Top 10 Stories of 2022: Wisconsin-born players continue to make their mark on pro ball
December 21, 2022
At the end of the year, our staff reflects back on some of the best moments that came from the past 365 days. As the final month comes to a close, we wanted to highlight the 10 most interesting headlines from around the state, finishing with our number one storyline that will be released on New Year’s Eve.
As every year passes, an increased number of Wisconsin-born baseball players continue and begin to contribute to the highest level of baseball in the nation with the MLB. Multiple prospects from the state continue to grow and develop successfully within the minor leagues as well.
In 2022, eight Wisconsinites played for MLB squads over the course of the regular season, including three of whom contributed to their team’s playoff runs.
+ INF Gavin Lux (Indian Trail, 2016; Los Angeles Dodgers) and C Danny Jansen (Appleton West, 2013; Toronto Blue Jays) had success in their 2022 playoff appearances. Both players recorded three hits each and took on starting roles for their teams. On the season, Lux hit .276 in the 129 games he played for the Dodgers, helping boost the franchise to an MLB-best 111 wins in 2022. Lux continued to build off of a strong 2021 season and began to see more opportunities as a starter for Los Angeles. He’s projected to be the Dodgers’ starting shortstop in 2023.
Gavin Lux, it's your turn to do damage 🔥— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 12, 2022
📺 FS1 and the FOX Sports App pic.twitter.com/8BeMhLmFGL
+ As for Jansen, the Appleton-area native had the best offensive numbers of his career in 2022, hitting .260 with 15 home runs and 44 RBIs in 72 games, and he slugged a career best .516 over that stretch. He’s a well-above average run-producer at his position, especially, and his strong defense continues to keep him representing his home state pridefully over the northern border. He’s in line to be another key piece of the Blue Jays’ roster again next spring.
+ INF Owen Miller (Ozaukee, 2015; Milwaukee Brewers) made local news in the state when it was announced that the Milwaukee-area product was traded to the Brewers from the Cleveland Guardians just last week. Miller saw action in 60 games as a rookie in 2021, bouncing back and forth from Triple A and Cleveland, and in 2022 he was a mainstay inside the Guardians dugout. He erupted at the start of last season, and was actually one of MLB’s hottest hitters in April and May. While he cooled some offensively as the season went on, his trademark versatility was still critical to the Guardians’ success. Now, Miller’s headed back to Milwaukee for good where he’ll rep his hometown team in 2023 as a member of the Brewers. Last year was just his first full big league campaign, so it’ll be exhilarating to watch Miller settle into his MLB career in his own backyard, which in turn could jumpstart both his own career as well as the Brewers’ postseason aspirations.
Clutch home run!— Bally Sports Cleveland (@BallySportsCLE) May 18, 2022
Owen Miller's bottom of the 9th, two-run home run ties this game up at 4-4. pic.twitter.com/D04TRL151M
+ OF Jarred Kelenic (Waukesha West, 2018; Seattle Mariners) helped guide the Seattle Mariners to their first playoff appearance since the 2001 season. After being called up to the team in May, Kelenic earned a starting spot in the Divisional Round against the Houston Astros. It was there where he provided an offensive spark, getting a hit off of 2022 AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, and scoring a run in the series. Two days later, he showed off his defensive skills and made a diving catch in left field. He fluctuated between Triple A and Seattle again in 2022, and continued to thrash minor league pitching during his time in Tacoma, generating optimism that Kelenic is only just beginning to unlock his sky high potential as a key asset to the Mariners’ future.
The Jarred Kelenic Special: a hustle double.— Daniel Kramer (@DKramer_) September 22, 2022
He drives one into the right-center gap and reaches second base in 7.87 seconds, his fastest time on a double in his career ... Sprint speed: 30.1 ft/sec (the fastest tracked time of any run in his career). pic.twitter.com/LyNXUdP5Tw
+ I think it’s fair to say that no other Wisconsin product on this list had a better MLB season than OF/C Daulton Varsho (Marshfield, 2014; Arizona Diamondbacks). Finally a daily member of the Diamondbacks’ lineup, Varsho rewarded Arizona by providing them with 27 home runs, 16 stolen bases, and unique defensive versatility that allowed the D-backs to play him in center field (54 games), right field (71) and catcher (31). His excellent defense, especially in right field, is Gold Glove-caliber and he’ll look to solidify himself as an everyday contributor to Arizona in 2023, and in a multitude of ways.
