June 10, 2014 - Phoenix, AZ: In the darkest part of night, just before dawn, a group of Lake Monsters left Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport bound for Vermont. These young men, members of the Oakland A’s farm system, had just spent three months in the desert, participating in Spring Training/ Extended Spring Training. They were ready to play games that count; where the stands are filled with cheering fans; their name is announced before each at bat; and a radio broadcaster brings their games to life for the folks back home.
Burlington, Vermont: here come your 2014 Lake Monsters!
But, by the time the team arrived in Burlington, the feelings of hope, anticipation, and excitement were replaced with denial, gut-wrenching sadness, and grief. Pitching coach, Steve Connelly had the unenviable task of telling them of the passing of Bob Welch, the man who spent almost every day of the past three months with them. It was important to Welch that he arrive before dawn so that he would be the first person to greet and check-in with each boy as they arrived at Papago.
At least they were able to grieve together as they prepared for opening day of the New York-Penn League season.
The 2014 Vermont Lake Monsters arrived in Burlington under all new leadership, including: first-time manager, David Newhan, a former big leaguer, and son of legendary LA Times sports journalist Ross Newhan. His staff included first-year pitching coach Steve Connelly, whose major league time was as a member of the Oakland A’s pitching staff, and new hitting coach, the beloved Tommy Everidge, whose MLB rookie season was in 2009, also with Oakland.
In the game of baseball, as in life, the most important things happen at home. With the changes to the Lake Monsters’ field staff, and roster, the affiliate’s Host Family Program became even more valuable this season. The well-oiled machine, led by long-time host parents, Michael and Freda Tutt, and in collaboration with the front office staff of affiliate, did what it has always does: provides a home, not just a room or a place to stay, for each of the almost-40 young players – and a few coaches, too. Thanks to a new two-year agreement, Michael & Freda Tutt and the rest of the Lake Monsters’ host families will be part of the Oakland A’s family through 2016!
Vermont’s 2014 season opened on the road, in Massachusetts against the Red Sox affiliate, Lowell Spinners. They lost the season opener, but won the next two games to take the opening series. Three down, 73 to go.
When the season ended on September 1, the Lake Monsters finished with a record of 33-43; 15 games behind the Stedler Division Champs, the Tri-City Valley Cats. At Centennial Field, they were 16-22; on the road 17-21. The month of August proved to be the best of the season, finishing with a winning 16-12 record.
Vermont’s season record in 2014 was the same as 2013’s, and the same as it was at the end of the 2012 season, as well. What are the odds of having the same record in three consecutive years? It is best to end at three; let 2015 be the year Vermont contends for the league title, replacing the State College Spikes, affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. State College defeated Tri-City, the Houston Astros affiliate. Both teams were strong throughout the season, and given their parent clubs’ scouting prowess, project to be ongoing contenders. Vermont’s parent club has a strong scouting staff, as well; 2015 will be up for grabs.
Daniel Gossett, Oakland’s second-round pick in 2014, debuted with Vermont on June 27 against Lowell: 2IP, 1R, 1H, 0BB, 1K. His next game was against Tri City on July 2 where he was awarded the win. 2IP: 4H, 1R, 1H, 1BB, 1SO .
Oakland’s third-round pick in 2014, Brett Graves, made his debut in the AZL. It was his only appearance before moving to Vermont for the remainder of the season. More from the 2014 draft who made an appearance in the AZL before spending the summer with Vermont include: Jose Brizuela, Michael Fagan, Trent Gilbert, Max Kuhn, Corey Miller, John Nogowski, Jordan Schwartz, J.P. Sportman and Corey Walter.
RHP Tyler Hollstegge, 21st round pick in 2012, missed all of the 2013 season after having Tommy John surgery. He spent a little time with High-A Stockton and Low-A Beloit before joining Vermont for the rest of the season.
Brett Vertigan’s season ended a couple weeks earlier than he would have liked. On August 14, during the first game of a double-header against Aberdeen, Vertigan collided with teammate Trent Gilbert in shallow right field. Vertigan was down on the field for a few minutes before being carted off the field and on his way to the hospital. Oakland’s 10th round draft pick in 2012 had his season end abruptly due to one rib broken in two places, and a lat strain. The southern California native was 3,000 miles away from home, but his host mom, Freda Tutt, cared for him as if he were her own. Freda will quickly commend Brett’s fellow house-brothers, Kyle Wheeler, Koby Gauna, and Seongmin Kim, who were all attentive, good care-takers of their teammate and friend.
The absence of Vertigan’s glove and bat on the field, along with his positive impact in the clubhouse were felt the minute he was carted off the field. Vertigan’s off-season plans include, rest, allowing his broken rib to heal in both places, and then preparing for spring training 2015. There’s no doubt he Brett will be better, stronger, and faster than he was before the accident.
