It now seems like ages ago that the Beloit Snappers made the Midwest League playoffs, but unlike the previous four seasons, the 2017 campaign was a much better one for the Oakland A’s Low-A affiliate in terms of wins and losses. Beloit wrapped up the 2017 campaign by winning three of its final four games over the long Labor Day weekend, including a 3-0 shutout of the Cedar Rapids Kernels on Monday.
The Snappers finished the second half with a 33-36 record to finish fourth in the seven-team Western Division. That mark was one game better than the 32-37 the squad posted in the first half. Combined, Beloit was 65-73 overall which was fifth-best in the division. In his first season at the helm, manager Scott Steinmann’s club made a big surge midway through the summer and found itself in playoff contention heading into the month of August. However, a stretch of 12 losses in 14 games and 8-21 record in the final full month of the season proved costly, as the Peoria Chiefs were able to hold on for a second half wild card berth. So, the Snappers’ stretch of seasons without a playoff berth now stands at four.
As should be expected out of a team on the fringe of making the playoffs, Oakland’s Low-A team ranked near the middle of the pack in several offensive categories. Beloit ranked eighth out of 16 teams in batting average (.247), 11th in homers (84), ninth in on-base percentage (.321), 12th in slugging (.364), 12th in OPS (686) and 12th in runs scored (580). For a team that was power-deprived and needed to manufacture runs, finishing in dead last with 87 stolen bases proved costly.
Pitching is how Beloit managed to stay in many of its games. The staff finished fourth in the league with a 3.55 ERA and fifth in WHIP at 1.28. The Snappers’ strikeout numbers surged slightly later in the season to push the staff to eighth in the league with 1,155 in 1,218 innings pitched. Matt Milburn, Zack Erwin and Kyle Twomey remained in the rotation for much of the season, while Seth Martinez provided a spark later in the summer. However, it was the bullpen that proved to be the team’s strong point. The team posted a 46-0 record when leading after eight innings. Given the strong overall pitching numbers, it should come as no surprise that many of the games were close. Beloit recorded nine walk-off wins this season and 20 in its last at-bat.
This was Oakland’s fifth season in Beloit and next-to-last one under the Player Development Contract signed following the 2016 campaign. The A’s will be back in the state of Wisconsin to open the 2018 campaign, but the future of the Beloit franchise beyond the 2020 season is still pretty cloudy.
Eight position players (Jason Goldstein, Collin Theroux, Eric Marinez, Miguel Mercedes, Kyle Nowlin, JaVon Shelby, Luke Persico and Trace Loehr) remained with the club for a bulk of the season to provide some stability to hitting coach Juan Dilone’s group.
Out of that group, infielder Marinez had the best offensive season with a slash line of .278/.341/.359 in 114 games. The 21-year old native of the Dominican Republic played his best ball around the midpoint of the season, batting .318 in June and .292 in July.
Loehr battled a few injuries along the way, but improved his offensive numbers in his second season at Low-A. Oakland’s sixth-round pick in the 2014 draft, he played in 94 games and posted a .267/.302/.364. The 22-year old was at his best in the month of July when he batted .344 with two homers and 10 RBIs in 24 games. However, the injury bug struck shortly thereafter and he was limited to just nine games in August and September.
After arriving three days into the campaign, Persico — a 2016 12th-rounder out of UCLA — went onto play in 117 games and slash .260/.327/.368 in his first full professional season. As was the theme with quite a few of the Snapper hitters, Persico’s bat cooled off precipitously down the stretch. He managed just six hits in his final 11 games and 34 at-bats. The outfielder posted his best month in May when he played in 29 games and hit .319 with 11 extra-base hits and 23 RBIs.
One year after being a 21st-round pick out of Eastern Kentucky, Nowlin was the club’s designated hitter and reserve first baseman for much of the season. He posted a slash line of .248/.357/.394 in 123 games. His 751 OPS ranked best among the list of players that spent all season with the Snappers. The month of July helped push Nowlin’s numbers to their final levels, as he slashed .338/.446/.610 with six doubles, five homers and 20 RBI.
