2016 Junior InterCounty Baseball League Preview
Leading up to the 2016 season of the JICBL, here is a preview of what to expect this season from around the league. The teams making up the league this year are: Kitchener Jr. Panthers, Guelph Silvercreeks, Port Dover Clippers, Hamilton Jr. Cardinals, Stratford Indians and Brantford Braves. The playoff format is receiving a slight tweak this year, as the top 4 teams will make the playoffs, and then two rounds of best of 5 series’ will be played for the championship.
Kitchener Jr. Panthers
Coming off a season in which they came back from trailing 2-0 in a best of 5 series in the championship round and shocking the Guelph Silvercreeks to claim the title, look for the Jr. Panthers to continue their momentum coming into this season. With emerging JICBL superstar Andy Leader coming back for another season, it can be seen that he will be among the best in the league on both the offensive and pitching side of the ball. With key supporting piece first baseman Chris Iltshishin returning, this offence looks to once again be fairly productive and a force to be reckoned with in the JICBL. The rotation also returns Laurier Goldenhawk Noah Ivanyi who led this team in innings pitched a year ago. However, Kitchener loses staff ace Waterloo Warrior Ryne Weppler, as well as three key position players in fellow Warrior Kyle Balzereit, Laurier Golden Hawk Brett Medland and outfielder Ryan Douse. A few key additions to this team are also Guelph Silvercreek losses, as pitchers Stephen Gade and outfielder Chris Bombino are making the switch to the other side of the Jr. Highway 7 rivalry. Look for this team to be among the top in the standings once again this season, and be competing for a championship.
2016 Bold Prediction– Out of the major 6 categories between hitting and pitching (AVG., HR, RBI, W, ERA, Ks), Andy Leader leads in 4 of these for the entire league.
Team Needs: Bullpen depth, a key additional piece to drive in runs
The Guelph Silvercreeks are coming off a historic offensive season last year that saw their offence hit 48 home runs over the course of their entire season (tournaments and playoffs included). However, this is a team that features several key losses on the offensive side of the ball. Sluggers Michael Clouthier and Aaron Loder who combined for 30 of those 48 team home runs have both graduated and moved on to play for the Guelph Royals of the Intercounty Baseball League. Overall, the Creeks lose 37 of those 48 home runs from a year ago, so this team is likely to have a very different look this year. The team will lean on the only remaining hitter from the middle of their order a year ago in Brock Badger first baseman/designated hitter Blake Stepien to guide their offence. Supporting him, the Creeks will need University of Guelph standouts shortstop Mason Copeland and 3rd baseman Nick Interisano to step up and fill key rolls. McMaster Marauder right fielder Michael Campagnolo had a breakout season a year ago in the JICBL as well as the OUA, and the Creeks are looking for him to continue his contributions in order for this team to be successful. On the pitching side, the Guelph Silvercreeks retain most of their starting staff with ace Zach Lawrence returning for his final junior season and Alex Galetta looking to repeat his solid performance from a year ago. Overall, this team has the makeup to be a championship caliber team in this league once again, but with the loss of key hitters combined with the dimension changes to their home park, they will have to manufacture runs in a different way come this season.
Bold prediction– The Creeks go from 48 home runs in 2015 to only 10 in 2016.
Team Needs- After blowing two championships that were seemingly in the bag, the Creeks will need a reliable bullpen arm to turn to late in games in order to reach their potential. Jordan Inkol and Ben Murray could both be that guy for them.
Port Dover Clippers
If there were a most improved team award over the course of a single season, Port Dover would have won it unanimously in 2015. Winning only 3 of their first 16 games to start the season, Port Dover got hot at the end of the season and concluded their season with a playoff berth and upsetting Hamilton in the first round before being swept by the Creeks in the 2nd round. Going from 3-13 to the semi finals of a competitive league cannot be understated however, as Port Dover really seemed like a completely different ball team by the end of the season. Even in the 3 game sweep by the Creeks, the scores were only 4-2, 4-3 and 7-4 in those games respectably. With an offence led by Mac Mitchell who finished in the top 5 of the league RBI race, their offence knows how to manufacture runs when they are needed, even featuring a lineup with 6 hitters that finished the season with a batting average over .300. On the pitching side, Andy Wilson and Josh Johnson shared most of the workload last season and were able to limit teams to few enough runs against near the end of the season that allowed them to always be in a position to win games. Although not currently considered a threat for a championship, this is a team that cannot be taken lightly or they will beat you (re: bouncing Hamilton in the first round a year ago). If this team can put together a full season of playing at the level they did towards the end of last season, this team should be relevant come playoff time.
Bold Prediction– Port Dover reaches the semi-finals once again and plays a competitive series against their opponent, ultimately losing in 5 games.
Team Needs- A defence that always converts the easy outs.
Hamilton Jr. Cardinals
With the Hamilton Jr. Cardinals once again having a competitive team a year ago; look for them to take a step backwards in 2016 with several key-graduating players. With so many good young players on the IBL Cardinals, the Jr. Cardinals always seems to feature an “A” and a “B” lineup depending on if the IBL Cardinals are playing that day or not. Their “A” lineup can compete with some of the top teams in Ontario and even make a bit of a run in the eliminations tournament, and their “B” lineup is more of a middle of the pack team in the JICBL. It is tough to predict the outcome of this teams’ games as it entirely depends on which of their players even show up to their games, but if they can get their “A” lineup to more games this season than last, this team can be very competitive in this league. However, IBL players attendance to the Junior Cardinals games seems to be declining compared to two years ago, and look for the “B” lineup to be the one playing more often than not. With an offence that lost several key regular players to graduation such as Lake Molleson, and a pitching staff with little to offer past Brock Badger Hayden Waselynchuk, look for this team to finish in the middle of the standings this year.
