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Arizona Diamondbacks Minor-league Review: Reno Aces

We finish our sweep around the D-backs farm system, with the nearest team to the big leagues, our AAA affiliate.

@Aces, via Twitter

The Aces finished the season at 76-68, a six-game improvement over their showing in 2015, but still 5.5 games back of the Pacific Coast League Pacific Northern winners, the Tacoma Rainiers. That record was four games up on their expected once, since Reno conceded exactly the same number of runs as they scored, 726. It was a good enough tally for third-best offense in the 16-team league, by both runs and OPS, but was problematic in terms of pitching, with their ERA being the fifth-highest. [As an aside, I’m not sure their humidor is working; while I can’t see home/road splits, over the past four seasons, the total number of HR hit by the Aces has gone 124, (humidor) 127, 138, 140]

Next year will see the Aces with a new manager, as this year’s occupant of the position is moving to San Francisco, where Phil Nevin will take up the position of third-base coach with the Giants. Going to be interesting to see who the team taps to take over: perhaps the most “obvious” immediate candidate is unavailable, since the D-backs’ Double-A manager was Robbie Hammock, who will instead also be found in a major-league dugout, as Arizona’s quality control coach. Will they reach further down into their own farm system, or go outside? We’ll have to wait and see.

Last season’s MVP for Reno, Jamie Romak went to Japan, his contract being sold by the D-backs to the Yokohama Bay Stars. It didn’t go well, as Romak hit only .113 (8-for-71) in thirty games for them. He’ll be back in the United States for 2017, since last week, he signed a minor-league contract with the San Diego Padres. As for the 2015 star pitcher, that was Aaron Blair. While we needn’t resurrect that particular deceased equine, I’ll note with sardonic self-schadenfreude what I wrote at the time: “Good thing KT isn't around here any more, or he'd probably trade Blair for a middle-infielder.” I think I just made myself sad.

Hitting (min 300 PA)

  • Hits: Kyle Jensen + Jack Reinheimer, 144
  • 2B: Jensen, 34
  • 3B: Socrates Brito, 8
  • HR: Jensen, 30
  • RBI: Jensen, 120
  • SB: Reinheimer, 20
  • BB: Reinheimer, 48
  • SO: Jensen, 169
  • BA: Mitch Haniger, .341
  • OBP: Haniger, .428
  • SLG: Haniger, .670
  • OPS: Haniger, 1.098

How good was Mitch Haniger this year? Across AAA and AA, he posted a line of .321/.419/.581 for an OPS a rounding error away from 1.000. It was the highest OPS by any player with 350+ PA in the minors this year, and got him a call-up to the majors in August, when Chip Hale said Haniger “hit his way up here.” He may well have surpassed Socrates Brito in terms of the team’s outfield depth for 2017.

But as usual, the PCL helped power some other impressive performances. Kyle Jensen was second among all minor-leaguers with his 120 runs driven in, and also made his MLB debut. Although it still wasn’t enough to secure him a 40-man roster spot, the D-backs designating him for assignment on Friday. Peter O’Brien also had a slugging percentage above .500, though we know how the rest of that story has gone thus far.

Pitching (min. 40 IP)

  • Wins: Matt Buschmann + Braden Shipley, 8
  • Losses: Buschmann, 10
  • ERA: Archie Bradley, 1.99
  • Sv: Silvino Bracho, 15
  • K: Buschmann, 91
  • BB: Buschmann, 53
  • WHIP: Bradley, 1.082
  • K/9: Adam Loewen, 10.6
  • BB/9: Matt Koch, 1.2
  • K/BB: Shelby Miller, 5.50

A lot of very familiar names on the Reno roster, as you’d expect given the high degree of churn at the big-league level. A quick scope through the top fifteen Aces by innings pitched shows that 80% of them also appeared for the D-backs at some point. This helps explain why only three Aces reached even 75 innings for the team: Buschmann, Shipley and Edwin Escobar. Among the starters you could make a case for Shipley or Anthony Banda being the best. Shipley had a slightly higher ERA (3.75 vs. 3.67), but had more outings and had the better K:BB ratio. Bradley’s startling sub-two ERA was great, but for whatever reason, was not able to translate into success at the major-league level. We’ll hope for better from him in 2017.

Among the relievers, Matt Capps and leftie Loewen were the only ones to pass 35 innings, and both had their issues. Loewen had a solid K-rate and didn’t allow a home-run in 46 innings, but also walked more than six batters per nine innings, while the veteran Capps was clobbered by southpaws to the tune of a .935 OPS against. Among the smaller sample sizes in the bullpen, Dominic Leone and Steve Hathaway both had solid ERAs, though the latter was another one who struggled with his control. Overall, there wasn’t one particularly outstanding pitcher here, and I was tempted to go with no award, but in the end Braden Shipley did just enough over sufficient innings, to win the award.

While this was the last affiliate round-up, there is still one final chapter, as we sweep everything up across our entire farm system, to list the leaders in the various categories, and pick a D-backs player and pitcher of the year. We’ll accept your nominations in the comments!