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2011 Great Lakes Loons Minor League Season in Review

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The Great Lakes Loons are the next team in my minor league season in review series.  If you haven't already, check of my reviews of the Dominican Dodgers, the Arizona Dodgers, and the Ogden Raptors.  Since their debut in 2007 I’ve always considered the Loons to be my favorite minor league team, so 2011 was a tough season to be a Great Lakes fan.  They missed out on the playoffs by the slimmest of margins in the 1st half, and all season long they struggled mightily at the plate.  Even still I had fun following the Loons again in 2011 thanks to their outstanding pitching and the fact that many of their games are broadcast on MILB.TV with a great broadcasting crew.  Great Lakes also tends to keep the same core of players all season long which makes it easy to keep track of the team on a day to day basis.  Overall this team had more downs than ups, so hopefully next year will see the Loons return to the playoffs.

Record: 72 - 67 (39 - 30 First Half, 33 - 37 Second Half)

Season Result: The Loons missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008, finishing tied for 2nd in the first half of the season and then stumbling to a 6th place finish in the second half

Season Recap: Great Lakes wasn't a great baseball team in 2011, but they fought hard all season long and finished the year with a winning record.  To say they barely missed the playoffs is an understatement because when the first half came to a close, they actually were tied with the Lansing Lugnuts for 2nd place in the Eastern Division because both clubs were 1.5 games out of 1st place.  However the Lugnuts were awarded the playoff spot because their winning % was .567 compared to the Loons winning % of .565.  This was due to the fact that the Lugnuts played two fewer games than the Loons thanks to a few rainouts, so they had one less win and one fewer loss which led to the higher %.  Great Lakes started the second half on a 3-game losing streak and never really recovered as they didn't compete for a 2nd half playoff spot.

In terms of team stats, the Loons were definitely led by their pitching which ranked 3rd in the Midwest League (out of 16 teams) with a 3.62 ERA.  The team's WHIP and strikeout numbers also placed in the top half of the league.  In addition, the bullpen did good work as Great Lakes lead the league with 48 saves.  Team hitting, on the other hand, was a little ugly as the club's .240 batting average was the 3rd worst in the league.  Their overall OPS of .685 was also in the lower tier of the circuit, as was their 87 stolen bases.  Surprisingly, the Loons crushed 102 homers for the season which was the 2nd best in the entire Midwest League.

Offensive MVP: It’s extremely unusual for me to give this award to someone who played in less than half of his team’s games, but I seem forced to give his award to big Chris Jacobs.  The oft-injured 1st baseman continued his tradition of spending time on the DL with a variety of disabilities throughout the season, but when he was healthy he showed that he is a force to be reckoned with.  Jacobs pounded out 12 homers in just 65 games and had an average of .288.  In addition, nobody on the team was within 115 points of his .914 OPS and his OB% was almost .400.  At just 22 years old, Chris can sill make a name for himself even though 2012 will be his 6th professional season.  I can see him doing some major damage for the Quakes next season if he can stay healthy.

Best Offensive Prospect: Jonathan Garcia is winning this award despite a couple of ugly stats and his hot and cold season.  The good news is that Garcia tore out of the gate with 7 April homers and ended up leading the club by a sizable margin with 19 big flies for the year.  However a further look at his season tells a different story.  Jonathan ended the season with a .228 average and an OPS of just .710 while striking out in 25.9% of his plate appearances.  That being said, Garcia played the entire year as a teenager and definitely showed off his power potential so he has the highest ceiling of any player on the Loons.  Even if he moves one level at a time, he’ll reach AAA by the time he is 22.  He plays a solid outfield and I think he should still be considered one of the top Dodger offensive prospects.

Pitching MVP: Garrett Gould was the Loons best pitcher in 2011, leading the club in several categories and ranking 2nd in the entire league with his 2.40 ERA.  He paced the team with 123.2 innings and collected 11 wins despite being limited to just 16 innings in his final 6 appearances in an effort to save his young arm.  After posting average stats while with the Raptors in 2010, Gould showed why he was considered one of the best high school arms in the 2009 draft and continued to impress with his 12-to-6 curveball.  He also displayed good command of his sinking fastball which sat in the low 90's for most of the season. 

