Oddly enough, on the day that Abel Nieves saw his 19-game hitting streak come to an end, he may have had his most important game of the playoffs for the Wichita Wingnuts. The second baseman proved to be the primary catalyst in the team’s dominant run to the American League Championship and this is why he was named the league’s playoff Most Valuable Player by the Minor League Sports Report.
Nieves was with the Wingnuts in 2013, but began the year at Grand Prairie. In August he was acquired by Wichita after it was learned that All-Star second baseman Jake Kahaulelio was out for the year. In his 12 regular games with the team Nieves was absolutely devastating at the plate, getting at least one hit in all 12 games after being acquired, and finishing with 24 hits in 43 at-bats, a .558 average. While not adding a lot of power, he was still a big run producer, driving home 11 and scoring 10 more runs.
Bringing an incredibly hot bat into the post-season, Nieves continued his torrid run. He was 8-16 in the four-game series against Laredo, rapping two hits in each game, scoring two runs and driving in two more. In game one he hit his first home run with the team, a shot that could not be more perfectly timed, as it restored a one-run lead, and was the eventual winner in Game 1. In Game 3 his RBI single increased the Wingnuts lead to three, and helped to continue a rally that would see two more runs score.
In Game 1 of the Championship series against the Lincoln Saltdogs he went 2-4 with an RBI and two walks. It was his eye at the plate that made him especially challenging for the Lincoln pitchers to get out. His Game 1 performance also saw him drive in a run in a three-run fifth inning to make it 5-0. That RBI and rally continuing hit played a major part in the victory, as the Saltdogs battled back from a 10-0 deficit to make it 10-7.
In Game 2 he had just one hit in five trips to the plate, but he drove in his second RBI of the series and fourth of the playoffs. His RBI came in the second inning and increased the score to 8-2 over Lincoln at the time.
In Game 3 he would be held hitless for the first time since rejoining the Wingnuts, but he made contributions that directly resulted in the team winning the title. Down 3-0 in the second inning, Nieves walked and scored the first run of the game for Wichita, In the fourth he walked to start a rally off again, this one a three-run rally that put his team in front. In the fifth he would walk with two outs and after stealing second would come around to score. While finishing the night hitless, he still had three walks and three runs scored. He began each of the team’s first three rallies and was absolutely instrumental in Wichita winning Game 3.
For the playoffs, Nieves finished with 11 hits in 26 trips to the plate for a .423 average. He scored five runs in seven games, drove in four, had two doubles and a home run, walked five times and stole two bases. He was truly a multi-dimensional player and played a significant role inbringing the American Association Championship to Wichita. Congratulations to Abel Nieves.
By Robert Pannier
Senior Baseball Editor
Member of the IBWAA