The Northwoods League

As baseball fans and Dodger enthusiasts, fanatics, maniacs, zealots or whatever mantra might apply to us, we spend the season following MLB and the minor leagues, especially the Dodger affiliates. We also pay some attention to high school ball and college ball, both of which wind up in June and are more of interest around the time of the First-Year Player Draft. However, there is another layer of baseball that does not garner as much attention. It is comprised of the many collegiate summer baseball leagues that span the nation.

According to Wikipedia there are over 60 collegiate leagues in the United States. Perhaps the best known and oldest is the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League while the most unique might be the Alaska Baseball League where they actually play the “Midnight Sun Game” without artificial light.

The more I follow minor league players, the more I note that many of them play in the summer collegiate leagues for one or more years. One league that has gained more and more prominence over the past decade – and is definitely one of my favorites – is the Northwoods League. It has emerged as one of the top collegiate leagues and one with a difference even though it will be celebrating just its 25th season in 2019. The teams are located in six different states – Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, North Dakota- with the bulk of the teams in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Thunder Bay Border Cats are located in Ontario, Canada.

The Northwood League is the brain child of Dick Radatz Jr. who was the co-founder of the league back in 1994. He is the son of former Boston Red Sox pitcher Dick Radatz who struck out Mickey Mantle 12 times in Mick’s 16 at bats against the right-hander. The younger Radatz had his baseball aspirations crushed with an injury that broke his shoulder and collar bone.

Before his vision of a Northwoods League and following his completion of a Master’s Degree in Sports Administration from Ohio University, he worked as an Administrative Assistant for the Dodgers at historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida. He then spent a few years in the lower levels of the Red Sox organization setting attendance records at virtually every one of his stops. A bit outspoken, Radatz parted ways with the Red Sox in 1992 and in 1994 the Northwoods League was born. He is still the chairman in the league office.

So, what is the difference in the Northwoods League? It is a wooden bat league but that does not make it different from a number of other collegiate leagues. The big difference is that the league has striven to simulate a professional minor league experience for its young players in which they have the opportunity to play under similar conditions experienced by minor league players.

“The primary reason is that they get to experience pitching in front of big crowds in minor league venues,” said Radatz. “They also get used to five-man rotations and long bus rides. All the things that are going to go on in a professional baseball player’s life, they experience here. We really feel like we’re the leader in the field. We play more games and play in better venues. Our experience is more closely related to that of entry-level minor leagues.”

Many of the teams play in ballparks formerly occupied by professional minor league teams from the Midwest, Prairie and Northern Leagues that couldn’t sustain a minor league franchise. The Northwoods League has tried to fill that void and has established improved stability while providing smaller communities with a high-quality product and good competitive baseball. As part of that commitment another definite difference is that although the players are not paid it is a for-profit league with paid staff, advertising, marketing and stadium improvement.

The Northwoods League has a 72-game schedule played in 76 days from late May until mid-August. There are now 21 teams in the league with a 22nd to be added in 2020.  There are four divisions with a play-off structure not too dissimilar from the Class A Midwest League. There is also an annual All-Star Game with the 2019 game scheduled for July 16 in Waterloo, Iowa.  The Major League Dreams Showcase– a showcase for players hand-selected by a panel of major league scouts–will take place at Madison’s Warner Park on Tuesday, August 6. Of the 163 players drafted with Northwoods experience in 2018, 40 of them had played in the Northwoods 2017 League Major League Dreams Showcase.

The Northwoods League has grown like no other collegiate league both in terms of the number of teams and, in its case, paid attendance. In its inaugural season in 1994 the league drew 69,000 fans. In 2014 the league attendance passed the 1,000,000 mark for the first time and is continuing to grow.

The league is continually trying to improve, expand its viewing audience and give its young players a better chance of being selected in the June Draft. In 2013 the Northwoods League celebrated its 20th Anniversary by becoming the first to have its own YouTube channel.  This video tool allowed the League to show all game broadcasts – free of charge –  to fans across the world along with nightly highlights of each game.

Another distinctive feature of the Northwoods League is that coaches and field managers are often those who have had minor league or even major league experiences as players or coaches.

