‘Young Guns’ Return to Lead Kane County Cougars Staff
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 how the re-signing of right-handers Westin Muir and Jack Fox by the Kane County Cougars and how this team is rearmed to make the playoffs for the second straight year.
Building a Reputation
In 1988, a group of popular young actors starred in a movie called “Young Guns,” which was about a group of young men who sought revenge for the murder of a close friend and benefactor. One of the things that made the movie so popular was that it glamorized the incredible skill that these six young men had. Despite the fact that they had barely reached adulthood, the group established themselves as a force to be reckoned with.
The Kane County Cougars have their own version of the Young Guns, as they re-signed right-handers Jack Fox and Westin Muir in helping to build the Cougars into one of the strongest starting rotations in the American Association.
A Changing Direction
The Kane County Cougars joined the American Association in 2021, finishing in fifth place in the North Division (44-55). Manager George Tsamis became the team’s first manager in independent baseball, and had a group of veteran starters leading the way. That included former Major Leaguer Vance Worley and right-hander Tyler Viza.
In 2022, Tsamis began with the same general formula, as Worley returned and he signed veteran Ryan Tapani to be the ace of the staff. Worley battled through injuries and Tapani struggled just before the All-Star break. That required a change of direction by the Skipper, as he turned to two rookies on his staff to help guide this team to their first playoff appearance in just their second season. Those two delivered.
Fox was with the Cougars in 2021, appearing in 17 games, 14 of which were starts. He had a solid season, going 3-5 while posting a 4.2 ERA. The right-hander had been hit hard in two of his first three starts, giving up four earned runs in each of those outings, but rebounded to allow three or fewer runs in nine of his last 11 starts.
In 2022, he was still considered a rookie by league standards, and made this a season to remember, leading the American Association in victories (11-3) while posting a 3.04 ERA in 16 starts and two relief appearances. Fox began the season allowing five earned runs in his first 10 innings, then worked out of the bullpen in his next two appearances. He rejoined the rotation on June 24, allowing one earned run over his next three starts, a span of 16.0 innings. Fox won his first seven decisions of the season and did not allow more than four earned runs in any start.
Muir was a pure rookie in 2022, following the same general path of Fox. He began the season in the bullpen, making eight straight relief appearances before Tsamis moved the righty into the rotation. The rest, as they say, is history.
Muir won seven straight games (June 24-August 27). He allowed more than two runs in just two of those starts, and gave up a total of 13 runs in 39.1 innings pitched. Muir finished the season at 7-0 with a 3.77 ERA.
Young Guns 2.0?
The duo became an integral part of the Cougars pitching staff, and it was only fitting that the team announced the signing of the right-handers on the same day (February 16). Tsamis is notorious for waiting to sign the vast majority of his roster, or to at least waiting until announcing that he had signed the majority of his roster, but he wasted no time letting fans know that he had his two young guns back in the saddle.
So far, the team has also re-signed closer Logan Nissen (2.38, 7 saves) and relievers Ryan Richardson (4.05, 6 saves, 41 appearances) and C.J. Carter (39 appearances, 3.48, 60 4K, 51.2 IP) to help close out games. Tsamis will likely add a couple of veteran arms to the rotation, but there is no doubt that he has signaled that these two young guns are going to be leaders of the staff. Now, all they need is a pair of cool cowboy hats.
American Association Transactions
February 22, 2023
Chicago: Released OF Eric Rivera
Kansas City: Signed LHP Zach Matson
Lincoln: Signed RHP Walter Borkovich
Sioux City: Traded RHP Jose Fuentes to Milwaukee to complete two previous transactions
Sioux City: Signed OF Jake Sanford
Sioux Falls: Signed RHP Mitchell Walters
Sioux Falls: Traded RHP Matt Dunaway and RHP Nate Garkow to Gateway (Frontier League) for INF Trevor Achenbach and future considerations
February 21, 2023
Cleburne: Signed INF José Sermo
Kansas City: Signed RHP Jackson McClelland
Sioux Falls: Signed RHP Israel Cruz
February 20, 2023
Chicago: Traded LHP Elijah Gill to Tri-City (Frontier League) for INF Brad Zunica
Chicago: Signed INF Josh Altmann
Chicago: INF Grant Kay signed with Dos Laredos (Mexican League)
Cleburne: Signed OF Mark Karaviotis
Kane County: Signed RHP C.J. Carter
Lake Country: Signed OF Pat Adams and INF Marcus Chiu
Lincoln: Signed RHP Nic Laio
Milwaukee: Signed INF Delvin Zinn
Milwaukee: RHP Rodrigo Benoit signed with Durango (Mexican League)
Sioux City: Released INF Zack Cone
Sioux City OF Danny Amaral signed with Monclova (Mexican League)
Sioux City RHP Thomas McIlraith signed with Unión Laguna (Mexican League)
Sioux City OF Ademar Rifaela signed with Oaxaca (Mexican League)
Sioux Falls: Signed RHP Matt Dunaway
Sioux Falls: RHP Stevie Ledesma signed with Monclova (Mexican League)
By Robert Pannier