My next minor league season in review will focus on the Great Lakes Loons. The Loons were the best team in minor league baseball in terms of wins, and were a very fun team to watch. Luckily MILB.com televised all of their home games, so I was lucky enough to catch several games over the internet. The broadcast team is great, and you get the feel that the community really loves this team. In terms of this report, remember that these reports are very extensive, so just because I’m writing about a player doesn’t mean that he is a big time prospect. While I’ll usually mention if a guy is worth keeping an eye on, you’ll have to wait for my upcoming prospect ranking to fully understand who I consider prospects and who are simply organizational players.
Record: 90 - 49 Season Result: Finished 1 game behind the Lake County Captains in the 1st half, but then really came alive in the 2nd half of the season as they won the Eastern Division by 6 games. In the Midwest League playoffs, the Loons won their first round match up against Fort Wayne, but then lost in the semi-finals to the aforementioned Captains. Season Recap: The Loons finished as the best team in minor league baseball with 90 wins, so that is a major accomplishment. It would have been a perfect season had they won the championship, but that didn’t happen. Some of the Loons success can be attributed to the fact that the team had the oldest group of position players in the league, but their pitching also played a major role in getting this team to the top. In addition, keeping the core of the team together for most of year probably contributed to the great regular season. In terms of team stats, the Loons finished the year with the 2nd best batting average in the Midwest League at .272, and their 127 home runs were also good for 2nd place. The teams’ .431 slugging percentage was actually best in the league, as was the pitching staff’s 3.44 ERA. Finally, the team picked up a league high 58 saves, and allowed a league low 70 homers. League Leaders: Category Player Rank Amount Games 2nd 135 Hits 3rd 156 2B 1st 43 HR 4th 19 HR 5th 18 TB 1st 255 SB 5th 43 SLG 2nd 0.520 Ave. 1st 0.318 Wins 1st 12 ERA 3rd 2.88 GS 5th 26 CG's 4th 1 CG's 4th 1 SHO 2nd 1 Saves 4th 20 IP 2nd 153 Walks 5th 68 K’s 1st 151 K’s 5th 135 WHIP 3rd 1.1 Holds 1st 17
Record: 90 - 49
Season Result: Finished 1 game behind the Lake County Captains in the 1st half, but then really came alive in the 2nd half of the season as they won the Eastern Division by 6 games. In the Midwest League playoffs, the Loons won their first round match up against Fort Wayne, but then lost in the semi-finals to the aforementioned Captains.
Season Recap: The Loons finished as the best team in minor league baseball with 90 wins, so that is a major accomplishment. It would have been a perfect season had they won the championship, but that didn’t happen. Some of the Loons success can be attributed to the fact that the team had the oldest group of position players in the league, but their pitching also played a major role in getting this team to the top. In addition, keeping the core of the team together for most of year probably contributed to the great regular season. In terms of team stats, the Loons finished the year with the 2nd best batting average in the Midwest League at .272, and their 127 home runs were also good for 2nd place. The teams’ .431 slugging percentage was actually best in the league, as was the pitching staff’s 3.44 ERA. Finally, the team picked up a league high 58 saves, and allowed a league low 70 homers.
Offensive MVP: With all due respect to Jerry Sands, I’m going to give this award to Brian Cavazos-Galvez. While Sands had an outstanding 69 games with the Loons, the fact that he was promoted to AA in late June caused him to miss out on this award. BCG, on the other hand, got off to a tough start with Great Lakes (.256 average and .669 OPS prior to the All Star Break), but really turned things around in the 2nd half of the season. After the All Star Break, Galvez hit .375 in 62 games, hit 14 of his 16 homers, and posted a 1.043 OPS. In fact, his strong 2nd half was good enough for Galvez to claim the Loons RBI title with 77, and also win the league’s batting title. In addition, Brian led the league with 255 total bases, paced the team with a surprising 43 stolen bases, and was very versatile in the outfield as he played 23 games in left field, 43 games in center, and 24 games in right. Overall, the 23 year old had a stellar season and was pretty much the face of the Loons once Sands left the team.
