With the CBL nearing the end of it’s 33rd season, let’s take a look back at the year that was. In Part 1, we’ll review the Frontier League.
66-96, 7th place
The Dreamers top 3 starting pitchers were all fantastic. Kire Rellim, Ivan Carrillo and Ken Heal all had very good seasons, and gives the Dreamers a very good core of pitching to build around for next season, with all three pitchers coming back. 25-year-old 1B Alex Casciola had a nice season, and looks like a key part of the Dreamers lineup for years to come. Victor German, a rookie reliever, looks like a long-term top of the rotation starting pitcher. If he’s the 4th starter next season, the Dreamers top 4 will be as good as anyone’s when healthy if German develops into the ace many expect.
Despite some solid talent, the Dreamers struggled in large part because of their overall depth. Injuries really put this team in a tough spot at times, and the team struggled to pick up wins. The good news is adding average-level depth isn’t too difficult most off-seasons, so if the Dreamers can find a few key role players to bolster this teams depth for next season, a quick turn around is not out of the question. The team’s base running ranked last in the FL, and their bullpen ERA was second to last, so those areas will need to be improved as well.
Down On The Farm
Right Fielder David Puddy looks like a budding superstar, and should begin next season in AA. He hit .375/.485/.625 with 11 home runs in 43 games at Low A, and then hit .311/.374/.408 in 51 games at the High A level after being promoted. The former 5th overall pick looks like he should be a decent defender in the outfield, and while he provides nothing on the basepaths, he’s a potential triple crown winner at the plate if he continues to develop.
Third Baseman John Nemecek, the former #4 overall pick, is knocking on the door of the CBL after hitting .309/.364/.488 in 130 games in AA this past season. He will likely open the season in AAA for a bit more seasoning, but a great off-season and Spring Training could allow him to make the Dreamers opening day roster. He’s a switch hitter that scouts expect to hit very well, and scouts have been impressed with his speed and base running ability.
81-81, 5th Place
Kyler Murray hit .347 to win the batting title for the second straight year, and at just 25 years of age he should be around for years to come. Tim Eulberg hit .302/.343/.518, and is set to make just $2.8 million next season. Signing Eulberg for 2 years and just $5.6 million was a bargain at the time, and it looks even better after one season. Pacho Herrera, Jesus Perez and Javier Baez Jr. give this team a great core lineup, and filling in the spots around those 5 shouldn’t be too difficult. The lineup is deep, talented, and young, so they should only get better in time.
The team’s starting rotation struggled, performing well below pre-season expectations. They posted a 4.94 ERA, finishing second to last in the FL in Starters ERA on the season. The good news, though, is that both Jeffrey Springs and Dan Edwards pitched better than their ERA indicates, as both of their FIP were below 4.00. Adding some upgrades around Springs and Edwards would be a major boost for the rotation and would likely help the team return to the playoffs after missing it by 1 game this past season. The team’s defense was right around league average in the FL, but the FL as a whole was bad defensively, so improving the team’s defense could also provide a nice boost for the pitching staff.
Down On The Farm
Joey Hatchell spent the season as a 19-year-old in AA, and he hit .300/.414/.530 in 135 games. The former #5 overall pick, Hatchell has been playing third base, but is among the worst defensive third baseman in the minors, so it seems likely he’ll simply be moved across the diamond and taught first base next season. He would likely be an above average defender at first, and his bat looks like it will be a middle of the order thumper for years.
3B Jose Garza, the #7 overall pick the year after Hatchell, spent the year in Low A as an 18-year-old, and excelled. He hit .357/.413/.500 in 31 games, and scouts believe his footwork and arm are good enough for him to be at least an average defender at third base. Garza will likely spend most or all of next season between High A and Double A, but he should form a great corner tandem with Hatchell for the future of the Knights franchise.
82-80, 4th Place
Boogie Pippins and Pat Vander Laan had breakout years, with Pippins hitting .312/.350/.452 in 154 games and the 21-year-old PVL hitting .266/.348/.490 in 147 games. Veterans Liam Castro and Arturo Vallejo continued to lead the lineup and rotation, respectively. Castro hit .280/.336/.404, just barely above average among the league’s shortstops. His defense, however, remains elite, and it provided a ton of value for this team. Castro finished with nearly 6 WAR. Vallejo threw 215 innings, going 16-7 with a 2.80 ERA.
