Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cougars announce coaching staff for 2010

The Kane County Cougars and their major league affiliate the Oakland Athletics announced their 2010 coaching staff for the Midwest League season. Aaron Nieckula will be manager, Haas Pratt will be the hitting coach, and Jimmy Escalante will be the pitching coach. The Cougars made the playoffs last year, with a 76-64 record, before being bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Burlington Bees.

Aaron Nieckula will be on his second go around as manager of the Kane County Cougars. He managed the Cougars from 2006-2008, compling a 214-202 record. Making it to the Midwest League championship series in 2006, before losing to the West Michigan Whitecaps. Nieckula is from nearby, Stickney, Illinois, and a University of Illinois graduate. Before becoming the manager of the Cougars he played in the Oakland orginization for five years. He made it as high as AAA-Fresno for 11 games in 2002. Nieckula was drafted by the A's in the 22nd round of the 1998 draft. In those five seasons he hit .257 in 319 games as a catcher, hitting 12 homers and driving in 130 runners. In 2002 he played for the San Francisco Giants orginization after being picked in the rule 5 draft.

After playing "Nuke" went into coaching starting in 2004, as the hitting coach for the Cougars. He would stay in that position thru 2005. Last year he managed the Stockton Ports in the California league. Nuke leads the Cougars all time in ejections with 10.

Haas Pratt will begin his third year as the Cougars hitting coach in 2010. He was originally selected by Oakland in the 30th round of the 2004 draft, after playing for the University of Miami and the University of Arkansas. The Colorado native, played for Kane County in 2007 hitting .223 in 64 games with 10 homers and 28 runs batted in.He also pitched in relief four times that year, and in 5.2 innings he gave up five hits and one run. He walked two and did not strike out anyone. Haas began his coaching career with the Cougars in 2008. He did hit a homerun off of Los Angles Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw, who was playing for the Great Lakes Loons, in August of 2007.

Jimmy Escalante is in his second year as the Cougars pitching coach. He was there last year, after having the same position in Vancouver for two years in the Oakland system. Escalante was a 36th round pick of the Orioles in the 96 draft. Back then he was an infielder. In 1999 he was selected in the rule 5 draft by Anaheim. Escalante pitched against the Cougars in 2000 when he was a member of the Cedar Rapids Kernels. That year for the Kernels he went 0-1, with a 2.43 era in 25 games, including 7 saves. He would move up two levels that year, ending the year in the Eastern League with Erie. The next time he was on a pro mound was in 2002 in Sonoma County of the Indpendent Western League. In 2005 he tried again to pitch, this time for Fargo-Moorehead of the Northern League.

The Cougars begin the 2010 season in Appleton, Wisconsin against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers on April 8th. They make their home debut on April 11th against the Burlington Bees.

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