Starting first baseman Mercedes showed glimpses of his immense potential, but for the most part he struggled with his first full-season affiliate. The 21-year-old Dominican bashed a team-high 16 homers and ranked third with 59 RBI, but batted just .230 with a .286 on-base percentage. That limited him to just a 686 OPS on the season. Should he break camp with the High-A team next spring, Mercedes should certainly see an increase in offensive production playing out west.
Beloit was the only club in minor league baseball to see two catchers receive 100 percent of the action this season. Goldstein and Theroux composed that tandem, and although their work behind the plate was solid, they didn’t provide much offensively. Goldstein slashed just .203/.275/.278 in 72 games, while Theroux stood at .147/.251/.330 across 84 contests. What kept Theroux on the field was his MWL-leading 44.7% throw-out rate of potential base stealers and excellent game-calling. He also hit for power when he made contact, hitting 13 homeruns in 273 at-bats.
Shelby was dreadful offensively for most of the second half, batting just .173 with a 516 OPS in 53 games after the all-star break. That prolonged slump brought the 2016 fifth-rounder’s offensive numbers crashing down to .198/.283/.299 in 114 games. Perhaps the biggest culprit for Shelby’s struggles were his franchise-record 164 strikeouts. The A’s front office is still waiting for Shelby’s hit tool to emerge, as he struggled to a slash line of .186/.279/.309 in a full slate with short-season Vermont on 2016.
But on the bright side, as Shelby struggled down the stretch the Snappers got a healthy Mike Martin back in the outfield. The 24-year-old former 33rd round pick out of Harvard probably didn’t want the Low-A season to end as he recorded hits in 13 of his final 28 at-bats. Playing a majority of his games with the Snappers for a second straight season, Martin finished with a .300/.362/.380 line in 73 contests.
Also back in the Midwest for another season was infielder Jesus Lopez, who played out the 2017 string after getting a mid-summer call up from Vermont. The 20-year-old Nicaraguan put up the best offensive numbers of his career during that stint, batting .280 with a 710 OPS. His best prior stretch was at Vermont earlier this season when he hit .227 in 12 games.
Talented defensive infielder Edwin Diaz finished the season where he started, Beloit, following a short first look in the California League. Diaz finished with a .255/.350/.414 slash line in 89 games at Low-A, rebounding nicely after a 13-game stint with Stockton in which he managed just four hits in 45 at-bats.
Like Diaz, fellow infielder Josh Vidales struggled in California and spent most of the second half with Beloit after beginning the year with Stockton. He played 45 games over the final two months for the Snappers and slashed .256/.346/.344, which was quite the improvement on his 62-game stretch with the Ports in which he batted just .206. For his work in the second half, the A’s gave Vidales another opportunity with Stockton by sending him there for the playoffs.
Utilityman Jean Carlo Rodriguez spent the majority of another season with Beloit and saw his offensive numbers improve slightly from .232/.303/.358 in 2016 to .244/.348/.383 this year.
Beloit opened the season with a hybrid starter/reliever system in place, but moved away from that by the end of the spring. The two pitching staff stalwarts from the beginning to the end were Matt Milburn and Xavier Altamirano.
A 2016 29th-round pick out of Wofford College, Milburn led the team with 141 innings pitched and posted a 4.34 ERA in 28 appearances (22 starts). The 24-year-old posted a stellar K:BB rate of 136:32 this season, but opposing teams hit .281 against him. Instead of heading home earlier this week, Milburn earned a promotion to High-A Stockton for the postseason.
Altamirano opened as one of the staff’s most experienced relievers and didn’t make his first start until May 22nd against Wisconsin. The 2015 27th-rounder out of Oral Roberts moved into a full-time starting role for the final two months of the season and posted some uneven results. Altamirano wrapped up 2017 on an up note by firing six innings of one-run, six-hit ball and a 7:1 K:BB rate to get the win against Wisconsin, but prior to that he had allowed three or more runs in four of five starts.
