A Look Back at the Hillsboro Hops 2016 Season
For the third year in a row, the Hillsboro Hops are going to the playoffs. For the first time, it will not be as the first or second half champion. The Hops earned the spot by having the overall best record behind the Eugene Emeralds who won both halves of the 2016 season, a feat that Hillsboro had done for the last two years.
But, the Hops do bring the experience of winning the league title for the last two years running and ended the season on a high note by sweeping their first round opponent, the Emeralds, in the last series of the regular season. They certainly do have momentum on their side and appear to be hot and ready to defend their league title.
But, first, let’s look back at the season just ended and see the memories and players that filled our summer.
As with every year, the roster was filled with first time Hops just drafted from the recent 2016 selection ritual that starts any hopeful professional starting their career. The Hops were fortunate in receiving the first overall pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks to their roster: Anfernee Grier. Grier came out of Auburn with a reputation as a power hitter and clutch performer. While he hasn’t played in over a month, he remains with the team as a designated hitter and is a strong presence in any game.
Tommy Eveld from the 9th round also became an important fixture to the young line up becoming a rock steady reliever that often blanked opponents whenever he was on the mound. Colin Poche (14th round), Jake Winston (17th round) and Riley Smith (24th round) also proved to be important fixtures of the bullpen that would regularly shut down their nightly foes and will be looked upon to continue their steady play during the playoffs.
The draft also produced the Hops’ second baseman for the season in Manny Jefferson who appeared in 59 of the 76 games in a Hops uniform. Manny gave several memorable performances both with his glove and his bat. One of his many highlights included his first professional home run on June 21st to beat the Eugene Emeralds 4-1 and ended a losing skid, winning the season’s home opener.
Several returning players made important contributions showing their growth in the minor league system. These hopeful future MLB stars were oft times the steady rock driving the team through the ongoing season.
Catcher Alexis Olmeda appeared in 53 games in many different positions including first base co-leading the team with three triples and also was third on the team with 47 hits. On August 6th, Alexis shot two homers including a solo shot in the eighth for the game winner. His two run shot in the second was his first career home run.
Josh Anderson was a strong returnee showing even greater seasoning from last year’s experience. Josh was not only among the team’s leaders but also the league’s in batting average ending with a .307, good for fifth in the NW League. His bat provided many highlights with clutch scoring 31 runs (good for team 2nd), 65 hits (2nd), 11 doubles (2nd), 5 home runs (t-2nd) and 34 RBIs (T-1st). His batting led the team with those having enough plate appearances to qualify. One of his many season highlights was on July 9th when he ripped a double in the 11th inning of a game against the Tri-City Dust Devils with the bases loaded to win the game.
Luis Veras routinely made catches in right field look easier than they really were. A vacuum cleaner when it comes to fly balls, he also made some outstanding running catches that would excite the crowd and rob an opposing batsman of an almost sure hit. In the second to the last game of the season, Luis doubled in the bottom of the ninth with one out in a tie game. Moments later, Veras sped around the bases from second to score on a passed ball and won the game.
Tyler Mark became one of the Hops’ premier presences on the mound leading the team with 75 strike outs which was good enough for second in the league. Teammate Anfernee Benitez followed close behind with 71 strikeouts good for league-wide third place.
Other new teammates this year included Justin Chigbogu was was signed this year after being released by the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. He proved to be a welcome addition with his bat (5 homers, 42 hits) and presence at first base with his glove scooping up any throw within reach.
Anfernee Benitez started the season off right by becoming the winning pitcher of the season opener. Coming up from the Missoula Osprey, the 21-year-old from Panama was the staff ace for the entire season, routinely winning on the mound. Anfernee took over a game in the first inning after Everett scored 5 runs and went into the seventh with a two hit effort for the 7-5 win over Everett. That performance earned him Pitcher of the Week for the Northwest League.
Paxton De La Garza joined the team late in the season and quickly became a fixture in the rotation. Ben DeLuzio arrived in late July and became the regular center fielder.
Wei-Chieh Huang also arrived in late July and became part of the starting rotation as well as occasional appearances in relief.
Mark Karaviotis was a popular addition in mid-july as a former Oregon Duck on the local team. Mark quickly entered the starting line up and never left. In a short month and a half, Mark ripped opposing pitching for an outstanding .347 average with his clutch swing adding 8 doubles and 25 RBI.
Luke Lowery came from the Missoula Osprey after tearing up the 2015 season including winning the home run derby at the All Star contest between the Pioneer League and the NW League. Luke quickly settled in and remained in a comfortable position atop the stats columns. He led the team in games (67), At Bats (261), hits (69), doubles (15) and RBIs (T-34). The catcher/designated hitter was also one of the quicker men on the base paths leading the team in stolen bases (20). Luke started off with style homering in his first game as a Hop in the season opening win. On August 7th, Luke went 5 for 5 with a homer and three doubles in a 9-7 barnstorming win over Everett. That effort led Luke to being named Player of the Week for the NW League.
Matt McPhearson came down from the Kane County Cougars to the Hops on a rehab assignment in June and is still a big part of the team. Highly regarded as the quickest player in the 2013 draft, Matt has wowed crowds on the base paths regularly stealing second and, when the gleam gets in his eyes, third on a few occasions. He was often used as a pinch runner and averaged almost a stolen base per game.
Jason Morozowski played 2015 at the Missoula Osprey and quickly made himself at home in Hillsboro in every which way possible. Jason was named player of the week on August 21st The honor came in part with his homering in four consecutive contests. He led the team this year in home runs easily with 9 almost doubling those right behind him. On August 16th, Jason stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth to lead off and sent the first pitch over the left field wall for a game winning blast defeating the Vancouver Canadians 6-5.
The first game of the playoffs is tonight at Ron Tonkin Field starting at 7:05 pm. Facing the Eugene Emeralds for the right to vie for the league championship against the winner of the Spokane/Everett series will be a time honored test for the Hillsboro Hops and a welcome challenge to the experienced newcomers for 2016.
There have been many players to wear the Hops uniform, unfortunately too many to list and give credit here even though they deserve our thoughts. Each year has provided memories of players burned in to the collective fan’s consciousness. This season isn’t done yet.
Hops notes: Anfernee Benitez and Luke Lowery were named to the Northwest League Year-End All Star Team for the 2016 season on September 5th. Anfernee led the league with 7 wins going 7-5 in 12 starts. He was third league-wide in strikeouts with 71, just behind teammate Tyler Mark with 75. Luke Lowery had the second best arm in the league for catchers throwing out base runners attempting a steal 37.8% of the time to go with his team leading offense.
Photography by Portland Oregon Photographer Craig Mitchelldyer
By Greg Stoker