Former Salina Stockade Players Earn Place in American Association
American Association Daily will provide insights and features on the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions going on with teams around the league. In today’s edition, we look at the signings of four players from the Salina Stockade and examine if there could be more coming soon.
A Long Year Creates a Bright Future
With about two weeks before the 2017 American Association ready to begin, the Laredo Lemurs, the 2016 league champions, were forced to cease operations. The league scrambled to find a replacement, opting to invite a Pecos League team to take their place. That team was the Salina Stockade.
With just 10 days to build a roster and get the team ready for their opening game, the Pecos League lured J.D. Droddy out of retirement to run the team. His task was a daunting one, but the Manager never complained once. This was an opportunity for his players to showcase their talent and prove that they each deserved a shot with an American Association team for 2018. (The rules forbade any team in the American Association from acquiring a player from Salina during the season.)
A Tough Season, But Some Solid Performances
The Salina Stockade got off to a rough start, winning only one of their first 24 games, while setting a league record for consecutive losses (22 games). It was the kind of start that would have led many to abandon ship, but Droddy kept this team motivated and, as the season progressed, the Stockade became the kind of team that no one wanted to face.
Salina was 2-38 at one point, but they would go 16-44 the rest of the way. The Stockade won three series, including sweeping a three-game set against Sioux City, earning them quite a reputation around the league. No manager wanted to play the “scrappy” team from Kansas.
While the record was disappointing for the players, no one quit on this team, and four players put up numbers that earned them a contract with two of the teams in the American Association this season. The Winnipeg Goldeyes have added three former Stockade players – RHP Cody Strayer, catcher Jesse Baker, and OF Jonathan Moroney – while the Gary Southshore RailCats have inked infielder Jimmy Heck to a contract.
Baker was arguably the best all-around player for the Salina Stockade last season. The catcher hit .253 and was second on the team with 8 homers and 32 RBI. Where Baker really stood out was behind the plate, where 28 different pitchers saw time on the mound for the Salina Stockade. This allowed him very little opportunity to learn his staff and adjust to their stuff and personalities, yet he did an admirable job in what had to be the toughest situation for a catcher in all of professional baseball last season, and did it all without a single complaint.
Moroney came just before the mid-point in the American Association season and proved to the top overall hitter on the club. The outfielder hit .294 in 50 games with 18 runs and 16 RBI. These two should be a perfect fit in a veteran laden Winnipeg lineup, and should see an immediate improvement in their numbers with a lineup that will provide a lot of protection. Baker will also have the added advantage of being able to work with one of the best starting staffs in the league.
Strayer was also a late addition to the Stockade, appearing in 12 games. The right-hander posted a 4.95 ERA in 16.1 innings pitched. His big issue was control, walking 8 batters and giving up 19 hits, but with a pitching guru like Manager Rick Forney working with him, there is no doubt those numbers should improve greatly. Plus, he has the added advantage of having one of the best defense’s in the league playing behind him.
Heck is the kind of player that RailCats Manager Greg Tagert absolutely loves. He has great bat control and makes good contact, allowing Tagert to use him to bunt runners over, play hit and run, or simply allow him to swing away. Heck hit .258 in 89 games, and offers a great deal of versatility in the field, as he played second, third, and the outfield for Salina last season. The utility player hit .405 in the Pecos League in 2016 and, while he is not going to put up those kinds of numbers in the American Association, he could easily be a .300 hitter for Tagert.
Still a Lot of Talent Available
While Winnipeg and Gary Southshore have acquired four of the more talented players on the Salina Stockade from last season, there is still a lot of talent there. It would not be a surprise to see four or five more players on American Association or Can-Am League rosters this upcoming season.
The most likely to be on a roster is first baseman Kewby Meyer, who started out the season in Cleburne, but became a huge find for the Stockade after being released. Meyer hit .278 in 83 games with 17 doubles and 28 RBI. He led the team in hits with 89.
Outfielder Roche Woodard is also a solid outfielder who will get a good look. Woodard started out the season slow, but got better as the campaign went along, finishing at .252 in 76 games. Woodard has a lot of speed, stealing 20 bases, while recording 14 doubles, 4 triples, and 5 home runs.
Catcher Cody Coffman, who can also play first, played well in his 82 games. He only hit .233, but led the Stockade with 10 homers and was tied for second in RBI with 32.
Closer Tyler Herr will surely get a look. He saved 6 of the Stockade’s 18 wins and posted a respectable 3.45 ERA in 32 games. Herr has a live arm, striking out 55 in 41.2 innings, but will need to reduce his walks (26).
There are also three dark horses that should be in Spring Training somewhere. Brian Smith, who also served as the team’s pitching coach, was 3-11 with a 6.44 ERA, but he has good command of his pitches, and with a more consistent defense behind him could easily shave two runs off that ERA. Plus, he is a lefty, which is always a bonus. Josh Hodges was tied with Smith for the team lead in wins (3) and tossed 2 complete games, also tied with Smith.
C.J. Epperson did not get much of a chance to showcase his talents, breaking his leg just 11 games into the season. He only hit .233, but started out the 2017 campaign o-11 before going 7-19. If his leg is completely healed, he could be an outstanding center fielder in Texas, Cleburne, or even in Gary.
The Legacy Will Be Noticed
The Salina Stockade will not be a part of the American Association in 2018, having just a one-year run in the league, but there is no doubt that the Stockade will leave a mark on this year’s season anyway. As good as Winnipeg has been the past two seasons, three players may go from worst to first in a matter of 12 months.
By Robert Pannier