Santiago Named Prospect League All-Star

By John Bohnenkamp

Burlington Bees designated hitter Kevin Santiago was named to the Prospect League’s Western Conference All-Star team on Monday.

Santiago was the only Bees player selected to the team. He hit .307 and had a .927 OPS this season.

Santiago, who played at Texas Wesleyan University, was in his second season with the Bees. He tied for third in the league with 10 home runs, and was eighth in runs batted in with 49. He was 14th in the league in hitting, eighth in slugging percentage (.536) and 22nd in on-base percentage (.391).

Also named to the Western Conference team was Clinton catcher Cade Moss, who plays at Iowa. Moss hit .319 in 29 games with the LumberKings.

Alton’s Eddie King Jr., was named the league’s player of the year. King, who plays at Louisville, hit .310 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs. He had a 1.072 OPS, and had 31 stolen bases.

Danville’s Khal Stephen, a pitcher from Purdue, was named the pro prospect of the year. Stephen was 4-0 with a 2.02 ERA, striking out 36 in 26 ⅔ innings.

Another Danville pitcher, Josh Leerssen, was named the starting pitcher of the year. He was 5-0 in nine starts with a 0.75 earned run average, striking out 67 in 48 innings.

Danville’s Landon Tomkins was the fireman of the year, with a 3-1 record and six saves. He struck out 40 in 30 ⅔ innings, and had an 0.88 ERA.

Danville’s Eric Coleman was named manager of the year.

Photo: Kevin Santiago was named to the Prospect League Western Conference All-Star team on Monday. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

GEMS 11, BEES 4: Walks Lead To Big Fourth Inning

By John Bohnenkamp

The Burlington Bees had put together a three-run third inning and had a lead for the first time in Friday’s game against the Quincy Gems.

The answer in the top of the fourth bothered Bees manager Owen Oreskovich.

The Gems scored six runs on just two hits, taking advantage of six walks in the inning, and rolled to an 11-4 win in the Prospect League game at Community Field.

“We needed to go out there and fill it up right away,” Oreskovich said. “That’s kind of one of my pet peeves that I hate to see. I mean, hits happen. You can’t control those. Throw (pitches) over the plate, I’m fine with giving up hits. But walks are a killer. You’ve got to throw it up, let someone make a play. You’ve got seven guys behind you.”

The first five hitters of the inning reached against starter Jared Townsend (1-2). Reliever C.J. Lewis got the first out of the inning on Ethan Moore’s sacrifice fly, then walked the next three hitters before finally getting out of the inning.

The Bees’ offense, which had scored just two runs in the last two games, helped produce a 4-3 lead in the third. Joey Fitzgerald’s single scored Kevin Santiago, then Ryan Grace and Fitzgerald scored on a throwing error by Gems shortstop Andrew Fay.

“I thought we competed a lot better in the box,” Oreskovich said. “A lot of our guys hit some balls pretty well. I thought we looked a lot better in the box tonight.”

Oreskovich had worked with several hitters in pre-game batting practice.

“I thought we looked a lot better,” he said.

The Bees finished with seven hits, but they left 10 baserunners.

Brayden Haug (1-1) was the winning pitcher.

HAWKEYE BATTERY: The ninth inning featured a Bees’ battery of Iowa players — pitcher Weston Fulk and catcher Ben Tallman.

Fulk, who has primarily been a first baseman and designated hitter this season, had the night off from hitting, but Oreskovich planned on using him out of the bullpen.

Fulk, making his second pitching appearance of the season, allowed two runs on two hits, walking two and striking out two.

“Ideally, what we were doing was using him in a closing role, but we haven’t had too many of those opportunities,” Oreskovich said. “I knew he was sitting today, and he knew it too, so we basically said you’re going to throw today no matter what.”

ON DECK: The Bees and Gems play a 6:35 p.m. game Saturday in Quincy. Paolo Zavala (0-1) will start for the Bees.

NOTES: Bees center fielder Spencer Nivens went 2-for-5. He has reached base in his first four games this week since joining the team on Monday. … Santiago had his four-game hitting streak snapped.

