TigsTown MLN: SeaWolves Notables

The Erie SeaWolves haven't had the start they were hoping for, especially with a core group that won the Midwest League title two years ago, and was the runner-up last year in the Florida State League. But there have still been some good news notes to report on as the SeaWolves move into the heart of their season.

Starting off with the hitters, where only a couple have come anywhere close to what the Tigers were expecting to see.

That was especially noticeable when the team decided to move outfielder Garth McKinney down to Lakeland after struggling mightily in his start with Erie. Despite being in a hitters park, McKinney simply couldn't catch up to the opposing pitchers, as he was consistently striking out in half of his at bats (when moved down, he had 45 K's in 90 at bats). The hope is that McKinney can build some confidence back down in Lakeland where he had a solid second half last year, then return to Erie and be able to hit with more authority (and more power, as he had just one extra base hit in his last 55 at bats).

On a good note, Vincent Blue's stats at first might not be encouraging, but looking a little deeper, they're not as bad as one might think. Blue, who has always been solid in centerfield and possessed good speed, has maintained a high walk rate through the first six weeks of the year. His OBP has remained 100 points higher than his average, a perfect number for a player that hopes to crack the big leagues in the mold of a leadoff guy.

Another success notable has been Kody Kirkland, as he continues to hit for power while defying all common laws of sound hitting. Kirkland's OPS is below .800, his batting average is just barely above .200, and yet he leads the entire Eastern League with 9 home runs, and is tied for the most extra base hits in the organization with Lakeland first baseman Jeff Larish with 18. Kirkland's patience is still non-existent, and he still struggles with contact (57 K's in 137 at bats), but it's tough to argue with his power production so far.

Finally, Brent Clevlen wowed everyone in spring training (much like Tony Giarratano did last season), and much like Giarratano, has had a very rough start to the '06 season. After one big week in April where Clevlen had five extra base hits and five walks in 24 at bats, he has had just 3 extra base hits and 7 walks in the following 71 at bats. Clevlen though has the talent, and once he adjusts to double-A pitching (and when the weather warms up and Jerry Uht becomes increasingly friendlier to hitters), you should see more weeks like that 3rd week of April.

Moving on to the pitching staff, where Eulogio de la Cruz started out as one of the biggest early season disappointments, only to quietly turn things around quite well. De la Cruz got hammered in his first handful of appearances, and saw his ERA skyrocket into the teens. But he appears to have settled down, recording his first save a couple weeks ago as well as getting the ball in more pressure situations. Since he got roughed up to start the year, he has put together a 1.35 ERA over the last month, with 11 strikeouts and a 1.28 WHIP.

Humberto Sanchez has been another impressive starter, despite having a rough start last week. Humberto still is the Eastern League strikeout leader at 54, and for much of the season has been practically unhittable. His WHIP has hovered just over one for the entire season, and his control, which has been a problem for him the past, is rapidly improving with a 3.6 K:BB ratio. The line to get a shot in the Tigers' rotation is long (and not one that looks to have many holes opening anytime soon), but Sanchez certainly finds himself near the top of the options (along with Jordan Tata and Zach Miner) should the need for a starter arise.

Nate Bumstead meanwhile has had some of the worst luck of any Erie pitcher, as his 1-5 record is certainly not reflective of how he's pitched. He's getting a hit a bit more, but really where he's struggling the most is with his walks. In his last outing, he walked five batters. All told, he's got 25 for the year, and over his last three starts, he's averaging six walks for every nine innings, a total that is going to continue to get him into trouble. But all that being said, his ERA has stayed below 4 all year long, and he's certainly deserving of more than the 1-5 record he is posting.

Things haven't been going great for the SeaWolves through the first six weeks, but expect things to slowly turn around as this young group begins to adjust to live in AA ball.

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