Big Train Players in Major League Spring Camps

by Bill Hickman

Major league spring training camps are opening this week, so it is an apt time to review the Big Train alumni who have been invited to them.   The invitations come in two forms.  The player is either placed on the team’s active roster or he is beckoned to the camp as a non-roster invitee (NRI).   The NRI’s have a much slimmer chance of sticking with the major league club once the regular season begins.

Sixteen former Big Train players will be in major league spring camps this year, either actively competing for slots on their major league squads or being seasoned veterans getting into playing condition.  They are presented below in alphabetical order.

  1.  Matt Bowman (BT 2010-12) RHP Minnesota Twins (NRI)
    • In 2011, the year in which Big Train was ranked the Number One summer collegiate team in the nation, Matt was ranked the Ripken League and Big Train Most Outstanding Pitcher.  He has pitched in the majors for the Cardinals, Reds, and Yankees.  His best year was 2017 with the Cardinals, when he went 3-6 with two saves and a 3.99 ERA.  He led the Cards’ staff in holds with 22.  In 2023, he was 4-1 with five saves and a 3.99 ERA at AAA Wilkes-Barre, and made three appearances with the New York Yankees
  2.  Hunter Brown (BT 2018) RHP  Houston Astros (On roster)
    • In his sole summer with Big Train, Hunter pitched to a low 1.26 ERA in 13 appearances.  He struck out 21 batters in 21 and a third innings.  Hunter made a spectacular major league debut with the 2022 Astros, going 2-0 with a 0.89 ERA in seven appearances.  In three post-season stints that year, he steadfastly yielded no runs.  In 2023, his mark was 11-13 with a 5.09 ERA.  He had a 2.57 ERA in four post-season appearances last year.
  3.  Alec Burleson (BT 2018) OF St. Louis Cardinals (On roster)
    • When Alec played with Big Train, he performed both as an outfielder and a pitcher.  He was named the Ripken League and Big Train Most Outstanding Player that year.  As his college career came to a close, he was chosen by the Cardinals in Round Two of the draft.  In 2021, his rookie year in pro ball, he rose from High A to AAA during the season and hit .270 with 22 homers and 76 RBI across three levels of teams.  In 2023 with the St. Louis Cardinals, he hit .244 with eight homers and 36 RBI in 107 games.
  4.  Chris Clarke (BT 2018) RHP  Chicago Cubs (NRI)
    • As a Big Train pitcher, Chris posted a nice 4-0 record with a 2.73 ERA.  His best year thus far in pro ball has been 2022, when he went 10-6 with one save for two teams (High A South Bend and AA Tennessee).  He was in the Seattle Mariners spring camp in 2023 as a Rule 5 draftee.  For the 2023 season, he went 5-5 with one save and a 4.90 ERA for the Cubs’ AAA Iowa affiliate.
  5.  Logan Driscoll (BT 2017)  C  Tampa Bay Rays (NRI)
    • The year Logan was with Big Train, he was named Big Train’s Most Outstanding Hitter.  He was a second round draft pick by the San Diego Padres in 2019, but was traded to the Rays in 2020.  He was a non-roster invitee to the Rays’ spring camp in 2023 as well as this year.  He had his best year in pro ball in 2023.  He hit .263 with 12 homers and 63 RBI for two minor league teams and gained a promotion to AAA Durham late in the season.
  6.  J. P. France (BT 2014)  RHP  Houston Astros (On roster)
    • J.P. only made three appearances when he was with Big Train, but he made them count.  He started all three games, fanned 17 batters in 15 innings, gave up no earned runs, and came away with a 1-0 mark.  In 2023, he began the year at AAA Sugar Land, where he posted a 2-1 record with an impressive 2.33 ERA.  Then he made his major league debut with the Astros, going 11-6 with a 3.83 ERA.
  7. Ty France (BT 2013) 1B  Seattle Mariners (On roster)
    • Ty was named the Big Train Most Outstanding Hitter in 2013.  He made his major league debut with the San Diego Padres, but was traded to the Mariners in 2020.  His best year has been 2021, when he hit .291 with 18 HR and 73 RBI while scoring 85 runs.  In 2022, he was named an American League All Star.  In 2023, he slumped a little, hitting .250 with 12 HR and 58 RBI.
  8. Austin Gauthier (BT 2021)  SS Los Angeles Dodgers (NRI)   
    • Austin played in 24 games with Big Train before the Dodgers made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.  After batting .279 for Bethesda, he went directly into pro ball to play the remainder of the season.  2023 was only his second full season in pro ball, and it was a break-through year for him.  He hit .316 with 12 HR and 59 RBI while scoring 111 runs for teams at the High A and AA levels.  Simultaneously he was learning to be versatile, as the Dodgers’ developmental staff was trying him out at 3B, 2B, and OF, along with his normal SS position.
  9.  Logan Gilbert (BT 2016) RHP  Seattle Mariners (On roster)
    • Logan was named the Big Train Most Outstanding Pitcher in 2016.  He was a first round draft pick by the Seattle Mariners, selected as #14.  Thus far, his best year in the majors has been 2022, when he posted a 13-6 mark for the Mariners with a 3.20 ERA and a 3.1 WAR.  2023 was nearly as good with a 13-7 record, 3.73 ERA, and 3.0 WAR.  His 6.1 WAR total over the past two years is a greater total than any other pitcher’s for the Mariners over that time period.
