With few legitimate prospects on the roster at the outset of the season, Erie struggled out of the gate, failing to pair quality pitching with quality hitting and leaving the team in a deep hole that they could never dig their way out of. Once the trade deadline rolled around and the Tigers flipped several players for prospects, Erie was infused with two high-end players in shortstop JaCoby Jones and right-handed starter Michael Fulmer. From the Major League trade deadline on, Erie put together their best run of the 2015 season, finishing 24-13 over that 37 game stretch and igniting some hope for the 2016 season among fans.
The new arrivals in August performed well for the ‘Wolves with Jones popping seven doubles and six home runs in just 37 games while hitting .250, and Fulmer closing the season strong with six starts of 2.84 ERA ball and better than a strikeout per inning. The SeaWolves new additions shined in spite of the club’s record and gave Tigers fans a glimpse of the talent they offer.
Jones augmented an offense that featured two minor league veterans with strong showings in center fielder Wynton Bernard and designated hitter Dean Green. Bernard put up a strong fight as he chased Omar Infante’s single season club record for hits; coming up just two hits shy of that lofty mark. In the end, Bernard’s .301/.352/.408 line helped keep Erie in plenty of ball games, and his 43 stolen bases caused some problems for opposing pitchers and catchers.
Dean Green has hit everywhere he has gone and he did just that this summer in Erie, ripping off an impressive .312/.389/.491 line. Green’s 15 home runs led the club by four bombs, and his impressive 39:46 walk to strikeout ratio certainly stands out for a player with his power bat.
Also contributing significantly over the course of the season, outfielder Connor Harrell managed to hit 19 doubles and seven home runs despite a .222 batting average and 125 strikeouts. Harrell combined that offensive production with good defense in left field as he remained on the radar as a potential fourth outfielder in the big leagues.
Prior to his promotion to Triple-A, Jeff McVaney was a solid outfielder for the club, posting a .301 average with 17 doubles; good for fifth on the club with only 79 games played at Double-A. Also chipping in with quality partial seasons, Austin Green and Tony Thomas were able to help the club at various points during the year.
First baseman Dominic Ficociello was promoted to the club late in the season, just before the arrival of Jones and Fulmer, and his offensive and defensive impact should not go unnoticed. While hitting .284 with 12 doubles and three home runs in 43 games, Ficociello also turned in exceptional glove work at first base, helping his infielders and solidifying the defense.
On the mound, Erie had high expectations with an opening day rotation that was set to feature two pitchers with success in Low-A in 2014; Chad Green and Austin Kubitza. Green performed solidly throughout the year, proving a bit hittable over the course of the season, but flashing the raw stuff to contribute in the big leagues. Kubitza, on the other hand, was shelled across 27 starts with a low strikeout rate and extremely high hit rate.
Soft-tossing left-hander Josh Turley and veteran right-hander Warwick Saupold both proved valuable in the rotation this season, as Saupold continued to pile up counting stats in Double-A, and Turley confounded Eastern League hitters with his broad arsenal, knuckleball, and quality command. Turley’s season included a team high 153 innings pitched with less than a hit per inning and a 3.29 ERA to bolster his 13-8 win-loss record.
The ‘Wolves bullpen may have offered the most intrigue on the pitching staff throughout the entire season, as pitchers like Gabe Hemmer, Confesor Lara, Joe Mantiply, Montreal Robertson, and Paul Voelker impressed in relief roles.
Mantiply was a darkhorse candidate to make the Tigers roster out of spring training and he didn’t disappoint with a strong 2.53 ERA in 53-1/3 innings of relief work this summer. The 24-year old left-hander walked just 12 batters in 32 outings while fanning 44, cementing his status as a potential big league reliever.
Montreal Robertson and Confesor Lara both came along during the middle of the season and flashed big raw stuff at times. Robertson ran his explosive fastball as high as 98 mph and occasionally showed a quality slider that led to his 3.48 ERA in 31 innings. Lara’s fastball plays a tick lower, reaching 95-96 mph, and his breaking ball was less consistent, leading to a 4.68 ERA in 42-1/3 innings of work.
Though he offered just eight innings down the stretch, Hemmer continued his dominating season across multiple levels with a 1.12 ERA and nine strikeouts against just four hits allowed. Arguably the most impressive reliever of the season was stout right-Hander Paul Voelker who joined the club from Lakeland in early July and allowed a puny .203/.283/.274 line to opposing hitters across 40 games.
All told, the SeaWolves allowed nearly a run more per game than they scored throughout the season, though that figure improved dramatically down the stretch with some additions on both sides of the ball. While the 2015 season ended with a poor record, fans in Erie should look forward to a more competitive club in 2016; a season that should be filled with additional excitement on both sides of the ball.