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Double-A Is Proving Ground for Pitchers

On a staff with very few heralded names, two after-thoughts rose to the top and made names for themselves.

Kevin C. Cox

Each level in the minors offers it's own challenges, but Double-A provides one of the most unique and difficult ones. It's when things truly start to come together, both skill and tools. Don't get me wrong, to be a professional you need both in some capacity. However, there are several examples of players getting by almost exclusively by one or the other in the lower levels.

For pitchers, you can't get by with pure stuff. You have to have some control. You have to have more than pure control/command, you have to have some stuff. Few get through with just one pitch. You have to know how to pitch.

The Corpus Christi Hooks fielded an interesting pitching staff that took it's lumps but had it's moments of brilliance as well. In the 8-team Texas League, the Hooks were 7th in ERA (3.92) but had the lowest walks total and third in strikeouts. The biggest issue was that they struggled with keeping the ball in the park as they lead the league in home runs allowed.

Twenty-nine different pitchers toed the rubber in a Hooks uniform and they ranged from 120 2/3 innings (Brady Rodgers) to just 1/3 (Theron Geith, later released).

Their biggest successes came from unsuspecting pitchers and their biggest disappointments came from the arms of those many had the best expectations from.

The Injured

Expectations were high coming into the season for Aaron West. He had put up impressive walk and strikeout numbers in the hitters haven of Lancaster. But the season was far from what fans and Aaron had in mind. Aaron appeared in just seven games as he struggled with forearm and elbow issues as he attempted to battle his way back to the mound. His strikeout rate crumbled and his walk rate just wasn't right. He exited his final appearance with four walks to his name after just an inning and two-thirds back in July. He'll get every opportunity to fight his way back next year.

Travis Ballew made a name for himself with an electric fastball/slider combo. He decimated the Cal League but struggled mightily in Texas League. He disappeared for awhile and re-appeared in the GCL so it's unclear if he was sent down for injury or due to struggles. He later returned and pitched a little better, but the 6.14 ERA on the season isn't pretty.

The Rotation

Brady Rodgers and Luis Cruz each started 17 games and clipped the 100 inning mark along with Jordan Jankowski who started 14 games. Mike Hauschild started 16 games but fell short of 100 innings by a little over an inning. Kyle Smith and David Rollins both added 95 1/3 and 78 inning respectively. Tommy Shirley also added 86 1/3 for the Hooks before making his way to AAA. Shirley was easily the top pitcher on the staff with his 1.88 ERA. Jankowski lead the team in strikeouts by a very wide margin with 120 and Kyle Smith came in second at 96. Shows you what Jankowski could bring.

The Pen

With Ballew struggling, the Hooks had to look for consistency in the late innings from Michael Dimock, Mitchell Lambson, Pat Urckfitz, and the unlikely Tyson Perez. Perez began the season in Lancaster for his third season in the California League, but he took full control of his opportunity to move up. Despite sub-par strikeout numbers, Tyson lead the team in saves and held on to an impressive 2.09 ERA.

This was just an interesting season for a team that has had the luxury of several interesting arms in the last few years. But, this was a unique challenge as the team relied heavily on what the scouting community would call fringe pitchers. Even the shine of adding Mark Appel at the end of the season doesn't over shadow that Jankowski and Shirley were the true leaders of the pitching staff.