Making the playoffs may not be an incredible feat in the eyes of most, but when it comes to the Tigers' rookie league club, anything is a step in the right direction. Over the previous four seasons, the GCL Tigers were on average 10 games out of first place – a huge margin considering the Gulf Coast League lasts less than 60 games.
How did the GCL Tigers get there? With the help of some excellent starting pitching, and a couple of new bats to the organization.
The GCL Tigers real run came in July after Independence Day. From that point on through the end of the month, the club went 18-4, and built up a considerable lead in the division. It was a lead that they steadily lost over the month of August, eventually having to beat the GCL Yankees in the final regular season game to earn a slot in the playoffs.
Their playoff run though was brief, as they fell to the GCL Dodgers in the one game matchup to determine who would move on to the league finals. Nevertheless, it was a promising sign for the club which had struggled so much in recent years.
And while their winning was a nice sign, the production they received from a handful of players is what has the organization truly excited.
Chris Carlson wasn't discussed much when he was drafted, but came up in a huge way throughout the season, posting an impressive .311/.402/.588 line. Carlson also led the entire league in home runs (11), RBI's (47) and OPS (.989), and in many cases, it wasn't even close. Of course, some excitement with Carlson will be tempered as he has plenty of college experience under his belt and was facing opposition with far less experience, but that doesn't change the fact that Carlson went on an all out assault on the Gulf Coast League pitching.
Hayden Parrott didn't rank among the league leaders, largely because he only appeared in 10 games for the club. But he couldn't have done any better than he did in those 10 games, with an OPS of 1.075. And unlike Carlson, Parrott has no issues with being too old for the league; Hayden just turned 18 years of age in April.
And every team can use a good catalyst at the top of the lineup, and for this club, that was Gorkys Hernandez. Like most young players, Gorkys didn't show a ton of patience (just 10 walks in 217 plate appearances), but his speed and ability to make contact helped make up for that. Hernandez was successful on 20 of his 24 steal attempts, led the team with a .327 average, and was second on the team with 16 extra base hits.
Of course, while the hitting was good, the pitching was what really drove the club. And when discussing the standout pitchers, you have to start with Eleazar Aponte, who eventually moved up because he was simply over-matching the opposition. While in the GCL, Aponte carried a 1.77 ERA, with 33 strikeouts compared to just 7 walks. Aponte proved his worth at the end of the year, when he moved all the way up to high-A Lakeland and held his own, with a 3.22 ERA.
The club also got help on the mound from a few more experienced pitchers who were working their way back up to their original level. Cristhian Martinez sported a 1.54 ERA in six starts for the GCL Tigers, while Kyle Sleeth put up a 3.63 ERA over four starts.
It wasn't just veterans though. Matt Righter turned in quality start after quality start for the club; he tied for the team lead with four wins and carried a 2.47 ERA over 10 starts. Alfredo Figaro also pitched well for the rookie club, shifting between the rotation and the bullpen, but being effective no matter where he was; his ERA was a miniscule 0.70.
All in all, it was a strong showing from the GCL Tigers, who will hope to see some of their players move up and have future success in the coming seasons.