Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Legends of the 2014 Midwest League: Western Division

Let's get to it!
An Unofficial Guide to the Top Performers of the 2014 Midwest League: Western Division Edition
Boog
Boooooooog. (Image Source: Beloit Snappers)
Caveats: I don't know the Western Division all that well, since the East only plays the West three games each (except in the case of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, who faced the Lugnuts exactly twice due to snowy weather). We shall be trusting in my memory and the power of black and white stats on my computer monitor.
Let's have fun!
Beloit Snappers - Oakland Athletics
Herschel Mack "Boog" Powell IV, age 21, Midwest League All-Star Game MVP, nicknamed because of his dad's love for Orioles slugger Boog Powell, and the league's leading hitter before he tested positive for an Amphetamine and missed the rest of the year on suspension; hey, it was fun while it lasted! When he hit his stride, he was nearly impossible to keep off base. It's going a bit far to say this, but you could make a case that the suspension denied Powell the league MVP and Prospect of the Year Awards. Outfielder Tyler Marincov, age 22, was the Snappers' top slugger (29 2B, 16 HR) and basestealer (17 SB). Dylan Covey, age 23, flashed great stuff even if it didn't always produce the best results (4-9, 4.81, 101 IP, 70 K). Oklahoma State closer Brendan McCurry, age 22, enjoyed a near-spotless debut as a 22nd round pick (26.1 IP, 12 H, 1 run, 3 BB, 34 K). I really enjoyed watching Ronald Herrera, age 19, pitch early in the season, especially thanks to one of the better curves we saw all year, but the curve/effectiveness was nowhere near the same after he was traded to San Diego in the Kyle Blanks deal. (On the bright side, his change-up was on the upswing.)
Burlington Bees - Los Angeles Angels of AnaheimBo Way, age 22: One four-hit game, three three-hit games, eight extra-base hits, and 56 times on base in 29 games for the Kennesaw State 7th rounder; it's a wonder he didn't score more than 21 runs. If you'd prefer a player who stuck around all year, let me direct you to second baseman Kody Eaves, age 21, with his 54 extra-base hits, 25 steals, and 228 total bases (ranking him third in the league), though he only walked 29 times. (Why in the world did the Bees keep batting him leadoff -- 107 of 130 games played?) Burlington's best first-half hitter was dynamic Chad Hinshaw, age 23, who posted an .864 OPS and scored 51 runs in 59 games before receiving a promotion to Inland Empire (where his OPS sank to a mere .822). First baseman Eric Aguilera, age 24, also proved capable with 40 XBH and 17 steals. Among pitchers, Victor Alcantara, age 21, had the buzz of a high-90s fastball, a Futures Game appearance, and an 11-strikeout gem on August 5th. The anchor to the rotation was right-hander Harrison Cooney, age 22, who spun a nine-inning shutout on May 30th and gave the Bees quality innings all season.
Cedar Rapids Kernels - Minnesota TwinsMitch Garver, age 23, was the star, spending the entire season in Cedar Rapids and making it count with a .298/.399/.481 slash, including 29 doubles, 16 homers, and a 61/65 BB/K ratio. Power, discipline, and tough to strike out, while playing 63 games behind the plate, 4 games at first base, 51 at designated hitter, and receiving two pinch-hitting opportunities. (In the first, he supplied a game-tying RBI double in the bottom of the tenth inning against West Michigan. Nice.) It's not often you'll hear of a first baseman who's also a stolen-base threat, but 6'3, 210-lb. 1B/OF Chad Christenson, age 23, swiped 30 bases to go along with nine home runs; his season was dampened by decreased performance in July and August. Third baseman Jonatan Hinojosa, age 21, might be worth keeping an eye on. After serving a 50-game suspension following a positive test for Nandrolone, he hit safely in 17 of 19 games, including 10 multi-hit efforts. The Kernels' bullpen featured staggering effectiveness: Dallas Gallant (28.0 IP, 3 R, 46 K), Brian Gilbert (10.0 IP, 1 R, 12 K), Brandon Peterson (12.2 IP, 1 R, 19 K), Jake Reed (25.0 IP, 2 R, 31 K), Todd Van Steensel (34.2 IP, 5 R, 45 K), and hard-throwing 2nd rounder Nick Burdi (13.0 IP, 26 K). The most headlines went to starting phenom Kohl Stewart, age 19, the 4th overall pick in 2013, but a shoulder impingement abridged Stewart's season. That created room for the emergence of Chih-Wei Hu, age 20, who struck out 10 Dayton Dragons on July 26th, and added his own name to the Twins' prospect conversation.
Clinton LumberKings - Seattle MarinersSure, the LumberKings featured Dominican Burt Reynolds, but the team's biggest hitter was outfielder Austin Wilson, age 22, who managed to fit in graduating from Stanford with the rigors of battering Midwest League pitching (.291/.376./.517). A strained Achilles sidelined him in July, however, and he played only seven games in August before his season ended. Fellow prospect Tyler O'Neill, age 19, also was felled by injury, missing May 11 - August 4 after punching the dugout and breaking his hand. The team's other standout hitter, infielder Zach Shank, age 23, did his utmost through June 30th (.838 OPS) before moving onward to High Desert. Among pitchers, well, there was Eddie Campbell, age 22, who gained notice for his poor command at the start of the year (44 walks in 58 innings in the first half) before settling down and twirling a team-leading 134.2 innings. And there was Edwin Diaz, age 20, who whiffed 111 batters in 116.1 IP, finishing things off with a five-inning, nine-strikeout, no-hit masterpiece at Quad Cities.
Kane County Cougars - Chicago CubsNothing to see here. Pass on through.