Photo: Burlington Bees starter Jared Townsend delivers a pitch in Friday’s game against Quincy. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

THE MONDAY HIVE: Escarcega Finds Family Connection In Burlington

By John Bohnenkamp

Steven Escarcega wanted to work on his pitching when he decided to play for the Burlington Bees this summer.

What he didn’t know was he was coming to a city where there was a family connection.

Escarcega’s great-grandfather, Edward Boltz, and his great-uncle, Everett Boltz, grew up in Burlington.

“It’s pretty funny to know there were some roots for my family here,” Escarcega said. “I thought it was pretty cool to hear, because it was something I really didn’t know about.”

Escarcega is from Monrovia, California, and redshirted this season at Hawaii Pacific University.

His original plan was to play in a college league in northern California this summer, and when he changed his plans and decided to come to Burlington, that’s when he found out the family ties.

“I honestly didn’t know until I reached out to my uncle,” Escarcega said. “I originally was going to play in northern California, and my uncle lives up there. That was the first place I was going to play, and I was going to stay with him in the summer, hanging out with him.

“So I left him a message, saying I was going to Burlington, Iowa, instead and not coming there. Literally, he called me two minutes later, and he was like, ‘You will not believe this. Your great-grandfather grew up there.’”

Coming to Iowa has been a new experience for Escarcega.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been this far east and north,” he said. “I really like it here. It’s a great place.”

Escarcega went to Hawaii Pacific to pursue a degree in diplomacy and military studies — “I wanted to go somewhere that had a military studies major or something like that,” he said — and joined the baseball team. Escarcega didn’t play this season, and when his coach, Dane Fujinaka, saw on social media that Bees manager Owen Oreskovich was looking for pitchers, Fujinaka reached out.

“He said, ‘I’ve got this kid I want to send out there, if you guys would like him,’” Oreskovic said. “I said, ‘Absolutely.’”

“At the end of the year, (Fujinaka) wanted me to reach some goals, like increasing (velocity), gaining some weight,” Escarcega said. “So he wanted me to come here, to get some work.”

Escarcega has been a big part of the Bees’ pitching staff in the opening two weeks of the season. He is 1-0 in four appearances, with a 1.08 earned run average. He has allowed just four hits in 8 ⅓ innings while striking out five.

“Steve has been incredible for us coming out of the bullpen,” Oreskovich said. “He’s fresh (having not played this spring). But every time he’s gone out there this summer for us, it doesn’t look like that. That makes me happy.”

“I’ve been like, ‘Whatever you need me, put me in,’ because I haven’t really played since last June,” Escarcega said. “It has been almost 365 days since I pitched in an organized game.

“When I pitched in high school, I was facing sophomores, juniors. Now here, I’m facing guys that have played a couple of seasons of college. I haven’t seen competition like this in a long time. This is a new skill, a new competition for me. Guys are bigger, a lot better than what I’ve faced.”

The idea of meeting new people was something that Escarcega looked forward to coming to Burlington.

“The first day, when I got here, when they had the team dinner, I looked around and I thought, ‘Oh, geez, I’m not going to remember any names come morning,’” Escarcega said, laughing. “Every single day, it’s just about getting to know people, hearing their stories. It becomes more about making lifelong friends among your teammates.”

BY THE NUMBERS

• Weston Fulk, who redshirted at Iowa this season, is hitting .400 over the last three games. Fulk had his first two home runs of the season in back-to-back wins over the Cape Catfish Friday and Saturday.

• Sam Monroe had his six-game hitting streak snapped in Sunday’s 17-3 loss at Springfield. Monroe has four multi-hit games this season.

• A.J. Henkle has a three-game hitting streak, batting .385 in the streak.

UP NEXT

• At Illinois Valley Tuesday and Wednesday. The Pistol Shrimp are 6-5 and are on a three-game winning streak.

• Vs. O’Fallon on Thursday. The Bees return home for a short two-game homestand. O’Fallon swept the Bees in last Thursday’s doubleheader.

• Vs. Quincy on Friday. The Gems are back after the two teams split their season-opening two-game series at Community Field on June 1-2.

• At Quincy on Saturday and at Springfield on Sunday. The Bees make a weekend trip through central Illinois in two Western Conference games.