Best Offensive Prospect: While Jerry Sands didn’t spend enough time with the team to be worthy of the MVP award, he did accumulate enough at bats in my opinion to be crowned as the team’s best offensive prospect. His only other competition were the other outfielders on the Loons (Smith, BCG, and Songco), and while each of those guys had solid seasons, they didn’t even come close to matching Sand’s offensive performance. Sands separated himself from the rest of the pack by hitting 35 homers in 502 total at bats in 2010, and posting a .981 OPS. He also only struck out in 20.8% of his at bats, and committed just 7 errors all season while playing 5 different positions. Based on his season and potential, some may say that Sands is not only the Loons best offensive prospect, but the Dodgers overall top offensive prospect heading into the 2011 season. After the season, Sands was named by Baseball America as the 18th best player in the Midwest League, although I’m sure he would have been ranked higher had he stayed with the Loons all season.
Pitching MVP: I don’t think there is any question that Allen Webster was the pitching MVP of this team. He led the team (and the league) with 12 wins, and had an outstanding 2.88 ERA for the season. He was also very consistent, posting a 2.88 ERA against both lefties and righties, and recording a 2.90 ERA at home vs. 2.85 on the road. Also, while his strikeout numbers weren’t overpowering, batters still only hit .239 against him. Overall, while Webster wasn’t able to lead the Loons to a Midwest League title, he was a big reason why the Loons had the best record in all of minor league baseball.
Best Pitching Prospect: Deciding on the Loons best pitching prospect was a difficult decision. While I ended up giving the award to Rubby De La Rosa, I definitely considered Allen Webster because he is a full year younger than Rubby and already had a couple of plus pitches. However, Rubby won me over with this 100+ mph fastball, his power slider, and his success at AA. Velocity is something you can’t teach, and I’m excited about De La Rosa’s potential. While I’m not convinced that Rubby will be a starter in the big leagues, even if he works out of the bullpen he still has a ton of value because he profiles as a dominate reliever. If there is something that we learned from Kenley Jansen this year it’s that if you throw hard with movement and have control, you can get big league hitters out. Control is the one part of that equation that Rubby needs to work on (although his control is better than most of our pitching prospects), but once he masters that he could be our next big rookie sensation. Baseball America ranked De La Rosa as the 15th best prospect in the Midwest League, although like Sands he probably would have been higher if he didn’t get promoted to AA.
1st Base: 3 players spent considerable time at 1st base for the Loons in 2010, and Jaime Ortiz led the way with 73 games. Ortiz had a mediocre season, and has really disappointed me over the past few years. After hitting 13 home runs for the Loons back in 2008, I thought that he could potentially break out with a big season in the California League in 2009. Instead, Ortiz hit just 5 homers for the 66ers and found his way back to Great Lakes in 2010. Now 22 years old, he no longer has the excuse of age, and I’m really not sure what the Dodgers are going to do with him going forward.
Chris Jacobs has also had a disappointing career, and 2010 was no different. The big right handed hitter ended up hitting just .215 for the Loons, although he did finally show a little power with 7 homers in just 149 at bats. He’s another player whose future is up in the air at this point.
Finally, Jerry Sands held down 1st base for the first couple of months of the season, while also playing some outfield. To add to the accolades, Sands had a .994 fielding percentage at 1st base while with the Loons, and was voted as the best defensive 1st baseman in all of Low Class A.
2nd Base: 2nd base was almost exclusively manned by Rafael Ynoa during 2010. Ynoa had an all around solid year for the Loons at the plate, although I’m not quite as high on him as some other people are. Don’t get me wrong, he surprised me with his 9 homers and 40 stolen bases, but I already fell for his tricks once so I’m going to be a little more cautious this time. After the 2008 season, I ranked Rafael #89 in my Dodger prospect ranking, which may not seem high, but was a pretty good ranking for a 21 year old 2nd baseman playing in Rookie Ball. But sure enough in 2009, Ynoa hit just .054 with a .240 OPS in 147 at bats, so I was forced to say that I whiffed on my ranking of him. Now he goes and does this, so I’m not sure what to think. Basically I’m going to need to see more of the same from him in 2011 before I take him too seriously. However, he did start playing shortstop late in the season and in the playoffs, so if he can somehow continue to play at shortstop in the future, then that boosts his value immensely.
3rd Base: The hot corner was pretty much Brian Ruggiano’s position from start to finish. However, he didn’t have a very good year at the plate or in the field as the he hit just .255 with a .718 OPS and made 22 errors. Those numbers aren’t even close to what he did last year in Ogden, when he batted .371 with a 1.031 OPS. That just goes to show how different the Pioneer League is from the Midwest League. At 24 years old, the Dodgers will probably have to decide this offseason if Ruggiano is worth keeping around.
