Photo by Greg Bessette

Vermont Lake Monsters Notebook: Lake Monsters in need of a run

A recent slump has dropped the Vermont Lake Monsters into last place in their division. Can they regain their winning ways going into August?

Overview

A recent four-game losing streak has dropped the Vermont Lake Monsters under .500 (17-21) and into last place in the Stedler Division of the New York-Penn League. The Oakland A’s short-season affiliate has a 10-8 record at home, but they have struggled on the road (7-13) and are 3-7 over their last 10 games.

The Lake Monsters have scored the fourth-fewest runs in the league (140), but they are fifth in the league in team batting (.249) and tied for second in the league in homeruns (18). They have drawn the fourth-fewest number of walks (108) and have struck-out the fifth-most in the league (312).

Vermont’s pitching staff ranks ninth out of 14 in team ERA (3.39), but .10 is all that separates the Lake Monsters from the fifth-best team ERA in the league. The Lake Monsters are ninth in strike-outs (279), but they have issued only 137 walks, tied for fourth-fewest in the league. Vermont pitchers have allowed the fifth-most homeruns (15), but the fourth-fewest number of hits (290 in 335 innings). As a staff, the Lake Monsters have completed three shutouts.

The Lake Monsters have an off-day on Wednesday as they travel from upstate New York back home to Burlington, where they will take on the Brooklyn Cyclones for a three-game set. The Lake Monsters then begin a three-game series versus the Connecticut Tigers to close out July and start the month of August. 

Comings and Goings

There have been a few player moves involving the Vermont roster over the past few weeks. Most notably, A’s 2016 top pick A.J. Puk joined the team on July 10 and made his professional debut with Vermont on the 12th.

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Puk will be kept to a strict pitch limit the rest of this season, as the A’s look to minimize the wear-and-tear on their prized lefty after a long college season. He makes his fourth start on Thursday. Through three outings, Puk has allowed four runs (two earned) on five hits in 5.2 innings. He has one walk and four strike-outs.

Fellow 2016 draftee Brandon Bailey joined the Lake Monsters’ roster on July 10, as well. Bailey made his pro debut in the Arizona Rookie League and has thus far made three appearances for the Lake Monsters. He allowed only one run in 4.2 innings over his first two outings but was tagged for five runs in two innings in his last start.

Catcher Nick Collins, who was an All-Star for Vermont in 2015, joined the Lake Monsters on a rehab assignment from Beloit on July 14. Collins has appeared regularly of late, starting every other game since July 22. He has taken the playing time of 2016 third-round pick Sean Murphy who hasn’t played since July 17. Murphy is off to a slow start with the bat and the A’s may be resting the backstop, who had surgery to repair a broken hamate bone during his college season and isn’t likely to be at full-strength until next spring.

On July 21, 2016 draft pick Ty Damron joined the Vermont roster. The left-hander made his pro debut two days later, allowing an unearned run in one inning of work. He struck-out one and allowed two hits. Damron signed late because he was part of the Texas Tech team that made it to the College World Series.

As the A’s have promoted pitchers to Vermont, they have also moved up Lake Monsters’ hurlers to Low-A. On July 20, the A’s moved Brendan Butler and Nolan Blackwood to Low-A Beloit. Blackwood became the first member of the A’s 2016 draft class to reach full-season ball with the promotion. He allowed two earned runs in 6.1 innings for Vermont, striking out five and walking one. Blackwood allowed three runs in 1.1 innings in his Beloit debut on July 22nd.

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Butler dominated out of the Vermont rotation, posting a 1.95 ERA in 37 innings before his promotion to Beloit. He had a strong debut with the Snappers, allowing a run on three hits and two walks in six innings. He struck-out four. Butler has 40 strike-outs and just 13 walks in 46.2 innings this season.

On July 23, the A’s promoted right-hander Jordan Schwartz from Vermont to Beloit. He has yet to pitch for the Snappers, but the promotion is notable given everything Schwartz has gone through since last year, when he posted a 9.08 ERA in 36.2 innings with the Snappers. Over the past year, Schwartz has rebuilt his delivery and he had solid results out of the bullpen with the Lake Monsters, posting a 2.45 ERA in 14.2 innings. He walked 12, but he struck-out 19 and held opposing batters to a .200 average.

Who’s Hot

Despite mediocre team numbers as an offensive unit, the Lake Monsters have had several standout performers at the plate. No hitter has been more effective than 20-year-old first baseman Miguel Mercedes, who is currently second in the league in homers (8) and third in the league in OPS (927). Mercedes is fourth in the league in batting (.323) and second in slugging (.549). This has been a breakout season for Mercedes, who spent the past two years in the Arizona Rookie League. The right-handed hitter has been especially good in clutch situations, batting .378 with runners in scoring position.

Luis Barrera, a fellow graduate of the A’s Dominican Academy, is also having an excellent season for the Lake Monsters. He is seventh in the league in batting (.306) and he has done yeoman’s work at the top of the Vermont line-up. His 14 walks lead the team. Barrera has also been solid in the outfield, racking up seven outfield assists already and playing all three outfield positions.

A’s 2016 13th-round pick Nate Mondou doesn’t yet qualify for the league batting title race, but he will jump to near the top of the pack when he gets the requisite number of at-bats. The Wake Forest alum is batting .370/.420/.413 in 92 at-bats as the Lake Monsters’ regular second baseman. He has a 13:9 K:BB and is batting .397 in July.

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A’s 2016 11th-round pick Eli White is also off to an excellent start to his pro debut season. The Clemson alum is batting .302/.378/.406 in 95 at-bats for the Lake Monsters. The Vermont shortstop has seven extra-base hits and 12 walks in 29 games. He has also turned 12 double-plays in 22 games at short.

A’s 2015 draft pick Brett Sunde is playing well at and behind the plate for the Lake Monsters. In 48 at-bats, Sunde is batting .313/.365/.396 with three extra-base hits. He has also thrown out six of 18 attempted base-stealers (33%).

Starter Xavier Altamirano began the year with Beloit, but was sent back to Extended Spring Training after early season struggles. He has rebounded well and is leading the Vermont rotation with an 0.84 ERA in 32 innings. Altamarino has allowed just 21 hits and four walks over that stretch and he has struck-out 27. He could return to Beloit before the end of the year.

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A’s 2016 eighth-round pick Will Gilbert is pitching well out of the Vermont bullpen. The NC State alum has struck-out 15 in 13 innings and has a 2.77 ERA. Opposing batters are hitting .188 against him and he has walked only four.

Fellow 2016 draft pick (ninth round) Dalton Sawyer is also pitching well in relief for Vermont. The lefty from the University of Minnesota also sports a 15:4 K:BB. His ERA is 3.18 in 11.1 innings. Opponents are batting .195 against him.

Starter Dakota Chalmers had a rough outing on Tuesday, allowing four runs in four innings. However, the 19-year-old has pitched well overall for Vermont in his first extended stint in a professional rotation. He has a 3.57 ERA in 35.1 innings and he is striking out more than a batter an inning (37). He has walked 16, but opponents are hitting just .203 against the teenager.  


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