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2011 Albuquerque Isotopes Minor League Season in Review

Albuquerque Isotopes Scoreboard
Albuquerque Isotopes Scoreboard

The final stop on our minor league review series takes us to Albuquerque where the Isotopes fielded one of their more prospect laden teams in recent memory.  While their pitching staff was filled with minor league veterans, the Albuquerque offense featured three of the Dodgers top prospects in Dee Gordon, Jerry Sands, and the now departed Trayvon Robinson.  Despite the offensive firepower the Isotopes were a mediocre team for most of the season as they finished below .500.  However they do have a beautiful stadium that I was lucky enough to visit back in April.  Also, if you missed any of the previous parts of my series, you can check out my season reviews of the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, the Great Lakes Loons, the Ogden Raptors, the Arizona Dodgers, and the Dominican Dodgers.

Record: 70 - 74

Season Result: The Isotopes finished 2nd in their division, but they ended the season 17 games behind the division winner so they never really had a shot at the playoffs

Season Recap: The Pacific Coast League functions like the big leagues in that the season isn't split into halves, so teams don't want to get too far behind early in the season.  Luckily for Albuquerque they got off to a solid start, posting winning records in the months of April and May.  A 10 game losing streak at the end of June put them in a hole that they would never recover from, however, and the the Isotopes finished the season on a sour note as they won just 5 of their final 16 games.

In terms of team stats, Albuquerque led the 16 team league with 183 homers, and they also ranked among the top four clubs in OPS, SLG %, Average, and OPS.  The Isotopes didn't show much speed, however, as they were in the bottom of the pack with 85 SB's.  The team pitching stats were also quite ugly as the club's ERA (5.73) and WHIP (1.61) were both 3rd worst in the PCL.

Offensive MVP: Jerry Sands had ugly home/road splits as he hit just .186 away from the Lab with a 659 OPS, but he more than made up for that with his outstanding performance at home which earned him the team MVP honors.  Despite missing more than a month of the PCL season because he was in the big leagues, Sands ranked 4th in the league with 29 homers and lead the Isotopes with 88 RBI's.  His .931 OPS was also one of the best on the club, and he also showed his versatility by splitting his time between 1st base, left, and right field. 

Best Offensive Prospect: Since Sands and Gordon exhausted their prospect status in 2011, I'm going to pick Ivan De Jesus as the best remaining offensive prospect on this team.  I've never been a big fan of De Jesus and he probably won't rank all that high when I release my prospect rankings, but he was the best of the remaining eligible players for this award.  De Jesus actually had a very good season with the Isotopes as he hit .310 and even smacked 8 homers.  He played solid defense at 2nd base, and had a strong strikeout to walk ratio.  It will be interesting to see what role the 24 year old fills for the organization in 2012.

Pitching MVP: Dana Eveland was the obvious choice for this award as he worked a team high 154 innings and had almost double the number of wins of any other pitcher on the staff.  His 4.38 ERA was very good for the Pacific Coast League, as was his 1.38 WHIP.  He parlayed his strong season into a big league call up, and since he's still on the 40 man roster he remains an option to pitch for the Dodgers in 2012.

Best Pitching Prospect: Tim Sexton?  I was going to give this honor to Scott Elbert, but he's also no longer a prospect as he's exceeded 50 major league innings over the past few seasons.  Jon Link and Travis Schlichting would have been considered but they are now minor league free agents, so that basically leaves Sexton as the only eligible player.  I'm not saying that Sexton is much of a prospect at all, but to be fair his 6.86 ERA was skewed by an outing during which he allowed something like 15 earned runs.  Also, he is still just 24 years old so he still has time to improve

Follow the jump for more...

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.

Dee Gordon - SS - We should all by very familiar with Gordon by now as he finished the season as the Dodgers' shortstop and has a firm grip on the position heading into 2012.  While in AAA, Dee hit .333 and stole 30 bases in 34 attempts.

Jamie Hoffmann - OF - Hoffman was probably the runner up for the offensive MVP of this team as he had a great season on both sides of the ball.  He would have won a AAA gold glove if they gave them out as he didn't make an error all season in the outfield, and his 84 RBI's ranked 2nd on the team.  The 27 year old also crushed a career high 22 homers, hit .297, and stole 14 bases to boot.

