Welcome to post-season awards time.
The fact that I went with Rays MiLB awards was due to a decision to focus more on the Rays organization as 2014 began. Maybe you noticed, maybe you didn’t, but the season began with me doing International League coverage, with a special weekly column included that was called ‘Hitting The Bull’. Due to some personal issues, I returned back east from Durham, where I’d relocated. So that hasn’t panned out as planned. However, my plan is to go back, continue a Rays-Bulls focus, and hopefully you’ll see that in 2015. However, I’ve continued, and will continue, to contribute Rays prospect coverage and analysis, as I have for the past few months.
With that out of the way, here’s how this worked. In each category, they’re ranked accordingly, in order, with four players and pitchers, plus those that made a mark, but missed making the final four. There are three top relievers.
This is also going to be done in two parts. The second part will be just for short-season and rookie league, which I decided to compile separately. Due to limited playing time, it didn’t make sense comparatively when narrowing the best players, while excluding them seemed unfair. So they’re represented apart from full-season players; putting them against each other statistically made sense. That’ll run in the next day or two.
It’s important to clarify that this is mostly statistically-based. I’ve seen many of the players on this list perform, but only a few of them in 2014, and many of them in 2012-2013. That’s not how I normally decide any post-season awards. Last season I ran post-season awards on my blog for the New York Penn League, after covering almost all of the Brooklyn Cyclones and Staten Island Yankees home games, and covered every team’s players multiple times. When covering the Eastern League, those awards were compiled the same. Seeing players in person is preferable in deciding awards. But it’s always a combination of seeing and stats. This just relies on the latter.
These are the best of the best in the Rays organization for 2014, as decided solely by yours truly.
Player of the Year
#1 Mikie Mahtook – The centerfielder led the Durham Bulls in a number of offensive categories, in the team’s quest to ‘Keep The Cup’. Mahtook impressively advanced to Triple-A in his third year of professional baseball, with one full season in Double-A in 2013, and consistently contributed all season. Playing the most games of any player on the team (131), he led in hits (143) and RBI (68). Of any player that was with the Bulls for the entire season he led in AVG (.294) and OPS (.825) (Note: Brandon Guyer and Kevin Kiermaier led in those categories to end the season, but played in just five games before being called up by the Rays, Kiermaier played just 35, after also being called up) Mahtook’s 224 total bases also led the club and was 5th overall in hits in the International League, and 4th in the league in total bases (224). Mahtook kept his average up throughout the season, a plus, but he actually struck out more than last year (135 compared to 102 in 2013). That’s the one area that made the final decision difficult. But the Rays 2011 1st round pick showed solid improvement in 2014, and for a team that struggled at the plate, he was the star of the lineup.
#2 Johnny Field – Splitting time between Bowling Green and Charlotte, the centerfielder hit .300/.367/.461 and his .943 OPS led the Stone Crabs. He committed just 2 errors all season, playing in 82 games for the Hot Rods and 40 for the Stone Crabs. He led the Hot Rods in OBP (.367) and was 2nd in SLG (.461). He finished the season still leading the Florida State League in batting average (.320). He had 14 hits through ten games starting mid-April, hitting safely in five straight games, with 8 hits, and 7 walks in that span. In 25 games in August, Field had 32 hits, 9 for extra base hits, 13 RBI, and 9 walks. He showed off the wheels, using his impressive speed to lead the Hot Rods in stolen bases (18). Drafted by the Rays in 5th round out of the University of Arizona in 2013, Field has as-mentioned speed and power, and this season, the 22-year-old made his name in the Rays organization. Similar to Mahtook, 2015 could prove to be an important year in his development.
#3 Justin Christian – Christian has been in the game for a long time, continuing to be a contributor at the age of 34. Marking his 10th year of professional baseball, he was a consistent part of the Durham Bulls lineup. He led the team in extra base hits (36), runs scored (66), was second in hits ( 123), games played (126), and total bases (194). He struck out just 71 times. Christian has always been a solid defender, and this year he committed just 1 error in left field. When you watch him, you see a player that knows himself as a hitter. Christian has seen major league time throughout his career, and while he may not play for much longer, if he went out now, it’d be on a very high note.
