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Bandits' pitching strength evident in MLB camps

Bandits' pitching strength evident in MLB camps

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There may not be a Quad Cities River Bandits season this year, but plenty of former River Bandits are working to see the field in 2020.

A total of 82 players who competed for the Midwest League club — including four who dominated as part of the Quad Cities pitching staff last season — are spread across 24 of baseball’s 30 organizations as part of initial 60-player pools currently in camp across the country.

All are working with hopes of landing spots on 30-player rosters for the scheduled start of the delayed major-league season later this month.

Brett Conine, Shawn Dubin, Nivaldo Rodriguez and Jojanse Torres, right-handed pitchers who helped the River Bandits lead the Midwest League with 1,372 strikeouts and a league-best average of 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings in 2019, are among 35 former Quad Cities players currently working in the Houston Astros training camp.

All experienced quick success in the Midwest League, with Conine reaching Double-A Corpus Christi and Dubin, Rodriguez and Torres advancing to high-A Fayetteville before the end of the 2019 season.

With the River Bandits, Conine finished 3-2 with a 1.91 ERA in six outings, striking out 40 batters and walking six in 33 innings of work.

Dubin went 1-0 with a 0.75 ERA, Rodriguez finished 3-1 with a 1.16 ERA and Torres was 3-0 with an ERA of 0.86 before being promoted. Rodriguez finished one of the team’s top strikeout-to-walk ratios, sitting down 39 batters and walking four over 31 innings.

Collectively, they’re illustrative of the aggressive designed approach that has been a hallmark of River Bandits pitching staffs in recent seasons.

Quad Cities established a new record for all levels of minor-league baseball in 2018 when River Bandits pitchers struck out 1,514 batters and were retiring an average of 11.1 batters per nine innings on strikeouts.

Five pitchers from that Quad Cities team — Bryan Abreu, Cristian Javier and Enoli Paredes with the Astros, Patrick Sandoval with the Angels and J.B. Bukauskas with the Diamondbacks — are currently in camps with major-league clubs.

Another eight players who took the mound for the River Bandits in both 2016 and 2017 are part of a group of 25 pitchers from those four seasons who are part of 60-player pools.

The success the River Bandits have had in developing pitchers is mirrored throughout the organization.

In 2018, Astros affiliates led professional baseball in strikeouts at every level from short-season Tri-City through Triple-A Fresno.

That season, Quad Cities pitchers were part of an organization whose arms led all of minor-league baseball in fastball velocity, breaking ball spin rate, off-speed pitch percentage and in the percentage of four-seam fastballs thrown in the upper one-third of the strike zone.

Collectively, that formula for success has helped pitchers progress quickly, numbers reflected in choices for 60-player pools which will form the core of major-league talent in a season impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

No position players from the River Bandits team in 2019 are currently part of Houston’s 60-player pool while five players from 2018 — catchers Michael Papierski and Colton Shaver and outfielder Jake Meyers with the Astros, shortstop Jonathan Arauz with the Red Sox and first baseman Seth Beer of the Diamondbacks — are currently on major-league camp rosters.

Beer, however, is currently sidelined after testing positive last week for the coronavirus.

Of the 82 former Quad Cities players in major-league camps, all but 18 have played for the River Bandits during the seven seasons the team has been affiliated with the Houston organization.

The rest suited up for Quad Cities during the final six seasons of an eight-year affiliation with St. Louis that ended in 2012.

The most experienced in camp are two players from the 2006 team known as the Swing of the Quad-Cities.

Pitcher Adam Ottavino of the Yankees and outfielder Jon Jay of the Diamondbacks played in the Midwest League that season.

Two players from the 2007 Swing team, shortstop Donovan Solano of the Giants and outfielder Tommy Pham of the Padres, also remain active in big-league camps.

Former Quad Cities players are spread throughout all but six major-league organizations.

Houston is the only club with more than four players who competed for Davenport-based Midwest League teams.

The Brewers, Pirates and Diamondbacks each have four former Quad Cities players in camp while the Blue Jays, Tigers, Athletics, Phillies and Cardinals all have three former River Bandits among their 60-player pool selections.

The only major-league teams without a former Quad Cities player in their 60-player pool are the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, Seattle Mariners and Washington Nationals.


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