Year in Review: AA Pensacola

Pensacola fans did not see their team win as frequently this season as they finished with the worst record in the Southern League South Division. In spite of that the Blue Wahoos did enjoy some solid pitching from their rotation and some of them will be providing organization depth atop the development system in 2014.

There was reason to expect a better season for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos this year after receiving players from last year's Bakersfield team that had an impressive first half in the California League. Instead their record fell from 68-70 to 59-69. The top rated prospect, Billy Hamilton moved to Louisville to begin the season. Power hitter Donald Lutz had a month unexpectedly spent with the Reds after they had to reach down into the farm after a couple of outfield injuries. Another 2012 Blaze slugger, Steve Selsky started slowly and was sent back to high-A after less than 100 plate appearances.

On paper it appears some of the falloff came from a reduction of offense because the 2013 Wahoos' team OPS fell 39' to .644. However, they didn't fare much worse against Southern League competition because their ranking fell from ninth to tenth (last). The pitchers on this year's edition fared comparably and the two staffs finished within .07 runs in team ERA. Probably the biggest discrepancy was the competition's pitching because the Wahoo's team ERA ranking fell from second lowest in 2012 to fifth in 2013, even though they kept it under four. Simply put, scoring about a half a run less per game on average against tougher pitching while their pitching remained at the same level cost them nine wins.

In spite of what the record may reflect, the rotation was solid with all five opening day starters finishing with ERA's under four. Josh Smith spent the entire season with the Wahoos and led them in innings, wins, and strikeouts while finishing with a 3.26 ernie. Chad Rogers was superb over the first half season and his 2.20 ERA earned him a promotion to AAA at midseason. Rule 5 pickup Ryan Dennick (3.55) followed him and Tim Crabbe (3.27) finally joined them for a couple of starts at Louisville at the end of the year. Daniel Renken manned the back end of the rotation and moving from the Cali League helped lower him down to 3.99. They also got great service from Carlos Contreras (2.76) and Jon Moscot (3.19) who arrived from Bakersfield to fill vacated spots. It will be interesting to see where all of them begin next year because teams typically want a couple of MLB veterans in reserve in their AAA rotations and there are a limited number of jobs.

26 year-old Trevor Bell came into the system this year and was solid closing for the Wahoos, finishing with seventeen saves and allowing earned runs in only three of 29 appearances. Lee Hyde was another pitcher a bit old for the level and finished at 2.28. Loek Van Mil's 3.38 ERA didn't look nearly as bad as his 0-9 record would suggest and Johnny Gomes trade return Chris Manno finished slightly under four. Drew Hayes, Josh Ravin, and Wilken De La Rosa saw a lot of action and all finished around mid-five.

Devin Lohman entered the season one of the higher-rated middle infield prospects in the system, but his offensive production took a hit when he moved from the Cali League last year to closer to sea level with Pensacola. His story was similar to Brodie Greene whose offense dropped slightly in his second season with the Wahoos. Travis Mattair is another one that had offense fall, but he did lead the team with thirteen homers while raising his average close to .250 by season's end. 29 year-old Ray Chang got on base at a decent clip (.278/.339 OB) and David Vidal once again struggled against Southern League pitching and finished the season at Bakersfield.

In the outfield Ryan LaMarre also spent a second season in AA. Unfortunately the former second-rounder's offense dropped off from his first to .246/.326. Yorman Rodriguez fared well after he arrived from Bakersfield, hitting .267/.329 at the age of twenty. Bryson Smith finished his first professional season without cracking .300 and finished at .275/.363. Lutz finished at .245 with seven homers and Theo Bowe finished below .210.

Tucker Barnhart improved significantly (.250/.348) against AA pitching compared to what he did in the second half last year. He's still the top-rated catching prospect in the Cincinnati system and will likely get the call from Louisville to start next year.

There doesn't figure to be too much turnover above the AA level in 2014 so many of this year's players could find themselves returning. Lutz is a keeper and they'll look for a bigger season from him. Lohman should hang around to split time with a couple of prospects that will advance from high-A. Of course the Reds have a lot invested in Rodriguez since they gave him a gaudy bonus to sign as a foreign free agent. He's still young and could use some more time at this level, but in the past the Reds have never shown reluctance to promote him.

] Outside of the rotation, not many Wahoos really pounded the door highly for a promotion. Of course the Reds are now a contender instead of a rebuilder and they did utilize roster spots for some veterans that would probably been used for younger players if there was a need to fast-track them. AA is an interesting level. Normally organizations have some notions that players might eventually help the parent team when they make it that high and sometimes top prospects spend extra time there instead of competing with MLB veterans for playing time in AAA. Pensacola might have one of the older rosters in the Southern League in 2014, but there will always been a path made available for younger prospect to move through when they're ready.

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