Similar to the Visalia Rawhide one level beneath them, the Mobile BayBears disappointed after a very strong start to the season. Also like Visalia, some of their slide can be attributed to injuries, but most can be attributed to their players getting promoted. A whopping five BayBears were promoted straight from Double-A to the majors this season while another seven spent significant time in Triple-A. Essentially half of their opening day roster - plus mostly their best players - were only part of the team for part of the season due to organizational advancement.
Although the BayBears received pretty solid compensation from Visalia, replacing a dozen of your best players - many of which were lost relatively early in the season - just isn't a recipe for sustained success.
Promotions and Additions
The biggest promotional blow came in early May. Gerardo Parra had been hitting .361 with 23 runs scored, 22 walks, and just 13 strikeouts through 29 games. Try as they might, the BayBears could not replace him with a comparably dynamic offensive player the rest of the year. Bryan Augenstein, who was promoted along with Parra, had been 5-0 with a 0.78 ERA in six starts prior to his callup. At roughly the same time, Hector Ambriz (3-2, 2.17) made the jump to Triple-A. These starting pitching holes proved easier to fill, as Jarrod Parker (4-6, 3.68) and Wes Roemer (9-9, 4.28) had little problem adjusting from Hi-A ball to Double-A hitters.
Then the relievers began to go. Clay Zavada had a 2.60 ERA in 11 games before a permanent promotion to the big leagues in mid-May. Daniel Schlereth held a 1.42 ERA through 15 appearances at the time of his late May promotion and would lower that mark to 1.01 upon his return. The departures of Jason Urquidez, Reid Mahon, Josh Ellis, and Scott Maine further thinned the bullpen ranks, turning a huge team strength into a glaring weakness. Leyson Septimo and Jordan Norberto couldn't maintain their success with the Rawhide upon joining the BayBears. Ramon Sanchez' return from elbow surgery also brought a return to his control issues, so he wasn't much help. Roque Mercedes, acquired in the Felipe Lopez deal, did perform very well, fanning 25 batters in 19 innings. Kyler Newby tossed 65.1 relief innings for a 3.99 ERA as the one constant of a bullpen in flux.
One promotion that did not hurt the team as much as anticipated was that of Orlando Mercado. The savvy catcher's batting average and on-base percentage hovered around .300 and .400 respectively, but those figures barely begin to illustrate his value to the team. He does a great job defensively, works extremely well with both English- and Spanish-speaking pitchers, and even saves the bullpen once in a while by taking the hill in blowout situations. Nevertheless, his month-long promotion to Triple-A brought Sean Coughlin to the team. Although Coughlin played in just 50 Double-A games, he was tied for second on the BayBears with seven homers and went .304/.432/.484 with only 19 strikeouts.
When Parker was shut down in August with elbow soreness, Tom Layne stepped in from Visalia to provide six solid-but unspectacular starts. That pretty much rounds out the merit-based roster changes, but segues nicely into the lesser reason that the BayBears struggled as the season went on.
Not only was Jarrod Parker shut down late in the season, but he hit the disabled list earlier this summer after taking a line drive off his right wrist. Infielder Yunesky Sanchez only appeared in 64 games due to injuries. While Pedro Ciriaco and Mark Hallberg were quite capable as starters, Sanchez' injury necessitated some playing time for middle infielders Greg Bordes and Elijah Rumler, neither of whom were ready to face Double-A pitching. Augenstein and Schlereth both spent some time on the DL, while Mahon did not join the team until May because of an offseason injury.
FutureBacks.com Position Player of the Year
The BayBears began the year with many exciting candidates for this accolade. Parra, of course, would have been the leading candidate had he not been promoted in May, but there were others who started the season very well. Ricardo Sosa, AKA Mr. April, hit .365 with 18 RBI that first shortened month of the season. He wound up leading the club with a dozen dingers, but was slugging under .400 by season's end. Bryan Byrne held a .443 OBP through the month of April, but he struggled after a promotion to Reno and did not regain his stroke even upon returning to Mobile later in the season.
Outfielders Cyle Hankerd and Chris Rahl sustained their early success a bit longer. Hankerd batted .315 in April, then a resounding .394 in May along with 28 RBI. Unfortunately, he wore down to a .218 batting average with just 16 RBI in 49 games after the break. Rahl didn't have as extreme of a season as Hankerd did, but his pre/post All-Star splits are still telling. The excellent defensive outfielder went .294/.350/.434 before the All-Star game and .258/.305/.362 thereafter, his on-base-plus-slugging decreasing noticeably in each of the season's first four months.