Best Pitching Prospect: As most people know I still have Zach Lee tabbed as the Dodgers top overall prospect, so of course he is my pick for the best pitching prospect for the Loons.  Lee didn’t blow away the competition in 2011, but he did have a very solid professional debut for a 19 year old and ended up winning 9 games for Great Lakes with a 3.47 ERA.  There were times when I wished he strike out more batters or issue less walks, but overall I was very impressed when watching his starts online.  I’m not sure what the Dodgers’ plans are for Lee in terms of his 2012 pitching destination, but a jump AA is definitely something that will be considered. 

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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.

Leon Landry – OF – After an explosive professional debut in 2010, Landry struggled through his sophomore season and was one of the Loon's most disappointing players.  Even though the 22 year old ended the year by hitting .321 in August and led the league in triples, his overall season stats were below average as he posted a .309 OB% and a .667 OPS.  He should still be considered a decent Dodger prospect as he has plenty of time to rebound, but he's definitely lost some fanfare.

Michael Pericht – C – The big backstop didn't have an overly impressive season, but he was solid for most of the year which earned him a late promotion to the California League.  Pericht, who is 23 years old, hit 11 home runs for the Loons and had an OPS of almost .800.  His blocking skills behind the plate still need some work, but he threw out 32% of would be base-stealers and is someone who could have a breakout campaign next year with the Quakes.

Nick Akins – OF – After crushing the ball in rookie leagues during his first two professional seasons, Akins found the Midwest League to be much more challenging as he struggled to a .219 average with the Loons.  While he still hit 12 homers, his OPS decreased by more than .400 points from 2010.  The 23 year old also missed some time due to a wrist injury so was limited to just 85 games.

Bobby Coyle – OF – Coyle's season with the Loons was mediocre at best, but I've seen his swing and he does have the ability to generate quite a bit of power from the left side of the plate.  He hit a few deep homers this past season, and also makes good contact as he struck out in just 16.3% of plate appearances.  The 22 year old only has one full season under his belt, but I can see him breaking out next season with the Quakes now that he has an additional year of experience.

Angel Sanchez – RHP – The 21 year old Sanchez created a lot of buzz this season, and rightly so because the Dominican right hander actually made his professional debut in the Midwest League this season and had a very successful campaign.  Sanchez joined the team in May, and went on to post a 2.82 ERA over 99 innings with a WHIP of 1.12.  His most impressive stat, however, was that opposing batters hit just .198 against him.  Overall I really like Angel and think he has helium, but I don't think I'm ready to anoint him a top 10 Dodger prospect as some people have already suggested. 

Shawn Tollenson – RHP – Some people may have already forgotten but Tolleson actually started his storybook season with the Loons.  Shawn only threw 15 innings in Great Lakes before his promotion, but those were probably the best 15 innings anyone has ever thrown in the Midwest League.  The 23 year old got 33 of his 45 outs via a strikeout, picked up 10 saves, didn't allow an earned run, and had a FIP of negative 0.40.  Not bad for a 30th round pick.

Logan Bawcom – RHP –  Bawcom started the year as Tolleson's setup man, then took over the closer role when Shawn was promoted.  The soon to be 23 year wasn't as good as Tolleson, but he was very impressive in his own right as he posted a 2.78 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP, a 11.1 K/9, and picked up 14 saves of his own.  Bawcom was promoted to the California League in mid July and continued to thrive with 13 more saves in just 21.2 innings.

Red Patterson – RHP – The 24 year old Patterson was the Loon's workhorse for the first half of the season and used his experience to succeed against the younger competition.  He recorded a 2.94 FIP over 81.1 frames and struck out almost a batter per inning.  He was another player who was promoted to the Quakes mid season, and after a successful run in the California League he is forcing scouts to take a closer look at him despite his age and limited draft pedigree (he was a 29th round pick in 2010).