Shortstop: Christian Lara had a bit of a resurgence with the Loons in 2010, but I’m going to attribute that to the fact that he was much older than the rest of the league, and had already played 3 seasons of High A baseball heading into the season. He surprised a lot of people with 10 homers and a .290 average, but at 25 years old that is basically expected out of him. He is yet another player that may not be worth keeping in 2011.
Bryant Hernandez also played some shortstop for Great Lakes in 2010, but the 2009 9th round pick really struggled at the plate. He hit just .164 in 146 at bats and stuck out in 33.1% of his plate appearances. Nevertheless, the 22 year old was promoted to the California League in August, but he continued to struggle there as well.
Catcher: The catching duties for the Loons were split pretty evenly between J.T. Wise and Gorman Erickson. These two guys are very different players, and had very different seasons. Erickson is the younger of the two at 22 years old, and he had a very poor year. He batted just .215 with 2 homers, and had an OPS of just .619 in 261 at bats. The 6’4" switch hitter did have a few positives in his season, however, as he had a very good walk to strikeout ratio, and had another strong defensive behind the plate. Overall, I was hoping for a lot more out of Erickson in 2010 and his prospect status is fading quickly, but he still might be young enough to turn his career around.
J.T. Wise’s season started off just as bad as Erickson’s, which caused me to almost write him off early in the season. His .235 average prior to the All-Star break just wasn’t cutting it for a 24 year old in the Midwest League. However, Wise was able to flip the switch at some point in July and ended up hitting .309 for the season by posting a .400 average after the All-Star break along with a 1.089 OPS. He also ended the year with 12 homers and 62 RBI’s. I’m still not sold on Wise since he was one of the oldest offensive players on the team and because it took him so long to get going, but his 2nd half performance bought him at least another year of evaluation. In addition, he is probably the best hitting catching prospect in the organization so the Dodgers will want to see what he can do against tougher opposition. Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised if he saw AA next season.
Outfield: The Loons outfield was very talented, and featured the team’s 4 best hitters. Jerry Sands, who was discussed above was the best of the bunch, although he only played 27 games in the outfield before getting promoted to AA. When he was playing the outfield for the Loons, he spent most of his time in right field.
Brian Cavazos-Galvez’s season was also already discussed above, and as mentioned he played all over the outfield. However, he is definitely best suited for a corner outfield spot in higher levels, with left field being his most likely destination.
Blake Smith was the team’s main right fielder, and he had a very solid season. He led the team with 19 homers, and posted a .281 average. He also had an OPS of .852 and picked up 11 outfield assists with his strong arm. This was a huge improvement over 2009 when he was pretty much awful. The one area in which the 22 year needs to get better is his strikeout rate, and hopefully that will get better with experience. I’m really pulling for Blake as a prospect since so many people wrote him off after his dreadful 2009.
Mario Songco was the everyday left fielder, and despite a 2nd half slump he still had a solid season. The youngest of the outfield group, Songco clubbed 15 homers in a team high 507 at bats. In addition, his OPS was .841 in the first half of the season before falling to .790 at the end of the year. Mario is not a big or imposing player by any stretch of the imagination, but he does have legit power as he hit one ball over 500 feet last season. In addition, while the left handed batter has better stats against right handed pitchers, he held his own against lefties with a .250 average.
The only other player to spend a significant amount of time in the Loons outfield during the 2010 season was Nick Buss, who had started the year in the California League but was demoted back to LoA in late June. Chili, who had a terrible time with the 66ers, showed some improvement with Great Lakes but was still very mediocre. The 23 year old was a little old for the league, and his only impressive stat was that he stole 20 stolen bases in 61 games.
Starting Pitchers: The Loons rotation faced several challenges in 2010, but was able to overcome trades and promotions to put together a very fine season. Brett Wallach and Elisaul Pimentel were key starters for the Loons for the 1st half of the season, but both were traded at the end of July. Will Savage, who was way too old for the Midwest League, started the season very strong and had a 2.80 ERA through 13 starts, but was promoted to the 66ers in June. Rubby De La Rosa, who actually started the year in the bullpen, was really hitting hit groove as a starter when he too got promoted in mid-July.
Now that we’ve covered the members who left the Loons rotation during the season, let’s focus on the guys who stayed with the team for the whole year. Josh Wall was the team’s opening day starter, and led the team with 26 starts. It has been an interesting career path for Wall, who played a full season with the Loons way back in 2007 before spending 2008 and 2009 in the California League. After posting a combined ERA of 6.15 with Inland Empire, the 23 year old Wall found himself back in Great Lakes. While his stats weren’t amazing, for the most part Wall was able to regain his form against the younger competition as he posted a 4.24 ERA and 3.77 FIP while leading the league with 151 strikeouts. At the very least, his season proved that the 6’6" right hander deserves another chance against tougher competition.
