2010 Lakeland Flying Tigers Season in Review

On paper, there's not much to brag about. In the stat book, they're barely above average. In the standings, nothing stands out. The Lakeland Flying Tigers finished the season 71-67, hardly dominant, but still have plenty to feel good about now that the 2010 season is in the books.

Things such as finishing above .500 for the fist time since 2005, and the first time since manager Andy Barkett took over the team. Like setting a new single-season attendance record with a 25 percent increase from 2009, breaking the 22-year-old record of 61,255.

But most importantly, the Flying Tigers can feel good about the number of players they advanced to the higher minor league ranks in 2010, most of which remained there due to stellar play, and many of which Barkett believes may have major league potential.

"Obviously a lot of them can all play at the next level," said Barkett. "Rawley Bishop stands out as a guy who's a potential major league player. Lester Oliveros, Brayan Villarreal."

Bishop was in the first wave of call-ups, when he, Alden Carrithers and Kody Kaiser were all sent to Double-A Erie on June 23.

At the time, Carrithers led the Florida State League in hitting at .359, while Kaiser and Bishop were among the team leaders in all major offensive categories.

In Erie, Carrithers hit .262 with a .378 OBP, seven doubles and seven stolen bases in 59 games. Kaiser belted five home runs and drove in 20 runs in 49 games in Erie, while Bishop blasted nine home runs and drove in 45, slugging .407 with a .743 OPS in 67 games.

In late June, left-handed pitcher Charlie Furbush, who led the league in strikeouts with 109 at the time, was called-up to Erie. Joining him was fellow pitcher, right-hander Lester Oliveros.

After going 1-0 with 37 strikeouts in 33.1 innings in Erie, Furbush moved on to Triple-A Toledo, where he struggled at times, going 3-4 with an ERA over six and a 1.54 WHIP.

Oliveros was 1-2 in Erie, striking out 36 batters in 25 1/3 innings. Opponents hit just over .200 against him.

Also advancing to Erie without being sent back to Lakeland was Bryan Pounds, along with teammates John Murrian, Brent Wyatt and Billy Nowlin.

Pounds hit six home runs in 53 games in Erie with a .979 OPS and Nowlin bashed five home runs with a .774 OPS. While Murrian and Wyatt played well, they each struggled at times.

"Those guys have an opportunity because of movement, injuries, lack of depth in the organization this year," said Barkett. "Those guys have been afforded a chance to play at a level they may not normally would have played at. Sometimes you need some luck in this game to have a long career. Not necessarily luck, because they produce themselves, but sometimes, opportunity — you get it — sometimes you don't. A lot has to do with luck and timing. You can call it luck, you can call it timing, you can call it whatever you want.

"I think it's advanced all their careers. Most of them are playing really well."

One guy that played well in Erie, although his 0-4 record would suggest otherwise, is right-handed pitcher Brayan Villarreal.

He struck out 46 batters in 43 2/3 innings, and over the course of eight starts, allowed more than three runs just once. His stats in Erie, including his 1.21 WHIP and .231 average against, are similar to his stats in Lakeland; however, his run support dropped off dramatically when he went to Erie.

By far the most impressive performance among the promoted is that of left-hander Adam Wilk.

After leaving Lakeland 9-5 with a 3.01 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 143 2/3 innings pitched, all team-bests at the time, Wilk sparkled in his Erie Debut, tossing eight shutout innings, striking out three and allowing just one hit.

His second and third outings were also impressive, as he allowed a combined three runs on nine hits in 15.2 innings, striking out 11 and walking four. He already leads the Sea Wolves in ERA at 1.14 and WHIP at 0.63.

"He showed great composure all year," Barkett said of Wilk's time in Lakeland. "A guy who the chips are against because he doesn't have an average fastball, an average breaking ball, whatever. But his stuff plays because he pitches so well.

"Thats ultra-valuable in this day and age. You have a crafty a guy who can stymie a lineup, and he's the kind of guy who can do it, and there's value in that guy, so we all need to keep an eye on him."

Lakeland pitching coach Joe Coleman also praised Wilk in a mid-season interview.

