PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — The ninth season of the California Winter League began on January 25th and concluded on February 18th with the league championship. Ten teams competed in the 2018 CWL with five in the American division and five in the Canadian division.
The American division was made up of the Palm Springs Power, Palm Springs Chill, Coachella Valley Snowbirds, Oregon LumberJacks and Washington Blue Sox. The Canadian division featured the Canada A’s, British Columbia Bombers, Alberta Grizzly, Toronto Rush and Manitoba North Stars. The league featured mostly players from the United States, but included players from Canada, Australia, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. The Snowbirds roster was made up entirely of players from those three Asian countries.
Throughout the three-week regular season, a handful of teams put together dominant runs. The A’s started 6-0 and were undefeated after a full week of games, the Snowbirds went 4-1-1 over their final six games after losing their first ten, and the LumberJacks went 7-0-1 over an eight-game stretch following an 0-3 start to the season.
The Palm Springs Power took home the regular season American division crown with a 9-5-1 record while the Toronto Rush won their final five regular season games to win the Canadian division with a 9-6 record.
Every team makes the postseason in the CWL, which set up a 10-team bracket similar to Major League Baseball’s postseason structure. The playoffs, which lasted four days, started with the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds in each division playing what was essentially a “Wild Card” game, with the winner moving on to play the No. 1 seed in their respective division. The No. 4 Chill beat the No. 5 Snowbirds 7-1 and the No. 4 Grizzly beat the No. 5 Bombers 5-4 on Gabe Gunter’s walkoff double with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.
The Chill moved on to play the No. 1 Power and pulled off an 8-2 upset win. The game was tied 2-2 going into the top of the seventh inning when the Chill exploded for six runs. The other No. 1 seed, the Rush, beat the Grizzly 6-5 in what was a close back-and-forth game throughout. Cody Pamperin threw six strong innings in that game, striking out 11 batters with no walks for the Rush.
The semis continued with the No. 3 Blue Sox beating the No. 2 LumberJacks 3-1 behind Joseph Costello’s complete game. The No. 3 North Stars got a complete game from their starter in the semis too, as Chris De Rue blanked the No. 2 A’s over seven innings in a 7-0 win.
In the Canadian division championship, the North Stars edged out the Rush in a pitcher’s duel, 5-1. Jensen Kirch allowed just one unearned run in 6.1 innings and David Kerian went 3-for-4 in the game. The American division championship was an instant classic, as the Blue Sox and the underdog Chill battled from the start and needed extra innings to decide a winner. The game was tied 3-3 after five innings and stayed that way until Marc Culmer hit a walkoff double with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
Two great division championship games set up a fantastic matchup between the No. 3 Blue Sox and No. 3 North Stars in a nine-inning game for the CWL Championship. The game was scoreless through three innings before the North Stars scored one run in the fourth and two in the fifth to go up 3-0. But the Blue Sox got hot in the sixth inning, scoring six runs to go from down three to up three. The Sox added two runs in the seventh and two more in the eighth and won the game, 10-3. Carson Lee led the way, going 3-for-4 with four RBI, and all nine Sox starters reached base.
A lot of credit goes to the coaches at the CWL, who put the players in excellent positions to get signed and get better. Every coach and instructor participating in the CWL has years of playing and coaching experience in professional baseball, and their daily instruction, advice and knowledge led to a successful season for all involved.
There were a ton of standout performers in the league this year, which led to 64 players signing professional contracts. Left-handed pitcher Tyler Matzek, who was drafted 11th overall in the 2009 MLB Draft, signed a minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners that included an invite to Spring Training, and outfielder KC Huth received an invite to Spring Training from the Texas Rangers while also signing with a team in the American Association. 32 players signed Frontier League deals, 12 received contracts from the United Shore Professional Baseball League, 11 signed with a team in the Pacific Association, five signed American Association deals, one player signed in the Atlantic League, and two signed International contracts. The complete list of 2018 player signings can be found here.
At the end of the season–including the postseason–seven position players had a batting average over .400, 11 players had more than one home run, 10 had at least 10 RBI, 14 collected 15 or more hits, and eight players stole at least five bases. On the pitching side, 23 pitchers tossed 20.0 or more innings, 23 racked up at least 20 strikeouts, nine hurlers won three or more games, 17 recorded a save, and 27 pitchers who logged at least 10.0 innings had a sub-3.00 ERA.
Here is a list of players who led the league in the major batting categories: Batting Average (Gabe Gunter, .463), Hits (Will Krug, 23), Home Runs (Carter Grote, 4), RBI (Grote, 15), Runs (Jake Willsey/Krug, 15), Stolen Bases (Krug, 19), Walks (Tauya Okamato/Cam Coons, 11), On-Base Percentage (Haydon Mahe-Liessmann, .500)… and major pitching categories: Wins (Joseph Costello, 5), ERA (Kane McCall, 0.68), Strikeouts (Chris De Rue, 42), WHIP (Costello, 0.52), K/9 (Scott Harkin, 15.88), Innings Pitched (Walter Rook, 35.2), Complete Games (Rook, 3), Saves (Tyler Sharp, 3).
All in all, it was a successful 2018 season in Palm Springs, California.
By: Michael Marcantonini, Broadcaster