After spending their first two years in Amarillo (after relocating from San Antonio) as the Double-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres, the Sod Poodles became the D-backs affiliate at the same level in 2021. But I guess we should first address the... er, Sod Poodle in the room. The odd name is a reference to prairie dogs, and was picked out of five finalists: they could have become the Boot Scooters, Bronc Busters, Jerky or Long Haulers instead.
But now we’re at the AA point in proceedings, it’s perhaps time to start paying real attention. Because some of the names mentioned below are potentially going to be helping the Diamondbacks at the major-league level in 2022.
The Soddies finished 59-61. That was good enough for third in a tight South division of the five team AA Central - only ten games separated first and last, with Amarillo finishing 5 1⁄2 back of the division winning Frisco RoughRiders. The offense had the second-highest OPS in the 10-team league at .772, though finished fourth in runs/game at 5.20. It’s a small sample size, but it seems as if Hodgetown, as the park is called, might be hitter-friendly - largely due to its 3,600 feet elevation, the greatest in the league. For the team’s ERA was also the second highest, at 4.96. In particular, they conceded a league-high 186 home-runs over the 120-game schedule. However, a 10.5 K/9 rate was a league best.
I mentioned in the High-A portion how players like 23-year-old outfielders Eduardo Diaz and Dominic Canzone both saw their numbers jump markedly after promotion to Double-A. That does tend to support the “hitter’s park”. Canzone saw his OPS go up by over two hundred points to 1.017 in 35 games, and Diaz’s increased even more, from .741 to 1.020 in 26 games. Canzone is having a solid AFL: with just a handful of games left, he’s currently hitting .328 and has a .901 OPS, Another Fall guy, Buddy Kennedy, didn’t get such a boost after his promotion, but also put up good stats for the Sod Poodles. The infielder played 66 games and batted .278 with 17 home-runs. a .919 OPS.
However, the most impressive line, taking age into account, belongs to Alek Thomas. The centerfielder only turned 21 in April, in a league where the average pitcher was 24.7 years old, so considerably more experienced. But Thomas still put up a line of .283/.374/.507, good enough for an .881 OPS. As a yardstick, that was sixty points above the number for the Soddies by Jake McCarthy, who saw MLB action as an August call-up. Thomas got promoted to Reno that month; even allowing for the more extreme environment still there, he did not disappoint, with a 1.091 OPS as an Ace. He should compete for an Opening Day roster spot in spring, perhaps even as the starting CF, if Ketel Marte returns to the infield.
It’s likely the park played a similar effect on the pitchers’ numbers, making them look (to an uncertain extent) worse than they were. Nobody illustrates that better than Luis Frias, who got a cup of coffee for the D-backs. He had an ERA of just 0.82 for High-A Hillsboro - albeit in just 11 innings. But that ballooned to 5.26 in Amarillo, despite a very similar K:BB ratio (it dropped about 3%, from 3.75 to 3.64). Due to this it may be best to compare them to each other. Among the 12 starters used, two posted ERAs under four: Matt Tabor (3.88 over 10 starts, 51 IP) and Ryne Nelson (3.51, 14 starts, 77 IP), The latter’s 104 K’s were especially impressive, though he is five months older than Tabor.
Out of the bullpen, left-hander Mack Lemieux struck out an impressive 53 over 39.1 innings, but did also walk 25. He turned 25 in September, so does not get bonus points for his age. Mitchell Stumpo is a name we’ve mentioned before, but he saw more work for Amarillo than anywhere else, throwing 24.1 innings with a 2.59 ERA and K:BB ratio of 32:10. Across all four levels he pitched in 2021 - not even including the Fall League! - Stumpo had a 2.63 ERA and 66:13 K:BB in 51.1 innings. He turned 25 in June and if he can maintain that kind of performance, may be in the mix for a bullpen spot in 2022. If not necessarily on Opening Day, before long into the season. Chester Pimentel’s 1.71 ERA in 21 IP, also merits notice.