Photo: Bees pitcher Steven Escarcega is 1-0 in four appearances this season. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

BEES 5-3, CORNBELTERS 1-8: Townsend Helps Snap Streak In Doubleheader Split

By John Bohnenkamp

Jared Townsend’s breaking ball was working, and it helped the Burlington Bees snap their four-game losing streak.

Townsend got his first win in Prospect League play, combining with C.J. Lewis for a three-hitter in the Bees’ 5-1 win over the Normal CornBelters in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader at Community Field.

The CornBelters held the Bees to just four hits in the second game for an 8-3 win.

Townsend, who was the Bees’ starter in the season opener, only got through three innings in the 15-5 win over the Quincy Gems on June 1.

The left-hander was much more effective in this game, and that’s because his arsenal of pitches was better.

“He was really good out there today,” Bees manager Owen Oreskovich said. “He was filling up the (strike) zone more than last time.

“His curveball was working much better tonight. He didn’t have much of a feel for it the first time, so he was basically throwing fastballs. When teams learn that you’re only throwing fastballs, it becomes a little bit easier to hit. But he had his curveball today, and his splitter a little bit.”

Townsend allowed three hits and walked four, but also struck out four.

Lewis didn’t allow a hit over two innings, walking two and striking out one.

“He did a fantastic job of going out there and getting us out of that game with a win,” Oreskovich said.

The Bees scored four runs in the third inning. Sam Monroe drove in a run with a double, then A.J. Henkle followed with a two-run double. Joey Fitzgerald also had a run-scoring single in the inning.

Monroe’s double in the fourth scored Tucker Cole for the Bees’ final run.

The Bees hadn’t won since the season opener, and Oreskovich said there was some frustration.

“No one likes to lose,” he said. “We’re on a little bit of a skid right now. I think we’ll be all right going forward.”

Bees catcher Ben Tallman tags out Jackson Chatterton at the plate in the second game. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

The Bees struggled to get any sort of offense going in the second game. All of their hits were singles.

“You’re not going to win many games with only four hits,” Oreskovich said.

Adrian Nery (0-1) took the loss, allowing six runs over four innings.

UP NEXT: The Bees play the Springfield Lucky Horseshoes in Wednesday’s 6:30 p.m. game at Community Field.

NOTES: Iowa catcher Ben Tallman has joined the team. Tallman played in the second game, going 0-for-3 with a walk. He picked off a baserunner at first base. … Oreskovich expects Spencer Nivens, an outfielder from Missouri State, to join the team last week. Nivens hit .346 with 11 home runs and 52 runs batted in for the Bears, who were eliminated from the NCAA tournament last weekend.

Top photo: Bees pitcher Jared Townsend picked up the win in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

THE MONDAY HIVE: Fulk Ready To Show What He’s Learned

By John Bohnenkamp

It didn’t take long for Weston Fulk to impress his summer manager.

Fulk, a freshman from Iowa, showed up for his first batting practice with the Burlington Bees on Saturday and well…

“Oh, man,” Bees manager Owen Oreskovich said. “He came fresh out of the locker room with a bat, didn’t swing once. Got in the (batting) cage, and the first ball he hit one-hopped the 375 sign in left-center. It was a missile. Had to be a hundred (miles per hour) off the bat. I was like, ‘Oh, man.’ I think he hit three home runs after that in his first round.”

Fulk’s first game with the Bees in the Prospect League will be his first competition of 2022. He took a redshirt season with the Hawkeyes this year — Fulk can either pitch or play first base, and the Iowa depth chart was crowded at those spots.

“I kind of had some elbow pain in the winter, so I think that was the best plan for me,” Fulk said.

So, he spent home games at the end of Iowa’s dugout, watching head coach Rick Heller and his staff work. Fulk could always be seen taking baseballs out to the plate umpire, anything to keep busy.

“It always kept me locked in,” Fulk said. “It really helped me, kind of kept me in the game. I got to see what a college game looks like. And it really helped me out. I think what I learned this year will carry over with me this summer.”

Fulk came to Iowa after a successful career at Ankeny High School. He hit .485 with 12 home runs last season, and as a pitcher had a 6-3 record with a 2.42 earned run average, striking out 79 in 43 ⅓ innings.

Playing for the Bees in the college summer league was a decision Fulk knew he had to make. He’ll mostly play at first base, while also getting some work as a reliever as he builds arm strength. The chance to be a two-way player was a lure to coming to Burlington.

