Tri-City ValleyCats Year in Review

The minor leagues wrapped up, so I'm gonna keep posting my thoughts on each farm team to have a place to discuss.

Tri-City was unable to repeat last year's championship season, finishing 33-42, losing their last 4 games. For most of the year, the team was characterized by solid starting pitching and mixed results offensively. Let's get on with the review of the players:

Most of the players in Tri-City were 2011 College draftees at about average age for the league.

Catcher Miles Hamblin was the starting catcher, hitting .264 with 4 HR. While not a stellar year, it should be enough to make him the catcher next year in Lexington. I don't know much about his defensive profile. After bouncing around providing fill-in duty at various levels, Ryan McCurdy spent the majority of his time in TC, finishing with a .324 average. It'll be interesting to see if he gets stable work anywhere next season. Bubby Williams mixed DH duty with backup catching, and showed nice power (6 HR in 36 games), but struggled overall. At 22, he may get one more year to show significant improvement.

Like Hamblin, 1B Zach Johnson did just enough to justify a move up next year. 5 HR and a 708 OPS aren't top 10 prospect #s, but he did show he could play. He also showed a bit of versatility, getting some time at 2B. Rafael Valenzuela had a very good year in TC, finishing with an 823 OPS and showing solid doubles power in his 114 ABs. I expect to see him in full-season ball next year. Greeneville star Chase Davidson played only 1 game after his promotion.

2B John Hinson had yet another solid if unimpressive performance. Given that DDJ may not be ready for Lancaster, Hinson's 737 OPS season may be enough to get him the Lancaster 2B job in 2012.

3B Matt Duffy continued the string of solid starts by 20th round picks. Everybody's favorite sleeper finished with a well above average 787 OPS. While it would have been nice to see more HR power, it was a good beginning nonetheless.

SS Neiko Johnson did well for a non-drafted player, showing versatility in the field and elite speed. He stole 21 bases and was only caugh 4 times, ridiculous #'s over a 57 game sample. His bat, while obviously his weaker tool, wasn't completely anemic, with a 678 OPS. I'm anxious to find out more about him; if he's a plus defender at short, he may be one to watch. Backup IF's Jacke Healey, Miguel Arrendell, and Hector Rodriguez did nothing to distinguish themselves.

The OF, like the IF, was a mixed bag. 2011 6th Rounder Brandon Meredith had a solid season, showing solid plate discipline (19:29 BB:K). If he can add some HR power, he has a pretty high ceiling. Andrew Muren reportedly has elite speed, but didn't show much. I see him as a backup OF in Lexington or Lancaster next season. Justin Gominsky has some solid raw tools and showed flashes, but struggled overall and may have to repeat the level. Chris Epps continued to do well after getting promoted from the GCL. He matched his k's with walks and showed a little power in his 52 ABs. Kellen Kiilsgaard struggled mightily in his return from injury. Jordan Scott, 19, did quite well after a late promotion and appears to be ready for full season baseball.

The highest profile player on the roster this year was easily 1st round pick George Springer, who was only able to log 8 games at the end of the year. His sample size is far too small to draw any meaningful conclusions from, but he did show off his skills with power (1 HR) speed, (4 SB) and solid defensive reports.

The highlight of this year's low A team was the pitching staff. College draftees Nick Tropeano, Kyle Hallock, and Jonas Dufek led the way. Tropeano, a 4th rounder, posted a stellar 2.36 ERA and a K/9 rate of well over 9. Hallock was just about as good with a 2.63 ERA and striking out 1 batter per inning. Dufek wasn't quite as dominant but still did very well, finishing with a 3.71 ERA. All 3 players could easily be in High A ball next year, following the path of former VallyCats Dallas Keuchel and Jake Buchanan.

2 International starting pitchers, Euris Quezada and Juri Perez, struggled a bit, both finishing with ERA's over 5. Quezada was suspended for a banned substance and had control problems. He faces an uphill battle moving forward. Perez may have been the victim of some bad luck, as his SO/BB #'s were quite good.

Jamaine Cotton, a late promotion and addition to the rotation, showed some good things, finishing with a 3.68 ERA in 5 starts. The 20 year old may be back next year or could move up to Lexington.

Like I mentioned in the Greeneville review, being a reliever on a short-season team often doesn't bode well for one's career, but there were some players worth mentioning. Colombian righty Dayan Diaz was virtually unhittable, finishing with a 1.98 ERA in 50 innings. Closer Ryan Cole also had stellar numbers, K'ing 25 in 27 innings en route to 10 saves. They could form the back end of Lexington's bullpen next season.

College arms Adam Champion, Travis Smink, Mitchell Lambson, Garrett Bullock, and Travis Blankenship all acquitted themselves well and should be ready to move up to full season baseball to start next season along with former infielder Ebert Rosario, who finished with a 3.42 ERA and 27 K's in 23 IP.

There was a lot of depth in the roster this year, but going in the team seemed to lack future stars (until the addition of Springer). Tropeano and Hallock emerged as players to watch and both could end up in the middle of Houston's rotation by 2015. The lack of elite offensive players may not bode very well for Lexington and Lancaster next season, but the quality of players likely to return to those teams may offset that problem a bit. All eyes will be on Springer next season, as he is being counted on to emerge as the next superstar player in Houston and a future cornerstone of the franchise. Duffy, Meredith, Hinson, and Hamblin all have the chance to move up quickly and are therefore worth watching.

At each higher level thus far in these previews, the teams' records have gotten better and the talent level higher. I take this as a good sign that Houston is moving it's players along quickly and that the depth of the system is in good shape. Thoughts?
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