Zack Erwin started all 19 of his games this season for the Snappers after recovering from offseason surgery. A 2015 fourth-rounder out of Clemson, Erwin was originally drafted by the White Sox and sent to Oakland in the Brett Lawrie trade nearly two years ago. The left-hander started to re-establish himself as a prospect this season, posting a 6-4 record and 2.08 ERA in 95.1 innings pitched. He struck out 91 batters and issued 29 free passes. Easily the highlight of Erwin’s season was pitching the first six innings of a no-hitter on August 23rd against a Quad Cities team that was red hot at the time.
After making a cameo appearance with Vermont to open their season, Seth Martinez settled into a versatile role with Beloit. Overall, he posted a 5-10 record and 3.49 ERA in 20 appearances (10 starts). The 2016 17th-rounder out of Arizona State moved into a full-time starter’s role in the final two months of the season and battled through some inconsistency. But like Altamirano, Martinez finished the season on a high note by tying a career high with seven shutout innings while scattering six hits in a Labor Day victory over Cedar Rapids.
Continuing on a theme of Snapper starting pitchers finishing the campaign with strong outings, southpaw Kyle Twomey scattered five hits in five shutout innings, striking out five and walking none on August 31st at Wisconsin. The appearance helped Twomey’s ERA settle at 4.12 in 67.2 innings across 15 appearances (14 starts). Just five months removed from being released by the Chicago Cubs, Twomey has put himself back in position for a promotion to High-A next season.
Reliever Heath Bowers tied for the team lead with 32 appearances. The 24-year-old right-hander, a 2015 24th-round selection out Campbell, posted a 5-0 record and 2.22 ERA in 81 innings. That mark could have been even better if not for Bowers’ 53:42 K:BB rate.
Right-hander John Gorman earned a late-season call up to Stockton after being nearly unhittable out of the Beloit bullpen. The 31st-round pick in 2015 out of Boston College allowed just two earned runs on eight hits in 19.1 innings with a remarkable 24:1 K:BB rate. He missed all of the 2016 season with injury.
Earning a spot in the Beloit bullpen in his first full professional season after being a 31st-round pick in 2016 out of Westmont College, Sam Sheehan compiled a 2.21 ERA in 29 games. The right-hander posted a 54:27 K:BB rate in 40.2 innings.
An undrafted free agent in 2016, Joseph Camacho has already surpassed expectations thanks to a solid first full season in the A’s organization. The 23-year-old was a mainstay in the Beloit bullpen, posting a 2.75 ERA in 39.1 innings with a 34:8 K:BB rate. The long reliever closed out the season by allowing just two earned runs on 13 hits in his last 14 innings. He was added to the Double-A Midland roster for the first round of the playoffs.
The final numbers for Ty Damron were unspectacular as he compiled a 4.53 ERA in 45.2 innings with a 47:22 K:BB rate. However, the 2016 15th-rounder out of Texas Tech finished the year strong with scoreless appearances in five of his last six games. During that stretch he went seven innings and allowed one earned run on five hits.
Yordys Alejo, Mitchell Jordan and Jesus Zambrano rounded out the Snappers’ bullpen at season’s end. Alejo compiled a 4-3 record and 4.56 ERA in 49.1 innings and 32 relief appearances. Jordan spent part of the season as a starter, but retreated to the bullpen after struggling mightily. A 10th-rounder in 2016 out of Stetson, he compiled a 5.78 ERA and 66:31 K:BB. Zambrano endured a disastrous month of August to finish with a 6.06 ERA in 27 appearances (three starts).
An interesting side note regarding the pitching staff – and team as a whole – was that Dakota Chalmers was the lone top-30 prospect to spend time with the Snappers this season. The 2015 third-rounder out of a Georgia high school was wildly inconsistent in his half season of work, compiling a 4.34 ERA in 10 appearances (five starts). Opposing teams hit just .155 against him, but control was Chalmers’ undoing as he posted a 47:29 K:BB rate in 29 innings.
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