As a sidelight with Dodger experience, Tyger Pederson – Joc’s older brother – was the manager of the Duluth Huskies in the Northwoods League during the 2018 season. He had been selected by the Dodgers in the 33rd round of the 2013 MLB June Amateur Draft out of the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. He had one short season with the Arizona League Dodgers in 2013 before three years of independent ball before turning to coaching.

Pederson led the Huskies to an impressive record of 47-25. Their regular season success continued into the postseason as they earned a berth in the Northwoods League World Series losing the deciding game for the league championship by one run.  Despite falling one win short of the ultimate prize, the impact of Tyger’s aggressive brand of baseball could not be understated. His one season at the helm saw the Huskies improve by 15 wins.

On January 18, the Huskies announced that Tyger Pederson had been offered a position with the St. Louis Cardinals. Too good to pass up, he accepted a position with the Palm Beach Cardinals to be their new hitting coach. The Cardinals play in the Advanced-A Florida State League.

To lengthen out the story, the hitting coach for the Duluth Huskies for the 2019 season is none other than Stu Pederson who signed on to work as his son’s underling. He too had been drafted by the Dodgers in the 9th round of the 1981 MLB June Amateur Draft out of University of Southern California.

The Duluth Huskies baseball club’s new hitting Coach, Stu Pederson, talked about his excitement in the upcoming season working with his son Head Coach Tyger Pederson. Stu reveals, “I couldn’t pass it up. I may never get this chance again” He was the hitting coach for the La Crosse Loggers of the Northwood League during the 2018 season and left to join the Huskies for the upcoming season. Fortunately for the son, he got the opportunity to further his coaching career with the Palm Beach Cardinals. Unfortunately for the father he missed out on the opportunity to form a father-son combo with the Duluth Huskies but undoubtedly was more than happy to see his son further his baseball coaching career.

In other Dodger connections, right-hander Tony Gonsolin got noticed in the Northwoods League by the Dodgers in 2015 and they selected him in the 9th round of the 2016 June Draft.

Apartial list of Dodger alumni from the Northwoods League includes: ScottAlexander, Austin Barnes, Andre Ethier, Rocky Gale, Hunter Feduccia, BrockStewart, Matt Beaty, Karch Kowalczyk, Alex Helmeting, Luke Rally, MarshallKasowski, Nick Yarnell, Brock Carpenter. Departed Corey Copping and Adam Braywere also both alumni from the Northwoods League.

This article has 58 Comments

  1. Great article about a very good summer college baseball program. I first became acquainted with the Northwoods League in 1995 when my son played for the Kenosha Kroakers. The 1995 Kenosha team had 4 players that went on to play at the ML level. Besides my son who played 1B for Kenosha, there was Jermaine Clark (2B), Joe Nelson (RHP), and Erasmo Ramirez (LHP) – not the same as the Mariners RHP with the same name. It has grown considerably since then. Good baseball for those in the upper Mid West.

    1. 1994 was the inaugural year so your son was just a year later. It is a very good league. There were onlyfour teams in the first year.

      I love the team names. Obviously they have tried to find names not used by other baseball teams.
      Both Max Scherzer and Chris Sale played for the La Crosse Loggers although in different years. They faced each other as the starting pitchers in the 2017 All-Star game. Both had almost career changing experiences in the league with the coaching they received.
      Sale was lit up in 2007, his first fall at FGCU, losing three decisions and serving up a walk-off homer to a pitcher. He seriously considered quitting. Instead, he went to Wisconsin for the collegiate summer Northwoods League. With the La Crosse Loggers, he worked with pitching coach Derek Tate and special assistant coach (and former MLBer) Greg Vaughn. Shoulder conditioning came first. “Chris’ body wasn’t in throwing shape,” Tate says. “He would pitch an inning of relief, then be so stiff he couldn’t pick up the ball for three days.” The coaches dropped his arm angle from what Tate calls a full three-quarter to a low three-quarter slot, hoping to create lateral movement on the ball. The change made his delivery look even more disorderly, but Sale gained velocity almost immediately.
      “We bill ourselves as an internship for minor league baseball,” Goodell said. (Loggers GM)
      That’s what Scherzer got when he arrived in the summer of 2004 coming off a shaky freshman season at the University of Missouri in which he walked 16 men in his 20 innings of work as a reliever, posting a 5.85 ERA. But man, he could throw.
      Scherzer became a closer for the Loggers, and in the summer he turned 20, he struggled with some command — who doesn’t? — but struck out 50 men in just 33 innings, posting a 1.91 ERA and getting a couple of starts late in the year.
      “He really started to figure some things out that summer,” Goodell said, and the following season at Missouri, he went 9-4 with a 1.86 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 106 1/3 innings.

