In American Association Daily, the Minor League Sports Report and This Week in the Association Name Sioux City Explorers starter Justin Vernia as Rookie of the Year. Robert Pannier provides the details.
Justin Vernia honored by Minor League Sports Report
On Friday, the Minor League Sports Report and This Week in the Association named Sioux City Explorers starter Justin Vernia as the American Association Rookie of the Year. The right-hander edged Gary Southshore outfielder Colin Willis and Chicago Dogs infielder Edwin Arroyo to earn the award.
A Unanimous Choice
Justin Vernia was an undrafted free agent out of Gonzaga University that the Explorers signed at the end of the 2017 season. The righty made six starts, posting a 3-2 record with a 6.11 ERA. He allowed 41 hits and 18 walks in 35.1 innings, striking out 25.
The American Association allows a player to be considered a rookie in his first two years of professional baseball. That made Vernia eligible in 2018 and he made the most of it.
The right-hander made 20 starts for Sioux City, leading the league in victories with a 12-2 record and a 3.31 ERA. His ERA was sixth in the American Association. Vernia tossed 119.1 innings, allowing 122 hits and 22 walks, while striking out 91.
The right-hander began the season with a loss against the Lincoln Saltdogs, 4-3. He then won 12 in row, seeing his streak come to an end in his last start of the season against the Wichita Wingnuts, a 4-2 loss. Vernia made 18 starts during that span, and the team won them all. That included a span from June 16 to July 20 where he won all six of his starts. The Explorers starter threw 39.1 innings during that stretch, allowing just seven earned runs while striking out 39.
Edwin Arroyo, Chicago Dogs
The Chicago Dogs Edwin Arroyo finished second in the voting. The Dogs infielder hit .325 in 95 games, scoring 54 runs while driving in 35. He had 18 doubles, 4 triples, and 4 homers. Arroyo also stole 7 bases while posting an on-base percentage of .401.
Arroyo quickly became a fan favorite after signing out of the Empire League. He was one of the first players signed by Manager Butch Hobson for the first year team and quickly endeared himself with fans with his play and attitude.
Colin Willis, Gary Southshore RailCats
The Gary Southshore RailCats Colin Willis finished third in voting. The outfielder was in his second full season with the RailCats and established himself as the MVP of the team in 2018, hitting .297 in 92 games with 50 runs scored and 50 RBI. He recorded 17 doubles, 3 triples, and 9 home runs, leading the team in homers, runs scored, and RBI. The RailCats star posted a .385 on-base percentage.
Willis had a big year in 2017, hitting .319 in 87 games. He scored 54 runs, homered 8 times and drove in 49. He is now a career .296 hitter with Gary.
By Robert Pannier