Trayvon Robinson - OF - Even though Robinson was traded to the Mariners mid season, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention him as he was a big part of this team for a good part of the season.  Robinson hit 26 homers and had a .926 OPS for the Topes, but he struck out in almost 30% of his plate appearances, a trend that continued to haunt him after he was promoted to the show.

Justin Sellers - 2B/SS - After surprising a lot of people in 2010 with the biggest offensive season of his life, Sellers continued to impress in 2011 in AAA with 14 more homers, a .400 OB%, and a .937 OPS.  This of course earned the 25 year old a promotion to the Dodgers, and while he didn't have much success in the big leagues he'll definitely  has a good chance to stick with the club in 2012.

Russ Mitchell - 3B/1B - Michell's 2011 season mirrored 2010 in that he had a good season for the Isotopes, then struggled after his late season promotion to the Dodgers.  He's still on the 40 man roster, but it remains to be seen if the Dodgers will give him a chance to hold down a full time bench role for the 2012 season.

Tim Federowicz - C - Please note that I didn't consider FedEx for the best offensive prospect award because he didn't play enough games in my opinion to qualify, but if he had played a full season in Albuquerque he would have edged out De Jesus.  In his short time with the club (25 games) the 24 year old put up some impressive stats, although it seems that he was aided by the hitter friendly home ballpark of the Isotopes.

John Ely - RHP - Ely had a few great starts for Albuquerque in 2011, including a near no-hitter, but for the most part he got knocked around pretty good in the PCL.  He allowed a team high 21 homers which lead to his 5.99 ERA, although his FIP was a little better at 4.78.  He posted better stats in his return to the big leagues last September, but he is another guy whose role remains unknown heading into next year.

Jon Link - RHP - Link was probably the club's best reliever in 2011 as he collected a team high 11 saves and had a solid 4.24 ERA, but as a minor league veteran he recently became a free agent.  He'd probably be worth keeping around if he was willing to re-sign, but he probably will get a better opportunity elsewhere.

Travis Schlichting - RHP - Schlichting is another former Dodger who recently became a minor league free agent, but after having a lot of success since joining the organization in 2008 he completely imploded in 2011 with a terrible season.  He had a 7.10 ERA and just never was able to put it together.

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

Catcher: The Isotopes used a variety of players behind the plate in 2011, led by minor league veteran AJ Ellis (30).  Ellis, who also played 31 games with the Dodgers in 2011, appeared in 59 games for Albuquerque and had a crazy OB% of .467 and amazingly walked more than twice as much as he struck out.  Damaso Espino (28) held down the backup catcher job throughout the year and did a decent job with a .292 average, and JD Closser (31) was doing pretty well for the Isotopes before he was suddenly released in mid July.  The aforementioned Tim Federowicz (24) took over as the starting catcher after he was acquired from the Red Sox at the trading deadline, and in 25 games he smacked 6 long balls and had a 1.058 OPS.

1st Base: Much like catcher, 1st base featured several players at the position as 6 different Topes spent at least 10 games there.  Jerry Sands (24) led everyone with 45 games at 1st base, and showed his defensive ability by posting a .990 fielding percentage.  JD Closser (31) also spent time at 1st base before getting released, as did Corey Smith (29) before getting demoted to AA due to his .653 OPS.  The one other player worth mentioning here is fan favorite John Lindsey (34), who was mostly a DH but also spent 26 games at 1st base.  In his 17th minor league season Lindsey showed that he still has something left as he hit .309 with a .404 OB% and a .947 OPS.  Injuries limited him to just 75 games, and it will be interesting to see if he returns to AAA in 2012.

2nd Base: Ivan De Jesus (24) was the everyday 2nd baseman for Albuquerque, and as mentioned above he had a solid season with a .310 batting average and 8 homers.  De Jesus made 15 errors, but still had a strong fielding % of .989.  Mr. Zero Eugenio Velez (29) was basically a utility man but spent the majority of his time at 2nd base.  The recently crowned hitless king actually batted .339 for the Isotopes and had a surprising .834 OPS, which was 759 points higher than his major league OPS in 2011.  Joe Becker (26) and Justin Sellers (25) also spent a decent amount of time at 2nd base, but their primary positions were elsewhere on the infield. 

