Vermont Notes: Lake Monsters Picking Up Steam

The Vermont Lake Monsters got off to a slow start, but a recent nice run has them looking good as the season moves towards the New York-Penn League All-Star break.

Team Overview

The Vermont Lake Monsters currently sit at the bottom of the Stedler division, 14 games out of first place. They have a seven-game deficit in the Wild Card race. Things have been looking up for the Lake Monsters of late, however, as the team has won seven of their last 10 games, going into Tuesday night.

Vermont has been in the middle of the pack offensively this season. The team’s 676 OPS ranks seventh out of 14 teams, and they are seventh in team batting average (.250) and eighth in team OBP (.317). The Lake Monsters are fourth in homeruns and sixth in stolen bases.

There have been several individual standouts with the bat. Shortstop Yairo Munoz recently had a 17-game hitting streak and he is seventh in the league in batting with a .305 average. Utilityman Joe Bennie has a solid .288 average and .369 OBP. Both players were recently tabbed for the New York-Penn League All-Star team. They will be joined by right-hander Fernando Cruzado in the August 19th game in Brooklyn.

The Lake Monsters’ pitching staff is currently second-to-last in the league in team ERA with a 4.21 mark. They are third-to-last in strike-outs as a staff, although they have walked the fourth-fewest number of batters. The longball has hurt the staff all season, as the Lake Monsters have allowed a league-high 36 homers in 496 innings. The team has completed two shutouts.

Cruzado has a 1.69 ERA in 16 relief innings for the Lake Monsters. He is second on the team behind Koby Gauna in saves with three (Guana has seven). Of pitchers with more than 20 innings pitched for Vermont this season, right-hander Lee Sosa leads the way with a 2.49 ERA in 25.1 innings pitched.

The Lake Monsters begin a three-game set versus Aberdeen on Tuesday night and conclude their homestand with three games with Brooklyn before heading into the All-Star break.

Comings and Goings

During the first week of July, four members of the A’s 2014 draft class joined the Lake Monsters after getting their feet wet in Arizona: IF Max Kuhn, RHP Corey Walter, RHP Koby Gauna and RHP Jordan Schwartz. All four have played major roles on the Vermont roster since their promotions. Kuhn is second on the team in homers, Schwartz has lit-up the radar gun while posting a 3.55 ERA in 12.2 innings, Guana leads the team in saves and Walter has a 14:3 K:BB and a 2.03 ERA in 13.1 innings.

Young left-handers Kevin Ferreras and Victor Veliz were sent back to Arizona in early July. Both have split time starting and relieving for Arizona. On July 9, Vermont lost outfielder Justin Higley to a promotion to Low-A Beloit. Higley destroyed the New York-Penn League during his brief time with the team, posting an 899 OPS and homering five times while stealing 10 bases in 24 games.

In mid-July, the Lake Monsters added 2014 draft picks Trent Gilbert and Brett Graves, as well as catcher Seong-Min Kim. Gilbert has appeared in 23 games since joining the Lake Monsters, while Graves – the A’s third-round pick this season – has an 11:2 K:BB through his first 10.2 innings of work. Kim had a big start to his season in Arizona, but he is still looking to get on-track at the plate with Vermont.

In late July, Vermont added catcher Jose Chavez from Low-A Beloit and outfielder J.P. Sportman from Arizona. Sportman, the A’s 27th-round pick this season, has been the Lake Monsters’ best hitter since joining the team. In 76 at-bats, he has three homers and six doubles and he is batting .408.

The Vermont pitching staff received a boost on August 6 when A’s 2013 second-round pick Dillon Overton was promoted from the Arizona Rookie League A’s. Overton is on a strict pitch count as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery, but the left-hander has been very effective with the pitches he has been allowed to throw thus far. In 25 innings between Arizona and Vermont, Overton has a 1.80 ERA and a 34:4 K:BB.

Who’s Hot

As mentioned earlier, no one has been hotter than J.P. Sportman of late. Sportman is batting .500 over his last 10 games and his slashline since joining the Lake Monsters is .408/.427/.605. Sportman hit well with the AZL A’s, too, batting .321/.414/.393 in 84 at-bats.

Shortstop Yairo Munoz has been a steady force for Vermont all season. The 19-year-old was known more for his glove than his bat when he signed with the A’s as an amateur free agent before the 2012 season. However, he has shown promise with the bat this year, driving the ball to all fields and using his speed to his advantage. He has four homers, three triples and 14 doubles in 187 at-bats and he has 10 stolen bases. Munoz is still working on refining his plate discipline, but he has otherwise been outstanding at the plate.

Joe Bennie has cooled of late, but the 2013 draft pick is still having a solid season with Vermont. He has walked 21 times in 44 games. Defensively, Bennie has been mostly at his natural position of second base, although he did get an appearance in right field after working on playing the outfield during extended spring training.

2014 draft picks Max Kuhn and Jose Brizuela have given the Lake Monsters some thump in the middle of their line-up. Each player has hit four homeruns, tying them for second on the team behind Justin Higley. Kuhn has a solid 13:27 BB:K with Vermont and a .262/.343/.426 line. He has seen most of his time in left field despite being a natural infielder, although he has appeared in nine games at third base. Kuhn also saw time at second and first while in Arizona. Brizuela has been the Lake Monsters’ primary third baseman, with 34 starts at the hot corner.

First baseman John Nogowski – also a 2014 draft pick – has yet to tap into his power with Vermont, but he is getting on-base at a solid clip. He has a 1:1 K:BB through 32 games (16 of each) and a .371 OBP.

The bullpen has been the most effective part of the Vermont pitching staff thus far. All-Star Fernando Cruzado leads the team with a 1.69 ERA. Corey Walter has allowed just 13 base-runners in 13.1 innings and he has 14 strike-outs. His fastball has ticked 94 MPH, as well.

A’s 2014 second-round pick Daniel Gossett was the first pitcher taken by the A’s in this year’s draft, and he has pitched well thus far. On an innings limit because of a high college workload, Gossett has made eight short-inning appearances. In those 16 innings, the 21-year-old right-hander has a 2.25 ERA and a 13:1 K:BB. He has allowed just 10 hits and has an 0.69 WHIP.

Former Cal-State Fullerton closer Koby Gauna has picked up where he left off in college. In 12.1 innings with Vermont, Gauna has a 2.92 ERA and a 10:1 K:BB. He leads the team with seven saves and he has converted all seven of his chances. Gauna allowed four runs in his second outing, but he has hasn’t allowed a run since.

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