Reno Aces 2009 Review

The inaugural season for the Reno Aces came to a close on Monday, and it couldn't have gone much better.  Reno elicited incredible fan support en route to the third-best record in the 16-team Pacific Coast League and the best record of any Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate.  Details and individual player awards inside.

At 79-64, the Reno Aces boasted the third-best record in the PCL and a second-place finish in the Pacific Southern Division. Only Sacramento and Albuquerque finished with better records than Reno, who would have been postseason-bound had they played in either of the North divisions.

Although the Visalia Rawhide and Mobile BayBears each got off to terrific starts and the South Bend SilverHawks and Missoula Osprey both reached the postseason, Reno easily played the best, most consistent ball of the seven Arizona Diamondbacks affiliates.  They never hit less that .270 as a team in any one month and went 56-36 since the end of May, capped by a seven-game win streak to finish the season.

"To go 20 games over .500 in baseball, that is really hard to do at any point in the season," outfielder Brandon Watson told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "We didn't make the playoffs, but I think the first year in this stadium and the fans and everybody that was so good to us, we had a lot of fun and won a lot of games for them. We were a team that kept fighting."

Indeed the fans were spectacular, as Reno drew 466,606 total fans this season, averaging nearly 6,500 fans per game.  Compare this to last season's Sidewinders, who drew 245,121 fans for an average draw just over 3,500 fans per game for their final year in Tucson.  It's easy to see that the move to Reno was a good one for the franchise. Pitcher of the Year

During that final seven-game streak, Tony Barnette was the only Aces pitcher to collect two victories.  He finished with a PCL-high 14 victories despite a seemingly-high 5.79 ERA.  But Aces Ballpark has played like one of the best hitter's parks in professional baseball, as the home team averaged 6.9 runs per game there as opposed to 4.4 on the road.  The park averaged more runs per game than the traditional hitter's paradises in Colorado Springs, Albuquerque, and Las Vegas did.     

"As a pitcher, I am a little biased, but I think it has played great for the hitters," Barnette said. "It has an enormous batter's eye, a great batter's eye. The wind is constantly out to right field. It's a big park, which makes it tough on pitchers because you've got to cover the gaps."

The thin, dry air makes the ball carry and fly out of the ballpark despite its large dimensions, particularly to right field (386' alley/423' to right-center field).  Those large dimensions, in turn, create a lot of room for hits to fall.

"If you can pitch in this park, you can pitch in the big leagues," Aces manager Brett Butler said. "Does the ball fly a little bit more? Yes. The ball flies out to right field a little bit more, but I think the dimensions are fairly honest and I kind of like the way the park plays."

The point here is that Barnette did not lead the league in victories because of luck.  He gave his team a lot of innings every start, giving his bullpen a breather and his offense an opportunity to shine.  Like last year, he improved as the season went on, going 8-1 with a 4.54 ERA in the second half of the season.

"There's a running joke in baseball among the guys that play in the PCL that the hardest league to pitch in is the American League and then the Pacific Coast League and then the National League," Barnette revealed.  After seeing Cliff Lee, C.C. Sabathia, and Ted Lilly take their games to another level upon switching from the AL to the NL the past few years, that may be less of a joke than people realize. Position Player of the Year

Because of those favorable hitting conditions, there are a lot of players from which to choose here.  We could select John Hester, who combined fantastic offense with superlative defense behind the dish, but backup catcher Luke Carlin matched him on both counts.  Trent Oeltjen is a strong candidate, as he led the team with 78 runs scored, 22 stolen bases, and a league-high 14 triples.  We could conceivably select Brandon Allen, who injected life into the club by posting a .324/.413/.641 line in 145 at-bats after joining the organization or even Joshua Whitesell, who averaged nearly an RBI per game with the Aces.  Ruben Gotay tied for the PCL lead with 102 walks and finished second with a .429 on-base percentage, but has played in 88 major league games and cannot be considered a prospect.

We went with Rusty Ryal, who would later join the major league team and perform extremely well on the big stage.  Ryal led the Aces with 33 doubles, 17 homers, and 70 RBI, but the most impressive part about his offense was where he was playing on defense: everywhere.  59 games at second base, 32 at third, 1 at shortstop, and three in left field before his promotion to the Arizona, where he has played first and second base.

"It's one of the roles I've become accustomed to with this organization," Ryal said of being a super-utility player.  "They've obviously got the confidence in me that my athletic ability and baseball smarts can take over in those situations where I'm put at a different position."

Ryal's versatility allowed the organization to cover for various injuries to other Aces by promoting the most deserving infielder from the lower levels rather than get handcuffed to a certain position.  It also allowed Butler to rest his players, many of whom are still playing with the D-backs this month in what has been the longest baseball season of their lives.  Ryal is one of those players, and he could fill any number of roles with the 2010 Diamondbacks.

"Basically, the way I look at is that I have to do whatever I can to get in the lineup and I don't see any problem playing any position on the field, maybe other than catching because I'm not experienced in that," Ryal said.  I think outfield I'd be fine, and in the infield I've proven over the last three years that I can play them all."

Ryal has been a fan favorite everywhere he has gone because of his humility, hustle, and easy smile.  He may not make a ton of highlight-reel defensive plays, but he is solid defensively everywhere he plays and brings a strong stick with him regardless of which glove he is wearing.

"It doesn't have to be flashy, just get the job done and minimize mistakes," Ryal said of his defensive play. "I don't have a great arm, but I have an above-average arm and I'm not really quick but I have the range at second base to make the plays."

"The knowledge behind the game of baseball, knowing the hitters and the pitchers and how effective they're being that day, will make you a better infielder. Positioning yourself is one of the most important things in playing infield, and reading the ball off the bat in another. Both of those things I do really, really well."

Promotions and Additions

Konrad Schmidt and Travis Blackley

With 10 Aces reaching the big leagues this year, the door was open for several prospects to move up the ladder and show what they could do against advanced prospects and former major leaguers. 

Billy Spottiswood spent more time shuttling between Visalia and Reno than any Diamondbacks scout and performed very respectably despite the hectic season, posting a 4.28 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over 17 appearances.  Konrad Schmidt, Taylor Harbin, and Kyle Greene each made the same trip and were fantastic during their brief stay with the Aces.

Pitchers Hector Ambriz, Scott Maine, and Jason Urquidez each joined the Aces after performing extremely well with the Mobile BayBears.  All three were solid performing in difficult conditions for pitchers.

In addition to the aforementioned Brandon Allen addition, Cole Gillespie, who came over from the Brewers organization in the Felipe Lopez trade, made quite an impact with the Aces.  He went .304/.418/.514 in 42 games, scoring 33 runs and going a perfect 8-for-8 in stolen base attempts.


Cesar Valdez missed 37 games with right triceps tendinitis.  Bobby Korecky went on the DL with a right elbow strain on July 7th and missed the rest of the year.  Jonathan Coutlangus missed a lot of time for the second straight season, hitting the DL on 6/15 and failing to return.  Guillermo Reyes missed 66 games with a right knee sprain.  Bryan Augenstein spent two stints on the DL, first missing 14 games in June with a right triceps strain, then 31 games in July and August with right elbow inflammation.

Final Word

That the highest-level D-backs affiliate should perform so well bodes well for the 2010 Arizona Diamondbacks.  Even with all of the impact rookie debuts this year, there is still some talent at Reno that should be major league-ready next year, including Gillespie, Maine, and Valdez.  Barnette, Ambriz, Reid Mahon, and Jose Marte don't appear to be far off, either.  The inaugural season for the Reno Aces has been a superlative success in every facet except for the fact that they did not reach the postseason.

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