RailCats Trade Popular Walraven to Bolster Bullpen
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 the trade that sent infielder Thomas Walraven to the Gary SouthShore RailCats for right-hander Matt Leon.
The First Trade of the Year
If you have been an American Association fan for some time, then you have come to appreciate the fact that you cannot become too enamored with players. Very rarely does a player stick around for more than three or four years with a team, as they either have their contract purchased by an affiliate club, opt to retire, are cut or sign elsewhere, or traded to another team.
While there is no data I am aware of that supports this particular assertion, it is likely that the average player spends less than a year, on average, with their team. That may seem a little low considering players like Nate Samson (Sioux City Explorers), Reggie Abercrombie (Winnipeg Goldeyes), and Curt Smith (Lincoln Saltdogs) spent five seasons or more with their teams, but they are the anomaly. The reality is that there are at least 8-10 players on each team, each season who play less than 20 games with the club. It is the nature of the beast.
There are those players who do stay around for three seasons or more, becoming fan favorites because of their gritty play, talent, and familiarity with fans. Yet, those players find themselves on the move as well, and that is the case with Gary SouthShore RailCats infielder Thomas Walraven, who started for the RailCats for three seasons, but was sent to New York (Frontier League) in a trade that brought right-hander Matt Leon to Gary SouthShore.
Thomas Walraven Became a Real Talent
Thomas Walraven joined the RailCats straight out of college, playing for New Haven (Northeast 10 Conference) in his senior season where he hit .355 in 51 games. During his college career, Walraven proved to be an offensive force, hitting .326 with 121 runs scored and 77 RBI in 162 games.
In 2019, he joined Gary SouthShore, appearing in 62 games where he hit .301 with 35 runs scored, six homers, and 31 runs driven in. Walraven proved to be a coveted talent in the league because of his ability to play multiple positions and swing the bat to move runners along, get on base, even hit the occasional homerun.
Walraven sat out 2020, but returned to the RailCats in 2021 where he hit .281 with 40 runs scored, six homers, and 46 RBI. This past season, the batting average continued to decline slightly, as the infielder hit .272 in 86 games. However, he added some bulk and it showed at the plate, as Walraven hit 16 homeruns, scored 61 runs, and drove in 55, all three of which were single-season highs.
Walraven was one of the best all-around talents in the league, able to play second, short, first, and third. In three seasons in Gary, he made just nine errors in 219 career games. Plus, the 27-year-old continued to demonstrate great character on and off the field, becoming a great ambassador for the RailCats community.
You Have to Give Up Something to Get Something
There is no denying that the loss of Walraven and his bat will be a big loss for the Gary SouthShore RailCats this season. The team finished in last in hitting (.254) despite setting a franchise record for home runs in a season (92). They scratched out 511 runs, which was ninth overall, and the loss of Walraven and his bat will hurt this club offensively.
However, this is a team in desperate need of pitching. Manager Lamarr Rogers had this team near the top of the American Association in pitching through the first two months of the season, but the club wore down, especially in the bullpen. The RailCats finished the season 10th overall with a 5.40 ERA and the bullpen had just one pitcher who made more than 10 relief appearances who had an ERA under five. That was Julio Vivas, who posted a 3.27 ERA in 18 appearances.
This team needed some help, especially because of the way that Rogers likes to utilize his bullpen. That is why he simply could not pass up on the opportunity to acquire right-hander Matt Leon from New York.
Leon was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Los Angeles Angels organization after completing his degree at Seton Hall University where he was 4-8 with a 2.98 ERA in 88 career appearances. In the minors, the right-hander’s numbers were solid, but not spectacular. He reached Mid-A Burlington in 2019, and had a 4.73 ERA to go along with an 8-9 record in 39 career appearances.
Covid and an injury led to the right-hander being out of baseball in 2020 and 2021, but he returned with a vengeance in 2022, going 5-1 with five saves and a 1.80 ERA in 20 appearances for New York. Leon was outstanding, allowing 13 hits and six walks in 15.0 innings, striking out 23.
Gary used a multitude of players to save games last season, with Jack Eisenbarger leading the club with six. If this team is going to take a step to reach the playoffs, they simply must improve this bullpen. The RailCats were 22-27 in games decided by three runs or fewer, and having a dominant closer could definitely tip the scales so that this club is at least five games over .500 in those situations. In a very tough East Division, that could very well be the difference between making the playoffs and enjoying an early off-season deep in your thoughts of what could have been.
American Association Transactions
Chicago: Acquired RHP Ryan O’Reilly from Evansville (Frontier League) for a player to be named later; Acquired INF Matt Bottcher from Schaumburg (Frontier League) to complete a previous transaction
Gary SouthShore: Traded INF Thomas Walraven to New York (Frontier League) for RHP Matt Leon
Lincoln: Signed LHP David Zoz
By Robert Pannier
January 8, 2023 @ 4:02 pm
I wonder if Walraven — who went to college in CT. and lives in New York state — requested a trade to be closer to his home. Still, we Railcat fans are gonna miss Tommy G.!