Today RC takes a look at the 2006 Burlington Bees. Although the Bees received excellent pitching and defense, they once again finished the season with a losing record. However, several players emerged with outstanding seasons, and we tell you everything you need to know about it inside, complete with over a dozen exclusive and original RC photos.
They say that pitching and defense is what wins championships, but the 2006 Burlington Bees might beg to differ. The Bees' pitching was outstanding all year, and the defense led the Midwest League (MWL) in fielding percentage while setting a new franchise record. However, the offense hit just a collective .242/.324/.326 on the season, and the team's strengths couldn't quite compensate for that one glaring weakness. The season actually started out pretty well for the Bees, and they finished the first half in third place with a 35-32 record. However, the wheels fell off after the All-Star break, and the Bees limped to a second half record of 29-41 on their way to a final record of 64-73.
Even though the Midwest League notoriously favors pitchers, the Bees' dismal offensive performance still managed to stand out. The Bees posted the second-worst totals in the league in batting average, slugging percentage, and home runs, and their team leaders
in those three categories were .271, .421, and 13, respectively. In fact, just one player on the entire roster even managed to eclipse a slugging percentage of .400, which truly is remarkable – even in a pitcher's league.
To compensate for the lack of power, the Bees became quite adept at "small ball," setting a franchise record with 73 sacrifice bunts while finishing second in the MWL with 158 stolen bases. Still, the Bees managed to score just 539 runs, which was the third-worst total in the league and the primary factor behind the Bees' seventh consecutive losing season (a streak which began prior to the Royals' affiliation with the club).
Of course, it would have been much worse if the Bees hadn't possessed one of the best young pitching staffs in the league. The staff boasted several of the Royals' top pitching prospects, and a few others emerged as the season progressed. Bees pitchers compiled an excellent 3.47 ERA, good for fifth-best in the MWL, and they held opponents to a .249 BAA and 551 runs (third-best in the league). Because of the Bees' pitching and stellar glovework, the club's run differential was just -12, which means the pitching and defense were nearly as good as the offense was bad. Unfortunately, when the Bees allowed five or more runs in a game, they were just 8-39 on the season.
In August, the Bees and Royals extended their affiliation for four more years. The two teams just finished their sixth season together, and the partnership clearly seems to be working well for both clubs. Prior to the 2005 season, Community Field in Burlington underwent extensive renovations, and it now boasts one of the finest playing surfaces in Class-A ball.
Top Prospect Performances:
Jose Duarte: In 466 at bats this season, Duarte hit a respectable .266/.338/.345 with 24 doubles and one home run. He used his speed to successfully steal 31 bases in 40 attempts, and he finished second on the team in runs scored with 65. However, Duarte's biggest impact in 2006 came in center field, where he tracked down nearly everything that came his way. Duarte set new franchise records for both putouts (327) and assists (an incredible 22), playing a key role on the best defensive squad in Burlington history.
Duarte was a key factor in the Bees' record-setting defense
Mario Lisson: Lisson took home Burlington "Player of the Year" honors after hitting .263/.368/.421 with 13 HR and 30 doubles in 463 at bats. The 22-year-old Venezuelan third baseman led the club in home runs, SLG pct., doubles, runs, stolen bases (41), and OPS, and he topped off the year with a promotion to Wichita for the post-season. Lisson was named Burlington's Player of the Month three times (April, July, and August), and he hit .308 with eight home runs and 35 RBIs in the season's second half.
Lisson was named as the Bees' Player of the Year
Josh Johnson: Johnson was an on-base machine in 2006, and although the switch hitting second baseman hit only .241 with just 16 extra base hits in 381 at bats, his OBP of .391 was second-best in the MWL, thanks to a league-leading 93 walks. In fact, he walked more than any other player in Class-A baseball, and all but seven players in all of the minor leagues. Johnson is also quite adept at doing the little things well, and he set a franchise record (and led the MWL) with 19 sacrifice bunts while stealing 18 bases. He played outstanding defense, setting a franchise record for fielding percentage (.982) by a second baseman, thanks to just nine errors in 507 total chances. He didn't make his first error until May 18, and he was selected to both the MWL Western Division All-Star Team (at mid-season) and the Post-Season All-Star Team.
Johnson's on-base ability, defense, and "small ball" skills make him an interesting prospect
Jeff Howell: Howell struggled a bit at the plate in 2006, hitting .249/.329/.345 with five home runs and 35 RBIs in 374 at bats. He had a ten-game hitting streak in June, during which time he hit .421 with three doubles and a home run en route to being named the Bees' Player of the Month. Although his offensive numbers weren't quite what he would have liked, Howell handled the pitching staff very well, and he threw out an impressive 38 percent of attempted base stealers. He finished his year with a promotion to High Desert for the Mavs' post-season.
