Five American Association Players with Something to Prove in 2022
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 looks at five players who have something to prove in 2021 as spring training is just days away from getting underway in the American Association.
Left Their Mark on 2021
The 2021 American Association season was a year of great excitement. There were a number of records that were set last season, including the single-season homerun and RBI records being eclipsed. More players were signed by Major League affiliates than in any other season before. It was truly an incredible season.
Several players had career seasons in 2021. There were others who have had a history of great success but really struggled last season and are returning looking to show they can still dominate. Of these two groups, here are five players with the most to prove in 2022.
Myles Smith, RHP, Milwaukee Milkmen
Myles Smith has put up some impressive numbers in his five seasons in the American Association. The former Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks prospect joined the then Kansas City T-Bones in 2017 and posted a 3.38 ERA in 44 games. A year later he dominated for the Gary SouthShore RailCats, going 4-1 with four saves and a miniscule 1.36 ERA in 33 appearances.
In 2020, he came to Milwaukee and starred as the closer for the Milkmen, recording a 2.20 ERA and 17 saves in 36 appearances. The following season he was slated to return to the closer’s role, but Payton Grey had a breakout season that meant Smith moved the setup role. He accepted the role with class, dominating with a 1.88 ERA in 23 appearances, helping the Milkmen to win the American Association Championship.
Last season, the righty approached Manager Anthony Barone and lobbied to join the rotation. The rest, as they say, is history. Smith was outstanding, going 13-4, leading the American Association in victories. He tossed a personal single-season high 111.1 innings, striking out 134, a franchise record.
Now the question will be if Smith can replicate those kinds of numbers as he returns to be the ace of this staff in 2022. The right-hander has great stuff, allowing only 86 hits, but he did walk 75 batters. Smith was not known as a guy who walked a lot of batters, but he appeared to have struggled with control as the season approached its hottest month, walking 28 in 41.2 innings in seven starts from July 28 to August 31.
Despite the walks, no one can deny how impressive Smith was last season. He led the league in wins and strikeouts and was fifth in ERA at 3.48.
Question: Can Myles Smith approach those numbers again?
Ryan Flores, RHP, Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks
Like Smith, Ryan Flores had years of experience in the American Association. He broke into the league with the Sioux City Explorers in 2017, working almost exclusively out of the bullpen. The right-hander appeared in 44 games, tossing 78.0 innings, striking out 93 while posting a 4.27 ERA in his first season of professional baseball.
A year later, Flores was brilliant, going 8-2 with a 2.63 ERA in 46 appearances. The next season he started out with the Sioux Falls Canaries, but did not take well to the Bird Cage, posting a 9.00 ERA in nine appearances before being traded back to Sioux City. There he helped the Explorers reach the American Association Championship series, but struggled with control, allowing 24 walks in 34.1 innings.
In 2020, the righty began in Winnipeg before being released. He joined the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, working out of the bullpen. Flores finished with a 4.50 ERA in 16 appearances, but the walks remained too high for comfort, allowing 21 walks in 26.0 while striking out 34.
In 2021, Flores started out in the bullpen and was the closer for the RedHawks for a time. However, after a couple of rough outings, the righty approached Manager Chris Coste, asking to join the rotation. From there, he starred. Flores finished the season 9-2 with four saves and a 3.33 ERA. His nine wins was tied for third and his ERA was third in the league. He also finished second in strikeouts to Smith, fanning 129 in only 94.2 innings pitched.
It was a spectacular season in his first year as a starter. At 28, he is the prime of his baseball career and could be even better. The team will need him to be so if they are going to reach the league championship series for the second straight season.
Question: Can Ryan Flores be as dominant as a starter as he was in 2021?
Nate Samson, SS, Sioux City Explorers
Nate Samson has proven himself to be an all-time great in American Association history. He joined the Winnipeg Goldeyes in 2013, appearing in 42 games where he hit .216. The following season Samson moved to the Sioux City Explorers and the legend was born. In 43 games, the shortstop hit .335 with 26 runs scored and 23 RBI.