Shortstop: Dee Gordon (23) was Albuquerque's main shortstop prior to his big league promotion, spending 70 games up the middle.  Known for his spectacular range, Gordon ended up making 19 errors, which mostly came on the routine plays, and that resulted in a .940 fielding %.  Dee's big league teammate, Justin Sellers (25), was the team's secondary shortstop, and the slick defender held his own at the position with a .976 OPS.  He also showed surprising pop with 14 homers and had a great walk to strikeout ratio. 

3rd Base: Russ Mitchell (26), who was also a part time 1st baseman, manned the hot corner for the Isotopes and continued to show improved defense.  At the plate he hit 16 homers and had a .875 OPS while striking out in just 15.8% of his plate appearances.  Joe Becker (26) continued his tour of minor league baseball as Albuquerque became the 9th team he's played for in just his 5th season.  The organizational fill-in joined the club when injuries depleted the Isotopes' infield, and ended up staying in Albuquerque for the majority of the season.  He did a nice job defensively at 3rd base, and surprised a lot of people with his .310 average and .803 OPS.

Outfield: Most of the outfielders have already been discussed above, but I'll add a little more color here.  Jamie Hoffmann (27) was the captain out on the grass for most of the year as he was the team's main center fielder.  He also played left and right, and I'll reiterate the fact that he didn't make an error all season long while recording 6 assists.  Trayvon Robinson (24) actually started the year in center field, but then was later moved to left where he spent most of his time before getting traded.  Jerry Sands (24) also played some left field, as did the Aussie Trent Oeltjen (28).  Oeltjen only played 56 games in Albuquerque before his promotion to the Dodgers, but he made the most of his time with a .339 average and a 1.012 OPS.  The final offensive player I need to mention is Jay Gibbons (34), who was the Topes' primary right fielder.  Gibbons did OK defensively, and at the dish he did pretty well with 9 homers and a .300 average.  He probably won't be back with the organization next year as he is a free agent and the Dodgers seem to have enough outfielders.

Starting Pitchers: The pitching staff as a whole was an uninspiring group, so I'll be brief here.  I already discussed the pitching MVP Dana Eveland (28) and John Ely (25) above, who both started a team high 25 games.  Randy Keisler (35) was the oldest player on the team, and the former big leaguer threw pretty well for Albuquerque with a 4.67 ERA.  Alberto Bastardo (27) started the game I attended this year and he looked pretty good at times, but overall he was too hittable which led to his 1.71 WHIP and a .308 batting average against.  Tim Redding (33) began the year in the rotation but posted a 6.59 ERA before jetting to the Phillies.  Finally, Tim Sexton (24) got promoted all the way from LoA in May and made 14 starts, and while he had a few good outings he was shelled in a few of his appearances which led to his 6.86 ERA.

Relief Pitchers: Again not much to see here as the Isotope bullpen was filled with minor league veterans and non-prospects.  Scott Elbert (26) was the exception, but he only threw 14.1 innings in Albuquerque before joining the Dodgers.  I already touched on Jon Link (27) and Travis Schlichting (27) above, but I haven't yet mentioned Ramon Troncoso (28) who threw 57 innings of relief.  Troncoso wasn't very good with a 5.05 ERA and a matching FIP, and now that he's out of options it's likely he'll be removed from the 40 man roster in the near future.  Merkin Valdez (30) was actually the Isotopes' best reliever in 2011 as he had a 3.58 ERA in 50 innings, but he used his out clause in July to sign with the Rangers.  Joey Newby (29), David Pfeiffer (26), and Roy Corcoran (31) were the other bullpen arms to log at least 30 innings, and all of them had ERA's above 6.

League Leaders:

Pacific Coast League Hitters
Category Player Rank Amount
Runs Jamie Hoffmann Tied 5th 91
Home Runs Jerry Sands 4th 29
Stolen Bases Dee Gordon Tied 5th 30
SLG% Jerry Sands 5th 0.586
Pacific Coast League Pitchers
Category Player Rank Amount
Wins Dana Eveland Tied 3rd 12
Shutouts Dana Eveland Tied 1st 1
Shutouts John Ely Tied 1st 1
Runs Allowed John Ely 4th 109
Holds Travis Schlichting 3rd 12
Games Finished Jon Link 5th 40