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Arizona Diamondbacks Minor-league Review: Visalia Rawhide

Another playoff season for the Rawhide, but the title drought continued.

The last time Visalia won the California League, Gerald Ford was President. The oldest man on the Diamondbacks’ current 40-man roster, Zack Greinke, would not be born for more than another five years. Since that championship in 1978, the Rawhide have reached the two-round post-season ten times, but have always come up short. Hopes were high this year, as they swept Bakersfield in the first round, but back-to-back one-run losses to High Desert, opening the championship series, proved too much to overcome, and Visalia were swept in their turn.

Before we get to that, let’s look and see how the Rawhide’s 2015 stars got on this season. Hitter Daniel Palka is no longer with the Diamondbacks, having been traded to the Minnesota Twins for Chris Herrmann. Palka’s power game continued strongly for them, hitting 34 home-runs between AA and AAA, though his average and OBP dropped after his promotion. He is still only 24 though, and I would not be surprised to see him on the Twins roster at some point in 2015. Top pitcher Zack Godley needs no introduction, having appeared in 27 major-league games this season, though his ERA of 6.39 showed a large increase from his rookie campaign. He was somewhat unlucky, and may still have a place on the club in 2017, in a Collmenter-esque role.

Hitting (min 200 PA)

  • Hits: Victor Reyes, 142
  • 2B: Henry Castillo, 38
  • 3B: Reyes, 12
  • HR: Rudy Flores, 14
  • RBI: Castillo, 63
  • SB: Reyes, 20
  • BB: Colin Bray, 39
  • SO: Castillo, 131
  • BA: Dawel Lugo, .314
  • OBP: Cody Regis, .350
  • SLG: Lugo, .514
  • OPS: Lugo, .863

Visalia finished in the middle of the California pack for offense, coming 6th of 10 by averaging 4.86 runs per game (league average: 5.01). Leading their hitters was Dawel Lugo, whom Arizona acquired from the Blue Jays in August 2015 for Cliff Pennington. The 21-year-old third-baseman batted .314 with 13 home-runs in 79 games for the Rawhide, and was promoted to Mobile in early July, where he hit .306 the rest of the way. He’s very much a "ball in play" guy; overall, Lugo had only 19 bases on balls in 510 PA this season, but also had just 56 strikeouts. It would be nice if he could take a few more walks, but he’ll still be young for Double-A this season.

Just three OPS points back, we find Rudy Flores, who also went up to Mobile, a couple of weeks before Lugo, and saw his numbers stand up there. His overall 2016 line was .295/.349/.501 for an .850 OPS. Much more of a free-swinger (134 SO in 462 PA), he’s also much older, at 25, and needs to keep pushing up the ladder next season. Completing the trifecta of mid-season Rawhide emigrants is shortstop Domingo Leyba, whom we got from Detroit back in 2014 as part of the Ray/Gregorius three-way trade. The shortstop batted .296 with 10 HR and a K:BB ratio of 84:46 between Visalia and Mobile. John Sickels wrote about both Lugo and Leyba in August, tabbing them as prospects on the rise.

Pitching (min. 30 IP)

  • Wins: Brad Keller + Bud Jeter, 9
  • Losses: three tied with 7
  • ERA: Nick Baker, 1.86
  • Sv: Jeter, 14
  • K: Keller, 99
  • BB: Keller, 26
  • WHIP: Gabriel Moya, 0.873
  • K/9: Moya, 12.5
  • BB/9: Keller, 1.7
  • K/BB: Moya, 4.77

Pitching was definitely the key to Visalia’s success, as they combined solid pitching with good defense to lead the California League with the lowest runs allowed per game, at 4.56. They had the second-best numbers for both SO and K, giving them a league-best K:BB ratio, of fractionally under three. Anchoring the rotation was Brad Keller, the only pitcher with more than 15 starts (he made 24). The 8th-round pick out of high-school in 2013, turned 21 in July, and has been pitching above his age his entire career, though the ERA this season wasn’t great (4.47) and I’d like to see more strikeouts from Keller (99 in 135 IP).

Best of the starters was probably Justin Donatella. He came up from Kane County at the beginning of July, after being named a Midwest League All-Star, and made the transition successfully. He had a 3.03 ERA over his 12 starts for Visalia, with a K:BB ratio of 54:16 and posting a slightly better K-rate at the High-A level. Markus Solbach also pitched well, in a season of lows and highs. The German prospect had been released by Arizona in the spring, but after pitching in independent ball for the Rockland Boulders, the D-backs brought Solbach back into the system, and he had a 3.56 ERA for Visalia, with a K:BB ratio of 58:15 in 65.2 innings.

But it was the bullpen that was the Rawhide’s true strength, led by the rock-like presence of Nick Baker, who threw more innings than three pitchers, all of them starters. He struck out 73 in 77.1 innings, with a 1.86 ERA, allowing only two home-runs. After three seasons, his minor-league ERA is 2.83; not bad for a 29th-round pick! Jimmie Sherfy started the season as Visalia’s closer, but 12 straight scoreless appearances got him on the fast-track to Mobile. He allowed one run over 19.2 innings there and moved to Reno. By the end of July, Sherfy had a 0.41 ERA over those three levels, having given up two earned runs in 43.2 innings with 65 K’s, though he faded in the second half. Austin Wright, Gabriel Moya and Luis Ramirez also shone in relief for the Rawhide.

Correction: An email pointed out that I had omitted Bud Jeter, who fanned 74 in 61.1 innings, and managed to tie for the team lead in wins and lead the Rawhide in saves. Can't think of many times a pitcher has been first for a team in both categories! [Think the last major-leaguer was perhaps Doug Jones on the 1992 Astros, who had 11 W and 36 Sv].