Howell's offensive stats weren't great, but his defense was solid
Carlos Rosa: Rosa was named the Royals' Minor League Pitcher of the Year after posting an 8-6 record with a 2.53 ERA in 24 starts. In 138.2 IP, Rosa allowed 121 hits and 54 walks while striking out 102 batters, and opponents hit just .239 against him. He was consistent all year, registering a 2.57 ERA in his 13 first half starts, and a 2.49 ERA in 11 second half starts before he was promoted to High Desert on August 16. He also twirled the Bees' only complete game shutout, a 1-0 victory over Wisconsin on July 20. All told, it was a outstanding comeback season for Rosa, who returned to the Bees after missing all of 2005 while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Rosa had a great comeback season after missing the entire 2005 season
Chris Nicoll: Although Rosa was named as the Pitcher of the Year, one could make a solid case that Nicoll actually had a better season. Though his record was just 4-9, Nicoll dominated the MWL to the tune of a 2.82 ERA in 23 starts, holding opponents to a .210 BAA. In 134.0 IP, Nicoll allowed just 105 hits and 40 walks (leading all Bees' starters with a 1.08 WHIP) while striking out a team-leading 140 batters. The Bees' offense scored two runs or less in 13 of Nicoll's 23 starts, and he subsequently didn't win a decision after July 10. Nicoll was named to the MWL Western Division All-Star Team at mid-season, and his ERA never climbed above 2.93 all season.
Nicoll easily could have been the Royals' Minor League Pitcher of the Year
Matt Kniginyzky: Kniginyzky was informed at Spring Training that he would convert from a reliever to a starter, and he took to the new assignment better than anyone could have expected. He roared out of the gate in 2006 and was named the Bees' Pitcher of the Month in both April and May after compiling a 6-2 record with a 2.82 ERA in 70.1 IP. He was named to the MWL Western Division All-Star Team, and he finished the first half with a 7-3 record. Kniginyzky battled a mid-season lat strain, and his season sadly ended prematurely with a shoulder injury. On the year, Kniginyzky was 9-5 with a 3.51 ERA in 130.2 IP. He allowed 124 hits and 34 walks while striking out 100 batters and holding opponents to a .255 BAA.
Hopefully Kniginyzky will be healthy in 2007
Erik Cordier: Cordier was promoted from Idaho Falls on July 3, and he started seven games for the Bees before being shut down with a right elbow strain in August. While he was pitching, Cordier displayed the dominance that has become his trademark. In 36.2 IP, Cordier was 3-1 with a 2.70 ERA, allowing 27 hits and 14 walks while striking out 23 and holding opponents to a .203 BA. Word is that Cordier's elbow injury wasn't nearly as serious as first thought, which is excellent news because he just might have the highest upside of any pitcher in the entire organization.
Hopefully Cordier will keep his upper 90s fastball and killer change off the DL in 2007
Daniel Cortes: Cortes was acquired from the Chicago White Sox in the Mike MacDougal trade, and he struggled a bit with his move to the Midwest League. The 19-year-old righty started seven games for the Bees after the trade, pitching 35.0 innings while compiling a 1-2 record with a bloated 6.69 ERA. He fanned a career-high nine batters in six innings (while surrendering two ER) in his second start with the Bees on August 3, but he registered just one other "quality" start after the trade. Cortes is very young, however, and he's got the size and ability that makes him an interesting player to watch going into next season.
Cortes is still very young, but he's got great potential
Luke Hochevar: After agreeing to terms with the Royals in early August, Hochevar made his debut with the Bees on August 16, and he announced his presence with authority. Hochevar made four starts for the Bees before his promotion to Wichita for the Texas League playoffs, and he dominated MWL hitters, holding them to just a .148 BA. In 15.1 IP, Hochevar allowed just eight hits and two walks while striking out 16 and compiling a miniscule ERA of 1.17.
Hochevar wasted little time showing off his dominant stuff in Burlington
Chris McConnell: McConnell began the year with the Bees, but he got off to a horrible start, and he never recovered. His season began a 2-for-28 slump (.071), and he finished the first half hitting just .170 with one home run. When McConnell was reassigned to the Idaho Falls Chukars on July 12, he was hitting just .172/.254/.201 in 239 at bats. McConnell entered the season as one of the best infield prospects in the organization, but his prolonged slump in Burlington cast major doubts about his future. Hopefully he can recover to have a solid season in 2007.
2007 will be a pivotal year for McConnell
Rayner Oliveros: Oliveros pitched mainly out of the bullpen in 2006, making just five starts while logging 98.1 IP in 32 games. He posted a 7-4 record and a 2.84 ERA, striking out 57 batters while walking just 17. Oliveros was the Bees' most reliable reliever, and he continued to display the type of control that first landed him on RC's radar last year, after he walked just five batters in 75.1 IP for the Arizona Royals. In fact, Oliveros didn't walk a single batter after July 28, a streak spanning 10 outings and 23.1 IP. Opponents hit just .246 off of him in 2006, and he was equally good vs. both righties and lefties.
Oliveros was the Bees' most consistent reliever
Michael Penn: Penn was selected by the Royals in the 11th round out of the University of Michigan in 2005. He had something of an inauspicious debut last year in the Pioneer League, but he bounced back this season to post solid numbers for the Bees. Penn pitched in 19 games and made 13 starts, and he compiled a 6-2 record and 2.62 ERA in 82.1 IP with 52 strikeouts and 20 walks. Penn was limited to just nine appearances and 29 IP in the second half, due to soreness in his right triceps. He had two MRIs that both came out negative for structural damage, and he should be ready to go next season.
Penn had a nice season after a shaky 2005 debut