  2. I love those low minors teams. I first watched Clayton Kershaw live and up close at Harry C. Pohlman Field in Beloit, Wisconson in the Summer of 2007. The Beloit Snappers are in the Midwest League . There wern’t many people there that day… I hope they do better now.

    1. Interestingly enough I too first saw Kershaw at a Kane County cougar game back then.

      I walked up to the ticket office and they asked what do you need? I asked for the best seats they had closest to home plate. Amazingly I got 1st row right behind the plate.

      Kershaw had a no hitter I believe in the 5th and with 2 outs a cougar player hit a ball out in front of the plate and the catcher threw the ball down the right field line for an error. I think Kershaw gave up a hit to the next batter and was lifted.

      Don’t remember how many K’s he had, but they were not touching him, obviously. Good memories!

      1. I sat in the scout area beside a Cubs scout who had no clue who Clayton was. By about the 5th warmup pitch, he looked up from his reports and said “Who is this kid?” I proceeded to explain that he was going to be in the Hall-of-Fame someday.

        1. Yeah, but you say Verdugo is Tony Gwynn, so I guess you probably say that kind of stuff all the time? 😉

          1. I said Clayton was a special talent and WOULD be in the HOF.

            I say that Verdugo COULD be Tony Gwynn… or Von Joshua.

            He has advanced bat-to-ball skills better than 95% of other players, but Kaybear’s hit tool is even better.

          2. MT, sure hope you’re right about KBear and Verdugo! I’m pulling for you. But, no. There’s 0 chance that Verdugo COULD be Tony Gwynn.

            What’s your prediction on “The Show” Bryce Harper reveal today? Will he announce his decision, or it this a marketing nothing burger?

          3. My biggest miss was Andy LaRoche – I thought he was All-Star Material. Turned out he was dud.

            I have no opinion, clue or idea when Harper will sign…

    2. They used to call him the Minotaur because he was so good it was like he wasn’t real. Nowadays people throw around the term “unicorn” too much for my liking.

  3. Great article… I will be seeing some ball in Palmer AK this summer while staying with my cousin’s son… Of course a big part of the trip, God willing, will be trying to locate some silver or king salmon that want to die…
    I wish the West Coast would offer a league…

    1. Peter, there are multiple California Collegiate Baseball Leagues:
      California Collegiate League Teams:
      Academy Barons (Compton) – Kenny Landreaux Manager
      Arroyo Seco Saints
      Conejo Oaks
      Healdsburg Prune Packers
      Orange County Riptide
      San Luis Obispo Blues
      Santa Barbara Foresters
      Southern California Catch (Biola University)
      Ventura County Pirates
      Golden State Collegiate Baseball League:
      Teams are in Alameda, Petaluma, Sacramento, San Jose, San Francisco, Reno (NV), Medford (OR)
      Southern California Collegiate Baseball League:
      SoCal Bombers (Ontario)
      Inland Valley Bucs
      Riverside Bulldogs
      San Diego Force
      Inland Valley Pirates
      Palm Springs Power
      Below is a website that provides a list of all summer Collegiate Baseball Leagues. If you are interested in watching some good baseball by multiple no-name players (no-name yet) who still play the game for a chance to eventually play professionally, I am sure you can find a league near you.

      1. Special plus regarding the SoCal Bombers (Ontario) – They play at Jay Littleton Ball Park which was featured in Eight Men Out, The Babe Ruth Story, and A League of Their Own. Professional baseball was played there in 1947.

        Another So. Cal Team with future Major Leaguers is the Southern California Renegades. Local summer league team for Collegiate players.

  4. Thank-you,very nice article, I try to go and see 4 or 5 games each season,last year saw the Rochester Honkers, the Mankato Moondogs and the Duluth Huskies. Hope to see a few more games and 1 or 2 additional teams this year.

