Poor starts at times have certainly been an issue for Lakeland. Over the club's last 16 games, they've allowed 8 or more runs five times. Regardless of how strong the offense is, allowing that many runs consistently is a surefire way to keep the club from competing in the Florida State League's West division. On the plus side, they've had quite a few starters turn in spectacular outings all season long, and only a few lopsided losses have skewed the team's ERA (three games where they allowed 14 or more runs, including one where they gave up a whopping 20).
With that said, Lakeland is just two games out of first place - with two teams at 18-14, and three more at 16-16, it's been a competitive start to the season, with no team jumping out ahead of the pack, like the Lakeland club did last year when everyone was playing second fiddle to them for much of the year.
The surprise starter of the year has been Kevin Ardoin, who after a shaky start has really settled down. Over his last four starts, Ardoin has allowed just six earned runs (good for a 1.95 ERA) and has posted a 3-1 record with 19 strikeouts and just one walk. Being a later selection in the draft (10th round), there was no guarantee that Ardoin would ever get his shot in the rotation, despite the fact that's where he projected out to be.
Starters that haven't been so encouraging though have been Dallas Trahern and Josh Rainwater, both of whom now have ERA's in the 6's. Trahern was effective in 2005 when he was taking more of a pitch-to-contact approach, but now that he's attempting to improve on his strikeout numbers from '05, he seems to be losing effectiveness. Fortunately, it seems as if this is largely just a growing phase, as pitches that Trahern didn't rely on much in '05 are now being used more often, and in turn, he's going through some struggles with him; namely, his slider.
Back on the offensive side of things; two players that have been helping drive the Lakeland offense have been the Jeff's; Frazier and Larish. Larish has had a great start with an OPS up .900, 16 extra base hits, and 21 walks (which is good for third in the entire Florida State League). Possibly the only confusing part of Larish's stat line are his low RBI numbers – he has just 13 for the year.
Frazier on the other hand is tied for the league lead with 30 RBI, despite the fact that his OPS is under .800. Of course, much of that can be attributed to the fact that Frazier has taken just eight walks on the year, and his on base percentage is a full 100 points below Larish's.
That doesn't change the fact that both players are showing well, and in the event that Erie's offense doesn't turn around, both could very well find themselves getting a promotion sometime in June, both because they've proven that they can handle Florida State League pitching, and because as of now, Erie is in desperate need of an offensive lift.
Finally, one brief note on Kyle Sleeth. Sleeth of course underwent Tommy John surgery last year and is scheduled to return to sometime in the next couple months. Sleeth had progressed to bullpen sessions in April, and was slated to return to live game action in June. The only problem; word on Sleeth's recovery has been virtually non-existent. That doesn't mean that he's not coming along on schedule, it's just that no one seems to want to confirm it.
TigsTown will have more on the development and recovery of Sleeth, who still remains one of the top prospects in the organization, and once fully recovered, could regain his status as the top pitching prospect in the system.