MARION — The Miners reached the halfway point of their season Friday night with a home game against Gateway. Through a grueling first half complete with long road trips, injuries and a pair of departures, they remain in possession of a Frontier League playoff spot.
One reason why is catcher Andy Cosgrove, one of three players who will represent Southern Illinois at the first annual Can-Am League vs. Frontier League All-Star Game Wednesday night in Pomona, N.Y.
The former Minnesota Twins’ farmhand is batting .289 with no homers and 12 RBIs, adding a solid walk rate of around 11.5 percent. He was ranked as high as third in the league in batting average before dropping into a tie for ninth entering Friday night’s game.
Defensively, he’s cut off the running game, nailing 11 of 23 potential base-stealers and playing errorless ball over 26 games.
“Andy’s always had the skills,” Miners manager Mike Pinto said. “He does a wonderful job behind the plate with the pitchers. He works hard with (pitching coach) Tyler (Martin) to put together a game plan, and he also has a wonderful arm plus a strong release.”
Catch and throw has never been an issue for the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Cosgrove. Hitting was a bigger question during limited playing time in two years with Elizabethton of the Appalachian League. After batting .221 with a homer and eight RBIs in 21 games during the 2017 season, Cosgrove hit .262-1-12 in 19 games last year.
Knowing this year was make or break, Cosgrove went to Fort Myers, Fla., where the Twins train, in mid-January. He spent five weeks at a hitting camp, taking 200 swings per day in an attempt to improve his bat speed.
“It was actually considered a bat-speed camp,” he said. “I felt like it not only helped my bat speed, but it helped me because I was getting a lot of reps every single day. It helped my swing in general and got it on the right plane. It put me in a good position to hit balls well this year.”
Cosgrove got proof of his improvement by readings taken at the camp’s beginning and its ending. He said his swing’s average speed was around 65 miles per hour when it started, but nearly 70 mph at the camp’s conclusion.
Of the 14 players who participated, Cosgrove had the second-greatest improvement from start to finish.
“A five mile per hour difference and the fact I was taking 200 swings per day left me in a good place to start the season,” he said.
It didn’t help Cosgrove stay with Minnesota. It cut him during spring training. About three hours into his trip back home to Raleigh, N.C., Cosgrove got a text from Pinto, extolling the virtues of playing for Southern Illinois.
Days later, Cosgrove agreed to terms and has teamed with Arturo Nieto to form one of the top catching duos in the league. His contributions offensively have led Pinto to bat him fifth in 23 of the 31 games that Cosgrove has started.
“He absolutely deserves to be in the All-Star Game, representing us,” Pinto said. “We’re proud of what he’s done this year.”
Cosgrove’s contributions have been crucial for the Miners. They played 30 of their first 47 games on the road. They got nothing from two ballyhooed offseason acquisitions, Brett Siddall and Chris Iriart, who each hit .101 before being cut in June.
What’s more, they lost closer Nick Duron and leadoff man Bryant Flete when they were picked up by the Mariners and Reds, respectively. Yet Southern Illinois came into Friday night with a 26-21 record, one game up on River City for the final wild card spot.
“We’re going to get two of our main rotation guys back in the second half of the season,” said Cosgrove, referring to Steven Ridings and Ryan McAuliffe. “We’ve also got a lot of home games and I think we’ve proven we can win at home.
“So I’m pretty excited for the rest of the season. I think we’ll be just fine.”