  5. I know that Ruiz projects pretty high as a catcher, but if his hitting can be as elite as it appears, could he be a candidate to move to another position? Keep, Smith, Wong and Cartaya as catchers and move Kaybear to LF. He has adequate speed to play there. I’m always looking at the angles.

    It’s early in his career, but his 8.7% K rate is the stuff batting titles are made of.

    When Ted Williams hit .400 his K rate was 4.4% (eyes rolling). His career K rate was 9.2%.

    Now I’m sure someone will say I’m comparing Kaybear to Ted Willaims. (Eyes Rolling)

    1. I can see that happening if his bat is truly that special. Will Smith projects to be ready this year, plus defensively, with game power & OBP potential.

  6. Kaybear might be as good defensively in LF as Ted. 😉
    I’m thinking Kaybear would do better at first base if not catching like Posey. Other than Seager, the Dodgers do not have a stud 3rd baseman in the wings, so if Kaybear has the arm for catcher he should have the arm for third.
    Here are Kaybear’s scouting grades:
    Scouting grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 45 | Run: 40 | Arm: 50 | Field: 55 | Overall: 55
    Here are Will Smith’s scouting grades:
    Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 50 | Run: 55 | Arm: 60 | Field: 60 | Overall: 55
    Kaybear does not have any elite grades which for me starts at 60. He certainly does not have the speed for LF or is that no longer an asset for the outfield?
    Call me stubborn or just someone that goes against the flow of the majority here but I have always preferred Smith to Ruiz.

    1. Verdugo’s scouting grades look like he is a better hitter than Ruiz.

      Scouting grades: Hit: 60 | Power: 50 | Run: 50 | Arm: 70 | Field: 50 | Overall: 55
      Cringe if you must but I still would trade Ruiz and Verdugo, Alvarez, and Maeda for Haniger if Seattle were willing.

      1. While I’m at it I would trade Muncy for Whit Merrifield.
        2B Merrified
        SS Seager
        3B Turner and longer term would be Lux or Seager
        1B Bellinger
        RF Haniger
        LF Pederson
        CF Pollock
        C Barnes/Martin and eventually Smith

        1. I have advocated that a few times myself. Although Whit signed a team friendly contract, Muncy also has a team friendly contract. Where else do you get 35HRs for that price? I like Muncy, but Merrifield would bat leadoff & 2B. Muncy doesn’t have a set position with the Dodgers. Maybe this year he will have.

  7. I used to watch Dodger and Angel minor league teams play at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, OR. Koufax and Hooten were often at those games. Actually, I think Hooten was the pitching coach.
    Before the Dodgers vacated San Antonio I watched the Missions there. They had all sorts of fan involvements. Fans were invited to put their foreheads on the end of bats with the meat end on the ground and spin. Then the dizzy fans would race around the bases. Lots of free mini pizzas tossed into the crowd.

  8. The Reds are going to fun to watch this year. In a slow offseason you have to give them credit for at least making their fanbase look forward to the actual games.

    1. Looks to me like they will reassess at the trade deadline and dump Wood and Puig for more prospects if things don’t work out. Maybe Kemp can provide some early season magic before his annual second half slump. An outfield of Kemp, Schebler and Puig should be fun to watch…them colliding into each other in that tiny outfield. Better not try to take extra bases on them! I wish all those former Dodgers well. How can you not root for them? Hopefully they can make some noise against the Cubs, Cards and Brew Crew and shake up that division a little.

      1. I don’t know much about their bullpen or depth, but their rotation and lineup have a chance to be decent. I think I might be rooting for them a little. It’s been a while since they’ve been relevant.

  9. Great post DC! Brought back some wonderful memories for me. My sons played in the M.I.N.K league one summer. I took a road trip from California to Lees Summit, Missouri with my 13 year old daughter and her friend to watch them play. Travelling with two 13 year old girls have way across the USA is an experience everyone should try. Wonderful trip! Especially enjoyed travelling to the small ballparks in Calrinda, Iowa, Chillicothe, Missouri, etc. It was truly a slice of “baseball and apple pie.” I’ll never forget the experience! And, even though the M.I.N.K. might be considered a “lesser” summer league, the experience was tremendous for my sons. Thank you for jogging those memories!!

