Pitching Additions Give Saltdogs a Lot More Bite
In American Association Daily, the Minor League Sports Report’s Robert Pannier takes a look at the busiest team in the American Association as Manager Bobby Brown has already assembled a pitching staff in Lincoln that could give the Saltdogs a whole lot of bite and maybe even an American Association championship.
Key Trades Have Saltdogs Looking Tough in South
It may be below freezing in Lincoln, Nebraska, but 1,500 miles away Saltdogs Manager Bobby Brown has been making some moves that are warming the hearts of the team’s faithful. A year after making all the right moves only to see his team struggle, the skipper has left no doubt that he is going for broke.
Brown is currently managing the Canada A’s in the California Winter League, but his focus has been on the team he led to the playoffs in 2017. The Saltdogs Manager has been the most active manager in the off-season, making 13 trades and signing 12 players since the end of 2018 American Association regular season, as he looks to put the woes of last season in the rearview mirror.
A Focus on Fundamentals
Bobby Brown had the perfect formula for the 2018 Lincoln Saltdogs. He had a deep pitching staff, and had a top three in his rotation that was as good as any in the league. The team looked poised to win another division title, but injuries and inconsistency doomed the team. Lincoln had a top three offense, but the pitching vaporized, dooming the club to a fourth place finish, despite being three games above .500.
Brown had a lot to be proud of, as he kept this team in the playoff chase despite a team ERA that ranked in the bottom third of the league. However, he was not going to allow another season like that in Lincoln.
“The top of the rotation just didn’t work for us, and you’re scrambling all summer trying to find starting pitching. We were able to piece it together with some guys, but it just was a struggle on the pitching side. I think that old saying is true that you truly can never have enough pitching.”
The philosophy this off-season has not just been to find the best talent, but to create a staff that will be difficult to prepare for. One that gives as much of a psychological edge as it does a physical one.
“I do want to have some kind of contrast. The (John) Brownell guy is an older guy that doesn’t have the power arm that he used to but has great pitchability, so picking up (David) Palladino and (Luis) Diaz, those are power stuff guys that you can mix around to complement a softer tossing veteran guy. I just don’t want to show the same look in the same series in back to back pitchers. That is kind of what I’m looking for is the contrast and experience in the rotation.”
Last year, Bobby Brown struggled to come up with five consistent starters, but that should not be an issue this season. Former Major Leaguer Shairon Martis returns after an injury plagued season ruined his 2018 campaign. He was 3-5 with a 5.01 ERA, but was 4-1 with a 2.01 in seven starts in 2017. He looks healthy and back to his old self.
Right-hander Derek Gordon will also likely be in the rotation. The righty was one of the top five pitchers in the American Association in 2017, but the unexpected loss of his father prior to the 2018 season understandably derailed his campaign.
These look to be the only two holdovers as Brown has brought in a group of live arms that could very well go six deep. It starts with fireballer David Palladino, recently acquired from the Texas AirHogs. Palladino was 5-2 with a 2.92 ERA in Rockland (Can-Am League) last season, where he struck out 79 in 71.0 innings pitched.
Luis Diaz reached AAA-Salt Lake City with the Los Angeles Angels last season. In two levels, the right-hander was 6-11 with a 4.61 ERA. He, too, brings the heat, striking out 108 in 111.1 innings pitched. John Brownell is a wily veteran who has 12 years of experience in independent ball, the last seven with Long Island in the Atlantic League. Last season, the righty finished 9-11, the first time in five years that he did not win at least 10 games.
Brennan Bernardino may be the real gem of the whole group. Acquired by Brown from the Winnipeg Goldeyes, he will get a big opportunity to join the starting rotation because he is a left-hander and is a big contrast to Diaz and Palladino in particular. Bernardino has earned the chance, going 2-3 with a 3.18 ERA in six appearances for Winnipeg last year. The lefty has solid command, walking just seven in 34.0 innings pitched.
The bullpen looks to be a major strength as well. The one area where there is a question mark is at the backend, which may be filled by Kyle Kinman. Kinman mainly started for the Saltdogs last season, going 6-5 with a 3.90 ERA. However, he has been a closer in the minors, including in 2015 when he saved 18 games across three different levels.
Kevin Grendell could also get a shot in the rotation, but it is likely that he will be the primary lefty setup guy. Grendell was dominant for Sussex County last season (Can-Am League), where he was 4-1 with a 2.62 ERA in 34 appearances.
Cortland Cox looks to rebound after a disappointing 2018 season. He began the year with his contract being purchased by the Angels, but was released just days into the season. The abrupt and surprising dismissal may have impacted a season where he went 4-1 with a 5.14 ERA in 34 appearances for Cleburne and Lincoln.
Austin Boyle comes from the Wichita Wingnuts, where the righty was outstanding for two seasons. In his two campaigns in Wichita, Boyle was a combined 3-1 with 3 saves and a 2.61 ERA. He struck out 83 in 75.2 combined innings.
The big X-factor for this bullpen will be if Cameron McVey returns. He was the top setup guy in the American Association in 2017, but went back to Winnipeg last year. McVey has ice water running through his veins, and is the kind of guy a manager can put in any situation and get outs. He may be headed to Mexico but, if not, he quickly turns what could be a very good bullpen into a great one.
Fishing for the Right Catcher
What may be the biggest move of all for Bobby Brown was the signing of catcher Corey Bass. Bass is no stranger to the Saltdogs Manager as he played for Brown with Amarillo in 2015. He is an excellent defensive catcher.
Bass stepped out from behind the plate last year to try his hand at pitching, but did not catch on. However, his time as a pitcher may actually help him even more as a catcher. His new knowledge will make him more invaluable behind the plate.
Bobby Brown has already put together an outstanding staff and we are still 12 weeks way from the 2018 American Association season getting underway. His expectation is that this team will go all the way to win the championship this season and, with this pitching staff, there is no doubt that those aspirations are not biting off more than he can chew.
Featured Image Courtesy of the Atlantic League
By Robert Pannier