Season in Review: Salem-Keizer Volcanoes

Salem-Keizer as a team? They were the Northwest League's ‘Best Ever,' with the highest winning percentage in league history. But how were they as a group of players and prospects?

RECORD: 55-21 (.724 winning percentage, the best in any MLB-affiliated league), First Place.  League Champions (Defeated Boise Hawks 3 games to 1).

SEASON IN REVIEW: Well, how much better could it have gotten?  The team is selling shirts calling their 2006 team the ‘Best Ever’ in the Northwest League.  Their 55 wins were a NWL record since adopting a 76 game season.  They won 22 of 23 games in August, and never lost more than 2 in a row.  Their .724 winning percentage was the best in any affiliated league, Majors or Minors.  The team’s .977 fielding percentage was a league record, and the team’s 2.95 ERA was the best in the NWL since 1990.  They went wire-to-wire in first place after winning their first 7 games.  Baseball America named them the Short Season ‘Team of the Year.’

TEAM MVP: Boy, where do you go with this?  The team was truly a team, and while there were some standouts and a couple of stars, everyone contributed significantly to this team.

At the end of the season, though, there was one player whose stats stand out: Adam Cowart.  Cowart, a 35th round pick in the 2006 draft, had the season most first round picks dream of.  He was the NWL pitcher of the year after leading the league in ERA (1.08) and wins (10-1).  He didn’t allow an earned run in his first four starts, and only lost his last start of the season.  Cowart’s unusual throwing motion was matched by spectacular control, in which he threw 55 strikeouts and just 8 walks in 83.1 innings.

TOP POSTION PLAYER: This was a surprisingly deep group, even as the Giants tried to look for more position players in their system.  The Giants have made a clear strategy in trying to draft athletes and defensive players, and it showed this year.  But this year’s top position player had to be the top one they drafted this season, Emmanuel Burriss.

Burriss, who was drafted in the first compensation round in 2006, batted .307 with a .384 OBP that was the 6th best in the league.  He made those stats even more dangerous by being a force on the basepaths, stealing 35 bases in 46 attempts.  He had 13 more steals than the next closest player in the NWL.  Burriss did struggle a bit in the field (a team-high 17 errors), and certainly isn’t a slugger, but he was a disruption for other team’s pitchers consistently through the season and did his best down the stretch (batting .346 in August).

PLAYERS WHO STEPPED UP: Cowart was a low round draft pick that surprised, but then there was Adam Witter.  Witter was signed before the draft as a 5th year senior and played 61 games mostly as the team’s catcher.  His 16 home runs was tied for league best, and was actually the highest total in the Giants farm system.

The outfield set of Bobby Felmy, Matt Weston and Michael McBryde also had a very nice year.  Felmy showed a nice mix of power (8 HR, 9th in the NWL) and speed (10 steals, 16th in the NWL).  Weston was bothered by knee problems, but batted .280 with 14 doubles and 4 home runs, and also had a good August, batting .275/.410/.593 in the month.  McBryde missed most of the college year with a hamstring injury, so his speed (which is the best in the entire system, reportedly) was not as much of a factor as it could be.  But he batted .276 and had 9 doubles and 5 triples to go with 3 home runs in 71 games.

Closer Juan Trinidad had 16 saves in 24 games, with a 1.52 ERA.  His 14 strikeouts in 23.2 innings is low for a closer, but he was very effective.  Kevin Pucetas (17th round) might have been the ace on any other staff, with a league 2nd best 2.17 ERA and a team-high 60 strikeouts against 19 walks in 70.2 innings.  Other starters John Odom (3.05 ERA) and Ben Snyder (3.66 ERA) had solid years as well.  And then there was the most memorable name of the draft, Gib Hobson.  In 9 starts, he only had a 3-3 record, but acquitted himself well with a 2.94 ERA.

And there was Tim Lincecum, who debuted in S-K but made only 2 appearances there.  In 4 innings, he struck out 10 and allowed just 1 hit and no walks.

PLAYERS WHO DISAPPOINTED: There weren’t many disappointments, if only because there aren’t a ton of expectations coming into the short-season.  Two players who had big roles in the College World Series weren’t as productive as hoped.  First Baseman Brett Pill, a 7th round pick from Cal State Fullerton, batted only .220 after arriving in S-K, and while his 5 home runs in 60 games were tied for third most on the team, it wasn’t as much as some thought it would be.  And Tyler Graham, the defensive star of the CWS champion Oregon State Beavers, never got completely acclimated to the NWL.  Playing in left since McBryde was in center, Graham batting .240 and had only 3 extra base hits (all doubles) in 50 games.

Another CWS player had problems on the pitching side.  CSU Fullerton’s fill-in closer Ryan Paul had a 6.08 ERA in 12 relief appearances.  He struck out 20 in 13.1 innings, but 15 hits allowed and 8 walks really hurt him.

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT: Highly touted draft-and-follow Thomas Neal didn’t perform up to expectations when looking at his complete stats (.250/.289/.375), but he also suffered a wrist injury in July after batting .317 in 34 games to start the season and never recovered.  The 19 year old will be someone to watch next season, when healthy again.

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