Wichita, Winnipeg Face Major Changes in Run for Title
American Association Daily provides 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 dramatic changes that the Winnipeg Goldeyes and Wichita Wingnuts have made and if they still have what it takes to return to the American Association championship series for the third straight season.
Wichita, Winnipeg Look to Keep the Glory Going
When a team reaches the championship series it is not surprising to see major changes in the offseason. Salary cap restrictions, player salary demands, and the need to bring in younger players make it inevitable that both teams will face dramatic changes before the next season.
This is seen in the American Association as well, where the likelihood of an affiliate team purchasing a player’s contract adds another dimension to the equation. However, there was very little change following the 2016 championship series when the Winnipeg Goldeyes defeated the Wichita Wingnuts in five games to win the league title. Both teams saw much of their roster remain and so it seemed almost inevitable that they would meet in the championship series again, which they did.
It Started in Wichita
However, this off-season has been a complete reversal of what we saw last year, starting in Wichita. Not only did the Wingnuts not keep Manager Pete Rose, Jr., who led the team to the championship series in both seasons he was at the helm, but much of the roster has been released or traded. At this point, only seven of the players who were on the 23 man roster at the conclusion of Game 5 are expected to return for this season.
The starting rotation retains only two of their starters from last year, but the two are really good. Right-handers Eddie Medina and Jordan Cooper are both coming off of their best professional seasons. Medina was 9-3 with a 3.08 ERA and Cooper was 8-2 with a 3.97 ERA. Barring a big name signing, these two will likely be the No. 1 and 2 starters in the rotation this season.
The bullpen is in flux at the moment. Five pitchers on the staff had ERAs lower than 3.07 but three of them are gone. Austin Boyle is the only one signed while James Campbell is expected to return. Boyle was impressive in his 35 outings, posting a 2.56 ERA, while striking out 44 in 38.2 innings pitched. Campbell served as one of the two primary setup guys, posting a 2.91 ERA. He was 3-1.
There is no doubt that the changes in the pitching staff are going to be dramatic, but that is compared to the everyday lineup for Wichita. Only Leo Vargas and Richard Prigatano are returning, as Brent Clevlen moves from the field to the manager’s office. Prigatano is a star, who leaves many scratching their heads wondering how this guy is not with an affiliate team, while Vargas is one of the flashiest shortstops in the league.
The Wingnuts have signed two former stars, Abel Nieves and John Nester, to help fill the roster, but neither of these two was playing baseball last year. What they have left in the tank will be speculated on until “Playball” is finally called. Two RHPs – Taylor Hoesen and Josh Lang – and two left-handers – Peter Irvin and Felix Carvallo – have also been added to the team, but they are not exactly Alex Boshers or Ryan Kussmaul.
Winnipeg Has Not Been Immune
When the 2017 season ended, the Winnipeg Goldeyes looked like they would have a real shot at repeating as American Association champions for the third year in a row. Only shortstop Andrew Sohn had his contract purchased, and he would later return to the team. The starting staff has been kept intact, and the best reliever in the league – Victor Capellan – re-signed. This was a team that had all the makings of a dynasty.
However, those aspirations may be in jeopardy. In January, star third baseman Wes Darvill signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Early this week, American Association Player of the Year Josh Romanski opted to play in Mexico. Those were tough blows to the everyday lineup, but this was still a team with as solid of a one through nine as any in the league.
February 16 may go down as Black Friday in Winnipeg. Three players who played a significant role in last year’s championship run opted to retire. The moves were surprising for many reasons, but none more so than the fact that all three are still relatively young and were each coming off extremely productive seasons.
The biggest surprise was that first baseman Shawn Pleffner retired. Pleffner is 27, and hit .340 in 100 games last season to lead the American Association in hitting. Pleffner set several single season highs, including home runs (10), RBI (76), and doubles (30). The first baseman had a solid career with the Washington Nationals organization before coming to Winnipeg, and it would not have been surprising to see him return to a Major League organization.
David Rohm is also 27, and spent six seasons with the Atlanta Braves organization before joining the Winnipeg Goldeyes two seasons ago. He hit a career high .339 in 2016 with 58 runs scored and 71 RBI. In 2017, Rohm hit .279 with 64 runs scored and 47 RBI.
Casey Turgeon joined the Goldeyes late last seasons after being released by the St. Louis Cardinals organization. He had appeared in 90 games between High-A Palm Beach and AA-Springfield, hitting a combined .221 with 35 runs scored and 26 RBI. He proved to be a huge addition for Manager Rick Forney, hitting .339 with 14 runs scored and 10 RBI in 17 games.
In the past month, the Winnipeg Goldeyes have lost five of their nine every day players, and Sohn should still get a shot to return to affiliate ball. It is fortunate that this team still has one of the best pitching staffs in the American Association.
What to Expect in 2018
The two best offensive clubs in the American Association in 2017 are going to be a lot different in 2018. Both teams have a history of putting together the right pieces, but it is going to be a challenge this season, as there are four other teams in each division that could win 55+ games. It should be an interesting next three months.
American Association Daily Notes
The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks signed outfield John Schultz. Schultz spent two seasons in the Miami Marlins organization before joining Evansville (Frontier League) in 2013. Last season he appeared in 88 games, hitting .317 with 11 homers and 61 RBI…Kansas City announced two trades. The first sent IF/OF Marcus Lemon to the New Jersey Jackals (Can-Am League) for RHP Kyle Hansen. Hansen spent five seasons in the Chicago White Sox organization before going to Long Island (Atlantic League) at the end of 2016. He pitched for both Trois-Rivieres and New Jersey last season, where he was a combined 3-0 with a 2.11 ERA in 21 appearances. He also saved 8 games, which makes this Kansas City bullpen a whole lot deeper. The T-Bones also made a deal with the Lincoln Saltdogs that brought RHP Jacob Condra-Bogan as well as the revisionary rights to LHP Casey Crosby for LHP Jose Jose, who had been acquired by Kansas City a month ago. Crosby made it to the Majors with the Detroit Tigers in 2012. Last season he pitched for Lincoln, where he had a 2.16 ERA in 16 appearances. Condra-Bogan pitched for Washington (Frontier League) in 2017, where he was 1-0 with a 1.17 ERA in 11 appearances. Jose pitched two seasons for the New Jersey Jackals after seven seasons in affiliate ball. He posted a 2.30 ERA in 21 appearances in 2017, striking out 31 in 27.1 innings pitched…The Saltdogs also announced the signing of former Miami Hurricanes infielder Johnny Ruiz.
Featured Image Courtesy of ChrisD.ca
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA