The newest Dodger affiliate, the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, are up next in my minor league review series. After spending 10 years as a minor league team for the Angels, the Dodgers swooped in and grabbed the franchise last winter thus ending their relationship with the Inland Empire 66ers. The Quakes' stadium, called the Epicenter, is just a stones throw away from Dodger Stadium and is a definite upgrade over Arrowhead Credit Union Park (home of the 66ers). I attended a handful of games this past season and had a great experience both in the stands and in the press box. The team was also fun to watch as they were one of the best teams in the California League all Summer long.
Record: 80 - 60 (38 - 32 First Half, 42 - 28 Second Half)
Season Result: The Quakes won the California South Division in both the 1st and 2nd Half, earned a 1st round playoff bye, but then lost in the 2nd round (semi-finals) to eventual league champion Lake Elsinore Storm.
Season Recap: The Quakes were a very good ball-club in 2011. Even though Rancho only won one playoff game in 2011, the team can still look back on their great regular season which saw them win their division with ease in both the 1st and 2nd half. This was mostly due to a strong offense and an efficient pitching staff that got the job done. Overall the Quakes posted the second best winning % in the California League and played especially well at home.
In terms of team stats, the Quakes led the league with their .287 average and their 153 HR's were just 5 behind the top ranking High Desert Mavericks. While they didn't show a lot of speed (their 107 SB's was second worst), they can brag about leading the circuit in OB% (.362), SLG% (.455), and OPS (.816). Team pitching was also pretty good as Rancho's 4.55 ERA was 3rd overall. Their 1,180 K's were also ranked 3rd and was just 4 strikeouts behind the league leader. One negative is the staff's 576 walks was 2nd worst of the 10 teams.
Offensive MVP: Angelo Songco ran away with the offensive MVP award thanks to a monster season at the plate. The outfielder turned 1st baseman led the Quakes in several offensive categories (runs, HR's, 2B's, SLG%, OPS), and also paced the entire California League with 310 total bases. Songco also ranked 2nd in the league with his 29 HR's and 114 RBI's, while his .948 OPS placed 4th. In addition, the recently turned 23 year old wasn't a big swing and miss guy as he struck out in a respectable 20.6% of his plate appearances. Overall, it was simply a great year for Songco.
Best Offensive Prospect: Both Baseball America and myself had Angelo Songco ranked behind Blake Smith and Jake Lemmerman heading into the 2011 season, but the outstanding season described above by Songco has helped him move ahead of both those players to claim the title of the Quakes best offensive prospect. I'm still not sure exactly where I'm going to rank Songco overall, but he definitely showed he deserves at least some consideration as a top 10 Dodger prospect.
Pitching MVP: Jon Michael Redding had a disappointing season for the Quakes in 2010, but he got a redo in 2011 and lowered his ERA by almost 2 runs while increasing his K/9 by more than 3 to earn the Pitching MVP honors. Always considered a workhorse, Redding logged 137.2 innings along with a team high 130 punchouts. The 23 year old also had a solid WHIP of 1.34 and a FIP of 3.54, and batters hit a career low .250 against him. A potential sleeper who might one day work his way into the back of the Dodgers rotation, Redding possesses a low 90’s fastball which is complimented by a good slider and a hard curveball.
Best Pitching Prospect: Allen Webster only stuck around for 9 starts, but that was long enough to be named the best pitching prospect on the Quakes. Webster had a 2.33 ERA and a 10.3 K/9 in the hitter's paradise of the California League, and while he struggled a bit after his promotion to AA he still remains as one of the Dodgers top pitching prospects. Baseball America ranked him as the 8th best prospect in the California League, and said "Webster's best pitch is a 90-95 mph fastball with heavy sinking action. He complements his fastball with a plus changeup that also has a lot of downward movement. He also has a solid curveball with some bite, but he didn't throw it often in the Cal League because his other two pitches were so effective. "
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Other Notable Players and Prospects: Before I get into the position by position breakdown, I wanted to highlight a few more players on the team who either had a great season and/or have the potential to turn into a legitimate Dodger prospect. This way, the more notable players don't get lost in all the detail below.
Blake Smith - OF - Despite missing a significant chunk of the season due to sports hernia surgery, Smith ranked 3rd on the team with 16 homers and recorded a ridiculous 13 outfield assists with his cannon arm in right field. The 23 year old also posted an OPS just under .900 for the Quakes and hit .294. He's currently playing some winter ball in Panama and should be all set for AA next season.
JT Wise - C - Wise, who split his time between catcher, 1st base, and DH, put together a very good season for Rancho in 2011 with 17 homers and .887 OPS. He also played solid defense behind the plate with a .990 fielding percentage and a 36% caught stealing rate. That being said the 25 year old was only the second best catching prospect on the team and was left in HiA all season while Griff Erickson got promoted to AA.
Jake Lemmerman - SS - Compared to last year, Late Night had a very average season for the Quakes. He batted a respectable .293, but he only hit 8 long balls and had an OPS under .800. I guess that's pretty good for a 22 year old player's first full pro season, and the Dodgers were impressed enough to promote him to AA late in the year and also send him to the AFL (where he is currently struggling). I'm still surprised he hasn't spent time at other infield positions, but either way next year should be interesting as he'll most likely be the Lookouts everyday shortstop for the entire season.
Griff Erickson - C - The big backstop only played 63 games for the Quakes because he was promoted to AA in early July, but he made the most of his time in Rancho. Griff had a knack for getting on base and had an OB% over .400, and showed a great eye as he walked almost as much as he struck out. He also demonstrated some power which also followed him to Chattanooga. Spending time in the AFL this off-season should get the 23 year old switch hitter ready for a full year of AA in 2012.
Nick Buss - OF - Buss was probably the Dodgers minor league comeback player of the year and also should be considered the runner up for the Quakes MVP. After a forgettable season in 2010, Buss turned things around completely and had outstanding all around stats. His.328 average led the team, as did his 28 stolen bases. He also showed pop with 14 homers, struck out in just 11.9% of plate appearances, and was nearly flawless in center field. The 24 year old should be ready for AA in 2012 and has got his name back on the prospect radar.
Matt Magill - RHP - After leading minor league baseball with a .194 batting average against in 2010, Magill got off to a hot start in 2011 by allowing just 4 total runs over his first 5 starts. From there his season was a bit up and down, but overall the 21 year old posted a solid 4.33 ERA. He had a couple of high strikeout games, including back to back starts during which he collected 10 and 12 K's respectively, but in person his stuff wasn't all that overwhelming.
Aaron Miller - RHP - Miller only threw 34 innings for the Quakes thanks to a nagging groin injury, and even when he was healthy the 24 year old lefty had an uninspiring season. His 3.97 ERA was decent, but he posted a 1.62 WHIP and his strikeout rate was lower than expected. Hopefully he'll come back completely healthy in 2012 and return to form.
Ethan Martin - RHP - Martin was a mess as a starter in the Quakes rotation, mostly due to his lack of control, but he also continued to show flashes of his electric stuff as he racked up the K's despite and ugly ERA and WHIP. A move to the bullpen seemed to help him out, and after just 7 relief appearances for the Quakes the 22 year old was promoted to AA where he showed even more improvement.
Steven Ames - RHP - Ames was only with the Quakes for a short time because he was so dominate that he forced the organization to promote him to AA. If it wasn't for Tolleson's ridiculous season, I'm sure Ames would have gotten even more attention in 2011. In 15.1 innings for Rancho the 23 year old struck out 28 (16.4 K/9), had a 1.17 ERA, a 0.78 WHIP, and walked only two batters. He wasn't quite that spectacular after his promotion, but still was great with the Lookouts as well.
Position by Position Breakdown (player's age in parenthesis):
Catcher: The aforementioned combo of JT Wise (25) and Griff Erickson (23) handled almost all of the catching duties for the Quakes in 2011 and had to be the most production pair of backstops in the league. They combined for 23 HR's, 113 RBI's, and an OPS of almost .900. They also held their own behind the plate with a collective fielding percentage of .989. Prodigal son Jessie Mier (26), who returned to the Dodgers after getting cut by the Rangers, held down the backup role once Erickson was promoted but was terrible.
1st Base: Austin Gallagher (22) was the main 1st baseman for the Quakes and finally broke out with his best season as a professional. His stats still weren't all that great for a big man playing a power position, but he did smack 13 homers to go along with his .292 average and showed great plate disciple as he walked almost as much as he struck out. Still just 22, Gallagher could still breakout and turn into a legit prospect, especially if he has a good season in AA next year. Team MVP Angelo Songco (23), who I walked about above also spent quite a bit of time at his new position of 1st base, and as I already mentioned JT Wise (25) played a handful of games at 1st base as well.
2nd Base: The everyday 2nd baseman for most of the year was Rafael Ynoa (24) who had a very pedestrian season in 2011. He showed some potential with the Loons in 2010, but his stolen base numbers came way down from last year and his OPS fell .697 despite playing in a hitter friendly league. His lone bright spot was his strong walk to strikeout ratio. When Lemmerman was promoted to AA in early August, Ynoa moved over to shortstop and Jaime Pedroza (25) then took over at 2nd base. It must have been quite frustrating for Pedroza to find himself back in the California League after almost 2 seasons in AA, but he made the most of it and put up solid numbers including a .848 OPS.
Shortstop: Jake Lemmerman (22) played shortstop pretty much every day up until his promotion to the Lookouts in August, and I discussed his offensive numbers above. In terms of his defense, Late Night made 20 errors and had a .946 fielding %, which isn't great but also isn't bad for a minor league shortstop. As I just mentioned above Ynoa also spent some time at shortstop, as did Pedro Guerrero (22) who was mostly a utility guy and played all over the infield. I'd considered Guerrero a fringe prospect in the past, but he's shown very little offensive ability over the last few seasons and he now appears to be more of an organizational player.
