South Bend Silver Hawks 2009 Review

The South Bend Silver Hawks finished the 2009 season with a .431 winning percentage, yet slipped into the postseason for a seventh consecutive year anyhow. It was a good experience for a very young-yet-talented team.

The average batter in the Midwest League in 2009 was 21.6 years old.  The average Silver Hawks batter was just 20.9.  They began the season carrying just one player with full season experience on their roster.  That was Ramon Ramirez, who was released by the organization in August.  The average Silver Hawks pitcher was 22.0 years of age as compared to the league average of 21.7, but it was still an inexperienced squad prone to making some mistakes and riding emotional highs and lows.

Credit manager Mark Haley, hitting coach Francisco Morales, and pitching coach Erik Sabel each deserve credit for getting a lot out of an inexperienced roster.  Even upon reaching the playoffs and losing a game one heartbreaker to a team that had beaten South Bend 15 times in their first 16 meetings, the Hawks rebounded in a game two victory before ultimately losing the rubber match.

"I was really excited at the end of this year, because we had a chance to take Fort Wayne out," Haley said.  "I told the players you can't worry about the outcome, but think about the process.  They finally started doing that at the end."

Promotions and Additions

Three of the club's best hitters were only on the team for part of the season.  Brendan Duffy batted .308, reached base at a 41.4 % clip, and stole 17 bags in 54 games with the Hawks.  He played good defense when he was asked to do so and even performed well upon his promotion to Visalia, yet got released with nine other Diamondbacks players last week

Second-round draft pick Mark Krauss led all Hawks who played 10 or more games with a .478 slugging average; no one else even reached the .400 mark.  Krauss only participated in 32 games himself, however, as an ankle injury shut him down on July 30th.  Ryan Wheeler slugged .552 in his eight games with the club at the end of the year, which went well with his .345 batting average and .472 on-base percentage.

Notre Dame star A.J. Pollock also joined he team at the end of June.  While he batted .285 in South Bend in his home turf, he struggled somewhat with a .254 road clip.  Clayton Conner, who spent parts of the 2007 and 2008 seasons with the Hawks, joined the team once again this August and immediately paid dividends with a clutch grand slam, but struggled overall against Midwest League pitching for the third straight year.  Rossmel Perez became the team's primary catcher in May at the tender age of 19.  He was excellent defensively and made consistent contact on offense.


A.J. Pollock

Pitching-wise, Trevor Harden was among the league's best starting pitchers when he was promoted to Hi-A, boasting a 5-1 record and 2.39 ERA.  Wade Miley followed him to Visalia late in the season despite disappointing somewhat with his pedestrian numbers (5-9, 4.12).  T.J. Hose really came into his own, posting a 1.70 ERA and notching 11 saves as the team's closer before getting the California call.

Randy Rodriguez was added to the roster in May.  He ate a lot of innings and enjoyed a couple of phenomenal starts, but his overall 5-11 record and 5.67 ERA were disappointing. Eric Smith and Keny Sosa played so well as late-season additions that they became the team's game one and game two starters in the postseason, and both performed extremely well in their starts.  The sidearming Victor Capellan helped make up for the loss of Hose by compiling a 1.01 ERA in 35.2 innings after joining the squad out of extended spring training.

Injuries

Apart from being young, inexperienced, and promoted aggressively to fill holes higher in the organization, the Silver Hawks had numerous injuries to overcome. 

Defensive wizard Ryan Babineau opened the season as South Bend's everyday catcher before succumbing to a season-ending hip injury after just 10 games.  While he wasn't expected to contribute much on offense, his experience working with pitchers and cannon arm could have made a big impact on the Hawks' season.


Ryan Babineau

Justin Parker, the team's best offensive player in the first half, suffered shoulder subflexation, which is essentially a dislocation of his left shoulder. He missed three weeks in June with that injury, but came back to play nearly every day the rest of the season despite being "not even close" to 100%.  His statistics dwindled after the shoulder injury, as he hit .147 in July, .208 in August, and .188 for September.

Ryan Cook went 5-1 with a 2.85 ERA before a blister sidelined him for two weeks.  He clearly wasn't clicking upon his return, as he lost seven straight decisions and nine of ten before righting the ship in July.

Swingman Taylor Sinclair went 2-3 with a 3.80 ERA in 17 games and secured spot in the rotation before leaving his Fourth of July start with a groin injury.  He did not miss much time and made four very strong starts (each 6 IP or more, 1.78 ERA) upon his return before hitting the DL once again in early August and ending his season.