Although Coughlin's performance was very noteworthy indeed, he did not spend enough time with the club to earn Position Player of the Year honors. By process of elimination, the obvious choice is shortstop Pedro Ciriaco.
Gerardo Parra and Pedro Ciriaco
Unlike most of his teammates, Ciriaco improved as the year went along, which is generally what you hope your top prospects will do. He hit just .180 in April, but .357 in July and .364 in August. The slender shortstop would finish second in the league with 38 steals and fourth with 139 hits. As impressive as those numbers are, Ciriaco's primary contributions to the team came on the other side of the ball. Ciriaco may be unparalleled defensively now that he is able to play more controlled defense. His athleticism remains among the best you'll see both in terms of range and arm.
Don't look now, but the wiry-strong Ciriaco is beginning to show signs of developing power as well. He may never learn to draw walks with any regularity, but there is a good chance that Ciriaco could become a traditional five-tool threat as a shortstop in the very near future.
FutureBacks.com Pitcher of the Year
Matt Torra led the BayBears qualifiers in innings, strikeouts, complete games, shutouts, WHIP, and ERA. His 180 innings and four complete games led the Southern League, while his two shutouts tied 28-year old Steve Bray for the most in the league. Despite these credentials, Torra is not a slam dunk for BayBears Pitcher of the Year.
Torra's 24 home runs allowed tied teammate Cody Evans for the league lead, although Evans matched Torra's total in 43.1 fewer innings. Torra's 10 wins tied him with teammate Barry Enright for the BayBears' lead, and Enright also lost four fewer times. Torra edges Enright in ERA by 3.75 to 3.98, but that edge is somewhat misleading. Manager Hector de la Cruz sometimes left his starter out to dry in blowout situations in order to keep his bullpen fresh. Take out each pitcher's worst start (Torra allowed 12 R [7 earned] in 6 IP July 29 and Enright allowed 10 R [all earned] in 5 IP four days earlier), and both pitchers wind up with an ERA of 3.52.
Another way to compare the pitchers is by looking at RA rather than ERA. Many would argue that unearned runs should be weighted as heavily as earned runs. If a fielder doesn't have the range to get to a ball, he isn't charged with an error even though it is often times a play that the fielder should make. Additionally, the home manager will often lobby the official scorer for favorable scorings for his own players at the minor league level, rendering some error and non-error calls suspect. Finally, any error that allows a player to reach base with two outs renders all subsequent runs as unearned. That makes sense to a point, but if a pitcher allows two singles and two homers after a two-out error, he probably deserves at least a portion of the blame for those runs.
So Enright's run average is actually 4.21, a touch lower than Torra's mark of 4.55. In terms of the value that they each brought to the ballclub, these two pitchers are essentially a wash. So how do we choose between the two for Pitcher of the Year? We look at which pitcher's performance was more impressive.
Matt Torra actually performed better for the BayBears in 2008, posting a 2.85 ERA in 13 starts before getting the call to Triple-A and managing a 4.71 ERA in difficult pitching conditions. It wasn't Torra's fault that he spent all of 2009 back in Double-A, as his 2008 performance more than warranted a callup to Reno this season. Nevertheless, the fact that Torra wasn't quite as consistent as he was last season has to be counted against him in Pitcher of the Year consideration. Enright, meanwhile, is more than two years Torra's junior and managed to have similar success in his first taste of Southern League hitters. In a photo finish, Enright edges Torra for FutureBacks.com Pitcher of the Year for Mobile.
When so many of the system's best prospects are needed to patch up the major league team, the records of the minor league affiliates are a necessary casualty. But out of that evil comes some good. Had the Diamondbacks not been forced to promote players so aggressively, Clay Zavada might have been stuck in the minors for another two years with no one knowing that he could have handled the big leagues in 2009. Someone like Sean Coughlin was able to open some eyes. Even if he had put up similar numbers at Visalia in the final two months of the season to what he did in Mobile, it may have been written off as success due to playing in a hitters league or against novice pitching.
Several Diamondbacks prospects were asked to go outside their comfort zones this season, and the organization knows more about the makeup of those prospects based on how they handled it. Perhaps more importantly, every player who begins the 2010 season with the Mobile BayBears knows that if they play well they have a very good chance to play in the majors later in the year based on all of the 2009 callups. If that doesn't motivate the prospects to succeed, nothing will.
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