2011 Lakeland Flying Tigers Season Recap

The Flying Tigers season, in regard to its record, wasn't a total success, but in the minor leagues, that doesn't mean that the season was unsuccessful.

Although their 138-game season yielded a 64-74 --only Brevard County finished worse in the FSL North-- Lakeland had a few individuals that not only met expectations, but drastically exceeded them.

"That was my goal coming in, to produce a lot of runs," first baseman Tony Plagman said after the final game of the season, a 3-2 win over the Tampa Yankees, "I'm pretty happy with it. There were some missed opportunities still, but hopefully in the future I'll keep improving on those numbers."

Plagman was one of those individuals that definitely outshined his projections, perhaps even his own projections.

Coming out of Georgia Tech and initially drafted by the New York Yankees, Plagman's shoes weren't ever small ones to fill, but this year he grew.

The first baseman, whose job is solely to drive in runs (fellow first baseman Jordan Lennerton incessantly outshined Plagman defensively all year), led the entire Florida State League with 97 RBI and ended the year 12 ahead of second-place Justin Bour.

Plagman also led the team with 229 total bases and 18 homers, which helped anchor him at the clean-up spot, but did garner a few season totals that clearly have room for growth. His 94-50 K:BB ratio helped lead to a lowly .331 OBP and .766 OPS, both stats that don't quite cut it for four-hitters. But Plagman knows that.

When asked about his the one aspect of his game that he wished to improve upon, Plagman admitted that he wished to, in time, deliver better overall and more efficient at-bats.

"I want to have better at-bats consistently," Plagman said one day in the Lakeland locker room, "sometimes you try and do too much, and when you try and do too much, sometimes you don't do well.

"Instead of going up there and trying to hit a home run, just go up there and try and have a good at-bat."

Earlier in the year Plagman had the help of the athletic, lead-off shortstop Gustavo Nunez who constantly set the table.

Nunez, who was promoted to double-A Erie the day after he appeared alongside Plagman, Kenny Faulk, and Julio Rodriguez in FSL All-Star game, scored 46 runs and batted .304 in 62 games for Lakeland.

Upon Nunez' promotion, Lakeland began to place Jordan Lennerton toward the top of the lineup.

Lennerton, another player who did better than expected, finished the season as the consistent two-hitter and, with the help of hitting close to and in front of the formidable Plagman, slowly raised his batting average to .285 to finish the season.

His .397 OBP was closer to where Plagman is supposed to be than Plagman himself, and his 125-92 K:BB ratio hints toward his mature plate approach.

Finally, one more player that outperformed and impressed a few, although only slightly, was pitcher Jared Wesson.

Wesson displayed his longevity and consistency by logging a team-leading 147.2 innings pitched and 15 wins.

"It leaves a good taste in your mouth, to carry over to next year" said Wesson as he led the Flying Tigers off the field at the end of the year, "during the offseason I'll work hard and get ready for next year."

In his 27 starts Wesson allowed 70 earned runs en route to a 4.27 ERA. But, which boldy glares out as room for improvement was his 1.49 WHIP. Wesson walked an acceptable 66 hitters while striking out 96, but surrendered 154 hits.

But, in retrospect, although Wins are loosely regarded as a telling stat, winning 15 games out of 27 starts for a sub-.500 team is hard to argue against.

Wesson ended the year as first in the rotation because of Lakeland's two most impressive players departing for higher levels.

Jay Voss, who left for Erie mid-year, and Drew Smyly, who followed just a few weeks after, were both the talk of scouts, fans, and TigsTown forums.

Despite beginning the year as a member of the bullpen, Jay Voss quickly convinced coaches to give him a shot as a starter, and it proved to be well-deserved. In six starts, Voss was 3-0 with a 3.21 ERA and a 30:7 K:BB ratio.

Voss' promotion began his second stints for Erie. This year, he finished 9-7 with a 3.67 for the ‘Wolves.

Smyly, on the other hand, made 14 starts for Lakeland before being pulled up. In those starts Smyly was 7-3 with a 2.58. For Erie he was 1-3 with a 1.58.

One of the most inconsistent cogs in the Lakeland squad was their bullpen. Over the course of the year some guys got hot, then cooled, and started cool, then got hot. In the beginning of the year they had one go-to guy, and at the end, they had another.

To start the year, closer Kenny Faulk, who was initially perceived by TigsTown as a lefty specialist (a LOOGY), was one of the most dominant pitchers in the FSL and pitched his way onto the FSL North all-star team.

By the end of the first half of the year, Faulk had 16 saves with a 2.20 ERA and had full momentum going to break. After the break, though, Faulk was placed on the DL because of shoulder problems and, upon his return, found his closer-role usurped by Matt Little.

Little, during his stint as the closer, posted six saves until losing his job again to Faulk.

Faulk ended the year with 20 saves and a 2.56 ERA, while Little ended with a 4.55 ERA.

But while there are always guys that surprise, there are always players that disappoint.

Two of those guys were part of the Lakeland everyday outfield.

Daniel Fields, considered to be one of the Tigers organization's top prospects, had a dismal season that was highlighted by strikeouts, a weak arms, and shoddy, inconsistent play in the field.

Ending the year with decreased playing time, Fields, whose physical ability and youth --he was born in 1991-- promised promise, was Lakeland's biggest disappointment.

In his 124 games over the 138 game season Fields was second in the FSL with 133 strikeouts. His approach at the plate wasn't very conducive to success, and Fields used his .220 batting average to drive in 46 runs and hit eight balls out of the ballpark.

The most telling stat to prove a few of the disappointments over the course of the year is that Fields, whose strikeout rate was way too high to deserve the same promise that was felt in the beginning of the year, didn't even lead the team in strikeouts.

In fact, four of the five players to lead the FSL in strikeouts are Flying Tigers.

Wade Gaynor, Lakeland's hot-gloved third baseman, takes that crown. Gaynor led the league with 137 strikeouts. He only walked 38 times and batted .213. Gaynor, though, in contrast to Fields, played solid defense at third base.

It seemed like every game Gaynor, well-suited for the hot corner, made quick picks and strong throws to first, beating out even the fasters runners bearing down on first.

Third in the FSL in strikeouts was Lakeland's other young outfielder.

Avisail Garcia struck out 132 times in 129 games and 488 at-bats and walked 18 times. He did, though, heat up toward the end of the year and ended it with a season-high .264 batting average.

Garcia also constantly displayed his strong arm in right field and, unlike Fields, sustained playing time throughout the year.

Finally, at fifth in the league in strikeouts, behind Brevard County's Evan Chambers, was Jordan Lennerton with 125.

And while the numbers explain much of the overall, on-field performance of the team, there are some things unquantifiable.

Following the season, not one Lakeland player had anything bad to say about the season as a whole.

"It would have been nicer to make a playoff push," said Tony Plagman, "but a great season nonetheless."

"It'll take a while to reflect on it all," reflected Wade Gaynor, "I think everybody got better.

"There were times when we pinched hit and played defense really well, had a lot of good stretches.

"But it was definitely a lot of fun. Lakeland was great. A lot of us, this was our first year here so we got to know the fans really good and it was a lot of fun."

And when asked what his single favorite part of the season was:

"First of all, just hanging out with the guys every day. We get really close over the course of five months."

Next year's five months don't seem to inauspicious, either.

Between the obvious growth of hitters like Tony Plagman, Jordan Lennerton, even second baseman Corey Jones, pitchers like Jared Wesson and Tyler White, and the late-season acquisition of highly-regard catcher, Rob Brantly, next year is promising.

But for now, go Detroit!

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