This season was much better for fans of the Arizona Diamondbacks than last season. The team was in contention well into July and even made a little noise in August. In fact, they are still technically in the playoff hunt, but with their elimination number standing at one, they would need nothing short of a statistical miracle to get a wild card spot. It was also a strong year for the Diamondbacks’ minor league system. The was even a minor league championship celebrated.
All of the Diamondbacks’ affiliate teams above rookie ball are done playing for the season. The class-A short season Hillsboro Hops won their second straight Northwest League Championship. The team had solid performances down the stretch from rising Diamondbacks prospects Dansby Swanson, Cody Reed, and Alex Young. The squad, led by manager Shelley Duncan, pitched and hit well all season. That bodes well for the parent Diamondbacks in future years. Little known pitcher Carlos Hernandez won Northwest League Most Valuable Pitcher of the Year with a 6-3 record, 2.32 ERA, and 93 strikeouts in 85.1 innings. He was part of a Hops staff that combined for 11 shutouts on the season, surpassing the previous Northwest League record of 10.
The class-A full season Kane County Cougars made a strong run at a championship, coming up just short in the playoffs. The MVP of the team was Fifth Third Bank Ballpark’s new Heart Attack Burger. This sounds appetizing (and belt stretching): Half pound patty, fried egg, cheddar cheese, grilled onion, chipotle bacon mayo, two strips of bacon, all crammed between two grilled cheese sandwiches pretending to be a bun. The Cougars even have their own beer: The Two Brothers Brewing Company creation called Raging Cougar Ale. That’s exciting. On a baseball note though, Taiwanese-born Wei-Chieh Huang highlighted a pitching staff that was strong all season and Midwest League Batting Champ Ildemaro Vargas led the way for the Cougars.
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The class-A advanced Visalia Rawhide turned in an impressive season, led by Manager of the Year JR House and Pitching Coach of the Year Gil Heredia. Prospects Anthony Banda, Zac Curtis, Kevin Cron, and Daniel Palka put their names on the map and improved their prospect stock this season. Don’t be surprised to see one or more of them with invites to Spring Training and even an outside shot for Curtis to earn a spot in the opening day bullpen next season.
The double-A Mobile BayBears did not make the playoffs, but they did threaten to, coming down to the final few days of the season. This is the current home of many of the Diamondbacks prospects whom the club would love to see in spring training and in the majors soon. Jake Barrett, JR Bradley, Dominic Leone, Yoan Lopez, and Braden Shipley are the top pitching prospects. The top hitters are Zack Borenstein, Alex Glenn, Gabriel Guerrero, and Jack Reinheimer.
The Triple-A Reno Aces are the only Diamondbacks affiliate to finish the season with a losing record at 70-74. Pitching was their undoing, which was very similar to what the parent Diamondbacks had problems with all season. There are a few names to consider for next season’s Diamondbacks roster. Brandon Drury, Peter O’Brien, Aaron Blair, and Archie Bradley spent significant time with the Aces this season. All of them have better than average chances to break with the big club out of spring training next season.
Now to the Diamondbacks awards for minor league Player and Pitcher of the Year. Peter O’Brien took home the organizational Player of the Year award while Aaron Blair won Pitcher of the Year. This is no surprise given that power and consistency mean so much to baseball and these two exemplified those qualities, respectively. For O’Brien to win the award despite bouncing all over the diamond learning new positions points to his work ethic, which to me looks an awful lot like another Diamondback who many didn’t know until he came up, Paul Goldschmidt. Blair was impressive at multiple levels, actually getting better as he rose through the system. Both should make noise in spring training, with O’Brien making the club and Blair coming up in June.
Stay tuned the rest of the week as I will highlight the under-the-radar players you should know going into the off-season and why. Until then, enjoy what little bit of Diamondbacks baseball there is left.