Position by Position Breakdown (player's age in parenthesis):

Catcher: Michael Pericht (23) was the Loon's primary backstop, which is good news given that many thought he would eventually end up at 1st base due to his massive frame.  His offensive performance was great for a catcher (11 HR's, .795 OPS), and although his defense remains a work in progress he threw out almost a third of base-stealers.  Steve Domecus (24) missed some time early in the season due to injury, but for most of the year he the backup catcher for Great Lakes.  He got off to a hot start and was hitting .349 at the All Star Break with a .978 OPS, but then struggled to the finish line and ended the year with a .276 average.  After he was drafted most scouts didn't think he would stay behind the plate as a pro, and given that he only threw out 16% of base-stealers a move to the outfield (where he spent some time in college) might be required. 

1st Base: Despite a disappointing season, the Loons stuck with Blake Dean (23) as their main 1st baseman throughout the season.  A .237 average and .657 OPS just don't play at the power position of 1st base, but Great Lakes just didn't have many other options.  The only positive of Dean's season was that kept up his strong walk to strikeout ratio.  Chris Jacobs (22) also spent a decent amount of time at 1st base, but he as mentioned above he was injured for a chunk of the season and also was used quite a bit at DH.  Jacob's numbers were much more reminiscent of a typical 1st baseman as he showed good power in his abbreviated season.

2nd Base: The speedy Casio Grider (24) got a chance to play everyday at 2nd base, and despite stealing a team high 31 bases he didn't provide much offense as he hit just .230 for the year.  From what I've heard he's an exciting player to watch and will make the occasional spectacular play on defense, but overall he tends to make too many errors.  At 24 years old he's going to have to show some offensive spark soon or risk getting released.  David Iden (24) found himself on the Loons after Christan Lara went down with a broken ankle, and he managed to one up Grider in terms of his offensive performance with a .211 average and a .542 OPS.  I'm not sure he'll be back in the system next year.

Shortstop: Shortstop was a bit of a revolving door for the Loons, with four different players appearing in double digit games at the position.  Christian Lara (26) began the year as the starter, but broke his ankle in early July which ended his season.  The minor league veteran was much too old for the Midwest League anyways.  Bryant Hernandez (23), who also played some 2nd base, was one of Lara's replacements but he was terrible at the plate and hit just .185 over 58 games.  Charlie Mirabal (24) also filled in a bit up the middle but was yet another offensive player who didn't have much success.  Lastly, the aforementioned Casio Grider spent a little time at shortstop but had a .851 fielding % so he seems much better suited for 2nd base.

3rd Base: Jessie Bosnik (23) rounded out the Loons light-hitting infield by batting just .232 as the team's main 3rd baseman.  The 2010 13th round pick got off to an ice cold start, and only a good month of July (during which he clubbed 5 homers) kept his season from being completely dreadful.  Chris Henderson (23), who also played a bit of 1st base, was the backup 3rd baseman and like many of his infield buddies he struggled mightily at the plate.  Henderson never hit better than .250 in any month, and ended the year with an ugly .573 OPS.

Outfield: On paper the Loons outfield looked like it would be an offensive powerhouse, but instead as a whole the group hit a combined .235.  As mentioned above Jonathan Garcia (19) provided some excitement with his 19 homers, but even those came in spurts which resulted in long streaks of mediocrity.  He also ended the season in a terrible slump which could have been due to fatigue as he played almost every day in right field (where he recorded 12 outfield assists).  Leon Landry (22) was the everyday center fielder and played solid defense, but his offensive output was well below expectations.  As discussed above his OB% was just .307, and he was caught in 12 of his 40 stolen base attempts.  Playing time in left field was less consistent as 5 players spent at least 10 games in the position.  Nick Akins (23) and Bobby Coyle (22) were the two main left fielders and they both struggled at the plate despite showing some decent power.  Akins socked 12 homers in 85 games but hit just .219 for the season, while Coyle took 9 deep with a .671 OPS.  The other three left fielders for the Loons, albeit in limited action, were Roman Pena (25), who was later loaned to the Mexican League, Preston Mattingly (24), who was resigned after getting cut by the Indians but continues to be terrible, and Joc Pederson (19), who hit just .160 in 16 games but then went on to destroy the Pioneer League. 

