| Seasons | 1998 | Teams | Michigan Battle Cats |
1998 East: | Fort Wayne | Lansing | Michigan | South Bend | West Michigan |

Midwest League 1998

Michigan Battle Cats

Major Change

1998 Teams
Cedar Rapids
Fort Wayne
Kane County
Quad City
South Bend
West Michigan

This page is a profile of the 1998 Michigan Battle Cats, a Single-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox and a member of the Midwest League. The main object of this page was to give clues about which players you should watch when the Cats visited each team; this page was first published in April and was updated through the season.

Except when another date is specified, statistics on this page are through the end of the season.

Battle Creek, Michigan; affiliated with the Boston Red Sox.
Manager: Billy Gardner, Jr.
Coaches: Larry Pierson (pitching), Bill Madlock

High Attendance: 4,039 (June 27)
Low Attendance: 442 (June 9)
Average Attendance: 1,648 (through end of season)
1997 Season Average: 2,116
Note: These unofficial numbers may have errors.

Post-Season Profile

The Cats were dreadful in April, but by mid-June had begun to play excellent baseball. The team had three star performers--Shea Hillenbrand, Jeff Taglienti, and Joe Thomas before he was traded--but mostly this was a collection of moderate talents who play sound baseball. This was a scrappy bunch who were never out of any game.

Shea Hillenbrand had an incredible year: He led the league in slugging, was second in hitting, third in homers; all this while converting from infielder to catcher. Rontrez Johnson started the season late, but played excellent baseball. The rest are good players who had solid seasons; Mark Fischer and Aaron Capista seem the most likely major league prospects.

The pitching story was similar: Starter Joe Thomas had a brilliant year (then got traded to Fort Wayne); reliever Jeff Taglianti was beyond belief; everyone else did well enough. Especially noteworthy were Jason Norton, a late arrival who pitched very well; Jonathan Lyons and Brian Partenheimer, who both pitched consistently well in middle relief; and John Curtice, who was sometimes unhittable, sometimes terrible.

MWL Fan's Guide

Team Profile

Season Summary

  • Pitching: 79-61, 3.98, 46 saves, 1025 strikeouts
  • Hitting: .260, 685 runs, 86 HR, 92 steals
  • First Half: 36-36 (.500), 4th place, 7.0 behind
  • Second Half: 43-25 (.623), 1st place, 3.0 ahead
  • April: 7-13 (.350)
  • May: 19-12 (.613)
  • June: 14-12 (.538)
  • July: 20-9 (.690)
  • August: 18-9 (.667)
  • September: 1-6 (.142)
  • Playoff Round 1: Lost to West Michigan, 1-2

  • Best Player on the Team: Catcher Shea Hillenbrand or Reliever Jeff Taglienti

  • Best Starting Pitcher: John Curtice (6-6, 3.37, 146 strikeouts)
  • Bullpen Stopper: Jeff Taglienti (4-2, 1.89, 30 saves, 111 strikeouts)
  • Best Strikeout Pitcher: Jeff Taglienti
  • Best Control Pitcher: Jeff Taglienti

  • Best Hitter: Shea Hillenbrand (.349, 80 runs, 19 HR, 92 RBI, 13 steals)
  • Highest BA: Shea Hillenbrand (.349)
  • Home Run Leader: Shea Hillenbrand (19)
  • Best Baserunner: Rontrez Johnson (24 steals, 5 triples)
  • Best Batting Eye: Rontrez Johnson

July Profile

And the thrills continue in Battle Creek.... The Cats had a wonderful July. The starting pitchers are pretty weak, especially with Joe Thomas traded to Fort Wayne, but Michigan has some strong relievers and a batting lineup with few weaknesses.

Catcher Shea Hillenbrand has a real shot at the MWL MVP award. No other Battle Cat is in that class, but nearly every player is a solid contributor. Rontrez Johnson is a steady, professional center fielder; Joe Hamilton started the year in AA ball, and deserves another shot there. John Curtice is the best starter remaining, but he's too wild and too raw. Many of the relievers are legitimate; especially note Jonathan Lyons and Brian Partenheimer. Jeff Taglienti, the team's closer, is having a really special season.

One more to watch: Pitcher Terry Hayden.

June Profile

The Cats continued to play well in June; after the All-Star break, they got really hot. There are a couple stars on this team, but it's mostly composed of good players who play well together. There's some good speed on this team, but only Rontrez Johnson runs.

Shea Hillenbrand continues his spectacular season; he's just learning to catch, but the lessons have clearly not affected his hitting. Outfielders Jason Graham and Rontrez Johnson are also hitting well; no one is hitting poorly. Starting pitcher Joe Thomas is having a fine season, and new hire Michael Rupp has started out well. Closer Jeff Taglienti is something special, and Germaine Hunter and Brian Partenheimer are also doing fine work from the bullpen.

