Connecticut MLN: Settling In for First Summer

The Connecticut Tigers are in their first summer after moving from their long time home in Oneonta, New York, now playing their home games at Dodd Stadium in Norwich, Connecticut. The fans in New England have been treated to a competitive team, along with a team that continues to grow and learn with each passing day.

Enos, Robbins Lead Offense

An undrafted free agent out of Dallas Baptist, outfielder/designated hitter Ryan Enos has been on of the Tigers most consistent offensive contributors, posting a solid .279/.333/.401 line playing half his games in an extremely difficult home environment.

"The biggest thing with [Ryan] has been the consistency," said Tigers second-year manager Howard Bushong. "He has used all fields. He has a little power."

Just as ever team needs, Enos has also provided tremendous support and leadership off the field; in the locker room and away from the ball park. "He is definitely one of our leaders in the baseball chapel," said Bushong. "He keeps guys on an even keel. You can't put a number on it or see it in a statistic, but he has leadership qualities. He is just a great, great teammate."

One National League scout that recently saw the Tigers play, noted that while Enos may not be a big time Major League prospect, he is a "valuable asset to any organization," saying "you need guys like that at all levels to succeed."

"I don't care to see anything different out of him," Bushong concluded. "He just has to stay consistent, which I think he can do. He is really at peace with himself, and it shows."

Another of the CT-Tigers offensive leaders, first baseman James Robbins has demonstrated that he is capable of getting hot and really helping carry the load for the club.

"When he is hot, he is really, really good," said Bushong. "He's a bit of a free swinger, but when he cuts down on his strikeouts, he can hit with the best of them."

Perhaps Robbins' most important contribution to the team has come during the most important times in the game.

"He is a great RBI guy!" Bushong said excitedly. "With two outs and runners on, we want him up there in those situations. He just seems to focus a little bit more in those spots, and really come through for us."

The numbers back up what Bushong notes, as Robbins has hit .303/.343/.470 with runners in scoring position, en route to a cumulative .269/.317/.386 line.

Combined, the duo of Ryan Enos and James Robbins has provided a large part of the offensive punch for the Tigers, with one AL scout noting that "without those two, this team might not be able to score two runs a game." Pitching a Team Effort

Unlike the offense where two players have provided much of the offense over the course of the entire season, the pitching staff has been a true team effort. From the now promoted pitchers like Pat Cooper (3.94 ERA), Antonio Cruz (2.08), Kevan Hess (2.87), Matt Little (1.50), and Shawn Teufel (3.00), to those still there, the pitching staff has received contributions from top to bottom.

"The pitching staff has really been everybody," said Bushong. "The bullpen has been really, really good, and the starters have been coming along and keeping us in the game."

Leading the bullpen Leading the bullpen have been guys like Tyler White, Logan Hoch, and Drew Gagnier, who have combined for 81 strikeouts in 70 innings on the hill.

The starters have been coming along with the addition of free agent right-hander Pat Lawson to the rotation, and the arrival of second-year hurler Miguel Mejia. Right-hander Brennan Smith has been perhaps the ace of the staff, spinning a 2.70 ERA in 43 1/3 innings, despite his 0-3 record.

Post-draft comparisons evoked the name of former Detroit prospect Burke Badenhop, a Bowling Green alumnus just like Smith, and those comparisons haven't stopped yet.

"He approaches things similarly to [Badenhop]," said one talent evaluator that saw both players in the New York-Penn League. "I can actually see similar profiles for the two of them, ending as versatile long men out of the bullpen."

Smith's numbers are similar to those Badenhop posted with Oneonta in 2005. Badenhop finished with a 2.92 ERA in 77 innings, with 69 hits allowed and 55 strikeouts.

Players Aren't Alone in Learning

An often overlooked component of the minor league season is the growth and development of the managers and coaches, right along with their players. Howard Bushong understands that he is still learning and recognizes he has as much development ahead of him, as many of his young players do.

"I want to be learning every day," said the club's manager. "I'm a long way from being a finished product. I want to learn something everyday. I want to learn something from the kids, and the organization."

After returning to the pro gram after some time spent coaching at Texas State, Bushong has spent two years honing his craft in the New York-Penn League.

"This club has helped me a lot," said Bushong. "There is no question about it, I have learned a ton this summer, and I plan to learn more over the next month. This has been a fun year."

The 2009 Oneonta Tigers, led by Bushong, finished with a 35-39 record, and a second place finish in the Stedler Division. Bushong has learned from last year's team, and applied those lessons to the 2010 campaign; a campaign that currently sees the Tigers with a 27-23 record and just one-half game out of first place in the Division.

"We just want to be there at the end, with a chance to make the playoffs," said Bushong. "We've just gotta carry through the days, and do the job. We're enjoying it, and we're doing it. We just have to keep doing it."

Drag Bunts

After returning from a pulled hamstring, center fielder PJ Polk has served as a spark plug for the Connecticut offense. The speedster posted a .312/.385/.409 line with 14 stolen bases.

Even as the second youngest pitching staff in the league, the group has allowed the fourth fewest runs per game.

Six-foot-five right-hander Sean Finefrock has had a rough return to the NYPL, posting a 7.71 ERA in four outings, after notching a 5.98 ERA and 14.00 ERA with Oneonta in 2007 and 2008, respectively.


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