It turns out that an extended offseason can be an opportunity for improvement.
Take Missouri Southern pitcher Logan VanWey for example.
In the wake of a shortened spring season with the Lions, the Webb City native has turned heads this summer in the Northwoods League, which features some of the top college players from around the country and beyond while granting them the opportunity to showcase their talents to professional scouts.
Competing for the Wisconsin-based La Crosse Loggers, an organization that has formerly boasted MLB talents such as Max Scherzer and Chris Sale, VanWey has tossed six shutout innings this summer while striking out 14 batters and allowing one hit.
The success, VanWey said, is credited to the added training he’s put in since the start of the pandemic.
“There was kind of a weird transition between the spring season being canceled and the start of summer ball,” VanWey said. “So I basically just used the extra time to play catch, throw bullpen and get some extra workouts in on my own. I kept myself busy and just waited to see if summer ball was going to happen.”
The prospect of VanWey competing in the Northwoods League this summer seemed dim when the Duluth Huskies, a Minnesota-based team he had played for the two seasons prior, opted to drop out of the 2020 campaign because of the pandemic. But shortly after that announcement was unveiled, VanWey received good news via a phone call from La Crosse coach Brian Lewis.
“He told me that they had a spot opened up, and I was like, ‘Heck yeah, I’ll do that,’” VanWey said. “I was excited to finally play again.”
VanWey hit the ground running when he made his first start on July 10 against the Wisconsin Woodchucks, tossing two hitless innings and striking out six batters in relief in an eventual 9-6 win. The next two outings included more of the same as the 6-foot-3, 200-pound hurler delivered two scoreless innings in both a 5-1 win over the Rockford Rivets on June 14 and a 9-6 win over the Woodchucks on June 18.
“The biggest improvement I’ve noticed is my velocity has picked up this year,” VanWey said. “The last two years, I was throwing 90 to 93 (mph), and this year I’m about 93 to 97. That was a huge jump for me, and it’s really helped me get my name out there with the scouts and try to get picked up next year in the MLB Draft.”
La Crosse (12-14) is positioned in second place in the first half of the Wisconsin-Illinois West Subdivision and trails frontrunner Wisconsin Rapids Rafters (18-8) by six games. First and second half subdivisional winners will be eligible for the playoffs once the regular season ends on Aug. 22.
“We’re starting to gel as a team and play good baseball,” VanWey said. “It’s always different every summer when you have guys from different schools try to play together as a team. The team camaraderie just continues to get better along with the play on the field, and that’s kind of what we’re seeing right now.”
VanWey will be a junior for MSSU in the 2021 spring season. He had nine game appearances in the Lions’ shortened 2020 campaign and logged a 2.89 ERA with 16 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings.