Great Lakes First Season a Successful One

There were 324,561 reasons to like the first season of the Great Lakes franchise. That's how many people crowded into the stands at Dow Diamond to watch the Loons play. When you compare that to the 66,516 that were listed for Columbus last year, you know why the Dodgers shifted their low A affiliation north.

For even in a season that began in 30-degree weather, they drew over five times as many fans. And what did they get to see? Not much as it turned out.

The Loons had an overall record of 57-82 and were never serious contenders in the Midwest League. It's not that they didn't have some promising players. No, they did have a number of talented kids. But both parts of that should be emphasized. They had talent but they were kids, the youngest team in the league and it showed just about every night.

They were last in the league in both earned run average and errors so patience was definitely demanded. At the end, Manager Lance Parrish, a former Detroit star who was a favorite in what is, after all, basically Tigers' country, was dismissed. Not for the won-loss record, Dodger officials hasten to point out. That, they say, wasn't the issue here but development of the youngsters was.

The team, had as its centerpiece, lefthander Clayton Kershaw, considered the prime prospect in the system. Kershaw compiled a modest 7-5, 2.77 record, which demonstrates both his considerable abilities and the fact that he still is very much a beginner. Also a porous defense often betrayed him. The facts that hitters managed only a .203 average against him and that he was voted the league's best prospect better illustrates his considerable upside.

Kershaw was eventually jumped to Jacksonville, one of a number of Loons that were moved on before the season ended like third baseman Josh Bell, outfielders Bridger Hunt and Tommy Giles along with pitchers Francisco Felix, Cody White and Miguel Ramirez.

Bell was the best power hitter on the team,and when he went to Inland Empire, his replacement, Brian Mathews came in from Ogden to hit well for average (.319) if not for power (one home run.).

Lefthander White was 8-5, 2.48 before going up while Ramirez racked up 15 saves as the team's closer. Both Josh Wall and Steve Johnson, two more highly regarded pitching prospects, started slowly but did come on toward the end. Wall was only 6-10, 4.18 and Johnson, who had shoulder problems, managed only 3-6, 4.85.

Supplemental first-round draft pick James Adkins did well after signing late (0-1, 2.42) but was restricted to three-inning stints. Timothy Sexton (3-1, 3.57) was another late signee who showed promise. And James Peterson came out of retirement to hit well (.271) although a bad back limited his play.

The most consistent hitter was first baseman Eduardo Perez, who showed a .311 mark with 14 home runs. Outfielder Matt Berezay (.276, 13 home runs) had his moments but some other touted hitting hopefuls had their problems.

Preston Mattingly might well have been a victim of being jumped a league too far as he came up from the Gulf Coast League to manage only a .210 mark. He also was taken away from shortstop to play second which cut down on his errors. Francisco Lizarraga took over at short, fielded well but hit just.261.

Carlos Santana, who had tried third and the outfield before, became a catcher and showed off just about the finest arm in the league. He also often displayed his lack of experience at the position. Although he did hit better as the season wore on, he never came close to doing what was expected at the bat, finishing with a .223 mark.

Outfielder Trayvon Robinson has considerable speed but is another who is an embryonic hitter with a .253 average. Adolfo Gonzalez played second, short and third and generally was quite capable on offense, too, hitting .296. Scott Van Slyke (.259) was inconsistent.

Middle relief was very shaky, just part of the turmoil of being young and willing but not always able. It's those growing pains the folks up in Loons country will have to learn to live with if they plan to keep coming back to see them play.

Team Leaders:

Batting Average- Perez .311
Home Runs- Bell 15
RBI- Bell 62
Stolen Bases- Robinson 22

Pitching
Innings- Wall .129.1
Wins- Cody White 8
ERA- Ramirez 1.57
Strikeouts- Kershaw 134
Saves- Ramirez 15

Biggest Surprise- Cody White. Accused of an indifferent attitude before, he applied himself to become a consistent pitcher with very good stuff.

Most Disappointing- Mattingly didn't hit the way it was hoped. First baseman David Sutherland, the lone Australian in the system, didn't get his bat going (.197) so was released.

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