Gateway Grizzlies add two!

Sauget, IL- The Gateway Grizzlies have announced two recent additions for the 2019 season. The team has come to terms with Dominic Topozian, a pitcher acquired from the Sioux Fall Canaries of the American Association, as well as infielder Rafael Valera, formerly of the Pittsburg Diamonds of the Pacific League.

Topoozian, 24, played his final two years of college at Fresno State playing his biggest role his senior year appearing in 30 games for the Bulldogs as a relief pitcher in 2017 tying for sixth-most appearances in the Mountain West. The Clovis, California native started in nine games for the Sonoma Stompers of the Pacific league and appeared in 11 games, starting two for the Sioux City Exporers of the American Association, finishing with a 7-1 record and a 2.91 ERA. 

Valera, 24, began his professional career in 2011 as a non-drafted free agent of the Minnesota Twins. After spending eight seasons in the Twins organization reaching as high as the Fort Myers Miracle (A+ level). The Venezualan native spent 2018 with the Pittsburg

Diamonds of the Pacific League, where he posted a stat line of .294/.401/.467 adding 11 homeruns and 11 stolen bases. 

The Gateway Grizzlies will begin their season on May 10th when they take on the Shaumberg Boomers at GCS Credit Union Ballpark.  For ticket call the box office at 618.337.3000.

Who is Trae Santos?

The Frontier League Homerun Derby took place at Carshield Field in O’Fallon, Missouri this week.  Fans filled the stadium for a chance to see former Cardinals greats compete with Frontier League All-Stars in matchup of local favorites vs. unknown up and comers.  Former Cardinals Mark Whiten, Ray Lankford, Kerry Robinson and Rick Ankiel were set to put on a show for the thousands in attendance. To their surprise they were upstaged by a little known first baseman playing just across the river for the Gateway Grizzlies.  His name was Trae Santos.

Trae Santos put on a show from the first pitch launching mammoth homers over the giant right field wall at Carshield Field.  Santos ran through the Frontier League competitors smashing 22 homers in the first two rounds, setting up a matchup with former Cardinal P/OF Rick Ankiel.  Santos dispatched of Ankiel rather quickly beating his 3 homers in just a few swings.  Fans that had come to see the former Cardinals greats swing left wondering who was this power hitting machine manning first for the Grizzlies.  Who was Trae Santos?

In 2005, star pitcher and first baseman Trae Santos led the Guam Little League team all the way to the semifinals of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. With that success, the Santos family made a momentous decision. They decided to move their family to America where Trae began to make his mark the baseball community. Drafted in the 17th round of the 2013 MLB draft by the San Diego Padres out of Troy University.  Playing 4 seasons in affiliated ball Santos had trouble standing out.  Hitting his peak during the 2015 season, Santos hit 14 homers and drove in 60 runs for the Fort Wayne Tincaps of the Midwest League. Unable to improve on those numbers the Padres released Santos after the 2016 season, leaving Trae at a crossroads in his career.

“The phones weren’t really ringing last year.  I just kept working on my swing and hitting the gym everyday. Waiting for that opportunity.” said Santos when asked about taking the 2017 season off.

Manager Phil Warren gave Trae a call with an invite to tryout for the Gateway Grizzlies.  With the departure of long time first baseman Craig Massoni their was an opening on the Gateway roster.   Looking for pop in the middle of the order Santos seemed to fit right into the needs of the team.  Beating out Kristian Brito for the starting first baseman spot, Santos jumped right into the middle of the Gateway lineup.  Santos came out the gates struggling in 2018.  Showing signs of rust from the year off of competitive baseball.  After a few weeks into the season Santo was hitting well below .200.  Phil Warren refused to give up on the young slugger.

“I sat Trae down and told him to stop putting so much pressure on himself.  These guys are out here trying to get you out.  Stop worrying so much and just do what you know you can do.” said Warren.

The brief conversation paid off huge for Santos as he was able to turn things around almost immediately.   Hitting .288 with 11HRS, 34RBI’s, earning himself a slot in the Frontier League All-Star game his comeback was complete.

Santos has had a roller coaster career so far in baseball.  Right now he is heading towards the top of the coaster in hopes that there will not be the long drop this time.  At the age of 25 getting a call back to affiliated ball will be a long shot.  But the statement he made during the Homerun Derby will live on in the history of the Frontier League.  Maybe Santos will not be the second player ever to make it to the Majors but he will go down in the Frontier League history books along with the creation of the Baseball’s Best Burger and Brett Gray’s 25 strikeout night.