That season earned him a return to affiliate ball, and he spent all of 2015 with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, reaching AAA-Oklahoma City. The following season he returned to Sioux City and had a monster year, hitting .350 with 30 doubles, 68 runs, and 54 RBI. Plus, he stole 31 bases. In 2017, the shortstop continued to roll, hitting .302 with 47 RBI in 75 games.
The 2018 season was his best of all, hitting .350 with 79 runs scored and 73 RBI in 100 games. That season Samson was named the American Association MVP. The numbers were impressive on every level, as the Explorers star struck out just 28 times in 457 at-bats.
In 2019, Samson helped lead the Explorers to the American Association Championship series. He hit .324 in 99 games, scoring 60 runs and driving in 67. He also provided 35 extra base hits and stole 21 bases.
In 2020, with the Sioux City Explorers not playing because of the pandemic, Samson joined the St. Paul Saints after the season began, hitting .257 in 48 games. He scored 16 runs and drove in 22. A year later, he returned to the Explorers and got off to a solid start, hitting .259 in 31 games. However, an injury wiped out the final two-plus months to the season.
Samson returns to Sioux City looking to lead this club back to the title series. However, he is 33 years old and one has to wonder if he can put together numbers like he produced in 2019. The club needs him to produce those numbers if they are going to compete in the ultra-competitive West Division.
Question: Can Nate Samson hit over .300 and be one of the 10 best players in the American Association in 2022?
Josh Altmann, IF, Lincoln Saltdogs
Josh Altmann put together an MVP season in 2021, hitting .305 while driving in 72 runs. He set a personal single season mark for homers with 29 and added 20 stolen bases and 69 runs scored as well. All his numbers were impressive as he boasted a .635 slugging percentage and a 1.008 OPS. The infielder was a big reason why this club was battling for a playoff spot until the last day of the season.
While Altmann has shown some power in the past, this was clearly his best season ever. Prior to the 2021 season, his best homerun number was 20, hit in 2018 with Down East (Texas Rangers) in the Carolina League. He had never finished above .300 prior to 2021 and his offensive numbers had actually been on the decline, hitting .222 in 2018 and .209 in .2019. Yet, he turned it around in 2021, having the best season of his career.
The Saltdogs are going to need Altmann to equal, if not better those numbers in 2022. The club released Forrestt Allday and Curt Smith retired. That puts the brunt of the offensive attack on the shoulders of the 26-year-old.
Question: Can Josh Altmann show that 2021 was just the tip of the iceberg in what he is capable of producing?
John Silviano, 1B/OF, Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks
John Silviano has always been a guy who could hit monster homeruns. In his first two seasons in the American Association, the first basemen hit 27 homers in 115 games. Power was never an issue.
The problem was the batting average. Silviano hit .241 in 2019 and .231 in 2020 as he struggled against lefties and never really seemed to gain a consistency that would make him impossible to remove from the lineup. That all changed in 2021.
Last season, Silviano made it impossible to keep him out of the everyday lineup, hitting .290 with 24 homers, 71 RBI, and 73 runs scored. All of those were single season highs as he helped to make the RedHawks arguably the most dangerous lineup in the American Association.
It was an impressive season, but one has to wonder if this is just the beginning for the slugger. At 26, Silviano is reaching the prime of his career. He also will be in a Fargo-Moorhead lineup that is going to be very good, so there is less pressure for him to put up huge numbers. However, he has the kind of swing and power that could earn him a spot back in affiliate ball. If he can show that he can consistently hit around .285 and add to his walk total (36 in 95 games), he will likely get the call.
Question: Can John Silviano hit near .290 again this season?
These are five players with a lot to prove as spring training in the American Association is just days away. Tell us your players you think fall into this group by adding your comments below.
By Robert Pannier