It isn't often that a position player appears in just 20 games for a team and becomes their Player of the Year or that a pitcher makes just six starts and becomes the team's Pitcher of the Year. There were two Yakima Bears that made such an impression early on, however, that their merits must be seriously considered despite their quick promotions.
Yakima Bears manager Bob Didier enjoyed a six-year major league career as a catcher and doubles as the Arizona Diamondbacks' minor league catching coordinator today. That goes a long way towards explaining the style of play that he instills in his team. He knows that at low levels. having a running game that puts pressure on the opposing catcher is often going to have success. He also knows that not every Short Season pitcher can throw strikes with much consistency.
This is how a team that ranks way last in its league in batting at .219 and slugging at .311 can still compete: by drawing walks and stealing bases. The Bears finished first in the Northwest League with 111 team stolen bases and third in walks with 312 despite having few feared hitters in the lineup. Unfortunately, he could not instill the same control of the strike zone for his pitchers, as the Bears finished last or nearly last in every major pitching category, leading to a NWL-worst 28-48 record.
Position Player of the Year - CF Collin Cowgill
Cowgill with South Bend
Walks and stolen bases were not traditionally a part of Collin Cowgill's game, yet he still stole five bases in five attempts with the Bears. As impressive as five steals in 20 games is, that isn't the reason that Cowgill earns this award. It's the 11 homers, 28 RBI, and .785 SLG in that span. Cowgill had a legitimate shot at William Darkis' 1980 single-season Northwest League record of 25 home runs before the organization yanked Cowgill up for South Bend's playoff drive.
Surprisingly, Cowgill did not hit a homer in his first 47 Midwest League games and finished the regular season with just a .358 slugging average. He re-discovered his stroke in the playoffs, leading the team with a .409 batting average, two homers, and four RBI in the first two rounds before both Cowgill and the Silver Hawks got shut out in Burlington for the Championship.
Outfielder Brendan Duffy and Shortstop David Cooper each had solid years for the Bears, as both finished the season with a better OBP than Cowgill did. In fact, Cooper's 66 free passes set a new Yakima record by nine walks. But Cowgill's slugging average stood more than twice what any other Bear compiled, his 11 homers more than doubled the next Bear, and his 28 RBI ranked a close second to Anthony Smith. Amazingly, those 11 homers still led the entire Northwest League by the end of the season, even though many players in the league compiled thrice as many at bats.
When he was drafted in the 5th round, Collin Cowgill got criticized for being only 5-foot-9; scouts insisted that his Kentucky power would not translate to leagues with wooden bats. Those concerns have been quelled, to say the least.
Pitcher of the Year - LHP Patrick McAnaney
Pat McAnaney also signed and made an impact soon after the draft. The 8th-rounder began the season in the bullpen to give his arm a rest, and he responded with four no-hit innings in three outings. He transitioned back to the rotation and met with similar dominance, allowing just two runs in a half dozen starts. Due to the lackluster Bears offense, McAnanaey only went 2-1 with Yakima, but his year hadn't finished yet.
He earned a promotion to the Silver Hawks shortly after Cowgill did. Like Cowgill, McAnaney was a force in the postseason, tossing five innings of one-hit ball in the rubber game against the West Michigan Whitecaps. Unlike Cowgill, McAnaney did not require much of an adjustment period to begin dominating the Midwest League. After allowing four runs (three earned) in his first full season start, McAnaney did not allow a run of any kind in his next 13 frames, or 18 if you count that clutch postseason start. All of those innings came on the road.
Ian Harrington was probably the ace of the staff, having led the team with 78.2 innings and only issuing 13 walks in that span. He led the team with six wins, and his 4.12 ERA was best among Bears starters with more than six games started. But those numbers would have looked ordinary on most teams; simply being the best of a disappointing rotation is not enough to earn Harrington FutureBacks Pitcher of the Year honors.
Jordan Meaker, this year's 20th-round selection, did post a 1.39 ERA in relief, but also allowed seven unearned runs to go with his six that were earned. McAnaney dazzled with a 0.55 ERA in just four fewer innings, plus allowed just that one unearned run for the Bears.
Pat McAnaney is not only the obvious choice for Yakima Pitcher of the Year honors, but also as one of the best pitching prospects in the entire organization.
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