Lincoln Saltdogs Line: Off-Season Report
A late surge gave the Lincoln Saltdogs the Central Division title in the American Association, and the team rallied from an 0-2 deficit against the Winnipeg Goldeyes to advance to the league championship series, but that is where the dream came to an end. The Wichita Wingnuts were just too tough and were not going to be denied the AA title. Despite falling in the championship series, manager Ken Oberkfell got a lot of out of his team, and showed that the Saltdogs had a great deal of heart.
This season that heart is going to be tested, as the team has lost two of its key players heading into the season. First baseman Iac Gac, the runner-up for the Minor League Sports Report’s American Association Player of the Year, signed as a free agent in St. Paul, and Chad Mozingo joined him in the Twin-Cities, leaving a big void in their lineup. The team has made some moves to keep some of its other key free agents, but there needs to be some added pop to their roster if they are going to retain the Central Division crown.
Shortly after the season ended Mozingo was dealt to the Saints to complete an earlier trade. Mozingo hit .283 with 42 runs scored and 21 stolen bases, and was a real force at the top of their order. When Gac signed with St. Paul the Saltdogs lost his .349 average, league leading 27 home runs, and 77 RBI. The challenge of repeating became an even more difficult reality.
The team filled one of its needs when outfielder Jon Gaston came off the disabled list and looked fully healthy. Gaston hit .287 during the 2014 season with 12 home runs and 39 RBI. His 12 HRs in just 187 at-bats proves that he should be able to help fill some of the power lost when Gac left.
In November, Lincoln dealt RHPs Justin Kuks and Jake Meiers to Joplin for cash considerations. Both pitchers had ERAs over five, and they combined to win just eight games, but Kuks also pitched 101 innings, meaning they are going to need another innings eater in their rotation.
In December the team re-signed Matt Forgatch, Eddie Young, and Tyler Smith, while also adding infielder Curt Smith. Curt Smith was the MVP of the 2011 Baseball World Cup for the Dutch National Team. He played for the Saltdogs in 2011 and 2013, and returns to Lincoln after spending 2014 at the St. Louis Cardinals AA-Springfield team. Last season he appeared in 114 games, batting .262 with 11 home runs and 52 RBI.
Forgatch is the franchise’s all-time leader in stolen bases, and last season he set career highs for runs (64), doubles (22), home runs (9), and hits (97). The outfielder added a .253 average and 35 stolen bases, while scoring 64 runs and driving in 42 others.
Catcher Tyler Smith was also re-signed after a season where he hit .231 with a home run and 16 RBI in 50 games. He handles the staff well, and calls a great game. Infielder Eddie Young re-signed at the same time as Smith. He had a disappointing 2014 season, hitting just .193 in 50 games with 15 runs and 13 RBI.
In January, Gaston was officially resigned, as was shortstop Mike Gilmartin. Gilmartin played in 88 games last season, hitting .262 with 7 home runs and 37 RBI. He was a steadying influence in their infield, and is a key to the success of the team this season as well.
Early this month Lincoln re-signed RHP MacKenzie King. King was a late season acquisition from St. Paul, who only made two appearances for the Saltdogs, but he performed well in St. Paul before being acquired, posting a 1.95 ERA in 23 innings of work.
By Robert Pannier