only .194 in 141 games for the M’s in 2012, he’s a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop.
Relief pitcher Cody Fassold thanked the Kansas City Royals for signing him as an undrafted free agent in 2011 by putting up a 2.83 ERA in 47.2 innings at Single-A Kane County last season.
Fassold, who came to LCSC from Lower Columbia College before the 2010 season, went 1-3 and struck out 57 South Atlantic League batters in 2012. Opposing batters hit just .178 off the burly Fassold, and he’s a candidate to move up the ladder to High-A Lexington and possibly Double-A Wilmington in 2013.
First baseman Beau Mills began the 2012 season with the Columbus Clippers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, but he slumped through May and June before finishing the season with the Double-A Pensacola Wahoos of the Southern League.
Mills, who played at LCSC in 2007, hit .272 with Pensacola, and is readying for another shot at Triple-A in 2013.
Catcher Kawika Emsley-Pai, a Warrior in 2009 and 2010, spent last season with the Bradenton Marauders in the Pittsburgh Pirates system. The switch-hitting Emsley-Pai batted .167 in 120 at-bats with the Single-A Advanced club.