Starting Pitchers: Seven pitchers started at least 10 games for the Loons, led by Garrett Gould (20) and Zach Lee (20) who each made a team high 24 starts.  Both Gould and Lee were discussed at length above, so we'll move on to Ryan Christenson (22) who ranked second on the club with 119.1 innings pitched.  The left hander had somewhat of a disappointing season as he posted an ERA of 5.05 and allowed opposing batters to hit .300 against him.  He did a good job of keeping the ball in the park and showed good control, however, which resulted in a much more favorable FIP of 3.29.  Angel Sanchez (21) made 16 starts and as mentioned above he has a surprisingly good season.  Sanchez won 8 games and had and ERA of 2.82, but his FIP was 3.46 which shows he might have been a bit lucky.  Red Patterson (24) used his age and experience to put together a solid campaign for the Loons before getting promoted to HiA after 14 starts.  Patterson's 2.94 FIP was best on the team among starters and he also led with his 3.95 K/BB ratio.  Greg Wilborn (24) started the season with the Quakes, but a 6.85 ERA led to a demotion and he basically switched places with Patterson when Red was promoted.  Wilborn was much better in Great Lakes and posted an outstanding K/9 of 12.4, but he was also pretty wild.  Overall he had a 3.74 ERA over 65 innings.  Finally Tim Sexton (24) started and ended the year in Great Lakes, but sandwiched in between was an ugly stint in AAA.  His time with the Loons was relatively decent, however, as he recorded a 4.18 ERA and a 3.34 FIP. 

Relief Pitchers: The Loons' bullpen was one of the team's strong points as six of the team's primary relievers had an ERA under 3.00.  The closer role in particular a great deal of success, starting with Shawn Tolleson (23) who mowed down the competition like no other before his promotion.  Logan Bawcom (22) then stepped into the closer role and also thrived to the tune of a 2.42 FIP, a 1.08 WHIP, and a K/9 of 11.1.  This earned Bawcom a promotion of his own, leaving the job to 2011 5th round pick Scott McGough (21).  McGough continued the trend of shutting down the competition, although an usually aggressive workload late in the year tainted his otherwise outstanding season.  Even with the hiccup at the end of the year Scott finished with a 2.21 ERA, a 11.1 K/9, and 8 saves.  Bret Montgomery (26) and Pete Budkevics (24) also held important positions within the Great Lakes' bullpen as both players were using in long relief and in late game situations.  They lead the bullpen arms with 90 IP and 85 IP respectively, and both had a decent amount of success.  Montgomery had a 7 - 1 record and his 2.09 FIP was tops on the team outside of Tolleson.  Budkevics' ERA was a solid 3.39, and he even stepped into the closer role for a bit and picked up 5 saves.  Raul Burgos (24), Andrew Pevsner (23), and Ryan Acosta (22) were all middle relievers who did their job for the most part but didn't get much fanfare.  Acosta was the best of the bunch with his 2.85 ERA, but he's already been released by 3 different organizations and had a K/9 of just 5.5 so he's probably not much of a prospect.  Finally, the hard throwing Juan Rodriguez (22) joined the team as part of the Trayvon Robinson trade, and he showed very good stuff in his 17 innings with the Loons.  He still needs to improve his control, but he makes for a very intriguing prospect and posted a 1.59 ERA with a 10.6 K/9 and a 0.94 WHIP.  He's raw, but could end up being a key piece of the deal. 

League Leaders:

Midwest League Hitters
Category Player Rank Amount
Triples Leon Landry Tied 1st 11
Triples Casio Grider 3rd 10
Home Runs Jonathan Garcia Tied 7th 19
Midwest League Pitchers
Category Player Rank Amount
ERA Garrett Gould 2nd 2.40
Saves Logan Bawcom Tied 7th 14
WHIP Garrett Gould 5th 1.12
Holds Bret Montgomery Tied 3rd 12