"Mechanically he's very strong," said Coleman. "He does everything the right way, he works very, very hard, he pitches with confidence."

Both Coleman and Barkett said that Wilk has the potential to pitch at the major league level, depending on his development, as 2010 was his first full season of professional baseball.

"I'd like to one day pitch in the big leagues—be a career pitcher," said Wilk. "I just gotta come out here every day and do my work and just get better so my ability and talent and my approach will allow me to become a major league pitcher. But it's all up to (management). It's in their control. All I can do is pitch my game."

With the likes of Wilk and others moving on to Erie and beyond, the Flying Tigers still had a number of players who contributed to just their second winning season since 1997.

Right-hander Luke Putkonen finished the season 9-7 with a 3.18 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP, both near the team average.

Francisco Martinez hit .271 in 89 games with the Flying Tigers, and was a mainstay in the Lakeland lineup amidst consistent roster turnover.

Jordan Lennerton and Patrick McKenna also made significant offensive contributions in the second half of the season for the Flying Tigers.

While McKenna hit .245 with a .366 OBP and a .685 OPS, Lennerton provided the real offensive spark, hitting a team-high .301 and belting nine home runs in 57 games. His .393 OBP, .505 slugging percentage and .898 OPS are all among the team leaders for the year, and were the best on the roster as the season ended.

"I've known Lennerton a little longer just because, during Spring Training, I met him then," said McKenna. "But he can swing that bat really well. I just think (he's a) good hitter in general. (He doesn't) give up an at-bat."

McKenna started off strong and then struggled, but finished the season well, hitting .262 with a .711 OPS and four doubles over his last 10 games.

"I'm pretty comfortable," said McKenna. "Last year it took a little while, especially last year in the start. I was kind of going too fast for my own good. I knew pro ball was going to be different from college ball. It's a ‘You've got to trust what you have' kind of thing, instead of trying to do too much.

"Now, being in High-A... I didn't know what to expect — I didn't know pitching. I knew it was going to be better quality ball than rookie ball, but I didn't know too much about it. Now I've just got to compete."

The Flying Tigers finished the first half 37-33, four games behind the division-winning Dunedin Blue Jays, despite being within a half game going into the final week of the half.

The second half began with Carrithers, Bishop and Kaiser getting called-up, robbing the Lakeland offense of most of it's prowess.?

The Flying Tigers struggled to find offensive stability over the next month, going 8-13 and dropping to the FSL North basement.

In August, the team caught fire, led by Lennerton, McKenna and timely hitting from Francisco Martinez and Bryan Holaday. The Flying Tigers won 13 of their first 20 in August, and found themselves within striking distance of first-place Tampa heading into a five-game set with the Yankees.

The club also benefited from the addition of TigsTown's top prospect, right-hander Jacob Turner. Turner was excellent for the Flying Tigers for his entire stretch there, but especially shined in August, allowing just three runs over 25 2/3 innings of work.

But the weather was against them, and the Flying Tigers lost the first three games of the series, and the other two, already rescheduled due to rainouts, were cancelled because of thunderstorms. The three-game skid effectively ended the Flying Tigers' season, and they were eliminated from playoff contention shortly after, though they still finished the month 17-12.

Lakeland finished the second half 34-34, quite a feat considering they started the second half 5-12.

Still, despite missing the playoffs in 2010, manager Andy Barkett and his team have a great deal to be proud of, from finishing strong and over .500 to developing a handful of young players and sending them to the next level.

In an up-and-down season, there's plenty for the Flying Tigers to take pride in.

"The consistency of the approach to the game, day in and day out, has been really solid with these guys," said Barkett. "Just the overall chemistry that we've kind of built here and the way these guys play everyday. Not necessarily production-wise, but just more the way they approach the game.

"I'm very proud of the way they've gotten after it everyday, and that's a testament to our staff and our scouting department."

While players disperse for fall instructional leagues and rosters around the Tigers' franchise shake-up, it's unsure who will be back in a Flying Tiger uniform next Spring.

However, Andy Barkett and his 2011 team will have a sure-fire goal on their minds: Recording back-to-back winning seasons in Lakeland for the first time since 1992-93.

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