Beloit showed flashes of its potential throughout much of the Midwest League's first-half, with solid starting pitching, an outstanding back-end of the bullpen, and prospect-laden infield of Renato Nunez, Daniel Robertson, Chris Bostick and Matt Olson.
All of those pieces to the puzzle finally came together in June, as the Snappers reeled off a nine-game winning streak and wrapped up the West Division first-half in first place by winning 11 of their final 13 games leading into the all-star break.
Rookie manager Ryan Christensen's squad has already locked up a playoff appearance by finishing 43-27 in the first half, two games better than a Cedar Rapids squad led by one of the minors' top prospects in Byron Buxton. It was Beloit's best first-half record since the 2007 season.
The Snappers are in the midst of the three-day Midwest League all-star break. Six Snappers aren't getting much rest, however, as they were chosen to represent their team at tonight's all-star game in Dayton, Ohio. The Beloit players who will be in uniform are third baseman Nunez, first baseman Olson, catcher Bruce Maxwell, starting pitchers Raul Alcantara and Michael Ynoa and closer Ryan Dull. Maxwell and Nunez were named starters for the West Division squad.
Beloit's offense hasn't been short on power this season, ranking second in the league with a slugging percentage of .412 and .748 OPS. It has launched a league-high 64 home runs – nine more than Cedar Rapids' 55 – while scoring the third-most runs in the MWL with 345.
Maxwell has been with the team since the start and enters the break with a slash line of .293/.366/.399. Although last year's second-round pick is still looking to replicate the power numbers he had in college, he has drawn 23 walks while striking out just 26 times. Nunez leads the team in most power categories, with 13 homers and 48 RBIs. He has a slash line of .278/.327/.496 across 64 games this season.
Starters Alcantara and Ynoa continue to key the front-end of the Snappers' rotation, while relievers Tucker Healy and Dull are locking down hitters at the back-end of the bullpen.
Repeating Low-A ball, Alcantara won seven of eight decisions in the first half, while compiling a 2.44 ERA in a team-high 77.1 innings. The 20-year old's K:BB rate of 58:7 bodes well for his continued success at higher levels. Ynoa has done all the A's have asked of him this season, staying healthy and cutting down his walk rate from a year ago. The 21-year old enters the all-star break with 13 starts under his belt and a 2.21 ERA. He has struck out 40 and walked 14 in 45.2 innings of work.
In the bullpen, Healy features a team-best 0.94 ERA in 28.2 innings. The 23-year old has struck out 43 batters and walked just five in 18 games out of the pen. Dull, who has a team-high 12 saves and 2.10 ERA, features a K:BB rate of 35:3 in his 25.2 innings out of the pen. Beloit opens the second half of the season on Thursday night at home against Peoria, the first of a four-game set against the St. Louis affiliate.
Comings and Goings
Much of this season's Beloit roster has remained intact, leading to improved play in the first half's final weeks. The only recent additions included catcher Ryan Delgado, who was sent down from High-A Stockton on June 1, and 2011 sixth-round draft pick Dayton Alexander, an outfielder.
Delgado has fit in nicely on a squad that's carrying three catchers, posting a slash line of .348/.483/.478 in 10 games. Alexander was shipped to Beloit from extended spring training on May 27, and has gotten into 15 games and posted a .235 batting average. This is Alexander's first taste of full-season ball, after he posted just a .145 batting average in 25 games at short-season Vermont last summer.
Third baseman Chad Lewis, a fourth-round high school selection in 2010, was released after his Low-A struggles continued this spring. He posted a slash line of .200/.224/.308 in 18 games with the Snappers.
On the injury front, pitchers Chris Lamb and Kris Hall were added to the seven-day DL in late-May and have remained on the shelf. Tyler Vail returned from the disabled and resumed a role in the bullpen. Since his return, Vail has pitched in 10 games and posted a 2.31 ERA while allowing just three earned runs on 10 hits in 11.2 innings.
One player who likely didn't want to see the first half end was Bostick, whose bat was as hot as any in the league during the past week. The 44th-round pick in the 2011 draft has 11 hits in his past 24 at-bats, including four home runs and 14 RBIs during his past seven games. That included a two-homer, four-RBI night against Clinton on June 15th. His late first-half surge has raised his batting average to a modest .283.
Outfielder John Wooten has remained a nice story for this season's Snappers. The 37th-round selection in last June's draft closed out the first half strong with a .351/.415/.514 slash line across his past 10 games. Wooten has five multi-hit games during those 10, including a 3-for-4 game with a homer at Burlington June 9.
Centerfielder Brett Vertigan has hit safely in eight of his past 10 games while posting a .390 on-base percentage. The 10th-round selection in the 2012 draft has raised his batting average to .247 and is still walking (35) more than striking out (33) this season.
Alcantara has remained one of the hottest pitchers since the start of the season and wrapped up the first-half with two scoreless outings. He scattered 17 hits across 13 scoreless frames while striking out 13 and walking just one. He has given up more than two earned runs only once in his past 10 starts.
The workload continues to increase for Ynoa in the first extended playing time of his career. He pitched a season-high five innings in each of his past two starts and allowed just one earned run on eight hits while posting an 8:1 K:BB rate. As a result, he finally qualified for – and earned – his first wins of the season.
Across his past six outings and 9.2 innings, reliever Stuart Pudenz has allowed just one earned run on seven hits. The 13th-round selection in last year's draft has lowered his ERA to 2.49.
Right-hander Dakota Bacus continues to succeed in his piggy-backing role as starter and reliever. He's allowed just two earned runs in his past 10 innings, including a scoreless five-inning start at Burlington on June 10th in which he picked up the victory.