Friday, August 30, 2013

Dodgers' Low-A affiliate Great Lakes Loons playoff-bound after slow start

Coming into the 2013 season, the Great Lakes Loons looked like the fourth-best team of the four full-season Dodger minor-league affiliates. Well, they could be the only one to make the postseason.

The Loons clinched a playoff berth with a win on Thursday night behind the right arms of Chris Anderson (4 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 4 K) and Brandon Martinez (3 2/3 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K). It’s the third playoff berth in the club’s history.

The team got off to a rough start, losing four of their first six games and went 11-13 in April. Things got even worse in May, as they went 7-23 and any hopes of the postseason looked bleak.

Loons’ record by month
April: 11-13
May: 7-23 (18-36)
June: 18-9 (36-45)
July: 14-14 (50-59)
August: 16-10 (66-69)

Luckily, playoff participants are broken down into first half and second half records. The Loons went 26-43 in the first half. They’ve gone 40-26 thus far in the second half, with three more games.

When the season started, the Loons had Corey Seager and a bunch of young guys or guys repeating the level. Tyle Ogle, Jharel Cotton and Carlos Frias were Midwest League All-Stars. Cotton and Frias were promoted before the game, so Ogle was the team’s only representative.

The team got a huge boost from the arrival of then-16-year-old Julio Urias. I did a double-take when I heard he was making his professional debut with the Loons. But Urias, despite (rightly) being on a strict innings limit (75), has pitched like a player well beyond his years.

Urias’ 2013 statistics
18 starts
2-0 W-L
2.48 ERA
1.10 WHIP
7.3 H/9
2.7 BB/9
11.1 K/9
4.19 K/BB
2.87 FIP

These numbers would be impressive for a 20-year-old, but this is a 16-year-old (turned 17 a few weeks ago) doing this against hitters about six years older than him on average. Amazing.

The Loons also got a boost from the 2013 MLB Draft class. The Dodgers’ top three picks began their pro careers with the club -- Anderson, Tom Windle and Brandon Dixon.

Anderson has a 1.96 ERA in 46 innings while Windle has a 2.77 ERA in 48 2/3 innings. Dixon, unfortunately, hasn’t found his stroke, hitting just .169/.215/.246 in his first 55 professional games.

Other 2013 draftees to play for the Loons include CraytonBare, Rob Rogers, Thomas Taylor and Brandon Trinkwon.

The pitching has been the story for the Loons, as the Midwest League isn’t particularly hitter-friendly.

Miguel Sulbaran was having a fantastic season before the Dodgers (foolishly) traded him to acquire Drew Butera earlier this month. Even with the loss, the Loons can roll out a rotation of Urias, Anderson and Windle as their 1-3. However, each pitcher is on an innings limit. Anderson and Windle were reportedly going to throw only 50 innings in their debut. Both are close to that limit. With the playoffs near, I wonder if the Dodger brass would let Anderson and Windle go a few more innings if it means giving the Loons the best chance to win.

Outside of that trio, the Loons can also throw guys like Zachary Bird (reigning MWL Pitcher of the Week), Ralston Cash, Brandon Martinez and Jonathan Martinez for a few innings. The bullpen has been solid this season, too. Scott Griggs won a Pitcher of the Week honor while Craig Stem was the team’s closer before being promoted to Rancho Cucamonga.

Pitching wins, but runs also have to be scored. There’s enough raw talent for the Loons to score, but it remains to be seen if they can put it all together. James Baldwin has improved as the season progressed. He may not reach his ultimate ceiling, but he’s a better player now than he was last year. Aaron Miller has been surprisingly productive making the conversion from the mound to the batter’s box. Jeremy Rathjen is a lot like Baldwin. He started out slow but has picked it up as the season moved along.

Outside of Seager’s .309/.389/.529 triple slash, there aren’t many pretty slash lines on the Loons’ team. And the team will be without the supremely talented 19-year-old. But guys like those mentioned above and Ogle need to step up if the Loons want to go far in the MWL playoffs.

The Loons went from a floundering team with not a lot of talent to the most exciting team with loads of talent in the Dodgers’ farm system. They nearly did a 180-degree turn, not unlike the parent club. We'll see how they do in the playoffs starting next week.

Photo credits
Urias: Courtesy of the Great Lakes Loons
Anderson: Ali Messick, courtesy of Great Lakes Loons

1 comment:

  1. Dustin I think a strong case could be made that Geoff Brown is one of if not the most valuable pitcher on the Loons staff. I know he is overage for the league, but not so much in terms of experience. He piggybacks in many of Urias' outings. Brown has made one spot start. With Sulbaran gone he leads the Loons pitchers in innings pitched.