Come see Trae Santos lead the Gateway Grizzlies in the second half of the season beginning July 14th vs. the River City Rascals.

Grizzlies All-Star Reliever set for new role

In the summer of 2017 Micheal Elwood was in Kansas enjoying a Country Stampede concert.   No longer thinking about continuing his baseball career after a Gateway Grizzlies Manager Phil Warren said that there was no room on the roster for him. “I figured that was the end,” said Elwood. He had accepted that maybe his time as a baseball player was over.  Then right as Chase Rice took the stage Elwood received a phone call  from Normal Cornbelters Manager Brooks Carey.  Carey was calling Elwood to offer him a spot on the Cornbelters roster based on his tryout with Gateway. His time as a baseball player was not over yet.

Micheal Elwood, 25,  spent his college career pitching for Canisius College located in Buffalo, New York.  Originally a shortstop/first baseman made the transition to full time pitcher his sophomore year.  “I was pitching in a summer game in Buffalo and after the game a few scouts came up to me and said every pitch I threw was over 90 MPH. I was shocked.”   The transformation into full time pitcher had become official.  He began to focus on pitching, having his most successful season during his senior campaign finishing with 5-4 record, and a 4.26 ERA having thrown in 57 innings throughout the year.

Elwood struggled through is first Frontier League season finishing with a a 7.12 ERA while appearing in 13 games for the Cornbelters.  Despite the rough start Elwood received an invite back to spring training for the 2017 season. Making the 13 hour trip from his home in Texas to Bloomington, Il ready to make his mark in the Frontier league, another call came from Brooks Carey.  Carey informed Elwood that he had been traded to the Gateway Grizzlies the original team that he had tried out for.  Elwood turned his car around and began to head to Sauget, Illinois.

Elwood made an immediate impact with the Gateway Grizzlies  becoming a force out of the bullpen. Working 32 innings across 21 appearances  with a team-leading three wins against zero loses holding a 3.09 ERA in the first half of the season earning him a spot in the Frontier League All- Star game as one of three Gateway Grizzlies representatives. Elwood continued to impress finishing the season with a 3.05 ERA over 42 appearances.

Entering the 2018 season the Gateway Grizzlies had to fill the void left by departing veteran pitchers, JaVuan West, Will Landsheft, and Vince Molesky.  Starting pitching became a need.  Elwood was given the chance to fill one of the holes in the rotation.  “I realized that I can be most helpful to the organization as a starter. I have a knuckleball that I can use more as a starter.” said Elwood when asked about his new role. “We have so many strong arms at the end of the bullpen and the front of the rotation hopefully I can give us six or seven strong every night.”

Elwood will be entering his third season in the Frontier League, for the first time going into the season with a defined role and high expectations.  “We have five guys in the rotation that have been in pro ball for a long time. I learn from them everyday. I think we have all of the pieces to have a championship team.”

Elwood’s new role has will be tested for the first time Wed. May 16th at the Washington Wild Things.  If all goes to plan he will be making his first home start for Gateway will be their next home stand May 22-24 against the Lake Erie Crushers.

 

Grizzlies Pitching Depth for 2018

The Gateway Grizzlies added two pitchers to their spring training roster to add more depth to veteran Manager Phil Warren’s pitching staff.  LHP Keelan Smithers and RHP Kevin Simmons will join the team as they head into spring training.

Keelan Smithers, 23, an imposing figure at 6′ 5″ 230lbs. Smithers spent his college years in the Ivy League as a member of the Princeton Tigers.  The big lefty made 34 appearances, 29 starts, garnering 7 wins with a 5.84 ERA over his four year tenure.

Kevin Simmons, 24, played his college ball at Wallace Community College (Dothan, Alabama).  2014 16th round draft pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks spent two years in their system going 3-5 with a 3.95 ERA. Simmons brings Frontier League experience pitching for the Joliet Slammers during the 2016 season.  In 34 appearances out of the bullpen Simmons went 1-2 with a 4.91 ERA.

Smithers and Simmons will join a pitching staff looking to improve on a 5.11 team ERA during the 2017 season .

The Grizzlies will begin their spring training schedule Tuesday April 1st against the Southern Illinois Miners in Marion.

For the Grizzlies full schedule go to Gatewaygrizzlies.com.