The good news is the Beloit Snappers have climbed out of the cellar of the Midwest League’s Western Division and could finish in the middle of the pack of the second half standings. But the bad news is Oakland’s Low-A affiliate is all but eliminated from playoff contention for a second-straight season.
Fran Riordan’s club is playing better baseball since the All-Star Break and has won three of its last four games to move to 17-22 in the second-half standings. But with Kane County perched atop the division at 30-10 and four weeks left of the season, the Snappers are staring at a 12.5-game deficit. If the Snappers do indeed miss the playoffs, they will look back at a seven-game losing streak in late-July as the culprit.
Beloit’s starting pitching woes have been well-chronicled throughout the season, and they’ve contributed to the team having a league-worst 4.69 ERA (the next-closest team is Clinton at 4.30). The Snappers also are last in the league with a 1.47 WHIP and have shut just one team out all season.
Oakland’s top two pitchers taken in the 2014 draft, Brett Graves and Daniel Gossett, have posted almost identical ERAs 4.87 and 4.84, respectively. To prove how fluky won-loss records can be, it’s Graves who has managed to post a 10-5 record while his counterpart Gossett has just four victories in 14 decisions. Gossett has lowered his ERA by nearly a full run since the All-Star break. Fellow rotation-mate and high 2014 draft pick Heath Fillmyer is just 1-12 with a 6.14 ERA this season, but has shaved nearly 2.5 runs off that ERA in the past month.
The Snappers’ offense hasn’t fared much better, especially of late, as the club has slumped to a league-worst .230 batting average. They rank 10th in the MWL in runs scored (434), 15th in on-base percentage (.308), 13th in slugging (.340) and 15th in OPS (648). Beloit has managed to get much of its production by way of the home-run, as it ranks third in the league with 65.
After wrapping up a three-game series with a 9-0 loss to Great Lakes last night, Beloit continues its East Division road trip with a weekend stop in Lansing before heading home next week to host South Bend and West Michigan.
Comings and Goings
Since the calendar moved to August and Major League teams moved past the trade deadline, the Snappers have had just one transaction of note. Jon Massad was assigned to the club after starting eight of nine games and posting a 3.86 ERA with short-season Vermont. A 25th-round selection in the 2013 draft out of Southern New Hampshire, Massad has yet to appear in a game with his new club.
Massad replaces reliever Rob Huber, who went on the 7-day disabled list. A 26th-rounder in last year’s draft out of Duke, Huber pitched 48.2 innings in 32 games out of the bullpen and posted a respectable 2.51 ERA and 48:19 K:BB rate.
The biggest position-player move of the past month came on July 28th when Beloit lost its middle infield tandem of Yairo Munoz and Trent Gilbert to High-A Stockton and replaced it with 2015 second-round pick Mikey White and Venezuelan native Gabriel Santana.
Munoz got off to a solid start this season in the Midwest League, but a mid-season slump had dropped his slash line to .236/.278/.363. He ranked second in homers with nine and drove in a team-high 48 runs. The young shortstop also committed 23 errors in 97 games. Gilbert was one of the steadiest performers on the season, slashing .267/.305/.370 in 84 games.
Both White and Santana have struggled mightily since being called up to a full-season affiliate. White has just three hits in his first 33 at-bats over his first nine games, while Santana is 2-for-16 in his initial six appearances.
After not getting much out of either of its backstops this season, especially on the offensive end, Beloit swapped out catchers Santiago Chavez and Andy Paz for Lana Akau and Argenis Raga during the month of June. Chavez was called up to Stockton after hitting just .146 in 43 games with the Snappers, while Paz hit the DL after posting a .200 average in nine games.
The addition of Akau has paid huge dividends for Beloit, as the Hawaiian catcher is the only active player on the roster with a batting average over .300. The 20th-round pick in the 2013 draft – who won’t turn 20 years old until August 31st – is slashing .313/.402/.458 in his first 24 games.
Fellow catcher Raga opened the season with Beloit, but was demoted to Vermont in early-June after hitting just .157. Since returning to the team in early July, he has raised his slash line to a more respectable .243/.309/.372.
A pair of bullpen arms were released from the organization on July 10th, as Jerad Grundy (0-1, 5.25 ERA) and Dominique Vattuone (0-2, 8.10). Grundy was a 10th-rounder in the 2013 draft out of Kentucky, while Vattuone signed as a 32nd-round pick in 2013 out of UNC-Greensboro.
Outfielder Joe Bennie has spent the entire 2015 season with the Snappers and is playing his best baseball over the past couple weeks. The 28th-round selection in 2013 has hit safely in nine of his past 10 games, including a 4-for-5, two-homer performance also against Peoria on August 2nd. Bennie also had two hits in four at-bats and homered the night before. Chiefs' pitchers were anxious not to face Bennie after watching him go 9-for-14 with six extra-base hits in the three-game series.
The aforementioned Akau has four multi-hit games to his credit over his past 10, including a 2-for-4 effort at home against Peoria on August 2nd in which he homered and scored twice.
With Akau playing so well and his playing time behind the plate dwindling, Raga has done well with the bat by posting a .333 batting average in his past 10 games and has four multi-hit games in that span.
Reliever Koby Gauna has been a workhorse in the back end of Beloit’s bullpen and hasn’t allowed a earned run in 14 of his past 15 appearances. As a result, the 2014 20th-rounder out of Cal State-Fullerton has seen his ERA has drop to 1.25. In those past 15 appearances, Gauna has struck out 11 batters and walked just one in 22 1/3 innings.
Carlos Navas is also enjoying an outstanding run of games out of the bullpen, as he hasn’t allowed an earned run in nearly two months. The Venezuelan native has a string of 30 innings over 20 appearances without giving up an earned run and his K:BB rate sits at 35:6. Furthermore, he has only allowed one unearned run to cross the plate during that span.
With all of the hyped starting pitching draftees on the Beloit roster, it’s easy to overlook former independent league signing Joey Wagman, who has a pair of six-inning, one-run efforts over his past two starts against Great Lakes and Quad Cities. After struggling at High-A Stockton to open the season, Wagman has pitched well at Beloit with five wins in seven decisions and a 3.04 ERA. In 56.1 innings at Low-A, he has a 42:7 K:BB rate.