“Just to get more exposure. Get more at bats, get more innings,” Fulk said of why he wanted to play this summer. “Take the teaching I got at Iowa, and carry it over to here.”

“He’s a lot bigger than I thought he was,” Oreskovich said of Fulk, who is 6-foot-4 and weighs 220 pounds. “He’s a great kid, very respectful. He’s going to be a great kid to work with.”

Fulk was familiar with the Bees — his grandparents live in nearby New London, and Fulk watched games at Community Field when the Bees were in the Class A Midwest League.

Walking into a clubhouse that once housed a minor-league team was, “super cool,” Fulk said.

“I kind of have a little background here,” Fulk said. “I’m excited to play here.”

Fulk said it was difficult not being with the Hawkeyes in Omaha for the Big Ten tournament.

“But I’ve been watching them,” he said. “It was definitely tough sitting out this year. But I know we’ve got a pretty good team.”

Fulk is looking forward to using a wood bat this summer.

“Just swinging today, it doesn’t feel different,” Fulk said. “I think squaring a ball up with a wood bat, there’s nothing else like that.”

Oreskovich has already seen that.

“He’s impressive to watch,” Oreskovich said.

Photo: Weston Fulk (left) greets Iowa teammate Keaton Anthony before a game this season. Fulk will be playing this summer for the Burlington Bees in the Prospect League. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)

Bees’ Roster Has Seven Returning Players

By John Bohnenkamp

Seven players who played for the Burlington Bees in their inaugural Prospect League season will be back with the team this season, according to a partial roster released Thursday.

The Bees have 19 players on the roster so far for this season, including seven who are on NCAA Division I rosters.

A look at the roster:

PITCHERS

Owen Coffman (RHP, Southeastern CC) — 2-1 with two saves in 18 appearances, with 18 strikeouts in 18 ⅓ innings.

Weston Fulk (LHP, Iowa) — Hasn’t played this season for the Hawkeyes. A first-team all-state selection in Iowa last summer after going 6-3 with a 2.42 ERA at Ankeny High School, where he was teammates with Iowa pitcher Brody Brecht. Can play first base as well.

Ian Landreneau (RHP, Texas Wesleyan) — 3-4 with a 4.37 ERA in 14 appearances. He has 32 strikeouts in 45 ⅓ innings.

Kyle Maurer (RHP, Fort Wayne) — 0-0 with a 6.17 ERA in 11 appearances, with 7 strikeouts in 11 ⅔ innings. Pitched in four games with the Bees last season, with a 14.29 ERA.

Garrett Moltzan (RHP, Texas Wesleyan) — 2-1 with a 3.55 ERA in 20 appearances, with 46 strikeouts in 38 innings. Went 1-3 with a 6.81 ERA for the Bees last season.

Owen Rice (LHP, McHenry County CC) — 3-2 with a 5.40 ERA, with 30 strikeouts in 25 innings.

Shawn Runey (RHP, Bluefield State College) — 3-4 with a 3.78 ERA in 11 appearances, with 10 starts. Has 62 strikeouts in 64 ⅓ innings.

Jared Townsend (LHP, Iowa Western CC) — Hasn’t played this season.

CATCHERS

Trent Burkhalter (Kirkwood CC) — Hitting .250 with 7 home runs and 22 RBIs.

Chase Honeycutt (Jones County JC) — Hitting .161 with 11 RBIs in 22 games this season. Hit .261 with 14 RBIs for the Bees last season.

Ben Tallman (Iowa) — Hitting .290 in 26 games with the Hawkeyes. Has a .403 slugging percentage and a .416 on-base percentage.

INFIELDERS

Trey Adams (Northeastern JC) — Hitting .380 with 4 home runs and 31 RBIs. Has 16 stolen bases.

Joey Fitzgerald (Harper College) — Hitting .271 with 2 home runs and 17 RBIs. Hit .218 with the Bees last season.

Ryan Grace (Quinnipiac) — Hasn’t played this season.

Spencer Nivens (Missouri State) — Hitting .356 with 4 home runs and 33 RBIs in 37 games. Has a .986 OPS.