Down to their last out, Daulton Varsho ties it! pic.twitter.com/xDVmdHGkzi— MLB (@MLB) April 23, 2022
+ In addition to the aforementioned Jansen, the American League East featured a couple more prospects from our home state, including INF Terrin Vavra (Menomonie, 2015; Baltimore Orioles). Vavra made his MLB debut for the Baltimore Orioles on July 29, and appeared in 40 games while hitting .258 across 103 plate appearances. His biggest moment came on the final day of the regular season, when he slugged a go-ahead three-run home run, the first of his career, in the bottom of the eighth against which helped earn Baltimore its final win of 2022.
+ Vavra was one of three western Wisconsin products to make a Major League impact in 2022. He joined River Falls alumni RHP JP Feyereisen (2011; Los Angeles Dodgers) and OF Alex Call (2013; Washington Nationals) who lived on an MLB roster last season. For the Tampa Bay Rays, Feyereisen threw 24 ⅓ innings of scoreless baseball in 2022, struck out 25 batters, and only walked five. His ERA would remain at zero while en route to his best season as a pro until he was unfortunately sidelined the remainder of the way which required shoulder surgery. Feyereisen was traded to the Dodgers just last week at the Winter Meetings, where he’ll join state-mate Lux in Los Angeles as he rehabs in an effort to join his new club at some point in 2023, hopefully.
As for Call, he became the final Wisconsinite to make his debut in the MLB this past season, in an arduous path to the big leagues. Call was selected in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Chicago White Sox and was traded to the Guardians in December of 2018. With robust bat-to-ball skills, he saw a fair amount of continued success in Cleveland’s system which earned him his first call-up, at long last, on July 11. He earned his first Major League hit 11 days later but was soon after designated for assignment, though the Nationals yanked off waivers two days later. In mid-August, Call returned to the MLB, this time for the Nats, and he jolted their offense down the stretch. For Washington, Call hit five homers in 35 games – a skill that hasn’t been traditionally part of his game – the first of which came on Aug. 19 in San Diego, a clutch one off Padres closer Josh Hader that padded a Nationals ninth-inning lead.
MINOR LEAGUE STAND-OUTS
There’s a plethora of Wisconsin-born products shining in the minors, and we’ll just take note of a few here.
1B/3B Alex Binelas (Oak Creek, 2018; Boston Red Sox) hit 25 homers as he split time at Boston’s High-A and Double-A affiliates, featuring in 113 games total. 3B AJ Vukovich (East Troy, 2020; Arizona Diamondbacks) was very productive in his age-20 season at High-A Hillsboro, where he hit 15 homers in 106 games and stole 35 bases. His success at the level resulted in an end-of-season promotion and taste of Double-A competition, though he didn’t miss a beat as he tacked on another two homers in his 11 games at the level. RHP Alec Marsh (Milwaukee Reagan, 2016) landed in Triple A for the first time in his pro career in 2022, selected by the Royals out of Arizona State back in 2019. Marsh held a strikeout rate over 11.5 percent in Double A before earning an end-of-the-year promotion to Omaha.
In his first full season inside a pro organization, SS Noah Miller (Ozaukee, 2021; Minnesota Twins) spent all year at the Twins’ Single-A Fort Myers club where he adjusted accordingly for a player his age. He reached base at a nearly 35 percent clip and stole 23 bases across 108 games played, all while manning shortstop just about every day. As the younger brother of the aforementioned Owen, the two journeyed into pro ball together for the first time last year, when Noah was selected No. 36 overall in the 2021 Draft, and we named that our top story of last year around this time.
As we’ve promoted over the course of the year, Wisconsin continues to produce high-level prospects that are making their impact throughout the MLB and MiLB. We’re excited to see this group develop and future prospects to emerge on the national stage from the state of Wisconsin.