With so much talent waiting in the wings, along with so many of the Tigers top draft selections being sent to the GCL, some success would be expected. But for the fourth straight year, all under the direction of Basilio Cabrera, the GCL Tigers were well above .500, finishing 36-23, and comfortably winning the GCL Northeast division.
Unfortunately for the club, they lost in a one game playoff against the GCL Blue Jays for a chance to play for the Gulf Coast League title, sending the Tigers home shy of a GCL crown. It was the first time they had qualified for the playoffs since 2012, marking a successful campaign for the club that makes its living on the back fields in Lakeland.
The offense was driven by a number of Latin American players who cut their teeth in the Dominican and Venezuelan rookie summer leagues, and came stateside this year to face the next challenge.
Outfielder Jose Azocar led the club in at-bats at 194 after coming to Lakeland from the VSL, and finished third in the league in hitting at .325. A player on the smaller side, Azocar uses his compact swing to make plenty of contact, and while he didn’t hit for a ton of power (10 doubles, five triples and no home runs), he positioned himself as a very good table setter for the team.
In addition to Azocar, infielder Junnell Ledezma was very good at the plate, leading the club in OPS among those that received at least 100 at-bats. Another transport from Venezuela, Ledezma hit plenty in 2014 in Venezuela, earning his trip to the states, and kept that up, with a .329 average (falling just a few at-bats shy of qualifying for the league batting title) and an on-base percentage of almost .400. While he had been moved around the diamond in Venezuela, Ledezma played almost exclusively at second base this summer, settling in at a spot where his lack of power won’t be viewed as a detriment.
One of the exciting developments of the summer was the Tigers decision to bring shortstop Anthony Periera stateside after posting an OPS over .800 in the early going in the VSL. Pereira struggled at times with the bat and the glove, hitting just .219, and committing a team-high 16 errors while splitting his time defensively between shortstop and third base, but the 18-year old showed a good eye, earning 15 walks, and displayed his raw power potential, with four home runs.
Finally, while he didn’t spend much of his season in the GCL, first baseman Giancarlo Brugnoni made a major impact when he was there, with a .969 OPS despite hitting only .239 in 92 at-bats. Brugnoni belted nine home runs, one shy of the GCL home run crown. His .576 slugging percentage would have also been good for second in the league, if he were eligible. The 24-year old quickly moved onto West Michigan, but did tremendous damage when he was with the GCL Tigers club.
Felix Santana impressed in the outfield, as he hit .302, while first baseman Blaise Salter ripped 11 extra base hits and infielder Adrian Alfaro worked 20 walks en route to posting a solid .722 OPS.
On the mound, the focus was on 2015 first rounder, right-hander Beau Burrows, who dominated the Gulf Coast League. Burrows appeared in ten games, including nine starts, and posted a miniscule 1.61 ERA, as his power arsenal blew away most hitters at the level. He also struck out 33 while walking just 11 and positioning himself for a full season assignment in the spring.
Beyond Burrows, the story of the rest of the starting rotation was strikeouts. Among those that made at least five starts, Gregory Soto (40 K’s in 37 innings), Alec Kisena (44 K’s in 40 innings) and Eudis Idrogo (49 K’s in 44 1/3 innings) all struck out more than a batter per inning. All three, in addition to Toller Boardman, also posted an ERA under three, while Alfred Gutierrez, who led the team in innings pitched, checked in just above with a 3.38 ERA.
Idrogo drew the most attention of anyone for his performance, with a 2.03 ERA over his eight starts, and posting an impressive 4.45 K:BB ratio, with only 11 walks to those 49 strikeouts. His 2.03 ERA was also impressive, but his single most impressive stat was the baserunners he allowed, with a WHIP of 0.88 that helped drive his excellent year. The lefty was especially tough against left-handed hitters, with a 0.87 ERA against hitters from the left side of the plate. He was so good that the 20-year old earned a late season promotion to Connecticut, and will be closely watched in 2016.
Beyond the rotation, the bullpen had a few standout performers as well, starting with the team’s closer Logan Longwith. The 21-year old was a later round selection in the 2015 Draft (20th round), but you wouldn’t have known it from his GCL performance. In addition to racking up five saves in 15 games spanning 26 innings, he struck out 24 and walked just a single batter all season.
A number of other arms recorded at least one save, including another member of the 2015 draft class in Dominic Moreno, as well as Will Clinard, who has battled injuries much of the last two years after shooting up prospect charts early in his pro career.
All in all, there was a lot to be excited about from the performances in the Gulf Coast League for the Tigers. The club’s first rounder in Burrows was outstanding, a number of arms flashed potential, and Latin American hitters like Azocar and Pereira left plenty to be encouraged about, even if the season fell just shy of a title.