News and Notes: Fat Cats around the IBL, Welland expansion/relocation?

Former Fat Cat Brandon Huffman pitches for the Red Sox (photo courtesy R.S. Konjek)

Former Fat Cat Brandon Huffman pitches for the Red Sox at Christie Pits on June 2nd (photo courtesy R.S. Konjek)

It’s been too long since I’ve addressed the Fat Cats on what used to be primarily a Fat Cats blog. I feel slightly guilty about that and I’d be lying if I said that nothing was going on, so here’s a little rundown covering what’s been going on with all Fat Cats related stories around the IBL, and a little blurb on some IBL expansion prospects.

Cats around the league

Another former Fat Cat joined the likes of Jason Coker and Brandon Huffman among others, signing with an IBL team looking to make a run at a championship. At the signing deadline, the Brantford Red Sox inked Eitan Maoz as a depth acquisition in an effort to defend their title again.

As of July 22nd, Maoz is batting .286 in 4 games played. Obviously it’s a small sample size, so we’ll see if he’ll continue to bring Brantford the energetic punch that Fat Cats fans knew him for over the course of his 2 and a half season stint in the red and white.

He’s played the majority of his games as the DH or in the outfield. You may recall Maoz being the go-to catcher for Tim Nelson last year. However, with IBL veteran and former Frontier League pro Wayne Forman in their catcher slot, it’s hard to find a fit for him in that position. Regardless, Maoz brings a hot bat and a charismatic persona to the Sox locker room, two qualities that are valued by a team looking to claim a championship.

With the arrival of former London Rippers pitcher Jamie Richmond in the IBL, Brandon Huffman has been dethroned as the best starter in the league. He does, however, continue to carry a very low ERA of 2.10. While his strikeout count is down, that is most likely for the better, as Huffman often went deep into counts looking for the K, driving up his pitch count.

Having a lower strikeout number is a good thing for him in my opinion and he’s settled into what looks to be a big role in Brantford’s starting rotation – not that they need his help, being 9 games ahead of the pack. It’s safe to say that the Sox have all but clinched a sixth straight championship – if you’re looking for parity in the IBL, halt your search now.

The team that was slated to challenge Brantford for the Dominico Trophy at the beginning of the year was the Barrie Baycats. There are a few people who believe that the Baycats’ phase as the “heir to the throne” is over, replaced by the Kitchener Panthers.

This is plausible, but I’m not buying it. Jason Coker and Josh Soffer have helped the Baycats into a dog fight with London for 3rd place, and while the Panthers do have the stats (and the help of a subdued Matt McGovern) I find it hard to believe that the Barrie team is done.

Coker and Soffer have both settled into their Baycats uniforms nicely. Soffer has posted a team-high 2 saves and a 2.22 ERA while appearing in 21 games this year – the next closest competitors in that category are Jake Hines and Brett Lawson at 10 appearances each. It’s clear that he’s one of the go-to pitchers for manager Angus Roy.

Jason Coker’s surprised many with an IBL career-high 9 home runs – very impressive for a guy who was not known as a power hitter with the Fat Cats, as Nelson went with more of a small ball game. This new dimension to Coker’s repertoire enforces what a valuable player he is.

Another pitcher with what we thought was terrific value is the young gun James Amelotte, but his play has stalled this year. Ever since a disastrous appearance in Guelph during the 2012 playoffs, it’s been downhill for him, where he’s walked 8 and given up 15 runs in just under 13 innings worked for Barrie, adding up for an ERA of 10.65, not much better than the 7.06 he had at SUNY Canton in 2012-13.

Given that this is the same 19-year-old that held off the powerhouse Red Sox in a complete game effort among other performances last year, it’s surprising to see him drop off. Hopefully we’ll see more of a rebound toward the end of this season and wherever he plays in 2014.

One last note from Toronto – Cody Mombourquette has left that organization after spending some time in the Leafs’ outfield and at shortstop. This was confirmed when I came across this tweet:

Potential relocation

Switching topics to some off field headlines, I’ve been in earshot of rumblings that the Fat Cats were contemplating a move to Welland Stadium in the Niagara region and that Duncan MacDonald was involved in the process – he won the IBL Executive of the Year for both years he was the man in charge for the Fat Cats.

A St. Catherines Standard article published on July 9th added fuel to the fire when it stated that “a second group wanted to put a team in Welland” other than the other local group, however Commissioner Smith shot down that proposition early.

I contacted Smith about the second group, where he denied the Ottawa/Welland rumours while also confirming other whispers that the Fat Cats would currently be unable to move due to outstanding payments.

“Even if the Fat Cats were in good standing with the League, which they are not, they and all other IBL teams have no right of relocation” said Smith via email. “Each franchise is assigned territorial rights; any expansion or relocation requires approval from the existing owners and the IBL has not received such a request.” Smith added that if the Welland area does gain an IBL team in 2014, it will be expansion and not relocation.

Nice to see high-quality baseball return to Welland and the Niagara area, it’s been way too long since a team occupied that ballpark and as one of the nicest in the country, that shouldn’t have been the case. I’m surprised that the Can-Am League hasn’t looked into placing a team there with the market of St. Catherines just 20 minutes away.

If the new ownership group wants to make the team viable, they will have to do their best to draw from outside Welland as well as from within. A “Niagara” brand scheme would work well in this situation.

I’ll hope to catch a few games in Welland next year if the team does in fact come to fruition. It would be nice to take in IBL baseball once again and in a stadium that has formerly hosted affiliated baseball to boot. This would be the nicest stadium in the league behind London and technically Ottawa.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Before I go, I’ve started a new sports blog called Under Review Sports, designed for me to express my opinion on all things sports while the Ottawa Baseball dilemma is sorted out. Check it out; I plan on updating it frequently!


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