  10.  Brandon Lowe (BT 2014)  2B  Tampa Bay Rays  (On roster)
    • Brandon was both the Ripken League and Big Train Most Valuable Player in 2014.  The next year, he was a Round Three draft pick by the Rays.  He was named an American League All Star in 2019.  His top year in the majors was 2021, when he clouted 39 homers, drove in 99 runs, and had a 4.5 WAR.  In 2023, he slammed 21 homers and drove in 68 runs.  He stands third highest among American League second basemen for number of HR in a season.
  11.  Joe Mantiply (BT 2010)  LHP  Arizona Diamondbacks (On roster)
    • Joe is a relief pitcher currently, but he was a starter when he was with Big Train.  He started seven games and registered a 3-0 record with a 3.21 ERA.  During his major league career, he has hurled for the Tigers, Yankees, and Diamondbacks.  His best year was 2022, when he went 2-5 with two saves and a 2.85 ERA in 69 appearances, and he was named to the National League All Star team.  He led the staff with 22 holds.  He suffered an injury in 2023, but still went 2-2 with one hold, and pitched to a 3.86 ERA in the World Series.
  12.  James Outman (BT 2017)  OF  Los Angeles Dodgers  (On roster)
    • James was named the Ripken League Offensive Player of the Year and the Big Train Most Valuable Player in 2017.  He made a splashy major league debut with the Dodgers in 2022, hitting .462 with one homer and three RBI in four games.  In 2023, he played a full 151 game season with the Dodgers, hitting .248 with 23 HR and 73 RBI.  Had an impressive 3.3 WAR.  He was in contention for National League Rookie of the Year honors.
  13.  Hunter Renfroe (BT 2011-12)  OF  Kansas City Royals  (On roster)
    • In 2011, the year in which Big Train was ranked Number One team in the nation, Hunter was named Big Train Most Outstanding Hitter.  In 2012, he was named both the Ripken League and Big Train Most Valuable Player.  His Big Train number has been retired.  He was a First Round draft pick by the San Diego Padres in 2013, chosen #13.  The Royals will be his seventh major league team.  A true slugger, he has averaged 27.5 HR per season over the six full seasons in which he has played.  (His debut season was only 11 games and his Covid season was only 42 games).  In his best season, 2021, he hit .259 for the Boston Red Sox while clouting 31 homers and driving in 99 runs.
  14.  Nolan Schanuel  (BT 2021)  1B  Los Angeles Angels  (On roster)
    • When Nolan was with the Big Train, he hit .333 in 24 games.  He had an on-base percentage of .510 and an OPS of 1.030, so he was already showing the signs of being a valuable offensive asset.  He had a banner year during his final season in college, and was selected as the #11 pick in Round One of the 2023 draft by the Angels.  This was the highest pick in Big Train history.  He breezed through the Angels’ minor league system.  He started 2023 at the rookie minor league level.  After three games, he was promoted to Low A.  He then bypassed the High A level to join the Angels’ AA club.  Then, after only 22 games in the minors, he made his major league debut.  For the Angels, he hit .275, with 30 hits and 20 walks in 29 games.  Had a .402 on-base percentage.
  15.  Drew Strotman (BT 2014-15)  RHP  Houston Astros (NRI)
    • Over his two summers with Big Train, Drew chalked up a 7-4 record with a 2.56 ERA.  He made 17 appearances, 14 as a starter.  In 2017, he was a fourth round draft pick by the Tampa Bay Rays.  Has also been in the Twins, Giants, Rangers, and Astros minor league systems.  Pitched in Tampa Bay Rays spring training games in 2020 and 2021, and in San Francisco Giants spring training games in 2023.  Best minor league record was in 2021 with Rays’ AAA team at Durham where he went 7-2 with a 3.39 ERA.
  16.  Ken Waldichuk  (BT 2017)  LHP  Oakland Athletics (On roster)
    • Ken’s record with Big Train was 3-0 with a 3.42   He served strictly as a starting pitcher, appearing in six games.  On graduating from college, he was drafted by the New York Yankees in the fifth round of the 2019 draft.  He worked his way up to their AAA level rapidly with impressive ERA numbers at the various steps in their minor league ladder.  He went to the Athletics in a six-player traded on August 1, 2022.  He made his major league debut with the A’s that September.  In 2023, he made the second most starts of any A’s pitchers.  Because he was used as both starter and reliever, he made more appearances than any other A’s starter.  He struck out 132 in 141 innings.  His record was 4-7 with a 5.36 ERA.  It was a lofty ERA, but still lower than the average ERA on the A’s staff.

If you were to pay a visit to the Houston Astros’ camp in West Palm Beach, Florida, you would also spot another former Big Train player, Bill Murphy, who pitched for Bethesda in 2008.  But Bill is no longer facing batters.  Instead, he is one of the two Houston Astros pitching coaches.