This is the third article in a series going team by team through the South Atlantic League looking at players I was excited to see coming into the season, and tracking their progress and also highlighting some breakout performers. Previously I've looked at the Augusta Green Jackets and Asheville Tourists.
Today it's a look at the Savannah Sand Gnats a New York Mets franchise.
As you probably already know the city of Savannah is cutting ties with professional baseball at the conclusion of the 2015 season for the foreseeable future.
What you may not know is that Savannah has had a long and storied history of hosting professional baseball, in fact almost continuously since 1884. They were an independent team until 1937 but they still produced many major leaguers. Shoeless Joe Jackson played there in 1909. They were an affiliate of the Philadelphia A's for over a decade in the 40's and 50's.
Interestingly, they were part of the South Atlantic league from 1904-1962 and left two years before it disbanded. From 1971-1983 they were the Savannah Braves and a member of the Double-A Southern league, former Braves great Dale Murphy played for them in 1976.
They joined the latest version of the Sally in 1984 as the Savannah Cardinals. The Cardinals played there for 11 seasons and won a championship each of their last two years. The franchise had a new name and a new tenant to start the 1996 season. The LA Dodgers were the Savannah Sand Gnats for two seasons 1996-1997 and a 17 year old Adrian Beltre played for the Gnats in 1996, they were followed by the Rangers for four seasons from 1998-2002, and the Expos/Nats dropped in from 2003-2006, and finally the Mets arrived in 2007 and Savannah has been their home since. I hope the city of Savannah and professional baseball get to write a new chapter at some point soon. As for the Mets they begin play in Columbia SC beginning in 2016.
The Sand Gnats play at Grayson Stadium which is known as a difficult place for hitters to display their power, the left field power alley is 390' and the right is 383'. For most guys it's down the line or forget about it.
I was told once by a Mets prospect enthusiast that most of the top hitting prospects skip Savannah because of the difficult home park. I haven't paid close enough attention over the years to know If that's true. It was the case with Michael Conforto but how many hitters are as polished as Conforto was coming out of the draft? It's a big jump in talent from rookie ball to A+. I know Dom Smith played for the Gnats last season.
I've seen some teams a bunch and others just once in 2015. Unfortunately I've only seen the Gnats once (May 3rd in Greenville), but I picked a great game to see. Casey Meisner threw six perfect innings against that loaded Drive lineup before tiring and losing it in the seventh.
Overall the Gnats aren't the most talented squad in the Sally but they have some interesting players, and after a slow start they won the Southern division 1st half title.
RF) Wuilmer Becerra-Certainly the most well known Gnats prospect in Savannah now that Meisner has been traded. Bats and throws right. Listed at 6'4" 190 lbs. At the dish he utilizes a slightly open stance. He's got a quick bat and a level swing that's a little on the long side. He's an aggressive hitter that hits to all fields but most of his over the fence power comes to his pull side.
I caught Becerra on a good night, he had three hits in four trips with a deep flyball to center that went for a triple and a home run to left center. He's really struggling lately power wise. As he's had just three extra base hits (all doubles) since June 7th (125 At Bats) and none since June 16th. Defensively it was just one look and he never had a chance to show off his arm but he got a good read and showed decent range coming in on a flair.
RHP) Casey Meisner Meisner is listed at 6'7" 180 lbs. Despite the fact that Meisner has been traded he's still worthy of mention as he was having a great season. I saw his seven innings of near perfection and it still stands as the best pitching performance I've seen this season.
The first couple of innings he featured a 87-90 MPH fastball, he mixed in a low 70's hook that he was consistently getting on top of, and a few low 80's change ups. His fastball ticked up in the middle innings where he sat 91-92 and touched 93. He utilizes a simple repeatable delivery and a high 3/4 release point which allows him to get great plane on his pitches. His changeup is behind his other pitches currently.
SS) Luis Guillorme-Bats and throws right. Guillorme is listed at 5'10" 170 lbs. He can handle the bat but has virtually no power. His calling card is his defense he's an excellent glove man at shortstop. I think its a utility infielder profile going forward however.
3B) Eudor Garcia-Bats left, throws right. Garcia is listed at 6' 225 lbs. He was drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 draft out of El Paso Community College. He didn't start the season with Savannah so I missed him with my one look. For those interested I found this piece at Amazing Avenue describing what the Mets might have in Garcia.
CF-RF) John Mora-Bats and throws left, listed at 5'10" 165 lbs. Mora hits with a compact line drive swing. He likely won't hit for much power going forward and despite the above average speed he's struggled to steal bases effectively. I didn't get to see much from Mora defensively as he just stood there and watched Meisner dominate. It's a difficult profile I would like his chances more if he were a middle infielder.
There are other Gnats pitchers having good statistical seasons, but I hadn't seen any of them pitch:
Martires Arias, Casey Delgado, Ricky Knapp, Alberto Baldonado, James Duff, Corey Oswalt, Scarlyn Reyes, David Roseboom, Cameron Griffin.
I'm hoping a Met fan or some one with knowledge of these players will shed some light on these guys.
This wraps up my look at the Sand Gnats I'll be back in a few days with a look at the Lexington Legends (Kansas City Royals).