#4 Kean Wong- Wong has been a model of consistency for the Bowling Green Hot Rods. He finished the season 2nd in the league in batting average (.306), and led the team in hits with 129 in 422 at-bats, 106 games played. He was 2nd to Field in runs scored (56) and 3rd in total bases (156). He put together a nine-game hitting streak in April, with 16 hits, 5 of them multi-hit games , including 3 in back-to-back games. He got another hit streak going in May, hitting safely in 8 games. The second baseman was named a Midwest League Post-Season All-Star.
Must-Mention… Ryan Brett, Julian Ridings, Taylor Motter. Curt Casali, Ryan Brett, Cameron Seitzer, Jake Hager, Willie Argo, Thomas Coyle, Patrick Leonard, Willy Adames
Pitcher of the Year:
#1 Chris Kirsch– Kirsch struggled some in April, but after that, he locked in, rarely missing a step in 2014. Each start for the Bowling Green Hot Rods showcased a pitcher ended 2013 more polished and confident. He put it all together in a big way this year. He allowed just 5 earned runs in 10 GS between June 13th and August 12th, and he was no victim of the long ball. Through 13 starts in July and August he didn’t allow a home run. After a rough pair of starts in April, in which he allowed 12 earned runs in two starts, he lowered his ERA each month, except August: May, 2.23; June,1.93; July, 1.15. He finished August with a 3.43 ERA, with two difficult outings and got tagged for the loss in both. The 2012 14TH rounder suffered at times due to struggling offense. In June, though 4 games started, he didn’t earn a win despite allowing just 5 earned runs. He finished the season leading Hot Rods pitchers in IP (133.2) and games started (24), and had the 5th lowest ERA in the Midwest League (2.83). Kirsch, a big lefty out of Lackawanna College, scrapped his curveball a couple of seasons ago, in favor of the slider. While he struggled to get comfortable with those changes in 2013, he exhibited improved command later on, carrying that into 2014. If you didn’t pay attention to him before 2014 Rays fans, turn your radar on.
#2 Jacob Faria - Faria led Bowling Green with outstanding pitching all through April, keeping his ERA to 1.98 during a two-week losing streak that plagued the Hot Rods. Through 5 starts that month, he allowed just 6 earned runs, and walked only 3 batters in 27 innings of work. In his first five starts, he lowered his WHIP to 0.77. He struggled more in May, but lowered his ERA & WHIP in June (3.57/1.08). On June 12th, he struck out a season-high 9 batters, and ended the season leading the team in strikeouts, with 107. Faria was a huge part of the reason the Hot Rods were able to stay competitive, showing he was capable of pitching deep and, like Kirsch, giving them a chance to win every time he was on the hill.
#3 Matt Andriese - All Andriese did was eat innings this season. Leading the team in innings pitched (162), he gave the team a reliable arm on their road to the playoffs. Andriese 1.24 WHIP was the lowest of all starters, and through 27 starts he struck out 129 batters (2nd to Nate Karns 153). He surrendered only 2 home runs in May and August, however, he led the team in home runs allowed (18). In his final outing of May, he didn’t allow a run through 7 IP, and in his next four starts allowed just 4 earned runs in 26.2 innings. He finished July with 29 strikeouts, with hitters averaging .269 off of him. Andriese allowed a lot of opportunity for teams to take advantage, but he tended to work in and out of trouble, and with a fastball clocked in the low-to-mid 90’s, he’s able to use deception and power to get guys out. At this point, he gives the Rays depth that they can surely use.
