Owlz bring together two friends from Kansas City on new roster
Cole Duensing and Nonie Williams both grew up in Kansas City, Kansas. They started playing summer baseball against each other at the age of 10. Duensing went to Blue Valley Northwest High School in Overland Park and Williams to Turner High School in Kansas City, so they competed during their teens as well.
They were both drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in 2016 and are now teammates for the Angels rookie league affiliate, the Orem Owlz.
What are the chances?
There is a lot that is unfamiliar as the Owlz open the 2018 season with a combination of recent Angels draft picks, young athletes from the Arizona League and a few free agents filling out the roster. Duensing, a pitcher, and Williams, a shortstop who has converted to play center field, are both at a crucial stage in their young careers, so a familiar face can be a blessing.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Williams said. “It’s something that’s kind of rare. For me not only to know Cole but have him be one of my best friends growing up, it’s pretty cool.”
Another familiar face — at least to Orem Owlz fans — is manager Dave Stapleton. He came to the Angels organization in 2014 and led the Owlz to the 2016 Pioneer League championship. He coached the Angels rookie team in the Arizona League last season — he and his family live in Arizona — and was asked to return to Orem this season.
“I like the new faces,” Stapleton said. “It’s about trying to establish a foundation of what the organization wants. I’m fortunate and blessed to have players at this age to work with and communicate with. We want to make sure we set the foundation deep. I enjoy this level and it’s really nice to see growth.”
Duensing, who was selected in the sixth round by the Angels in 2016, posted a 3-6 record after joining the Owlz mid-season last year. That Orem team won the first half of the Pioneer League South, but lost to Ogden in a best-of-three series in the playoffs.
“Last year was really fun,” Duensing said. “We won a lot and it was a great group of guys. When I got here, I felt right at home. I’m trying to help the new guys feel the same thing now. It’s nice that I’ve been through this before so I can help them through certain things, to help them feel as comfortable as possible.”
Williams was drafted in the third round by the Angels in 2016 and has spent two seasons in the Arizona League. He’s confident the position switch will pay off.
“I love playing in the outfield, “Williams said. “I’ve loved the transition and I think I’ve been able to use my speed to make plays. For some reason, it seems like the Angels not only get good ball players, but they get really good people. I’m really excited to be with an affiliate. It just feels more like baseball because we’re competing for a ring.”
Williams chose No. 27 for his first Orem Owlz uniform, a number shared by a current Angels star.
“It got that number last year,” Williams said with a smile. “I guess a guy named Mike Trout in the big league has that number. He’s a pretty good role model. We play the same position and everything.”
The Owlz open the season on Friday, the start of a six-game road trip in Grand Junction, Colorado. The home opener will be against the Ogden Raptors on June 21 at UCCU Ballpark.
That leaves a scant three days for Stapleton and his staff to get things organized.
“I always tell my players, this game is on them,” Stapleton said. “Our job as a coaching staff is to get them ready to be able to advance in the organization. That’s all we talk about and all we think about. This period is all about their development.
“We’ll take a look at them in this three-day mini-camp, but this will be a process that will go on for the next three months. We brought some guys up from extended spring training that we think can make an impact right away.”
All games at UCCU Ballpark in Orem
Thursday, June 21 vs. Ogden, 7:05 p.m.
Friday, June 22 vs. Ogden, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday, June 23 vs. Idaho Falls, 7:05 p.m.
Sunday, June 24 vs. Idaho Falls, 4:05 p.m.
Monday, June 25 vs. Idaho Falls, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday, June 28 vs. Ogden, 7:05 p.m.
Friday, June 29 vs. Ogden, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday, June 30 vs. Grand Junction, 7:05 p.m.