Bold Prediction– This team could finish close to last or close to 1st and somehow neither would seem to be surprising. It really depends entirely on what players show up. The 2016 Bold Prediction for this team is that Hayden Waselynchuk will lead this staff in all 3 of the major pitching categories.
Team Needs- A pitching staff that can put together 9 good innings every game, a middle of the order bat to drive in a bulk of the runs
Stratford, a lot like Port Dover, is a team that cannot be slept on when they are played. They are a gritty team that never stops fighting until the final out is recorded. There was no better example of this than the OBA finals in 2015 in which they were playing the Guelph Silvercreeks and were trailing by 4 runs in the final inning of the championship game, eventually coming back to claim the OBA championship with a dramatic 5 run inning to earn the walk-off win for the provincial championship (For those keeping track… Yes that is the same Guelph Silvercreeks team that had a 2-0 series lead in the league championships against the Kitchener Jr. Panthers and lost). However, with key offensive threats Tanner Young-Schultz, Keegan Marsden, Kyle Frey and Adam Reece all moving on from this team, look for this team to take a step backwards in the standings. With that being said, this team has proved people wrong before and are incredibly gritty, and you can be sure that they will have at least a couple of wins against the big name teams in the league throughout the course of the season. The face of everything that is the Stratford Indians is Brock Badger pitcher Jake “The Snake” Near. In any game that this kid plays in, he will find a way to keep his team in the game. This team will not roll over when facing the powerhouse teams even though they are a significantly worse team on paper this year than last. This team will need several breakout performances in order to be relevant in 2016.
Bold Prediction– Stratford leads the league in 1-run losses.
Team Needs- Starting pitchers that can go 6 strong innings. Offensive players that know how to manufacture runs.
A team that took an enormous step backwards a year ago, going from a league powerhouse to the basement of the league, look for them to have a season more like 2015 than 2014. With no staff ace, and the only real offensive threat of any kind being shortstop Michael Beal, this team looks to profile as a team that allows a lot of runs and scores few. Pitcher Mike Burke sported an admirable 0.52 ERA last year, but with his only starts coming against the now departed-from-the-league Woodstock Rangers team that did not win a single game a year ago, this stat cannot be looked into to much. Featuring a record with single digit wins last year, look for them to not improve much on that total, unless they have some key additions to their team that are not known.
Bold Prediction– Brantford wins less than 5 games in the regular season, finishing in last place.
Team Needs- Someone that can drive in Michael Beal when he’s on base. Pitchers that can keep the team in the game.
- Guelph Silvercreeks 21-5
- Kitchener Panthers 18-8
- Hamilton Cardinals 14-12
- Port Dover Clippers 12-14
- Stratford Indians 9-17
- Brantford Braves 4-22
Offensive Category Leaders:
Average- Andy Leader .467
HR- Chris Iltishishin 5, Andy Leader 5, Blake Stepien 5
RBI- Blake Stepien 28
R- Mason Copeland 20
SB- Peter Fedy 12, Mason Copeland 12
BB- Nolan McNabb 24
Pitching Category Leaders:
Wins- Zach Lawrence 8
Strikeouts: Andy Leader 40
ERA: Zach Lawrence 2.45
Innings Pitched: Zach Lawrence 60.1
Saves- Jordan Inkol 3
Champion- Guelph Silvercreeks
Runner-up- Kitchener Jr. Panthers
Additional League Notes
- Woodstock Rangers and Cambridge Cubs who both participated in this league for the last 2 years, will not be participating this year. Last year these two teams combined for 5 wins. This now makes a total of 3 teams that will not be in the league in 2016 that were in the league in 2014 (St. Thomas TomCats) but Port Dover was not in the league in 2014 and now is in the league in 2015 and 2016, offsetting one of the losses.
- Woodstock Rangers ace Baily Davis who led the league in strikeouts a year ago by a wide margin (pitched 3 games a year ago in which he posted a remarkable 15, 12 and 11 strikeouts respectably) is unknown of where he will be playing this summer, if at all. If another team in the JICBL has picked him up, that would be considered the biggest addition of all teams this season.
- The would-be Cambridge ace and University of Guelph outfielder/pitcher Liam Rivard has joined the Guelph Silvercreeks and is considered a key addition for that club
- Stephen Gade’s role with the Jr Panthers is unclear, if he is coming out of the bullpen then look for him to be among the league leaders in saves. If he is starting then look for him to put together a nice year and be in the top 5 of all qualified pitchers in the big 3 categories.
- My information about Hamilton’s recruiting situation was limited and my analysis of their team was based off of what could be inferred from the league website and their birthdays re: graduating players. It is very possible that they have a collection of new stars that I was unaware of at the time this article was written, hence why I put them finishing in the upper-middle of the pack.
- Along with the Guelph Silvercreeks losing a ton of power just in the build of their players, the fences at David E. Hastings (their homefield) have also been moved back over 30 feet down the lines, also adding to the prediction that the home run drop for this team will likely be dramatic.
- The JICBL has announced its inaugural all-star game to be played on Sunday August 7th in Guelph, Ontario. It is unclear at this time the selection requirements in order for players to earn the All-Star nod or even the format of the game (two teams created from the JICBL that play each other, one team from the JICBL plays a team from another league etc.) In any case, look for many names from this article to be participants in that game. For more information about this game please see http://www.guelphsilvercreeks.com/the-all-star-classic-comes-to-guelph/