With only five games separating first from last in the Midwest League's Western Division, every team is still hanging around in contention for a first-half title. But one of the teams towards the front of that pack is the Beloit Snappers. After winning 4-2 at West Michigan on Monday night, the Snappers sit in third place with a 14-11 record. Fran Riordan’s club is only 1.5 games behind the first-place Clinton LumberKings. Through 25 games at least, it has been a remarkable turnaround in 2016 for Oakland’s Low-A squad after two dismal seasons.
Pitching has been key for the solid start from the Snappers, as the team’s 2.61 ERA and 1.21 WHIP rank second and fifth, respectively, out of 16 MWL teams. Although Beloit pitchers have only struck out 175 batters in 210 innings to rank 15th in the league, they’ve issued the fourth-fewest walks with 67. With the staff going to a tandem starter system, eight different pitchers have opened games and three of those currently have ERAs under 2.00.
The offense has held its own and is pushing enough runners across the plate for the team to have success behind a strong pitching staff. Beloit’s .234 batting average is 10th in the league, but thanks to a league-leading 11 homers both the team slugging percentage (.347) and OPS (667) currently rank fifth. Beloit batters have struck out the sixth-most times in the league (191), but have drawn the fifth-most walks (89).
Beloit just opened a six-game swing into the MWL Eastern Division. After playing two more at West Michigan, Beloit will travel to South Bend on Thursday for a three-game series before heading home.
Comings and Goings
The Snappers had navigated through the frigid April conditions just fine until, strangely enough, a relatively warm four-game set in Burlington later in the month when a pair of A’s prospects went down with injuries.
Right-hander Dustin Driver, part of the Beloit tandem starter rotation, took his turn as a reliever and left with an elbow injury after pitching just one-third of an inning and walking three consecutive batters, throwing 13 of 14 pitches for balls. Two of those three would come around to score. Two days later, Driver went on the seven-day disabled list, but the A’s 2013 seventh-round pick could be out much longer.
One day before, Oakland’s sixth-round pick in the 2014 draft Trace Loehr went down with a lower-body injury and had to go on the DL. Luckily, the middle infielder made his return to the lineup Monday and went 1-for-4 with a triple and two RBIs.
Mike Fagan was called up from extended spring training to join the Snappers soon after Driver's injury. Fagan has appeared in one game since joining the team, pitching 1 1/3 scoreless innings. Kevin Johnson returned from the disabled list and has been utilized out of the bullpen since his return. He has made a pair of scoreless appearances, striking out three in two innings.
A few days after the multiple player transactions, tandem starting pitcher Jesus Zambrano hit the seven-day DL after struggling through his first four appearances in Low-A. The 19-year-old Venezuelan native, who stormed onto the prospect radar last summer, posted a 7.30 ERA and allowed 10 earned runs and 22 hits in 12 1/3 innings. He struck out five batters and walked three.
Four of the eight Beloit pitchers slotted in as tandem starters – Evan Manarino, Kyle Friedrichs, Angel Duno and Boomer Biegalski – have opened the season with ERAs of 2.22 or under. Of the top-22 ERA leaders in the MWL, four are currently in Beloit.
At the top of that list is Manarino, who has posted a MWL-best 0.70 ERA through his first 25.2 innings of the season. The 23-year-old former UC-Irvine standout, a 25th-round selection in last June’s draft, started last night’s victory over West Michigan and allowed just one hit in five innings of work. Through last night’s outing, the 6'1'' southpaw has allowed just two earned runs on 19 hits all season, posting a 21:3 K:BB rate along the way.
With the exception of one start back on April 24th in which he allowed three earned runs in 4.1 innings, Friedrichs has been just as dominant as his SoCal counterpart. Friedrichs, a 2015 seventh-round pick out of Long Beach State, has posted a 1.69 ERA through his first 26.2 innings. In six appearances to open his first full professional season, Friedrichs has posted a 19:3 K:BB rate. His most recent start came on Sunday afternoon at home against Great Lakes when he allowed one hit in five innings, striking out six and walking none.
Duno has also flashed some brilliance over his first five outings of the season, posting an outstanding 23:1 K:BB rate in 23 innings. Over his past two appearances, the 22-year-old Venezuelan native has picked up a pair of wins by allowing just one earned run on nine hits in 10 innings. That has allowed Duno to lower his ERA to 1.96.
Another college pitcher that opened the season with the Snappers, former Florida State standout Biegalski has been no slouch and has a 2.22 ERA after back-to-back gems against Lansing and Great Lakes. The 2015 14th-rounder-allowed just one earned run on eight hits combined in 11 innings over those two outings, posting a 12:1 K:BB rate.
While they haven’t garnered the attention of the four tandem starters, Jared Lyons and Corey Miller have been lights-out in bullpen-only roles. A 2015 ninth-rounder out of Liberty University, Lyons has yet to allow a run in six appearances this season. The 6 foot southpaw has allowed just seven hits in 7.2 innings, posting a 10:2 K:BB rate. After allowing one earned run back on April 10th, Miller has pitched 8.1 scoreless innings and allowed just three hits. The recent run of success has lowered his ERA to 0.90.
Outfielder Brett Siddall has been on a 23-game tear since the season started, but he’s been particularly impressive over the past 10, hitting .382 with 13 hits in 34 at-bats. The 2015 13th-rounder out of Canisius has raised his slash line to .358/.436/.494. His batting average ranks sixth in the MWL, while his slugging percentage is seventh.
Outfielder Skye Bolt hit his second homer of the season on Monday and raised his overall slashline to .299/.391/.455. He's 17th in the league in OBP and 15th in SLG. First baseman Chris Iriart is tied for the league-lead in homers with four and he is fifth in the league in RBI.