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Kane County Cougars - Chicago CubsSo... the Midwest League champion Cougars were 98-49 this season, with 91 wins in the regular season and seven consecutive victories in the postseason. 2014 1st-rounder Kyle Schwarber, age 21, dropped in for 23 games, which turned out to be plenty of time to amass 50 total bases. The rest of the offense -- Jeimer Candelario, Jordan Hankins, unwhiffable Ben Carhart, speedy Shawon Dunston, Jacob Rogers, Jacob Hannemann, Cael Brockmeyer, Trey Martin, and a cast of dozens were various shades of solid to bothersome to productive, but the Cougars didn't win on offense alone. This was the best pitching corps in the league, bar none, allowing a meager .227 opposition batting average. Pick your poison: Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year Jen-Ho Tseng, age 19, who might have had the best command we saw all summer, or Duane Underwood, age 20, who twirled six no-hit innings in the Championship Series indicated. Add in Juan Paniagua, Tyler Skulina, and relievers as efficient as Justin Amlung, Jose Arias, Francisco Carrillo, Zack Godley, James Pugliese, Jasvir Rakkar, and you understand why Cubs fans are feeling increasingly optimistic.
Peoria Chiefs - St. Louis CardinalsI'm starting to worry that I'm merely listing names instead of giving more instructive info -- this is the trouble about writing about players who either never played the Lugnuts or who played the Lugs only sparingly. It is my pleasure, then, to say that we saw no speedier/best defensive center fielder in 2014 than Peoria's C.J. McElroy, age 21. He was a force. The rest of the offense, save Justin Ringo, appeared rather negligible, both on paper and in person, though Rowan Wick, age 21, has awesome power. Among the pitchers, first-rounder Rob Kaminsky, age 19, (1.88 ERA in 100.2 IP) enjoyed a strong year; fireballer Kyle "Bear Claw" Barraclough, age 24, blew smoke (40.0 IP, 60 K, .152 avg.); and Alex Reyes, turned 20 on 8/29, is a big-bodied kid who filled his starts with walks, strikeouts, and a great deal of entertainment. If I was an optimistic Cardinals fan, I would not hesitate to jump on the Reyes bandwagon. He was an awesomely imposing figure with a sky-high ceiling.
Quad Cities River Bandits - Houston AstrosThe defending champs featured Carlos Correa, Mark Appel, Lance McCullers, Rio Ruiz, and Vincent Velasquez in 2013. They were pretty dang good. This year, they showcased outfielder Brett Phillips, age 20, who crushed the MWL to the tune of an .883 OPS (with 46 XBH and 18 steals) before rising up to Lancaster and smoking the poor California League (.990 OPS) during the season's final month. He was joined by third baseman Tyler White, age 23, who also knocked the ball all over Modern Woodmen Park (.305/.414/.485) before feasting in hitter-friendly Lancaster (75 times on base, .527 SLG in 43 games). Vanderbilt product Conrad Gregor, age 22, rose even farther, spending 44 impressive games in Iowa, 47 better games in California (.367/.449/.678), and lastly 33 games in Double-A Corpus Christi, where his success finally stalled. 6'4, 265-lb. first baseman Chase McDonald, age 22, meantime, stayed put in Quad Cities all year, where he bashed 25 doubles and 16 homers. Since I'm biased, the first pitcher I'll mention is former Blue Jays farmhand Kevin Comer, age 22, traded to Houston in the crowded 2012 J.A. Happ deal, who finished the year with 10 strikeouts against Clinton on August 27th. If I were biased toward Canada, which is becoming a distinct possibility, I'd have begun with Evan Grills, age 22, who pitched terrifically from mid-May onward and earned a ticket to Lancaster. (Things didn't go as well there, but, hey, it's the California League. What can you do?) And If I weren't biased, I'd begin with Futures Game prospect Michael Feliz, age 21, who excites quite a few intelligent baseball folks with his potential, and blew away Burlington with nine K's in eight shutout innings on August 5th.
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers - Milwaukee BrewersEight different Timber Rattlers played in at least 100 games, which is nice. (Only four Cougars played in at least 100 games, only three Snappers managed the feat, and only two LumberKings lasted that long.) One of those Rattlers was catcher Clint Coulter, age 21, who smacked 22 homers among his 53 extra-base hits, drew 73 walks, and more than lived up to his first-round selection (27th overall) in 2012. Heck, why wasn't Coulter voted Prospect of the Year? (We'll find out tomorrow.) Plus, in today's "Batting Average Isn't as Important as You Think," outfielder Michael "Meant to be a Rattler" Ratterree, age 23, batted a cool .235... while drawing 75 walks (.350 OBP) and slamming 33 doubles, five triples, and 18 homers to put his OPS at .802. Ratterree ranked second in the MWL in walks; Coulter was third. First place belonged to Rattlers infielder Taylor Brennan, age 22, who drew 87 free passes, thereby ensuring that Wisconsin played the longest games in the league. As for the Rattlers' pitchers, the great Taylor Williams, age 23, went 8-1 with 4 saves and a 2.36 ERA in 107 innings while pitching in a piggyback tandem. In a different system, the Kent State product might well have broken records. Check it:
  • A start on July 10th, seven innings, two runs, eight strikeouts.
  • In relief on July 16th, four shutout innings, five strikeouts.
  • A start on July 21st, six and two-thirds innings, one run, nine strikeouts.
  • In relief on July 27th, four innings, one unearned run, eight strikeouts.
  • A start on August 1st, seven shutout innings, one hit, eleven strikeouts.
  • Promoted to Brevard County (Florida State League).
Call Taylor Williams, blindly, the best pitcher in the Western Division. Call Brett Phillips or Clint Coulter the best hitter in the West (honorable mention: Booooog Powell), and come back tomorrow for the Eastern Divison.

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