3rd Base: Tony Delmonico (24) made the transition to 3rd base in 2011 and his .926 fielding % shows that he still needs some work defensively, but at the plate he had a pretty solid season. Like he's done throughout his career Tony continued to get on base at a great clip, ranking 2nd on the team with his .387 OB%, and he also connected on a career high 12 homers. He's lost some value since he no longer plays catcher, but I think he still has a chance to get to the big leagues one day. Travis Denker (26) was the team's other 3rd baseman before his promotion to AA in June. The former big leaguer cranked out 15 homers in just 197 at bats, but he hit just .259 and also struggled defensively.
Outfield: The Quakes' outfield featured some of the team's best players as Nick Buss (24), Blake Smith (23), and Angelo Songco (23) all spent a significant amount of time out on the grass. Buss played by far the most games in the outfield, splitting his time between center and left, and as mentioned above he had a solid comeback year complete with a team leading .328 average and a surprising 14 homers. Smith played exclusively in right field thanks to his tremendous arm and gunned down 13 runners while posting very solid offensive stats. Then of course there was Songco, the team MVP who played left field for the 1st half of the season before moving to 1st base. Ramon Jean (24) was the only other player on the roster to spend at least 50 games in the outfield but he had a unimpressive season with a .247 average and just 5 homers. He showed some speed with 13 SB's, but rarely walked and had a .281 OB%. Finally minor league veteran Anthony Jackson (27) was a late addition to the Quakes, but did a decent amount of damage in his 35 games with a .336 average, 10 SB's, and a .878 OPS.
Starting Pitchers: Five Quake pitchers reached double digits in starts in 2011, led by pitching MVP Jon Michael Redding (23) who toed the rubber 24 times and tied a team high with 11 wins. Matt Magill (21) was the one who tied Redding with 11 wins, and he also claimed the team workhorse crown with 139.1 innings pitched. Andres Santiago (22) final stats were a bit surprising to me as I didn't realize he actually started 20 games and worked 121.2 innings. His ERA and WHIP were a little high at 5.03 and 1.63 respectively, but he had a solid K/9 of 8.3 and his FIP was 3.79. The 6'2" right hander may have turned himself into a bit of a sleeper prospect, although I don't think he's quite ready for AA. Arismendy Ozoria (21) was the youngest pitcher on the Quakes in 2011 yet managed to start 14 games. He showed that he is still a bit raw, however, as he had a similar ERA and WHIP to Santiago, yet didn't have the K/9 (6.1) or FIP (5.98) to get me too excited. Even still I think he shows some promise given his age and some of the scouting reports I've read on him. After solid stint with the Loons, Red Patterson (24) continued to impress in his 14 stats with the Quakes. Patterson struck out over a batter per innings, led all starters with a 1.12 WHIP, and even threw a 9 inning shutout to boot. In addition to these 5 starters, Allen Webster (21), Ethan Martin (22), and Aaron Miller (24) all spent some time in the rotation and were all discussed above. Finally it should be noted that 2011 first round pick Chris Reed (21) made 3 starts late in the year for Rancho, but he only ended up throwing 7 innings. He struck out 9 batters over that span, but allowed too many base runners and gave up 6 runs.
Relief Pitchers: The Quakes put together a very solid bullpen in 2011 which was a big reason why Rancho won their division in both halves of the season. Jordan Roberts (25) and Steve Smith (25), who proved to be a dominate lefty-righty combo for the Loons in 2010, found similar success in the California League and ranked 1st and 2nd in innings pitched among relievers. Roberts won 7 games and posted a 3.03 ERA, while Smith was a part time closer and picked up 9 saves to go along with his 3.63 ERA. The other relievers who spent time at closer were Logan Bawcom (23), who collected 13 quick saves in just 21 innings after his promotion from LoA, Steven Ames (23), who was mentioned above and posted ridiculous stats before his promotion to AA, and Shawn Tolleson (23), who spent only 9.2 innings in HiA but had even better numbers than Ames with a 0.93 ERA and a 0.52 WHIP. Another reliever worth mentioned is Javy Solano (21) who had another strong season in 2011. His ERA with the Quakes was 4.09, but his FIP was much better at 2.65 and he struck out more than a batter per inning. Solano was promoted to the Lookouts in July and for the 2nd year in a row he put up better numbers in AA than he did in HiA. Finally Josh Walter (26) did some solid work in middle relief, while the 100 mph man Luis Vasquez (25) had trouble finding the plate and was injured for most of the season
|California League Hitters|
|At Bats||Angelo Songco||5th||534|
|Home Runs||Angelo Songco||2nd||29|
|Total Bases||Angelo Songco||1st||310|
|California League Pitchers|
|ERA||Jon Michael Redding||6th||3.66|
|Shutouts||Red Patterson||Tied 1st||1|