Statistically the Flying Tigers offense struggled across the board this season. Fielding an everyday lineup that consisted of primarily "org guys", Lakeland finished in the bottom third of the league in many categories including runs scored, strikeouts, batting average and OPS.
On the flip side, from a pitching standpoint the Flying Tigers were actually among the league's best the first half of the season. Promotions and injuries changed that however in the second half, as Lakeland finished the season in the middle of the pack in ERA (3.70) & WHIP (1.35) and in the bottom third in home runs and walks allowed. The Flying Tigers were a below .500 team both on the road and at home in TigerTown in yet another forgettable season from a win/loss perspective.
Sensational Stating Pitching
Despite losing right-hander Endrys Briceno to Tommy John surgery and southpaw Jordan John to an unexpected retirement early on, Lakeland's rotation was a juggernaut for the majority of the season; or at least until promotions broke up the band.
Leading the charge was southpaw Josh Turley. After beginning the season in the bullpen Turley stepped into the rotation as a spot starter. Someone must've forgot to tell Turley that his rotation spot was only temporary though, because week in and week out Turley shoved forcing a permanent move to the rotation. Armed with an interesting kitchen sink six pitch arsenal that includes a knuckleball, Turley posted an impressive 1.85 ERA and 0.96 WHIP over 97 1/3 innings in Lakeland. Turley flirted with a no-hitter, earned FSL Pitcher of the Week honors and a FSL Mid-Season All-Star nod this season prior to his promotion to Double-A Erie.
Edgar De La Rosa was arguably the Tigers most improved starting pitching prospect this season. Vastly improved mechanics, better coordination and plenty of hard work in the off-season paid dividends for the 6'8" right-hander. DLR transformed into more of a pitcher and less of a thrower. The fastball velocity improved yet again as DLR's fastball was clocked as high as 100 mph. The right-hander's slider also took a much needed step forward developmentally this season. De La Rosa earned FSL Pitcher of the Week honors and he finished the season with a respectable 3.30 ERA and 1.22 WHIP over 139 innings.
Jake Thompson: The one that got away. If you followed me on Twitter it's no secret that I was extremely high on the recently departed right-hander. It's my humble opinion that Thompson was and still is extremely undervalued as a prospect. In his age 20 season, despite being one of the youngest pitchers in the league, Thompson was among the league leaders in numerous statistical categories. More importantly, the stuff matched the numbers. Thompson's leadership, sequencing, secondary offerings and bulldog mentality were an absolute treat to observe. Thompson finished his tour of duty in the FSL with six wins a 3.14 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP and 79 strikeouts over 83 innings. He also appeared in the FSL Mid-Season All Star Game and MLB Futures Game prior to his promotion to Double-A Erie and eventual trade to the Texas Rangers.
Unfortunately for Kevin Eichhorn yet another season was shortened due to injury. Eichhorn, who was shut down in early July quietly posted an impressive age 24 season though. The right-hander earned FSL Mid-Season All-Star honors and finished the season with a 2.40 ERA and 1.16 WHIP over 93 2/3 innings. Prospect status aside, Eichhorn was a keg cog in Lakeland's rotation this season; routinely putting up zeros and eating innings.
Any conversation about Lakeland's bullpen begins with right-hander Angel Nesbitt -- and rightfully so. The 23-year-old had a breakout season between Lakeland and Erie posting career bests across the board in ERA, WHIP, strikeouts and saves. Armed with a mid-to-upper 90s fastball that touched as high as 100 mph, an improved slider and a new cutter, Nesbitt transformed into a legit late inning prospect this season. Nesbitt earned FSL Mid-Season All-Star Game honors and finished 2-0 with a perfect mark of 14-for-14 in saves during his time in Lakeland. Furthermore, Nesbitt posted a microscopic 0.79 ERA and 0.90 WHIP with 36 strikeouts over 34 1/3 innings as the Flying Tigers closer.
Taking over closer duties after Nesbitt's departure, org soldiers Brennan Smith (3.12 ERA, 8.8 K/9 & 7SV) and Scott Sitz (2.20 ERA & 8SV) put up impressive numbers anchoring Lakeland's late innings. Right-hander Calvin Drummond battled consistency (3.97 ERA & 1.69 WHIP) but missed bats (12.9 K/9 over 45 1/3 IP) and flashed stuff to keep me a believer in his potential big league future. Whit Mayberry (1.69 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 21K over 21 1/3 IP) and Ryan Longstreth (2.27 ERA over 31 2/3 IP) were also solid contributors during their time in Lakeland's bullpen.
Lethargic Lineup Outside Of A Few Good Men
Aside from solid contributions from outfielders Jeff McVaney and Connor Harrell, Lakeland's lineup was rather uninspiring this season. McVaney's .768 OPS, 209 total bases, 29 doubles and 74 RBI were all Lakeland bests this season. Harrell posted a respectable .270 batting average and a .766 OPS with 14 home runs and 66 RBI thanks to a second half surge.
Catcher Austin Green caught fire in the second half of the season as well, earning FSL Player of the Week honors in addition to his All-Star nod. Green finished the season with a .737 OPS, 15 home runs and 53 RBI. Rounding out the few positives in Lakeland's lineup, prospect second baseman Harold Castro flourished to some extent after scuffling in Class-A West Michigan earlier in the season. The 20-year-old batted .299 over 211 at-bats, showcasing an arguably improved defensive profile as well.
While winning games and posting sexy numbers is nice to see, player development is paramount and arguably the chief objective at this level. Beyond the standings and crooked numbers, overall the 2014 season was an absolute success developmentally for numerous Tigers prospects that came through Lakeland. The Flying Tigers established a new single-season attendance record at Joker Marchant Stadium, drawing 64,396 total fans in 2014. The City of Lakeland and the Detroit Tigers also reached an agreement on a contract for stadium improvements and to keep the affiliate at the TigerTown Complex until 2036. Everything considered, the 2014 season was a success for the Lakeland Flying Tigers.