Minor league baseball changes help Prospect League expand to 16 teams

Jimmie Louthan

Quincy Gems owner Jimmie Louthan, with QU Stadium in the background

QUINCY — Major League Baseball has taken over operations of the minor leagues and downsized operations, and the aftereffects have positively affected the number of teams and quality of players of the Prospect League.

The Clinton LumberKings and Burlington Bees, rivals in the Class A Midwest League for more than 60 years, were trimmed from the Midwest League (along with the Kane County Cougars) and now are members of the Prospect League, a 16-team summer collegiate wood-bat league. Both teams will join the Quincy Gems and Normal CornBelters in the newly-formed West-Great River Division.

The Alton River Dragons and the Johnstown (Pa.) Mill Rats, two expansion teams, have been added as the Prospect League starts this season with its most teams ever.

“It takes a lot of effort and a lot of travel and a lot of persuasion and a lot of conversation and the willingness for people to be a part of the league for this to happen,” commissioner Dennis Bastien said.

Major League Baseball’s draft has been moved from June to July, and the number of rounds has been trimmed from 48 to 20. (Last year’s draft was only five rounds because of the pandemic.) That means more players will return to school in the fall and play in collegiate leagues around the nation this summer. Also, many college players have been awarded a fifth year of eligibility.

Major League Baseball has created two leagues to accommodate some of the extra college players. The Appalachian League, formerly a Rookie-level league, now is a 10-team summer league in North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee for rising freshman and sophomores. The MLB Draft League, composed of six teams that were formerly members of three minor leagues on the East Coast, will be a showcase for top draft-eligible prospects.

Some leagues, however, are not playing this year because of the pandemic. 

“I just got a list of players from some league in Canada that just shut down,” Gems owner Jimmie Louthan said. “Right now, the talent pool is huge. There’s just a ton of people out there to find. Some of the college guys are staying around a little bit longer.”

The NCAA moved the start of its national baseball tournaments back a week. With games beginning Thursday across the Prospect League, many teams will have skeleton rosters at first as they wait for teams to be eliminated from the postseason. 

Now that Bastien has reached the goal of 16 teams he set a few years ago, he’s prepared to alter his expectations.

“Ultimately, at some point way down the road, maybe 24 teams,” he said. “Even last year when we didn’t play, we were always on the phone. We’re always making presentations. We’re sending proposals to national advertisers.”

Louthan wants to see the league expand its footprint to the east to find more competition for the Johnstown and West Virginia franchises.

“West Virginia has the worst travel in the league,” he said. “Instead of focusing on a number of teams, I’d like to see us focus on how we can best benefit the 16 teams that we have now. The best thing for the valuation of our league is if we can go to a prospective team owner and say, ‘Hey, all 16 of our teams are profitable.’ There’s no other (summer college) league in the world that can say that.”

Quincy Gems 2021 Home Schedule

Saturday, May 29Clinton LumberKings
Sunday, May 30Normal CornBelters
Tuesday, June 1Springfield Sliders
Wednesday, June 2Springfield Sliders
Thursday, June 3Cape Catfish
Sunday, June 6Clinton LumberKings
Tuesday, June 8Clinton LumberKings
Thursday, June 10O’Fallon Hoots
Thursday, June 17Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp
Friday, June 18Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp
Saturday, June 19Cape Catfish
Tuesday, June 22Burlington Bees
Wednesday, June 23O’Fallon Hoots
Friday, June 25Normal CornBelters
Saturday, June 26Clinton LumberKings
Tuesday, June 29Springfield Sliders
Friday, July 2Normal CornBelters
Saturday, July 3Normal CornBelters
Tuesday, July 6Cape Catfish
Wednesday, July 7Springfield Sliders
Thursday, July 8Normal CornBelters
Thursday, July 15O’Fallon Hoots
Saturday, July 17Burlington Bees
Tuesday, July 20Burlington Bees
Wednesday, July 21Alton River Dragons
Thursday, July 22O’Fallon Hoots
Saturday, July 24Alton River Dragons
Wednesday, July 28Burlington Bees
Friday, July 30Burlington Bees
Saturday, July 31Alton River Dragons
Sunday, Aug. 1Clinton LumberKings
*All home games at QU Stadium at 6:30 p.m.

Quincy Gems 2021 Roster

1Andrew FayINFL/RQuincy, Ill.John Wood CC
3Bailey WendellPR/RSpringfield, Ill.Francis Marion (S.C.)
8Ryan HutchinsonOFL/LSorento, Ill.McKendree (Ill.)
9Alec PatinoCL/RSioux City, IowaIowa Western CC
10Carter BitherINFR/RSpringfield, Mo.Lindenwood (Mo.)
11Jason JennerjohnPR/RHortonville, Wis.Eastern Illinois
12Brant HoguePL/LSioux City, IowaIowa Western CC
13Jake StippPL/LDanville, Ill.Danville Area CC (Ill.)
17Alex WattermannINFR/RSavage, Minn.Minnesota-Duluth
21Jack PaynePR/RSan Antonio, TexasLouisiana Tech
25Brayden EftinkOFL/RCape Girardeau, Mo.Jefferson College (Mo.)
26Bryce MillerCR/RFranklin, Wis.Jefferson College (Mo.)
27Bennett SticePR/RPalmyra, Mo.Lindenwood (Mo.)
28Matt ScharkINFR/RO’Fallon, Mo.Jefferson College (Mo.)
Tyler CarpenterPL/LBoulder, Colo.Quincy University
Brayden HaugPR/RAlton, Ill.Lindenwood (Mo.)
Michael NunezPR/RStevenson Ranch, Calif.Loyola Marymount (Calif.)
Connery O’DonnellPR/RMilliken, Colo.Southeast Missouri State
Matt ShoverPR/RBarry, Ill.Knox (Ill.)
Logan TabelingPL/RTuscola, Ill.Wright State (Ohio)
Ryan TowersPL/LLas Vegas, Nev.Loyola Marymount (Calif.)
Jacob WinsteadPL/RSalem, Ore.Southwestern Oregon CC
Gino D’AlessioINFR/RMilwaukee, WIs.Quincy University
Jayce MaagINFR/RAlton, Ill.Lindenwood (Mo.)
Jake SkrineINFR/RLongmont, Colo.Indiana
Danny SperlingINFL/RPort Barrington, Ill.Southeast Missouri State
Trent YoungbloodINFL/RProspect, Ky.Transylvania (Ky.)
Jackson GallowayOFR/RLee’s Summit, Mo.Johnson County CC
Nick IannantoneOFL/RPlainfield, Ill.Johnson County CC
Dane ThomasOFL/RPalos Park, Ill.Wright State (Ohio)

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