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Ian Hamilton, Damon Jones highlight group of former Cougars working to reach MLB rosters

July 19, 2022 Updated Tue., July 19, 2022 at 9:49 p.m.

Former Washington State pitcher Ian Hamilton is now with the St. Paul Saints, the Triple-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins.  (Courtesy of WSU Athletics)
Former Washington State pitcher Ian Hamilton is now with the St. Paul Saints, the Triple-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. (Courtesy of WSU Athletics)
By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

PULLMAN – Washington State’s baseball program doesn’t have any representatives on Major League Baseball rosters, but a few former Cougars are close.

Earlier this week, we checked in on the recent draftees out of WSU – younger professionals who are in the early stages of their minor league careers.

In the second of this two-part series, we’ll spotlight some of the more experienced pros – Triple-A and Double-A players, and two former Cougars with MLB experience.

(All statistics as of Monday night, courtesy of baseball-reference.com).

Pitcher Ian Hamilton, St. Paul Saints (Minnesota Twins)

Keep an eye on Hamilton; he might be back in the MLB before long.

The seventh-year professional earned a big league promotion last month, but only made one appearance for the Twins – he surrendered two runs on three hits in 2⅔ innings of relief against Toronto on June 4 – before he was optioned back to Triple-A St. Paul.

Yet Hamilton is putting up stellar numbers out of the Saints’ bullpen, so perhaps Minnesota will give him another shot in the near future.

He boasts a 2.28 ERA and an excellent WHIP of 0.972. Hamilton has given up 15 hits, six earned runs and eight walks against 30 strikeouts in 20 games and 23⅔ innings.

Selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 11th round of the 2016 draft, Hamilton climbed the franchise’s minor league ladder in two years and made his MLB debut in 2018. Since then, he’s split time between the majors and Triple-A.

Hamilton, claimed off waivers by Minnesota in February 2021, has taken the mound in 15 MLB games – 14 with the White Sox. He holds a 1-2 record and a 4.91 ERA in 14⅔ innings.

A three-time All-Pac-12 pick at WSU (2014-16), Hamilton set a franchise record with 29 career saves. The Skyview High (Vancouver, Washington) grad finished his collegiate career with a 3.60 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 160 innings.

Pitcher Damon Jones, Philadelphia Phillies (injured list)

The Phillies called Jones up from Triple-A on June 27 and placed him on the 60-day injured list, citing a left shoulder impingement.

It’s been an up-and-down half-season for the southpaw reliever. He made the cut for Philadelphia’s opening day roster, but after a couple of shaky relief outings, the Phillies sent him to Lehigh Valley. There, Jones returned to form, impressing in three games to earn another promotion on April 26.

He worked two innings to mixed results, then reported back to Lehigh Valley. Jones tossed an inning for the IronPigs on May 19 and hasn’t returned to the field since.

In four big league games this year, Jones went 4⅔ innings, allowing four hits, five earned runs and four walks against five strikeouts. In four MiLB games this season, he went four innings, conceding two hits, one earned run and two walks against six strikeouts.

Picked by the Phillies in the 18th round of the 2017 draft, Jones made his MLB debut on Aug. 10 against the Dodgers. He recorded one out and didn’t play another big league game until earlier this season. Most of his time over the past four years has been spent in Lehigh Valley.

Jones, from Twin Falls, Idaho, started 22 of 33 games pitched at WSU across two seasons (2016-17). He posted a 5-5 record and a 4.87 ERA.

Infielder Nick Tanielu, Round Rock Express (Texas Rangers)

A ninth-year pro, Tanielu is still waiting for his first call-up to the majors. He’s been knocking on the door for some time.

Tanielu is plugging away at the Triple-A level. The utility infielder is midway through his third consecutive season stationed in the top tier of the minors.

This year, in his first season with the Rangers’ organization, Tanielu has appeared in 51 games for the Round Rock Express. He’s a middle-pack contributor, hitting .233 across 180 at-bats with five home runs, 12 doubles and 22 RBIs.

Tanielu hit .364 over two seasons at WSU (2013-14) and was taken by the Houston Astros in the 14th round of the 2014 draft. He spent seven years in the Astros’ farm system, climbing from Low-A as a rookie to Triple-A in 2018. Tanielu became a free agent a year later and played for the San Diego Padres’ Triple-A club in 2021. He signed with Texas in March and was quickly shipped to Round Rock. In 2,509 minor league at-bats, Tanielu is hitting .283 with 67 home runs, 155 doubles, 341 runs and 394 RBIs.