Kevin Santiago (Texas Wesleyan) — Hitting .313 with 5 home runs and 33 RBIs. Has a .552 slugging percentage and a .380 on-base percentage. Hit .271 with 7 home runs and 27 RBIs for the Bees last season.

Charlie Terrill (McHenry County CC) — Hitting .214 with 1 home run and 7 RBIs.

OUTFIELDERS

A.J. Henkle (Illinois-Chicago) — Has played in one game this season. Hit .233 with 1 home run and 7 RBIs last season for the Bees.

Lincoln Riley (Eastern Illinois) — Hitting .288 with 2 home runs and 16 RBIs. Hit .237 with 3 home runs and 26 RBIs for the Bees last season.

Photo: Pitcher Garrett Moltzan is one of six players returning for the Burlington Bees this season. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

Brecht Ready For Baseball, In Whatever Role, With Hawkeyes

By John Bohnenkamp

Iowa baseball coach Rick Heller knows what he has in pitcher Brody Brecht.

He’s just not sure how Brecht is going to be used in his freshman season.

The right-hander from Ankeny, at Iowa to play baseball and football, has already impressed Heller, even though he hasn’t taken the mound in a game yet.

“Brody’s stuff,” Heller said at Thursday’s media day, “is stupid-good.”

Brecht has already hit 100 miles per hour with his fastball during preseason workouts. Velocity, though, isn’t enough.

“I was pretty excited,” Brecht said of reaching the 100 mph mark. “But you’ve got to be able to command it, spin the ball a little bit. There’s work to be done.”

There’s work to be done on two fields for Brecht. A thumb injury kept Brecht, a wide receiver, from playing in a game during the football season, and although he did get some good practice time in the preparation for Iowa’s appearance in the Citrus Bowl, he admits he’s “already behind.”

“Bowl prep was good,” said Brecht, who is on scholarship with the football team. “It gave me a lot of opportunities to work with the playbook, run plays.”

For baseball, it’s about seeing where he fits in Iowa’s deep pitching group, and it starts next weekend when the Hawkeyes play in the Swig & Swine Classic in Charleston, S.C.

“I don’t know for sure what Brody’s role is going to end up being,” Heller said. “He’s definitely going to get his feet wet next weekend, and then we’re just going to kind of play it from there. We need to get him out there to see how things shake out, not just with him but with other guys. See where he can help the ball club the most, what can Brody bring to the table that gives us a chance to win games.”

“Starting, relief, closer, whatever they need,” Brecht said. “I just want to be a part (of the team) and be able to help the team win.”

Brecht was a dominant pitcher in high school, going 10-0 in his senior season at Ankeny High School with 126 strikeouts.

But he knows he can’t just overpower hitters at the Division I college level. Brecht wants better movement on his slider and curveball, and he’s working on a changeup.

“The velo is there,” Brecht said. “I just have to be able to locate my corners and everything. It’s gotten better since high school, I’ve been able to put it where I’ve wanted to. Obviously not every pitch is going where I want it to, so I still have to work on that.”

Hitting 100 was a big moment, Brecht said with a smile.

“I threw 98 in high school, and hit 99 here a couple of times,” Brecht said. “Just give me that extra mile an hour. Then we had a live set and the adrenaline was flowing and I finally hit it.”

Juggling two sports is another challenge. Football was the priority in the fall, although Brecht said he did get some throwing work in on the side. Baseball is the priority in the spring.

“Obviously, I’m already behind in football,” Brecht said. “I played (high school baseball) through the summer, and then I had my thumb injury. I’ve been pushed back a lot. I’ve been working hard to get back to be able to compete for the job at the ‘X’ wide receiver. Obviously I wish I could be out there for spring ball, but baseball is the priority right now, and that’s where I have to put most of my focus at.”

Brecht was recently ranked the No. 1 prospect in the Big Ten for the 2024 Major League Baseball draft. That seems a long way away for him.

“It was really cool to see that, it’s an honor,” Brecht said. “But I haven’t thrown a college pitch yet. A lot can change. I’ve got a lot to prove, so I have to keep working hard.”

After a fall of working on football on the practice field, Brecht will finally get to play a game soon as a Hawkeye in baseball.

“I still don’t know what that college athletic experience is like,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to it.”