May Profile

It's like the Battle Cats fielded a different team in May. The offense got turned around, and the coaches found ways to make the pitching staff effective. The resulting month was as good as April's was bad.

Shea Hillenbrand's a free swinger who almost never walks, but it's working for him, and for the Cats. Jason Graham, a late addition to the roster, is next best on offense, and Rontrez Johnson made a strong mid-month return to the team. Except for closer Jeff Taglienti, who's been incredibly effective, the pitching staff is a bunch of role players; the starters try to keep the score close, and the relievers shut them down. Brian Partenheimer's been very effective in middle relief.

April Profile

The Cats' weak pitching staff isn't up to the task. When you add the mediocre hitting--well, there's a lot of room to improve.

Pre-Season Profile


Manager Billy Gardner has managed in the minors for 3 years, mainly in short-season leagues. He's an unusually conservative manager for this league; he rarely calls for walks, or permits bunts; steals are not common on his squads.

Billy's father (also named Billy) played and managed in the big leagues.

Where they played last season

Most of the Battle Cats played in Lowell last season. Boston filled out the roster with a handful of other players.

Team     League            W/L   Place    Hitters Pitchers
Sarasota Florida State (A) 63-75 11(14)       2       0
Michigan Midwest (A)       70-67  4(14)       4       2
Lowell   New York-Penn (A) 38-38  6(14)       7       9
Red Sox  Gulf Coast (R)    31-28  5(15)       2       5

One player didn't play pro ball last summer, and two played for independent teams. No one played above Class A. A few players were assigned to two Sox farms and are counted twice in this table.

Team Age

This information is based on the opening-day roster.

  • Oldest Player:
    • Keith Habig, 24 (10/23/73)
  • Youngest Player:
    • John Curtice, 18 (11/1/79)
  • Average Team Age:
    • Pitchers: 21.8
    • Position Players: 21.6
    • Team Average: 21.7

First Round Draftees

  • John Curtice (1997; 17th pick)
  • Mark Fischer (1997; 35th pick)


  • Aaron Capista
    • Baseball America 1997 Red Sox Draft Analysis: best defensive player
  • John Curtice
    • Baseball America best Red Sox Prospects: best fastball,#2 prospect
    • Howe SportsData Teen Minor League Team: honorable mention
    • 1998 Midwest League All-Star Game selection
    • Baseball America: Red Sox Prospects Report: #7 prospect
    • Baseball America: 1997 Red Sox Draft Analysis: hardest thrower
  • Mark Fischer
    • Baseball America: 1997 Red Sox Draft Analysis: best pro debut, best athlete, best pure hitter, best raw power, fastest runner, and closest to the majors
  • Jess Graham
    • Midwest League Hitter of the Week for May 3-9
  • Keith Habig
    • 1997 Frontier League (independent): batting average leader, All-Star shortstop
  • Joe Hamilton
    • Midwest League Hitter of the Week for July 26-August 1
  • Shea Hillenbrand
    • Baseball America best Red Sox Prospects: best hitter for average, #10 prospect
    • 1998 Topps/NAPBL Class A Star: catcher
    • Baseball Weekly 1998 Minor League All-Star: honorable mention
    • Baseball America 1998 Class A All-Star: catcher
    • Baseball America 1998 Post Season MWL Prospects: Number 7
    • 1998 Midwest League Post-Season All-Star Catcher
    • Midwest League Hitter of the Week for July 12-18
    • 1998 Midwest League All-Star Game selection
    • Midwest League Hitter of the Week for May 17-23
  • Jeff Keaveney
    • Midwest League Hitter of the Week for April 9-18
  • Gary LoCurto
    • Baseball Weekly: Red Sox Prospects Report: "Up and Coming"
  • Brian Partenheimer
    • 1998 Midwest League Post-Season All-Star Left-Handed Reliever
    • 1998 Midwest League All-Star Game selection
  • Jeff Taglienti
    • Baseball America Red Sox Post-Season Prospect Summary: keep an eye on
    • NAPBL/Rolaids MWL Relief Man Award
    • Red Sox Pitcher of the Month for July
    • Midwest League Pitcher of the Week for June 29-July 4
    • 1998 Midwest League All-Star Game selection
  • Jeff Uccello
    • 1997 Frontier League (independent): All-Star catcher

Battle Creek

Red Sox


The Midwest League plays Single-A, professional baseball in America's agricultural and industrial heartland. 16 teams play a 140 game schedule which begins in early April and ends Labor Day weekend.

This website is a private project and has no official relation with or sanction from the Midwest League or Minor League Baseball.
The opinions expressed on this page are mine, and are worth about that.

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