  10. Dbacks signed Greg Holland to a 1 year/3.5 mil contract today. I had been lobbying for us to sign him because after starting his 2018 season horrifically (he signed very late), he had a very good run with the Nats in the second half after being traded there. Sorry we let him slip away. I hope it doesn’t come back to haunt us since he’ll be pitching for AZ.
    I think AC may have agreed with my take so at least I wasn’t the only one with that crazy idea.

    1. You always try and sign as many relievers as possible, but he was horrid last year. He may right the ship… but that’s a lot to pay.

      1. He got into 24 games with the Nats after the trade:
        10.5 k/9 innings
        0.84 ERA
        0.89 WHIP
        That’s pretty good pitching.

        1. As soon as I saw this signing, I thought of you. I did agree with your take. I would have been fine with investing $3.5MM for a pitcher at Greg Holland’s level. However, I do not know if he would have accepted a setup role. He will undoubtedly become the closer for the DBacks. He wants to resurrect his career, and will get more of a shot with AZ than he would with LAD. The Dodgers have spent $3.5MM worse than on a chance for a Greg Holland resurrection.

          1. I am not a big Josh Harrison fan. The Dodgers already have two Josh Harrison’s in CT3 and Kike’. Unless it is a game changing RH bat, I do not see the team making any significant (emphasis on significant) additional roster chances. If I were GM I would rather have the defense first minded SS Jose Iglesias. He is not a prolific offensive player, but he is not bad. Plus, if you believe that the team is looking to change their approach with RISP, Iglesias may be someone to look at. Last year…
            RISP – 99 PA – .333/.383/.490/.873
            RISP w/2 Outs – 45 PA – .325/.400/.500/.900
            He can certainly come off the bench in a run producing situation (non HR) and then play defense in the later innings, especially in the early portion of the season for Corey. If you are looking for an affordable role player, the Dodgers can do much worse than Jose Iglesias.
            Otherwise, I would rather have Marwin Gonzalez over Josh Harrison.

          2. I think everything being equal, dollar wise, Holland would probably have picked a team that would allow him to close. On the other hand, if AF offered slightly more, Holland has a great track record and one good year as a setup man could easily get him a multi-year contract as a closer next winter. Frankly, I doubt that we were even talking to him. I don’t think Friedman was willing to trade a potentially higher upside than what we already have for a potentially very low downside, at least not for 3 mil plus.

      2. I was stuck in a meeting and trying figure out our bullpen depth chart:




  11. I really enjoyed a book called The Baseball Whisperer. It tells the story of Merle Eberle and the Clarinda A’s, a summer league team for players looking to make it to professional baseball. A really fantastic book for baseball lovers; an old-fashioned and true story about a guy who just loved kids and baseball.

  12. Just read the article in the LA Times by Andy McCullough on the free agency evolution that is occurring and suggest everyone give it a read. Should provide fodder for real discussion.

    1. McCullough is so good it’s scary.
      Interesting theory via Kiley McDaniel.
      If Realmuto is not willing to discuss a long term deal, then any team trying to get him has to assume they will only get 2 years of service.
      May explain why it’s dragging out.

      1. Didn’t the Marlins deny all teams from discussing an extension with Realmuto/agent? This would seem to work to advantage of Dodgers vs. Padres/Reds since we would be more likely to offer the greater contract long term if he does perform well while also offering the qualifying offer like we did with Grandal and Ryu this season.

        1. I agree that neither the Reds or Pads are going to give the prospect talent for a chance to sign JT Realmuto long term. JTR is not going to make either team a WS contender this year. JTR would give the Dodgers a better chance at a WS championship, so he would be worth trading value for value…but not for an overpay. The Dodgers may want to sign JTR long term, and may attempt to if they can successfully trade for him. But they will not lose sleep if he chooses to bolt as long as the team has one or especially both of Ruiz and Smith.
          AF is not going to try and outbid either the Pads or Reds. The Reds are now thinking of including Jonathan India, a very good 3B prospect (#51 overall). No chance for the Reds Top 3 of Nick Senzel, Taylor Trammell, or Hunter Greene. The Dodgers seem to say all four Top 100 prospects are untouchable, especially for 2 years of JTR.

