Missoula Osprey 2009 Review

The Missoula Osprey posted a 40-36 record and beat Great Falls in three games to take the North Division title before losing in the Championship Series in three games to Orem. They were the primary beneficiary of the fantastic Arizona Diamondbacks June Draft, as the Missoula roster featured 16 prospects selected within the first 20 rounds, including four who were among the top 60 picks overall.

Due to various free agent departures, the Arizona Diamondbacks appropriated five extra early draft selections this summer.  Those extra picks strengthened the future of the parent organization as well as the present of their lowest level affiliate in the country.

The first half of the season went well for Missoula.  They actually held the same overall record as the division-winning Great falls Voyagers in the first half (21-17), but surrendered the division due to a one-game tiebreaker on August 3rd in which the Osprey lost 7-2.  Great falls had to come back from a 2-1 deficit against Missoula the night before to force that elimination game. 

The Osprey would get their chance for revenge in the first round of the playoffs. The two teams split the first two games of a best-of-three series, then Great Falls jumped out to a 5-0 first-inning lead.  That did not hold up, as the Osprey offense exploded for 16 runs and the bullpen continued its regular season mastery by allowing only two runs over the Voyagers' remaining twenty-three outs.

Missoula continued their never-say-die ways by overcoming an eighth-inning, 5-1 deficit in the first game of the Pioneer League Championship Series against the Orem Owlz.  The Owlz, who had a marvelous regular season record of 55-26, showed why they were the favorites by winning Game Two 10-0 and holding a 13-4 lead going into the ninth inning of the decisive Game Three.  The Osprey showed a lot of heart by scoring six times in that ninth inning, but ultimately fell short of the Championship.

FutureBacks.com Position Player of the Year

While the Osprey enjoyed solid performances from many of their position players, there is no question that Paul Goldschmidt was the most valuable of the bunch.  Not only did he lead the Osprey in every offensive category except triples and stolen bases, but he led the entire Diamondbacks system with 18 home runs.  It isn't often that a short-season player leads his farm system in a major counting stat like that.

Those 18 home runs tied Goldschmidt for the Pioneer League lead, while his .638 slugging average and 1.045 on-base-plus-slugging stood alone atop the league leaderboard.  He also finished second with 96 hits, 27 doubles, 183 total bases, and 36 walks.  The big Texan was third in runs scored (51), third in RBI (62), and fourth in on-base percentage (.408).

Paul Goldschmidt

Far from just a lumbering slugger, Goldschmidt played a fine first base for Missoula.  He only committed four errors in his 66 games there, good for a .994 fielding percentage.  His four stolen bases and three triples show that he can run a bit faster than your run-of-the-mill 220-pound slugger. 

Clearly, had the Osprey not been in playoff contention or if Ryan Wheeler weren't putting up similarly dominant numbers one level above him, Goldschmidt would have found himself promoted to South Bend in August.  That is where he will likely begin the 2010 season, but there is no limit to how far he may advance beyond that level.

FutureBacks.com Pitcher of the Year

The FutureBacks.com Pitcher of the Year for Missoula was not nearly as clear cut.  Although the starters struggled, the Osprey bullpen was fantastic.  Adam Worhington (1.82) and Diogenes Rosario (2.05) each managed terrific earned run averages while being used in multiple-inning stints.  Scott Allen only went 17.2 innings in his dozen appearances, but also only allowed on earned run in those games.  Keith Cantwell went 4-0 and boasted a remarkable 44 strikeouts to just five bases on balls.  Ryan Robowski led the team with six saves and induced nearly three-and-a-half ground outs for every fly out.. 

Many Osprey pitchers switched from the bullpen to the rotation mid-season to better balance the team.  Chase Anderson went 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA as a reliever, struggled in his first professional start, then notched a 1.42 ERA over his final three starts.  Mike Belfiore had three awful outings as a reliever before dominating with a 1.82 ERA over 11 starts.  Charles Brewer went 5-0 with a with a 1.59 ERA as a reliever, then 2-2 with a 3.09 ERA as a starter, although his K/BB ratio was much better while he was in the rotation (33:4 vs. 28:11). 

Charles Brewer

It's important to remember, especially at this low level, that ERA isn't everything.  A lot of errors are going to be made in the Pioneer League, as fielders are inexperienced, infield surfaces are sub-par, and players have never worked with each other before.  How a pitcher picks up his teammates and finishes innings in which errors occurr is just as important as how he fares when the defense behind him was flawless.

Clearly, Belfiore, Brewer, and Anderson are the finalists as the only Osprey pitchers to throw more than 31 innings and manage an ERA under 4.00 - and each actually had ERAs below 2.50.  We can eliminate Belfiore from the running, as he allowed more unearned runs than runs, had the highest WHIP of the three, and the worst strikeout rate of the three, although his 55 strikeouts in 58 innings was still plenty good.  Brewer also allowed his share of unearned runs, bringing his run average to 3.95 while Anderson's remained relatively low at 3.38.

But the award here still goes to Brewer.  Anderson averaged just over three innings per start while Brewer averaged close to five.  His ability to go deeper into games allowed him to lead the team with seven victories.  It's not a slam dunk by any means, but Charles Brewer takes the honors this year.

Other Notable Performances

Shortstop David Narodowski led the Pioneer League with 56 bases on balls, 17 more than Goldschmidt, who finished runner-up.  The rest of his game was inconsistent, but it's noteworthy that he was able to consistently set the table for his teammates even when he was slumping.  His double-play mate, David Nick, was above average in every facet of the game and led the Osprey with 16 steals.  

David Narodowski

The 19-year old Keon Broxton led the Pioneer League with nine triples when no other player had as many as seven.  Raywilly Gomez, also 19, batted .301 and walked twice as often as he struck out all while learning to become a catcher.  He did not commit an error in his seven games behind the dish and gunned down one of the five men who tried to run on him.  Ender Inciarte was only 18 this year, but nevertheless hit .325 and swiped 10 bases, both good for second on the team.

41st-overall pick Chris Owings did not turn 18 until mid-August.  The late sign managed to bat .306 while flashing some speed and power in his two-dozen pro games.  16th-overall pick Bobby Borchering had a forgettable regular season, but hit .321 with six extra-base hits in six playoff games, driving in eight runs in the process.  

Veteran Presence

Certainly, the 2009 Missoula Osprey were notorious for their rookies and their success, but they had one youngster repeating the Rookie level without whom the Osprey would never have even sniffed the postseason.  Bobby Stone, a 15th-round draft selection from 2008 who turns 20 today, took a huge step forward in his sophomore season.  He improved his slugging average by more than 100 points from his 2008 campaign to 2009.

Moreover, Stone improved his walk rate and expanded his versatility on defense.  Whereas he spent most of 2008 in left field, he showed this year that he could handle either right field or first base if needed.  But his real contribution came in clutch situations. 

Bobby Stone
While Stone hit just .185 when the bases were empty, he stepped up that average to .293 with runners on base and .295 with at least one runner in scoring position.  The result was a Pioneer League-leading 68 RBI.

Stone also hit seven sacrifice flies over his 296 at-bats.  That may not seem like much, but consider that Bengie Molina led the majors in sac flies this year with 11 in 491 at-bats.  Even when Stone couldn't get a base-knock in RBI situations, he did whatever was needed to bring a run home.  He had one of the most productive .240 batting average seasons you'll ever see.

Final Word

The 2009 Missoula Osprey are the future of the Arizona Diamondbacks.  A whopping 28 of the 46 D-backs prospects to appear in the Instructional League played with the Osprey this year.  Some of the players are raw and not all of them will make it, but those that do have a lot of upside and can become stars in the major leagues, not just placeholders.  The fact that these youngsters showed so much heart in mounting comebacks time and time again gives a really promising forecast for the organization's future.

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