#4 Austin Pruitt - Pruitt led the Charlotte Stone Crabs in innings (147) and strikeouts (106), making 25 starts (tied for 1st with Reinaldo Lopez). His 1.19 WHIP was the lowest of all Charlotte starters, and his 61 earned runs was also lowest among team starters. He was 10th overall in the Florida State League in strikeouts and 5th in innings pitched. The Stone Crabs were 4th in the league in walks allowed (449), but that wasn’t a problem for the righty; he walked just 35 batters, giving up only five in August through six starts. He struck out a season high nine batters in June, and nearly matched that three starts later with 8 strikeouts. Pruitt tended to have a lot of base runners per game, but in August, when he gave up a season high 33 hits, he only allowed 12 earned runs, and the least amount of walks (5) of any month of the season. For a guy who made his professional debut in 2013, splitting time between Short-A Hudson Valley and Class-A Bowling Green, this was an impressive jump, with solid results.
Must-Mentions: Jaime Schultz, Mike Montgomery, German Marquez, Mike Colla, Dylan Floro, Nate Karns, Enny Romero, Merrill Kelly
Team of the Year:
Hudson Valley Renegades- The Renegades are in the playoffs again after winning the McNamara Division of the New York Penn League with a 46-30 record. The excellent balance on the roster from top to bottom was evident throughout the season. Renegades pitchers carried the lowest WHIP in the league (1.16), allowing the least amount of walks (175), and tied for 2nd in saves with State College (22). Offensively they were 2nd in the league in triples (30), 3rd in OBP (.323), and led in stolen bases (106). The team struggled in August after the All-Star break, and went 3-7 in their last ten games of the season. But they’d played so strong early on, that it didn’t matter. They finished with the 3rd best record in the league and the best home record (25-12). In games where they scored first, the team was 33-7. The last time the Renegades made the playoffs, in 2012, they were led by a similarly evenly balanced club. And like that team, if the pitching is anywhere near what it's been all season, the Renegades have a strong chance of taking the title.
Must-Mentions: The Durham Bulls were a close second, achieving a playoffs berth for the 7th time in eight years. Charlie Montoya, in his 8th year at the helm of the club, became the winningest manager in Bulls history (614). The Bulls led the International League in saves (49) and strikeouts (1220). They went 18-9 to start April, and finished the season 75-69.
Reliever of the Year
#1 Adam Liberatore – Liberatore led all Bulls relievers in innings pitched (65), wins (6), and strikeouts (86), finishing the season with a 0.86 WHIP. He gave up the most hits of the team’s relievers (43), but allowed just 12 earned runs. He gave up just 15 walks all season, and didn’t allow one free pass in his final 8 appearances of the season. Through 10 games between April 23rd and May 16th, he didn’t allow an earned run. He was absolutely on fire in August, picking up 4 saves in 4 opportunities, earned 2 wins, allowing just 1 earned run, 1 walk, and finishing with a 0.52 ERA in 13 games, and 17 innings pitched. He deserves more notice than he gets after that outstanding run.
#2 Colton Reavis – Through 45 innings of relief work for the Bowling Green Hot Rods, the Northwood, Texas product struck out 55 batters, and led the team in saves (7) through 27 appearances. After being promoted to the Charlotte Stone Crabs, he also notched 7 saves in 15 games. He allowed just 1 walk and 1 earned run, picking up win and 2 saves in July, finishing August with a 0.84 WHIP and 6 saves in 10 appearances. He didn’t walk a batter in June through 8 appearances. He’s among the players that have been selected by the Rays to participate in the Arizona Fall League.
#3 Josh Kimborowicz – The righty spent most of the 2014 season with the Hudson Valley Renegades, making 34 appearances, walking just 7 batters in 24 innings pitched. He notched 29 strikeouts and posted a 0.91 WHIP. In August, with the Hot Rods, he earned 2 saves in 2 opportunities, dropping his WHIP to 0.76, striking out 16 in 18 innings pitched.
Must-Mentions… CJ Riefenhauser, Brad Schreiber, Stone Speer, Jeff Beliveau, Josh Lueke, Kirby Yates