Acquisitions Prove Chicago Dogs Ready to Stay at Top
American Association Daily provides insights, features, and recaps of the action from around the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions. In today’s edition, Robert Pannier looks at the completion of two deals for the Chicago Dogs that brought infielder Matt Bottcher and pitcher Ryan O’Reilly and how this could help to keep Chicago at the top of the East Division.
Making Their Way to the Top
In their first three years of existence, the Chicago Dogs failed to miss the playoffs. After going 45-54 in their first season, the club won 14 more games in 2019, falling just short of making the postseason. The 2020 pandemic season saw the club finish a disappointing 26-32.
However, the last two seasons Chicago has been the team to beat in their division. They had the best record in the North Division in 2021, finishing 63-37, but fell to the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks in an epic five-game series in the Division Championship Series. Last season, the club finished with the top record in the East Division, tied with the Kane County Cougars at 54-46. They lost in the divisional playoff round to the Milwaukee Milkmen, leaving the club 3-5 in their brief playoff history.
Wanting to Remain the Top Dog
Since the hiring of Butch Hobson as the Dogs Manager, it has been clear that this team expected to win. No one hires a manager with an impressive pedigree like Hobson without expecting big things, and the Skipper has not only turned the team into a perennial playoff contender, but has signed and developed some of the best talent in the American Association over the last five years, including Keon Barnum, Jeff Kinley, and Luke Westphal, just to name a few.
While Chicago finished with the top record in the East, there is no denying that they almost dropped to third by the time the regular season ended. After sweeping the Lake Country DockHounds August 2-4, the team dropped six of their next eight series, going 9-21 over the final 30 games.
The Dogs had some of the best talent in the American Association, but a thin starting rotation led to an overworked bullpen that simply did not deliver down the stretch. That took away any momentum the club had entering the postseason, as they were ousted by Milwaukee in three games.
While it may seem a little too early to be getting excited about acquisitions, two deals that the club completed last week bode well for this team remaining near the top, if not at the top of the East Division. Both acquisitions involved Frontier League teams, as Schaumburg sent infielder Matt Bottcher and Evansville sent right-handed pitcher Ryan O’Reilly to the Dogs. These were two outstanding acquisitions by Hobson.
Chicago had one of the deepest lineups in the American Association, but the infield was one area where they were a little thin. K.C. Hobson, the son of the club’s Manager, had another outstanding year, hitting .266 with 15 homers and 62 RBI. Connor Kopach also had some big power numbers, hitting 14 homers and driving in 47, but finished with a .249 batting average. Grant Kay had a great year, hitting .296 and led the club with 21 homers, scoring 67 runs and driving in 67. Kay and Hobson definitely had All-Star seasons, but the rest of the infield had its shortcomings.
Bottcher fits in perfectly, able to play both second and short. He was in just his second professional season last year, but made it a big one, hitting .383 in 40 games with 28 runs scored and 28 RBI. He has a lively bat and can get on base, and his ability to play both corner outfield and both middle infield positions makes Bottcher a big asset for Hobson.
Beyond Kinley and Jordan Kipper, the starting rotation for the Dogs left much to be desired. Only one other pitcher who made at least nine starts had an ERA under five, and three who had at least 16 starts had ERAs well above 5.00. If Chicago is going to take that next step to get to the championship series, then upgrading the starting rotation is a priority. O’Reilly is a big help.
The right-hander also completed his second season of professional baseball. He has made 32 appearances for Evansville over the last two years, 31 as a starter. In his first season, he went 5-4 with a 2.89 ERA but 2022 saw the ERA raise slightly, going to 4.50 in 19 starts. O’Reilly is a workhorse, tossing 206 innings over the last two seasons combined, striking out 156 while allowing 175 hits and 77 total walks. That has given him a 3.77 ERA in his brief professional career.
Getting Their Bark On!
O’Reilly joins two other acquisitions made by Hobson, signing two players who pitched for Billings (Pioneer League) last season. Right-hander Kenny Serwa went 5-2 in 10 appearances, boasting an impressive 2.44 ERA. The right-hander allowed 57 hits and just nine walks in 59.0 innings, striking out 50. He could slide into the rotation or find himself working in a setup role.
Left-hander Elijah Gill went 3-1 with a 3.19 ERA for Billings last year. He appeared in 16 games, tossing 87.1 innings allowing 85 hits and 29 walks while striking out 80. Both are going to be facing much tougher hitting than what they faced in the Pioneer League, but the two should definitely help to bolster this Chicago Dogs pitching staff next season.
American Association Acquisitions
Cleburne: Signed INF Edwin Arroyo
Fargo-Moorhead: Signed RHP Eric Ezersky and C Ben Livorsi
Lake Country: Signed OF Casey Dykstra
Lincoln: Signed RHP Carson Lance
By Robert Pannier