Allen Webster was the team’s best starter, and I discussed his season stats above. What I didn’t talk about, however, was the fact that Baseball America ranked Webster as the 11th best prospect in the Midwest League. One scout was quoted as saying "He could end up being a stud. He has a couple of plus pitches and will be a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy."
One of the biggest surprises for the Loons this year was Matt Magill’s outstanding season. While I’m sure many thought that he’d do well in the Midwest League, I’m sure nobody expected that he’d lead all of minor league baseball with a batting average against of just .194. In addition, his 3.28 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 9.6 K/9 were all better than what most people would have predicted for him in 2010. The one thing I will say about Magill’s season, however, is that he was a little bit lucky since he had two very bad starts washed out by rain. In addition, scouts describe his stuff as just average, although I saw him hit at least 94 this year and I know he has a good slider. It will be interesting to see how Magill performs in 2011.
Greg Wilborn was a late season addition to the Loons rotation, but he made the most of his time in Great Lakes. Wilborn recorded a 3.26 ERA in 7 starts and struck out over 11 batters per inning. As I mentioned in my Ogden Raptors report, the lefty features a slider, curveball, and changeup, and can get his fastball up to 94 mph. His late season surge with the Loons really put his name on the Dodger prospect radar, and I’m guessing that he’ll pitch in at least HiA next season.
Finally, Ryan Christenson made 7 starts with the Loons in the 2nd half of the season, but his stats were pretty disappointing. After dominating the Arizona Rookie League, Christenson posted a 6.75 ERA in Great Lakes while striking out just 6.5 batters per 9 innings. The 21 year old lefty, who was drafted in the 7th round of the 2010 draft, will most likely return to the Loons in 2011.
Relief Pitchers: Several pitchers were valuable members of the Loons bullpen in 2010. Steve Smith (righty) and Jordan Roberts (lefty) were the main middle relief inning eaters for Great Lakes, throwing 73.2 and 64 innings, respectively. Both had very strong seasons statistically, however they are also both 24 years old which makes them basically non-prospects.
Besides Roberts, Andrew Suiter was the only other lefty out of the bullpen, and he had an interesting season. Looking at his stats, it seems like every batter Suiter faced either walked or struck out as he K’d 12.9 batters per 9 innings, but also walked almost a batter per inning. When it was all said and done, Suiter ended up with a respectable 3.91 ERA. If can learn better control, he can be a real wild card in our system as Logan White said after he was drafted "this kid has a really good arm…He's throwing 94-95 now and has a good change and a good curve ball."
J.B. Paxson is a big guy at 6’3" and 240 pounds, and had a solid season with the Loons in 2010. He posted a 3.02 ERA in 53.2 innings and struck out over a batter per inning. Even though he is another player who is already 24 years old, I get the sense that he has a brighter future than Smith or Roberts.
Justin Miller who had made 53 starts from 2008 – 2009, was converted to a full time reliever in 2010 and found a great deal of success. Miller started the season in LoA, but was promoted to Chattanooga after recording a 1.30 ERA in 34.2 innings. This sinkerball was one of the breakout pitchers in 2010, and he could make an appearance in Los Angeles as early as next season.
Luis Vasquez had a terrible season in 2009, but was handed the Loons closer role to start the 2010 season. Luckily he took the job and ran with it as he put together a very strong season. In 40.1 innings Vasquez had a 2.68 ERA, and batters amazingly just .173 against him for the season. His only problem was his relatively high walk rate. In addition, is yet another pitcher who is already 24 years old, so that’s to his disadvantage.
Finally, Steven Ames joined the team at the end of June, stole the closer role from Vasquez, and had an incredible season. In 28.1 innings Ames struck out 44 batters (13.98 K/9), walked only 3, picked up 16 saves, and had a WHIP of 0.85. In addition, his FIP of 0.41 was one of the lowest I’ve seen for somebody with at least 25 innings. I’m not 100% sure what his pitching arsenal consists of, but I’ve heard he hits at least 94 mph with this fastball. Steven will have just turned 23 years old when the 2011 season starts, and I really hope that he finds his way up to AA next year given his dominant pitching performances over the past two seasons.