SAUGET, Ill. — The Frontier League announced Thursday that Gateway Grizzlies closer Geoff Bramblett was named the league’s Reliever of the Year and Grizzlies team photographer Paul Baillargeon took home Photographer of the Year.
Bramblett, 24, has not allowed an earned run since June 16, a stretch that covers his last 31 innings over 28 appearances. For the season, the Grizzlies righthander has a 0.51 ERA over 52 2/3 innings of work. He has struck out 58 and walked only 17 while Frontier League hitters have compiled a puny .147/.239/.177 slash line against him for a woeful .416 OPS. Since he became the Grizzlies’ closer in early July, Bramblett has converted all 13 of his save opportunities.
“Geoff has been a tremendous influence on the Gateway Grizzlies, both on and off the field,” Grizzlies general manager Steve Gomric. “I’m excited for him and we are proud to have him as part of our organization. I’ve never seen any Grizzlies reliever perform at this level over an entire season, and I’m surprised he is still pitching in the Frontier League. I hope and believe the Gateway Grizzlies will one day be remembered as an important step in Geoff’s journey to Major League Baseball.”
The first-year Grizzlie previously spent two seasons in the Kansas City Royals’ organization after the Royals drafted him out of the University of Alabama in 2016. A native of Hoover, Alabama, Bramblett pitched three seasons for the Crimson Tide. He went a combined 18-9 with a 3.40 ERA, including a 5-4 record with a 2.99 ERA in his junior season (2016) that earned him a spot on the midseason watch list for the Golden Spikes Award, given annually to the top college baseball player in the country. He was one of only 60 players named to the list.
“Geoff’s body of work speaks for itself,” Grizzlies manager Phil Warren said. “[Grizzlies pitching coach James] Frisbie and I are happy we didn’t miss on him when he tried out this winter. He’s a physical guy. My perspective as a hitter is that Geoff really throws six pitches — he throws his cutter inside and outside, his fastball up and down, his curveball, and his changeup. His training has added to his velocity on his fastball and his spin rate on his curveball, and he still throws a lot of strikes. His 31 straight innings without allowing an earned run speak to his dominance. From a projection standpoint, he’s the best pitching prospect we’ve ever had come through Gateway during my 13 years as manager. He could achieve very quick success in an affiliated system, similarly to how [former Grizzlies pitcher and current Tampa Bay Rays starter] Trevor [Richards] did. Somebody is going to see him and be impressed by his ‘pitchability.’ We’re really happy to have provided a platform for him and we’re proud of his success.”
Bramblett played football at Locust Fork (Ala.) High School and Hoover (Ala.) High School. While a junior at Locust Fork in 2012, he threw for 529 yards in a game against Cleburne County — the fourth-highest single-game total in Alabama high school football history. Bramblett’s total put him one yard ahead of Brodie Croyle, who went on to play quarterback for Alabama and the Kansas City Chiefs. Bramblett’s father, Mike, is a high school football coach in Alabama and his brother, Jay, is a freshman punter about to begin his first season at Notre Dame on Monday night against Louisville.
Baillargeon has been a Grizzlies staple since the franchise’s inception. He began taking Grizzlies photographs at Sauget Field in 2001, the club’s inaugural season, and is in his 19th year with Gateway. Baillargeon has captured some of the most important and dramatic images in Grizzlies history, including their first Frontier League shampionship in Evansville in 2003. He has also photographed two Grizzlies no-hitters and countless walk-off victories. To top it all off, he has the biggest library of photos of Izzy the Grizzlie you’ll ever find!
“Paul has been the best photographer in the league for almost two decades,” Gomric said. “This is long-due recognition. We feel fortunate to have him as a part of the Gateway Grizzlies organization.”
Baillargeon was inducted into the IBCA / Illinois Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame for media contributions in May 2018 and the Mon-Clair Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011. He was awarded the Frontier League’s Commissioner Excellence award, becoming the first-ever Gateway Grizzlies staff member and only photographer in the league to receive the honor. He has also donated his time with local charities, including being honored as the “Volunteer of the Year” for the Epilepsy Foundation Greater Southern Illinois in 2014.
Baillargeon has an extensive background in photojournalism and sports photography, including almost 30 years covering the Metro East sports scene. He also worked for Action Imaging for nearly 15 years. Baillargeon’s photography has been a feature with the Belleville News-Democrat, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis, and The Southern. He has additionally freelanced for many newspapers across the country, including the Associated Press. He has been the official All-Star photographer twice and has attended six Frontier League All-Star games.
Baillargeon is a Millstadt native. He has a son, Jason, and daughter, Shannon, and became a first-time grandfather in 2018.