South Bend Silver Hawks manager Mark Haley repeatedly said that no one player could carry his team; it was the sort of dynamic that the 2007 Arizona Diamondbacks had, where there could be a different hero every night and the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.
One of the most impressive aspects to the Silver Hawks' second half surge was the fact that their very best players in the first half had been promoted to Visalia. Starting pitcher Bryan Augenstein (5-1, 2.16), reliever Evan Scribner (1.57 ERA, 8 SV), outfielder Evan Frey (.327/.401/.417, 20 SB), and first baseman Michael Mee (.299/.406/.362) figured to be difficult cogs to replace. Six players from this year's draft joined the club in either July or August to fill the gaps, but it was a 2007 draftee who began the year in Extended Spring Training and a 2006 draftee who began the year in an independent league who won FutureBacks Player of the Year Awards for South Bend.
Position Player of the Year - C Sean Coughlin
This comes down to middle infielder Taylor Harbin versus catcher Sean Coughlin. The team chose Harbin as its MVP, possibly because he was with the Silver Hawks all season long. He played in 20 more games than any other Hawk player and finished second both in the Midwest League and in the D-backs system with 40 doubles. His season really did not take off until after the All-Star break, however. Before then, he batted just .237 with a .647 OPS, while afterwards, he hit .315 with an .810 OPS.
Coughlin may not have been with the team as long, but he made his impact felt sooner. After spending a month in Extended Spring Training strengthening his knee following offseason surgery, Coughlin slugged .556 in May by accumulating nine doubles, six homers, and driving in 23. He never again reached that level of statistical dominance this season, but remained the club's top power threat even after Midwest League pitching adjusted to him.
Defensively, both Harbin and Coughlin had fantastic campaigns. While Konrad Schmidt, the catcher whom Coughlin essentially usurped, is generally regarded as a better defensive backstop, there's no denying that the Silver Hawks' pitching staff improved drastically once Coughlin joined the squad. The team overall began its wining ways in May as well, and Coughlin's bat, mitt, and brain each went a long way towards that ignition.
The Kentucky product finished first on the club with 15 homers and a .430 slugging average, plus second in doubles (24), total bases (156), and RBI (81), trailing Harbin in each category. These two players combined with Evan Frey, Collin Cowgill, and Ollie Linton in centerfield to make the South Bend Silver Hawks extremely strong up the middle both offensively and defensively. But there is no more important defensive position on the field than catcher, and Coughlin's contributions with the bat while bolstering the pitching staff and suppressing opponents' running games gives him the slight edge over Harbin for this award.
Pitcher of the Year - RHP Clay Zavada
The South Bend Silver Hawks received several brilliant pitching performances this season. Their four innings pitched leaders - Christian Beltre, Josh Collmenter, Jarrod Parker, and Thomas Layne - each has earned run averages in the 3.41-3.53 range, with Beltre, Collmenter, and Parker each winning 12 or 13 games. Sidearming reliever Jeff Dietz compiled a 2.18 ERA and held right-handed batters to a .141 batting average against him. William Spottiswood led the team in relief innings (64) and saves (13) en route to a 2.11 ERA. Both Layne and Bryan Henry excelled as swingmen, producing earned run averages in the low 3s while taking on whichever role the club needed.
Clay Zavada pitched fewer innings for the club than all of these players, yet his remarkable performance earns him FutureBacks Pitcher of the Year honors. His numbers were simply absurd: a 0.51 ERA, 0.31 WHIP, 0.56 BAA, 54 strikeouts, and just five walks in 35.1 innings. Only one left-handed batter hit safely against him all season, and he only walked one right-handed batter. From June 29th onwards, Zavada threw 30.2 innings without allowing a single run to cross home plate. He extended that streak into the postseason for three more innings in which he fanned five batters and added three saves to his regular season total of eight.
The season is even more remarkable when you consider Zavada's extenuating circumstances. He took a year off baseball in 2007 after the death of his father and pitched for an independent league team for the first two-and-a-half months of this season. The Diamondbacks re-acquired their 2006 30th round draft choice by trading former Silver Hawk Brad Miller, who led the D-backs system and finished second in the Midwest League with 22 homers last year.
Zavada's unusual circumstances make him a free agent this winter, but the loyalty that the Diamondbacks organization has shown him will likely engender reciprocal loyalty from the southpaw. Either way, Zavada's performance in 2007 was legendary, and the Silver Hawks might not have reached the postseason or advanced to the Championship Series without him.
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