FutureBacks.com Pitcher of the Year

Besides the partial-season dominance of Victor Capellan and T.J. Hose, two other Hawks relievers had terrific seasons to merit Pitcher of the Year consideration. 

Bryan Woodall's overall numbers look deceptively ordinary.  While the 4-5 record, two saves, and 3.24 ERA won't blow you away, he did toss a whopping 66.2 innings in relief, striking out 73 and walking just 17 batters.  More importantly, he got much stronger as the season went along.  He had a 6.52 ERA through the first two months of the season, then a 1.99 ERA the rest of the way.  He even strung together a streak of 28.2 innings without allowing an earned run.

After Hose left for California, the combination of Woodall to Justin Mace was a devastating one.  Mace, who signed as an undrafted free agent in the summer of 2008, went 3-2 with a dozen saves and a 1.90 ERA for the season.  He notched all three of his wins and nine of his 12 saves after the All-Star break, plus notched a 1.04 ERA and held opponents to a 1.59 batting average in that span.


Ryan Cook

But while the Silver Hawks pitched several successful relievers this year, they had one starting pitcher really stand out from the rest.  Ryan Cook led the team in wins, innings pitched, innings per start, and strikeouts.  The next highest win total on the team to Cook's 11 was five.  He was the only pitcher to throw more than 90 innings and post an ERA below 4.00, and finished with 142.2 innings and a 3.66 ERA.  The sinkerballer somehow only allowed five home runs in those 142.2 innings. 

Even as his overall numbers overshadowed his teammates', Cook could have been even better if it weren't for that blister that sidelined him.  If you ignore the nine starts that Cook made immediately following his time on the disabled list, he went 10-3 with a 2.83 ERA in 95.1 innings.  Not too shabby for the D-backs' 27th-round selection from the 2008 draft.

Cook was the starting pitcher for the Midwest League All-Star game despite the fact that he was in the midst of his blister slump at the time.  He was snubbed as a postseason All-Star for some reason, but gets his due here as the FutureBacks.com Pitcher of the Year for South Bend.

FutureBacks.com Position Player of the Year

Again, he club's best offensive performers each spent two months or less with the club.  The FutureBacks.com offensive Player of the Year will not go to Duffy, Krauss, or Wheeler because of this fact.

Justin Parker and Alberto Diaz appeared to be the best candidates at the All-Star Break.  Parker was batting .301 and had a .397 on-base percentage, but skidded the rest of the way because of his shoulder problem.  Diaz was hitting just .241, but his eight home runs led the team by a wide margin.  In the second half, his average dipped to .220 and the power disappeared, as he did not homer the rest of the way.

Rossmel Perez and Reynaldo Navarro both played exceptional defense at crucial positions.  They no more than held their own offensively as 19-year old Latinos getting acclimated to playing in the States, however.  Jake Elmore showed flashes of offensive prowess, but the second baseman was a bit inconsistent throughout the season.  The team's best position player from April to September was probably Alfredo Marte.


Alfredo Marte

Marte turned 20 just before the season began, so he came in slightly more experienced than Perez or Navarro.  Despite that fact, Marte had a worse batting average and on-base percentage than both of them. So why did we select Marte as Position Player of the Year? It came down to how well Marte performed in the clutch.

The left fielder batted .329 with runners on base and .347 with runners in scoring position, which led to 71 RBI.  That RBI total tied him for 12th in the League and led all of his teammates by at least 25.  He ended the regular season by batting .366 during a 10-game hit streak, which he extended to 13 by hitting safely in all three postseason games against Fort Wayne. 

Marte didn't hurt his case by leading the team with 27 doubles, finishing second to Diaz with seven homers, or by throwing out seven baserunners from the outfield.  But it was his ability to pick up his teammates on the base paths and help carry the team offensively during the Hawks' postseason run that earned him Player of the Year honors.

Final Word

Considering all of the player movement and injuries that this team had to deal with all season long, it's pretty amazing that they made it to the postseason, much less come within one run of defeating the best team in Minor League Baseball in the first playoff series.  Although not many Silver Hawks put up sexy statistical numbers this year, the season was a fantastic learning experience for every prospect.  These youngsters discovered how to overcome adversity, come together as a team, and win games as underdogs.  Many of these Silver Hawks will go on to succeed at higher levels largely because of their experiences in 2009.


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