10 Lugnuts Who Should Be Proud of 2013

This year has been disappointing for the Lugnuts as a team, filled with losses.

Still, here are 10 players who should be proud of their efforts nonetheless...

 In 2012, infielder Shane Opitz batted .225 for the Lugnuts, finishing the season with a troubling series of errors.  He began the 2013 season on the Lugs' Disabled List. Once activated, the Coloradan enjoyed a career breakthrough, tearing into Midwest League pitching to the tune of a .370 average and earning a promotion to Dunedin, where he's batting .310 in 59 games.

9.  Infielder Gustavo Pierre entered his third year in Lansing in 2013, having batted .187 (with a slew of errors) in 2011 and .252 last year.  After a rocky April, Pierre delivered a sizzling .391 May to capture the Midwest League's Player of the Month honor and his first call-up to the Florida State League.  While Gustavo was in the Lugnuts lineup, there was no one more dangerous, more impactful, or more exciting.

 21-year-old Jorge Flores may have been a 2012 Northwest League Postseason All-Star, but a slow start left Flores with a .201 average after April, and he played only 10 games in May. As the weather warmed, however, so did Jorge, batting .276 with an .836 OPS after the All-Star Break and receiving a promotion to Dunedin.

This is the first of two much larger head shots... ready yourself.

7.  Justin Jackson played for the Lugnuts in 2008 and 2010 as an infielder, but a career change moved him to the pitcher's mound this year. Consider the move a success, with Justin moving up to Dunedin following 22 appearances with the Lugs.

 Ben White's line in 2011 with Vancouver:  1-1, 7.00.  In 2012 with Vancouver:  4-7, 5.73.  This year with the Lugnuts:  8-8, a deceivingly high 4.06 ERA, and the surprise leader of the starting rotation.  White tossed a seven-inning shutout at West Michigan and provided the Lugs with consistent innings and solid work. This year was a huge step forward for the Temple signee.

 Make no mistake, Arik Sikula was a fine pitcher in 2011 with Bluefield (2.97) and in 2012 with Vancouver (2.45).  This year, Sikula has been better, posting 18 saves and a 2.02 ERA, limiting the opposition to a .194 average, and locking down the 9th with an ever-improving arsenal.  Dunedin will enjoy having his services next season, with New Hampshire not far away.

4.  Last year, Dwight Smith, Jr. batted just .226 in Bluefield before struggling to a .175 average for Vancouver. Drafted 53rd overall in 2011, the results were disappointing. This year:  No worries, showing off power, speed, discipline, and the ability to play all three outfield positions. Consider the young prospect back on track.

3.  Sidearmer Wil Browning was signed as a nondrafted free agent last season out of the University of Louisiana-Monroe... and immediately commenced dominating opposing hitters with a 1.14 ERA between three levels. This year, more of the same, earning an All-Star nod as the Lugs' best reliever followed by a deserved promotion to Dunedin.

2.  Admit it:  You didn't know Emilio Guerrero's name before this year started.  It makes sense -- The young infielder batted just .239 in the 2011 Dominican Summer League, followed by a meager 2012.  This year, Manny Acta's nephew has been a revelation, slamming seven HRs, stealing 17 bases, tying the franchise and league records with a 6-hit game on Aug. 16, and establishing himself as a prospect to watch.

1.  Check out this column, titled "Is Daniel Norris a bust?"  It was understandable at the time, but Norris refocused with pitching coach Vince Horsman, adjusted his mechanics, improved his fastball command, and began to dominate.  (In August alone, he has a 0.75 ERA, allowing two runs in 24 IP while K'ing 29.)  Down the road, Daniel Norris may well look back upon 2013 as the season that turned his fortunes around.

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