By Steve Robinson | May 26, 2019 - 10:16 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

After nine seasons as a member of the Frontier League, trying to help players who might have tried to get into the majors via the minor only to be released, the Normal CornBelters last year opted to go a different route and join the Prospect League beginning this season. The Prospect League, according to its website, “is a summer collegiate wood bat league.”

The purpose of the league is to: Provide family friendly, affordable baseball entertainment in the communities where our teams are located; Provide a summer baseball program for eligible college players to give them experience using a wood bat in a competitive atmosphere; And provide a venue to allow MLB Scouts to watch collegiate prospects using wood bats against live pitching in competition.

After nine years of being in the Frontier League, this will take some adjusting to, but the team’s new general manager, Todd Kunze, assures me fans will enjoy seeing college kids who are looking for their first taste of life in pro ball by playing in this collegiate league. He said scouts come to this league’s games, just as they did in the Frontier League, and the team’s new manager, Rick White. White has two assistant coaches, hitting coach Zach Quillian, and pitching coach Bobby Hunter.

If White’s name registers with fans, it’s because he played from 1994-1995, and again from 1998-2007 for, among others, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, New York Mets, Colorado, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Seattle. He has prior experience in the Prospect League as a manager with a team from Springfield, Ohio.

The players in the Prospect League are all currently attending college and to play in this league “is an extension of their college season and gives them an opportunity to be seen by pro scouts so that, hopefully, the scouts will help them so that teams will draft them,” White explained.

In some cases, White said, some players will get their first chance to be seen at this level, while others will receive additional looks while they’re here, having been seen previously.

“The number one difference between the Prospect League and the league Normal was in before is that these kids are still in college, so they aren’t getting paid,” White explained. “You won’t see much of a difference in on-field performance. The college kids hustle more. They’re always running off and on the field. They’re very personable, and they will always sign autographs.” In fact, for 15 minutes after every game, that’s where fans can find these guys – signing autographs for fans, White said.

Three Local Players On The Roster: In past years, the CornBelters have had many guys come through who, in some cases, literally, had to look up Normal, Ill. To know where they would be playing that summer. For three of the guys on the current 31-man roster, that won’t be necessary. They are: Pitcher Jackson Bronke, an Illinois State University junior; Redshirt freshman infielder Billy Mote; and ISU junior outfielder Jack Butler.

Normal Belongs In 6-Team Western Division: The season begins May 30 with Normal on the road for their first three games over two days. Normal will be a member of the 12-team Prospect League’s Western Division, joined by fellow expansion teams DuPage County Pistol Shrimp and Cape Girardeau, Mo.-based Cape Catfish, Hannibal (Mo.) Hoots, Quincy Gems, and Springfield Sliders. The league’s Eastern Division consists of the Danville Dans, Springfield, Ohio-based Champion City Kings, Ohio-based Chillicothe Paints, Lafayette Aviators, West Virginia Miners based in Beckley, W. Va., and the league’s reigning champions, the Terre Haute Rex. The teams play a 60-game schedule followed by playoffs. The CornBelters play their first homestand June 1 at 7:05p.m. and June 2 6:35p.m.against DuPage.

The Prospect League will hold its annual All-Star Game at The Corn Crib on July 23.

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