SIOUX CITY -- You may not ever ride the waves in Malibu or Maui, but “surfing’’ the internet can be a lot of fun at considerably less risk of injury.
For those of you who follow Sioux City high school sports, I’d highly recommend the official minor league baseball website, which you can find by typing “milb.com” into your browser.
This is especially worthwhile these days because our town has rarely had so many baseball players making serious bids at reaching the major leagues.
I’ll give you the facts and figures as of Monday afternoon and turn it over to you if you care to continue keeping tabs on your own.
We’ll start with North grad Damek Tomscha, who is one step away from “The Show,’’ playing third base for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs in Allentown, Pa. That’s the flourishing Philadelphia Phillies’ Class AAA International League affiliate.
Drafted out of Auburn University in 2014, Tomscha finished last season with the Iron Pigs after logging 93 games with Class AA Reading (Pa.). In a total of 119 games, he batted .272 with 17 home runs and 62 runs batted in. Those were certainly encouraging numbers for Iowa’s 2010 Gatorade Player of the Year -- one of four Sioux City stars to win that honor in a seven-year span from 2009 through 2015.
The 6-2, 200-pound Tomscha, drafted four times before signing with the Phillies, played two years at Auburn after batting .405 with 29 homers over two seasons at Iowa Western, the national junior college powerhouse in Council Bluffs.
The journey through the minors actually started getting noticed in 2017, when he batted a combined .307 in 57 games with Advanced Class A Clearwater (Fla.) and another 48 with Double-A Reading.
Gatorade named East’s Dom Thompson-Williams as Iowa’s premier player in 2013 and he’s kept getting better and better. A fifth-round draft pick out of South Carolina in 2016, Thompson-Williams spent three seasons in the Yankees’ organization and had a terrific 2018 campaign.
Most of that season was spent with the Tampa Tarpons of the Advanced Class A Florida State League In 100 total games -- the first 10 with Class A Charleston -- the former Black Raider star walloped 22 home runs, stole 20 bases and batted .299.
Then, last Nov. 19, Thompson-Williams, still just 23, was one of three prospects dealt to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for pitcher James Paxton, a quality starter who was 42-27 with a 3.43 ERA over seven big-league seasons with the M’s. That included a 23-11 record over the last two years.
In the quest to bolster their starting rotation, the Yankees gave up Thompson-Williams, a centerfielder, along with pitchers Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson. Those two hurlers were assigned to Class AAA Tacoma while Williams has moved up to Class AA with the Arkansas Travelers.
Dom, I should definitely add, is off to a good start with the team from North Little Rock, batting .364 (4 of 11) in his first four games. The stat sheet shows him with two home runs for the Texas League club, both in a five-RBI performance last Friday in Tulsa. Prior to his one year at South Carolina, by the way, he was another headliner for Iowa Western. The first of his two years there, I should note, Swanson was a teammate.
Two more highly regarded hopefuls are 22-year-olds Daniel Tillo and Robert Neustrom, former teammates in three sports at North. Tillo, a third-round pick by the Royals in 2017, is a hard-throwing lefthander who is starting the season in the Carolina League for Wilmington, Delaware, where he made the last 19 of his 26 starts last year for the Advanced Class A Blue Rocks. He was slated to make his first 2019 start Monday night.
Neustrom, who starred three years at Iowa, launched his professional career a year later than Tillo, signing with the Baltimore Orioles after being drafted in the fifth round last year. After playing 61 games with the Aberdeen (Md.) IronBirds, a team owned by Cal Ripken, Jr., he has been promoted this spring to the Delmarva Shorebirds of Salisbury, Maryland, a member of the Class A South Atlantic League. The 2015 Iowa Gatorade Player of the Year is 4 of 13 (.308) with one homer in his first three games.
Also drafted just last year was Neustrom’s teammate from Iowa, catcher Tyler Cropley, a former Bishop Heelan athlete who played four years for the Hawkeyes before being drafted in the eighth round by the Washington Nationals. He appeared in just 14 games as a rookie, batting .310, and is starting his second season with his team at season’s end last summer. That’s the Auburn (N.Y.) Doubledays, who don’t begin their New York-Penn League schedule until June.
I’m tracking a lot of other talented minor leaguers and one of the best on that list is pitcher Alec Hansen, a 6-7, 235-pound righthander who was a second-round selection by the White Sox in 2016. Entering his fourth year in a talent-rich White Sox farm system, the son of former East High swimmer Nick Hansen is currently with the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Dash, another team in the High-A Carolina League.
Alec, who grew up in Loveland, Colorado, and pitched three years at Oklahoma, has struck out a whopping 328 batters in 248 innings over his first three minor league seasons. He was a starter for all 52 of his appearances in that span, charting a solid 3.19 ERA with a hard-luck 13-14 record. His only trip to the hill this year has been a perfect one-inning relief stint, which could mean the Chisox are testing him out as a closer.
Coincidentally, Hansen’s Winston-Salem team was the opponent Monday for Tillo’s initial start of the year.