Pitcher Ryan Walker, Richmond Flying Squirrels (San Francisco Giants)

The right-handed reliever has emerged as one of the more reliable bullpen arms for Double-A Richmond.

Walker (6-1), who works in short stints late in games, leads his team in wins and appearances (29). Through 28⅓ innings pitched, he has allowed 12 runs on 23 hits and 14 walks against 30 strikeouts. His ERA stands at 3.81.

A native of Arlington, Washington, Walker earned 16 wins at WSU. He made 87 appearances as a Cougar and logged a 3.98 ERA during his collegiate career (2015-18).

The Giants scooped him up in the 31st round of the 2018 draft. Walker earned his first Double-A promotion late in the 2021 season. He has pitched in 125 minor league games over the past five years, registering an 11-4 pro record and a 3.36 ERA in 169 innings.

Infielder Shane Matheny, Richmond Flying Squirrels

In his second Double-A season, Matheny raised his game.

After a disappointing 2021 season with the Flying Squirrels – during which he hit .207 with four homers, 16 RBIs and 67 strikeouts – Matheny has become a much more effective batter in the middle of Richmond’s lineup. This pro season has been arguably the most productive yet for the fifth-year minor leaguer.

Splitting time at second base, third and shortstop, Matheny is hitting .261 with a team-best .391 on-base percentage, nine homers and eight doubles through 64 games and 203 at-bats. He ranks fourth on the team with 35 RBIs, and second with 41 walks and a .834 OPS.

Matheny made 155 starts for the Cougars between 2015-17. He led WSU as a junior in 2017 with a .309 batting average and 34 RBIs. He was named All-Pac-12 after the season and the Giants selected him in the 23rd round. Matheny toiled in the Single-A ranks for three seasons before his Double-A promotion in May 2021.

Former Cougars competing in Independent leagues

Infielder Ian Sagdal, Winnipeg Goldeyes

Sagdal played six seasons in the Washington Nationals organization and climbed steadily up the ladder, making it all the way to Double-A last season. He became a free agent after a down year in 2021 and signed with Winnipeg, an Independent pro team in Canada.

Sagdal is starring for the Goldeyes. He paces the team in batting average (.325), hits (63), walks (33) and doubles (14). Other impressive statistical marks include his .419 on-base percentage, 38 RBIs and 38 runs scored in 54 games.

A product of Wenatchee, Sagdal appeared in 199 games for WSU from 2012 to ’15, finishing his Cougar career with a .271 batting average, 82 RBIs, 87 runs and 27 doubles. The Nationals picked him up in the 16th round of the 2015 draft.

Pitcher Colby Nealy, Missoula PaddleHeads

Nealy lasted one season in the low levels of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ minor-league system after being selected by the franchise in the 35th round of the 2017 draft.

He fell out of the MiLB in 2018 and has since played for three independent pro clubs. Nealy played two seasons with East Side in Utica, Michigan, then starred in the Oregon-based Mavericks League in 2021. The ace for Campesinos de Salem-Keizer, Nealy led all Mavericks League pitchers in wins and was named pitcher of the year for the four-team league.

He signed with Missoula earlier this year and is still listed on the PaddleHeads’ roster, but Nealy hasn’t pitched since early June. He is 0-2 with a 5.00 ERA across nine innings in just two games, both starts, with Missoula.

Nealy, from Bothell, Washington, made 65 relief appearances and worked 91 innings for WSU between 2015-17. He went 5-6 as a collegian with a 5.74 ERA.

Notable

Left-handed pitcher Adam Conley retired in March after 11 years as a professional. He started 56 games for the Miami Marlins from 2015-19 and made 17 relief appearances for the Tampa Bay Rays last season. Conley finished his MLB career with a 25-30 record and a 4.71 ERA across 434 innings pitched. The Olympia native was an All-Pac-10 pick at WSU in 2010.

Pitchers Ky Bush, Tyson Guerrero and Ryley Widell each played one season at WSU before transferring to other schools. They’re still technically Cougars in the pros.

Bush is a solid starting option for the Rocket City Trash Pandas – the Los Angeles Angels’ Double-A affiliate. He transferred to Saint Mary’s in 2020 after one season at WSU and was drafted by the Angels 45th overall in the second round in 2021.

Guerrero starts for the Quad Cities River Bandits, the High-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. A 12th-round draft pick in 2021, Guerrero played for WSU in 2019 but finished his career at Washington.

Widell is listed on the roster for the Colorado Rockies’ rookie-level team. A seventh-rounder in 2017, Widell suited up for WSU in 2016 before transferring to Central Arizona College.

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