The NYPL All Star Game on August 19, was hosted by the New York Mets affiliate, Brooklyn Cyclones, in Brooklyn, New York. The roster included a total of 4 members of the Vermont Lake Monsters: Joey Bennie, Yairo Muñoz, RHP Fernando Cruzado and Sportman.
MONSTERS AT THE PLATE:
While Yairo Muñoz, the 19-year-old shortstop out of the Dominican Republic, was the team batting leader in almost every category. Below are the team leaders among those with at least 25 games played:
ABs: Yairo Muñoz 252, Jose Brizuela 187, Max Kuhn 184
Runs Scored: Yairo Muñoz 29, Max Kuhn 26, Jose Brizuela 25
Hits: Yairo Muñoz 75, Max Kuhn 51, Joe Bennie 45, Jose Brizuela 45
2Bs: Yairo Muñoz 17, Max Kuhn 10, Jose Brizuela 9
3Bs: Yairo Muñoz 3, Ben McQuown 2, Brett Vertigan 2, Max Kuhn 2
HR: Yairo Muñoz 5, Jose Brizuela 5, Max Kuhn 4, J.P. Sportman 3
RBIs: Max Kuhn 23, Jose Brizuela 22, John Nogowski 21 (Note: Justin Higley: 24 games - 25 RBIs)
TB: Yairo Muñoz 113, Max Kuhn 77, Jose Brizuela 71
BBs: Joe Bennie 21, John Nogowski 20, Dayton Alexander 18
FEWEST Strike Outs: Brett Vertigan 16 (47 games; 151 ABs) 10.5%; Gabriel Santana 16 (41 games; 134 ABs) 11.9%; J.P. Sportman 22 (38 games; 146 ABs) 15 %
SB: Yairo Muñoz 14 (CS 6) 70%; Ben McQuown 12 (CS 3) 80%; Dayton Alexander 11 (CS 0) 100%
OBP: Joey Bennie .369 (45 games; 156 ABs), 252 ABs), John Nogowski .357 (50 games; 158 ABs), Max Kuhn .348 (52 games; 184 ABs)
SLG: Yairo Muñoz .448 (66 games; 252 at-bats), Max Kuhn .418 (52 games; 184 ABs), J.P. Sportman .418 (38 games; 146 ABs)
OPS: Yairo Muñoz 768 (66 games; 252 ABs), Max Kuhn 767 (52 games; 184 ABs), J.P. Sportman 751 (38 games; 146 ABs)
AVG: J.P. Sportman .301 (38 games; 146 ABs), Yairo Muñoz .298 (66 games; 252 ABs), Joe Bennie .288 (45 games; 156 ABs)
While the team batting stats landed in the lower half in most categories, one interesting stat in which Vermont leads the league: successful stolen bases: 73 of 98 attempts were successful: a rate of 74%.
MONSTERS ON THE MOUND:
A minimum of 10 games required to be included
ERA: Fernando Cruzado 1.90 (24 games; 23.2IP), Koby Gauna 2.08 (15 games; 17.1IP), Daniel Gossett 2.25 (12 games; 24IP)
FEWEST HITS: Michael Fagan 13 (17 games; 19.1 IP), Koby Gauna15 (15 games; 17.1 IP), Tyler Hollstegge 16 (16 games; 17.1 IP)
FEWEST RUNS: Koby Gauna 4 (15 games; 17.1 IP), Fernando Cruzado 5 (24 games; 23.2 IP), Daniel Gossett 6 (12 games; 24 IP)
FEWEST HRS: Corey Walter 0 (17 games; 20.1 IP), Jordan Schwartz 0 (11 games; 18.2 IP), Daniel Gossett 1 (12 games; 24 IP)
BB: Daniel Gossett 1 (12 games; 24 IP), Koby Gauna 2 (15 games; 17.1 IP), Jon Massad 8 (21 games; 26.2 IP)
SO: A.J. Burke 57 (15 games; 71.2 IP), Jerad Grundy 51 (15 games; 75 IP), Jose Torres 47 (14 games; 61.2 IP)
Saves: Koby Gauna 12 (15 games; 17.1 IP), Fernando Cruzado 4 (24 games; 23.2 IP), Jose Torres 2 (14 games; 61.2 IP)
WHIP: Daniel Gossett 0.71 (12 games; 24 IP), Koby Gauna 0.98 (15 games; 17.1 IP); Lee Sosa 1.10 (13 games; 26.1 IP)
There will be changes made in the off-season, but two things that will remain the same: 1) the relationship between the Oakland A’s and their short-season team will continue through 2016, 2) Host Families, like Michael and Freda Tutt will be waiting with open arms to welcome the newest Lake Monsters to their summer home. The season is nine months away, but it’s already off to a great start.