DockHounds Bullpen Shows Bite But Could Be Wild as Well
American Association Daily provides insights, features, and recaps of the action from around the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions. In today’s edition, Robert Pannier takes a look at the Lake Country DockHounds bullpen and how this could be the key to the team’s success.
They Needed an Upgrade
It is not surprising to see a team struggle in their inaugural season. That is especially true when the manager is tasked with building a club for the first time on his own, and available players may not be as open to the opportunity of playing for an expansion team.
That was the plight for the Lake Country DockHounds last season. Manager Jim Bennett did a fine job of building the club, but there were some blemishes, especially when it came to the bullpen. The team finished in last in the East Division, going 1-9 over their final 10 games and suffered through several long losing streaks, including two 10-game losing streaks and a nine-game skid.
One of the primary reasons why this team struggled was the performance of the bullpen. The club lost 13 games they were leading after seven, by far the worst in the American Association. In fact, the next closest team, the Winnipeg Goldeyes, had less than half as many losses when winning after seven (6).
Built to Handle the Struggle
The problem for the DockHounds was that the club had one primary closer, and when he struggled there were not other options. Carlos Diaz was acquired late in the season, and he recorded three saves, but also took three losses and posted a 5.62 ERA in 10 appearances. Diaz had a proven track record, but was in a rut and the club had no other options to give him a break.
That is not the case this season. Bennett has made the bullpen a priority this year, and he has several options ready for the backend this bullpen. It is an interesting group to say the least, as there are relievers with a proven track record of success. There are also some with lively arms who have to harness that talent, something that affiliate clubs were unable to do.
Diaz returns and will be first up to try to close out games. He recorded 13 saves for the Kansas City Monarchs in 2019, and saved 11 more for Kansas City in 2021. The left-hander has 42 career saves and has posted a 2.72 ERA in five seasons in the American Association. He has outstanding stuff, but can be wild and needs to get out of his own head. When he is on a roll, he is nearly unhittable.
JJ Santa Cruz reached AAA-Sacramento in 2019, but has battled arm injuries over the last two seasons, sitting out the 2021 campaign and appearing in just 14 games last season. The left-hander has great command, allowing six total walks in 18.1 innings last season while striking out 24. In fact, he has allowed 42 walks in 124.0 career innings while striking out 142. Santa Cruz has three career saves in the minors, and he may see closing games as his ticket back to affiliate ball. In three minor league seasons, the left-hander has a 2.69 ERA.
Jojanse Torres is going to be one of the most interesting stories for this team. The right-hander was signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Houston Astros, and spent four seasons with the team. He has four career saves and has posted a 4.06 ERA in 84 career appearances. Torres has unreal stuff, striking out 226 in 199.2 innings pitched, but that comes at a cost. He has also walked 119, including allowing 46 walks in 44.1 innings between AAA-Sugar Land and AA-Corpus Christi last season. He will clearly become the focus of pitching coach Paul Wagner, who will try to harness that talent into a pitcher who can be depended upon to potentially close out games.
Conor Fisk is another one looking to restart his career. In 2019, he reached AAA-Buffalo for the Toronto Blue Jays, posting a 5.10 ERA in 97.0 innings pitched. He only gave up 31 walks, but allowed 105 hits while striking out 92. In 2021, he appeared in just one game for AAA-Albuquerque (Colorado Rockies) before suffering an arm injury. He sat out all of 2022, but the resume is there. Fisk has seven minor league seasons, posting a 3.81 ERA with four saves. The team would most likely want to see him in the back end of their bullpen, at least serving as a seventh or eighth inning setup guy.
Keisy Portorreal spent 2021 in the American Association with the Houston Apollos, and performed well, posting a 4.23 ERA with three saves in 22 appearances. The last two seasons he was in the Pecos League, appearing in just one game with Tucson in 2021 and nine games with Garden City in 2022. Portorreal started all 10 of those contests, but this starting staff is deep, and there may be no room for the right-hander in the rotation. That will mean a move to the bullpen where he will likely take over the sixth or seventh inning roles.
Austin Faith had a 6.08 ERA for Tri-City (Frontier League) last season, going 3-3. He struck out 40 in 47.1 innings, but gave up 52 hits and 20 walks. Drew Minter can pitch or play the outfield. He was in the Pecos League as well last season, going 1-2 with a 3.38 ERA in five appearances, four of which were starts. He is another one who will be the odd man out in the rotation, moving him to the bullpen. Mason Feole pitched and the San Diego Padres organization the last two seasons. The ERA is not pretty (9.31) in 25 career games, and his control is another one that needs a lot of work as he is walked 25 in 19.1 career innings. However, the left-hander brings the heat, striking out 28 and he struck out 278 in 260.1 career innings in college.
The first four spots in the starting rotation are likely going to go to Alex McRae, Nick Herold, Tyler Pike, and Evan Krucynski. That leaves a battle between Ryan Hartman and Mike Shawaryn for the final spot. Shawaryn is a former Major Leaguer, pitching for the Boston Red Sox in 2019. He has 93 appearances in the minors, 71 of which were in the starting rotation, and if he wants to start, he will likely get that remaining rotation spot.
That means Hartman will likely move into the bullpen, and he could be the wildcard in this battle for the closer’s job. Hartman has 81 career starts in 119 minor league appearances, but also has four saves. He moved between four levels in the Baltimore Orioles organization last season, reaching AAA-Norfork before being released. He has three seasons at the AAA level, and has struck out 503 in 512.1 innings pitched. Bennett may see him as a lively arm who has good command of his pitches, making him the perfect choice for the closer’s role.
Regardless of how this bullpen shakes out, one thing that DockHounds fans have to love is that there are several options to close out games. Should one of the lefties falter early, Bennett has an array of solid choices who could close out games for this team. This backend of this bullpen is not only going to be a strength, but is going to be a reason why this team makes the playoffs.
By Robert Pannier