      2. I don’t understand the Padres reasoning at all, because they are much farther, then two years away.

        Although I do understand the Red’s reasoning, because it looks like they are just betting on this year, with all the other moves they have made, but they need pitching more.

        But I am getting a little frustrated with that too, and I am beginning to wonder if the Marlins are going to let go, myself.

        But everything else is moving so slow too, so who knows?

      3. It’s dragging out because (1) the Marlins say they will not let a team talk to Realmuto about an extension and (2) they want one or two of the teams top prospects. No one is going to do that (at least I don’t think so).

  13. The Dodgers added outfielder Ezequiel Carrera on a minors deal, per reports. Now 31 years of age, Carrera has seen action in seven MLB seasons and was a frequently-utilized reserve with the Blue Jays from 2016-17. Last year, though, he struggled quite a bit at the Triple-A level with the Braves and Mets organizations and failed to get a look at the majors. LHB – outfield.

  14. There were a couple of interesting takes on the Kiley McDaniel FanGraphs chat. First there was question on Caleb Ferguson and his future value (FV). McDaniel rated him a 45 which is slotted for a setup guy. If you take away the bias (which I obviously have with Caleb), he is probably properly slotted as a setup guy. As successful as Caleb was last year in somewhat of that role type, I think he would excel there. That does not mean that he cannot develop into a back end rotation type starter, but setup seems to be a fair floor for Caleb.
    Interesting as to how the talent evaluators look at stats vs skills. McDaniel said that it varies, but a rough correlation would be stats would be a 60% factor for AAA players while 10% for rookie ball. That is why rookie ball and even Low A are truly lottery picks for trade packages.
    I now have a new guy to watch this spring for a potential #1 pick in the June draft for LAD. 6′ 8″ RHP Jackson Rutledge. He was a freshman last year at Arkansas and saw some time. He transferred and will play for San Jacinto JC this year, and has signed a LOI to play for Kentucky in 2020, but will probably be drafted in the 1st round or comp pick. He was 3-0 with a 3.45 ERA in 12 games (2 starts) last year as a freshman in the SEC.
    His fastball touched at 98 last week in a start, and he is sitting at mid 90’s. The Dodgers have drafted multiple players out of San Jacinto JC so the Dodgers’ Texas scout is going to get a good look again this year.
    Not part of the chat, but I was playing around in FanGraphs and the following involving the Orioles was interesting. FanGraphs is rating Yusniel Diaz #2, Dean Kremer #9, Zach Pop #17, Drew Jackson #26, and Rylan Bannon #27 for the O’s top prospects. Diaz, Kremer, Pop, and Bannon could turn out to be a coup for the O’s.

    1. The Machado trade was worth all those prospects. After all, Manny’s hustle, great attitude and terrific stats in a Dodger uni brought us that World Series victory…………………………………………oh, wait a minute.

  15. I think it shows how weak the Orioles minor league system has become. Were any of these guys top 100 MLB prospects?

          1. It was a lot to give up to get Manny…

            They made the World Series, but didn’t win.

            If hindsight were 20/20 and you knew you would get there and not win, but you wouldn’t get there without Manny, would you do it again?

          2. I have zero objection to the trade. It was a solid move that unfortunately did not work out for the Good Guys. I just found it interesting that 4 of the 5 prospects that went to the O’s find themselves in the top 27 O’s prospects. It is very possible that all 4 will find their way onto the O’s 25 man at some point. Diaz, Kremer, and Pop have very good shots, and Bannon has an outside chance as a AAAA utility player, one that I am pulling for. I do not see any of them anywhere near Machado’s level (but how many are). The Os turned a player they had no chance of keeping and turned it into 4 decent prospects with potential ML capabilities.
            I do think Kremer and Pop had a chance with the Dodgers. Kremer as a back end rotation with about 10 other guys or as a reliever, and Pop was potentially a solid reliever. He was the one I liked the least to lose. But I did not see Diaz being a potential roster addition as another non power hitting corner OF. Bannon was not going to replace any of the Dodger utility players ahead of him in the organization. I cannot blame AF at all for the trade or who was included. I think he did extremely well on that one.

Comments are closed.