2010 Connecticut Tigers Season in Review

In their inaugural season in Norwich, Connecticut, the Tigers season was dramatic down to the final day; finishing just one-half game out of first place in the Stedler Division, thus missing the playoffs. It was a successful debut in their new city, with improved facilities and a fan base that was looking for a team to cheer for after the Double-A affiliate of the Giants had moved on.

The season started out on a blazing note with second-year outfielder Matt Mansilla getting the offense roaring early on, before his performance tailed off and the upper levels of the Tigers system came calling for his services as injuries and promotions struck.

Unfortunately, the CT-Tigers were saddled with the poorest offense in the league, averaging a meager 3.61 runs per game, nearly a run lower than the league average, and almost two full runs worse than the league leading Batavia Muckdogs.

"They just didn't have the sticks this year," said one NYPL scout. "That offense was just too raw, too inexperienced, and too inconsistent to help that team."

The Tigers leading offensive threats were outfielders PJ Polk and Ryan Enos, infielders James Robbins and josh Ashenbrenner, and catcher Julio Rodriguez.

Polk was named the Connecticut Tigers Player of the Year by TigsTown, and he earned it by flashing some solid on-base ability, speed, and good defense. His .267/.343/.356 line is solidly above the league average mark, and his 29 stolen bases provided a dynamic element to the Tigers game.

The Tigers added Enos as an non-drafted free agent in June, and he arrived with a reputation as a strong offensive player; something he worked to live up to. Of the teams season-long participants, Enos was the only player to post an OPS over .700.

"He was probably our most consistent hitter throughout the year," said Connecticut manager Howard Bushong. "He just has a consistent approach to his at-bats, and he knows what he's doing up there. Ryan was a big help to us."

The Tigers regular first baseman, James Robbins flashed some of the offensive potential the Tigers hoped he would develop when they paid him an over-slot bonus as a 30th round pick in the 2009 draft.

"He's the guy I wanted up in the big spots," said Bushong. His focus just seemed to improve in those spots."

Robbins finished his first full professional season with 17 extra-base hits in 69 games, and he hit .251/293/.351 for the year; including some hot streaks that started to show off the potential he has in his bat.

Behind the plate, Julio Rodriguez showed both offensive and defensive potential. Rodriguez saw the bulk of the time wearing the "tools of ignorance" and he performed himself quite well. At just 20-years old, he command the game, works well with pitchers, and has enough pop in his bat to be an asset in the lineup as well.

"[Rodriguez] is a bit of a sleeper on that team for me," said an AL scout that saw the team frequently throughout the year. "He's a bit thick, but he still moves pretty well and understands the game. He catches velocity well. He even has a bit of pop. He could be a player if he keeps developing as he did this year."

One opposing NYPL manager believes things could have gone very differently for the Tigers, had they not been robbed of what many believed could be two of their better players.

"From what I heard, if Sedon and Rowland are there all year, there's no doubt that's a playoff team."

Both second baseman Chris Sedon and outfielder Jeff Rowland were slated to be significant contributors to this year's Tigers squad, and in the end, the spent a combined 17 games at the level, thanks to early season promotions.

Over that brief span, Rowland posted an impressive .341/.442/.364, while Sedon notched his own .333/.444/.600 line, albeit in just six games. The inclusion of two players with more polish and well-rounded offensive games, could have made a huge difference in the outcome of the 2010 season.

While the Tigers' offense had plenty of raw and unrefined players trying to contribute, the pitching staff was raw in its own right. Over the course of the season, the Tigers had five teenagers take the mound, and overall were about a year younger than the average NYPL pitching staff.

Three of those teenagers were season long pieces of the starting rotation, as right-handers Josue Carreno and Clemente Mendoza, and left-hander Rayni Guichardo combined to make 43 starts for a team that played just 75 games.

Carreno and Guichardo showed their youth at various points, but also flashed their potential with several strong starts throughout the season. Mendoza had some rough spots of his own, but was a workhorse that took the ball regularly and finished third in the league in innings pitched. Despite it being his second year in the NYPL, the 19-year old righty continued to grind through games and show that he has the ability to pitch at this level and higher.

Three other members of the Tigers rotation were forced to leave the team for different reasons; the net result of which left the Tigers scrambling to figure out who could fill the void.

Right-handers Patrick Cooper and Luis Sanz were promoted to West Michigan after just a handful of strong performances each, while left-hander Lance Baxter left the team as a result of family issues. The loss of those two experienced college pitchers forced the Tigers to rely heavily on right-handers Brennan Smith and Patrick Lawson.

"For what looked like a hodge-podge rotation on the surface, those kids did a helluva job," said the AL scout. "The younger guys showed some potential, and the experienced college guys did exactly what you want – routinely kept the team in the game."

For having a "hodge-podge" rotation, the bullpen was a decided strength of the team all season long. Even with the loss of Antonio Cruz, Kevan Hess, Matt Little, Shawn Teufel, and Michael Torrealba to promotion, the bullpen was still rock solid for much of the season.

TigsTown's Connecticut Pitcher of the Year, Miguel Mejia was a large part of that with his 1.02 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning in 35 1/3 innings. Mejia also started twice for the Tigers down the stretch, and proved very difficult to hit with just 21 knocks allowed.

First year players Tyler Clark and Drew Gagnier were incredibly valuable out of the bullpen, while left-hander Logan Hoch showed well in spurts. Hoch tied with Mejia for the team lead in saves with four, while Gagnier average nearly two innings per relief appearance, while notching a 2.95 ERA.

"I think all of our pitchers did well this year," said Bushong. "The bullpen was really good, but the rotation stepped up and kept us in games as well. The guys like Mendoza and Smith were really valuable."

Despite just missing the playoffs, the CT Tigers first season away from Oneonta was a successful adventure.

"It's been a great place to play this year," said Bushong in closing. "I've really enjoyed it. From the fans, to the players, to the front office, everyone was great!"

With any luck, Bushong will be back in Norwich next season, with even more fan support for their second season, and another run at the Stedler Division crown.

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