2014 Erie SeaWolves Year in Review

With a roster full of some of the Tigers top talent, including seven players that played for the big league club this season, one may have expected the SeaWolves to finish with better than a 71-71 record and a fourth place finish in the Western Division. That may have been a reasonable expectation, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

The ‘Wolves did their part to make it interesting down the stretch, going 11-7 in the season’s final 18 games, including a four-game sweep of Akron to close the campaign, but it wasn’t enough to push them over the top an into the playoffs.

“I saw that club early and late, and I thought they really came together down the stretch,” said an NL scout. “They looked like a more cohesive, competitive crew that had made the adjustments to the stiffer level of competition.”

Chief among those making adjustments in the season’s second half was one of the Tigers top prospects, outfielder Steven Moya. After hitting just .197 in April, Moya began to develop and adjust, posting an impressive .288/.316/.590 line over the remainder of the season, including 28 doubles, 33 home runs, and 98 runs batted in.

That impressive line has put Moya on the map as one of the upper echelon power prospects in the game, and culminated in a late-season MLB call-up. Moya still has flaws in his game, including an ultra-aggressive approach that could hold him back, but he made enough progress to draw interest from other teams.

“I’ll be honest,” said one AL front office executive. “We would have targeted him at the deadline if we were in talks. Our staff can see the flaws, but his power is hard to find in today’s game.”

In addition to Moya’s impressive season that included franchise records for home runs and RBI in a single season, the SeaWolves received impressive play up the middle from shortstops Eugenio Suarez and Dixon Machado.

Suarez hit .282 with 14 doubles and six home runs in 42 games before jumping to Triple-A Toledo, and ultimately the Tigers starting lineup. Following his promotion, Machado stepped in and turned in the single most impressive offensive performance of his career.

“The Tigers have been pedaling this story of increased strength and offensive potential with Machado for quite a while,” said a second NL talent evaluator. “This year was the first time everyone else got a glimpse of it.”

All told, Machado finished the season on a tear to close with a .305/.391/.442 line, that was propped up by a previously unthinkable 23 doubles and five home runs for a player that looks more like a string bean than a baseball player. On top of that offensive output, Machado continued to turn in Gold Glove caliber defense, helping anchor the SeaWolves infield.

Rounding out the offensive stars for the SeaWolves, Devon Travis put together a strong campaign once finally healthy – and ultimately before his season-ending abdominal injury. For the year, Travis hit .298 with 20 doubles and ten home runs to continue cementing himself as a potential big league player.

Erie also received strong offensive contributions from sluggers Dean Green and Aaron Westlake who popped a solid 46 doubles and 25 home runs combined. Filling in some of the offensive gaps when the big guns weren’t rolling, Green and Westlake helped provide some punch in addition to solid showings from players like Jason Krizan and Corey Jones.

On the bump Erie managed to have four pitchers each contribute at least 17 starts, while three of those hurlers authored more than 20 starts for the club.

The club’s most “prospect” starter, Kyle Ryan, posted just a 4.55 ERA in 21 starts while relying heavily on deception, guile, and a quality mix of pitches. Ryan’s solid showing with Erie push a promotion to Triple-A before ultimately making his Major League debut.

The club didn’t get much other than innings from org arms like Tommy Collier, Warwick Saupold and Wilsen Palacios, but their ability to eat innings gave the club a chance to win some games when the powerful bats got going.

The bullpen was a strength of the team at times during the season. “I liked a few of those arms as potential big league bullpen pieces,” said one AL scout. “Knebel was good early in the year. McCoy got there this year though he still needs some work. Nesbitt, Valdez, the Smiths, even the Mantiply kid, I think all of them could get there eventually in a variety of roles.

At the end of the day, Erie finished the season with a .500 record and that is reflected in the stats. With an offense that ranked third in the Eastern League, and a pitching staff that ranked second from the bottom, one would expect the team to win as many games as they lost.

“They weren’t necessarily an exciting team at all times, particularly if you were hoping for some interesting arms,” said a third NL scout. “The bats were fun to watch and there was definitely some Major League talent on the field; making it fun to see them around the Eastern League this year.”

All told, the Tigers saw what several of their top prospects, including Steven Moya, Eugenio Suarez, Devon Travis, Angel Nesbitt, and Jose Valdez, could do against upper-level competition. The results were promising in many respects, even if the ultimate results on the field didn’t sparkle in the standings.

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