Despite Liam Castro’s spectacular defense, Erie still finished with a negative defensive zone rating this season, so that’s an area the team will need to shore up to return to the playoffs next year. Some fans are frustrated by the nepotism, as the team is full of Trojanowski’s struggling. Marion Trojanowski posted a WRC+ of 98, and Action Trojanowski posted a WRC+ of 85. 100 is league average, so both players were below average offensively. Action, however, has had a nice post season and scouts believe he will become a very good player soon. Henry Trojanowski posted a 4.65 ERA in over 180 innings pitched. We’re three years removed now from his last productive season as a starting pitcher. Joey Trojanowski, the newest one, looks like a future star in center field after receiving a late season promotion and a playoff roster spot, so the nepotism isn’t all bad.
Down On The Farm
Catcher Don Lichtenauer, a former 2nd round pick, hit .324/.385/.535 in 19 games in AA before being promoted to AAA, where he just continued to hit. He hit .317/.350/.457 in 91 games at the AAA level, and seems ready to make his CBL debut in the near future. He’s still inexperienced defensively behind the plate, but as he gets more games played, scouts believe he will be an above average defensive catcher as well. If he can continue to hit for a high average and play above average defense, he’ll be a great piece for the Seawolves to add to a formidable lineup. Even with DeAngelo Vickers behind the plate already, you can never have too many catchers.
First Baseman Jerry Sklar, a 25-year-old slugger repeating the AAA level, hit .269/.356/.530 with 27 home runs in just 111 games. Scouts aren’t convinced he’ll hit enough to be a CBL level starter, but with Marion Trojanowski’s struggles offensively, Sklar might get a chance next season to prove his breakout AAA season was a sign of things to come.
The Seawolves Rookie League team went an embarrassing 4-52 this season, the low A team went 6-44, and their high A team was 37-102. The three low level teams combined to go 47-198, so unsurprisingly there were not any performances to be excited about at those levels.
83-79, 3rd Place
Second baseman Tim Moniot had a great, bounce back season. After hitting .228 in 153 games last season, he returned to his old form, hitting .328/.367/.448 in 152 games. Lucifer Morningstar emerged as arguably the league’s top third baseman, hitting .327/.363/.500 in 157 games. Starting pitcher Antonio Martinez led the league in innings pitched, throwing a much needed 223 2/3 innings to anchor the Milkmen staff. He posted an impressive 2.86 ERA and was great all season. 23-year-old right fielder Joe Loback had a great sophomore season, hitting .306/.336/.491 in 153 games, leading the league in runs scored with 106.
Like most of the FL, the Milkmen could use some defensive improvement next season. Despite finish second in the FL in Zone Rating, they were still a -4, which shows just how poor the defense was overall across the FL. Center fielder Wes Bahm was expected to be an asset defensively, so him hitting just .248/.311/.312 wasn’t surprising, but his -2.2 Zone Rating in CF over a large 139-game sample was disappointing given his reputation. For the most part, though, there weren’t a lot of “bad” for the Milkmen, which makes their 83-79 finish a bit surprising.
Down On The Farm
Shortstop Daniel Pena, the #2 overall pick this past June, was regarded as the best defensive shortstop in the draft and one of the most polished high school prospects in more than a decade. He did little to change that outlook, as he hit a ridiculous .392/.435/.691 in 27 games at the High A level, and then hit .379/.400/.552 once he was promoted to AA in 14 games. He also was arguably the best defensive shortstop at both levels. He looks like a future star, and he won’t turn 19 years old until next June. Pena was a spectacular choice at #2 overall, and while a 2047 debut seems crazy, after his first season, it wouldn’t be entirely surprising.
Late-inning power arm Tony Mason had an impressive season at the AA level. Appearing in 47 games, Mason finished with 105 strikeouts in just 66 innings pitched. With a cut-fastball that has hit triple digits and one of the best curveballs in all of baseball, Mason should make his CBL debut next season, possibly as early as opening day. He looks like a future stopper.
112-50, 1st Place
The Millers finished first in the FL in almost every team category, and finished with the best run differential in the league this season. Joe Busam continued to be the Glitch, dominating every fifth day as he usually does. He finished the season with a microscopic 1.94 ERA in nearly 200 innings. Ty Mosser began the year as a long reliever but finished as the Millers stopper, posting a ridiculous 1.04 ERA in 95 innings pitched. Catcher Ed Zuker hit .371 and would’ve won the batting title by nearly 25 points, but he fell just short of qualifying.
The Millers financial situation was rough this season. While it’s seemed like the organization has been in financial trouble for years, this was actually the first year the team didn’t turn a profit since the 2031 season. The team lost just over $16,000,000 last season, but traded for nearly $27,000,000 in cash, so the overall profit was nearly $11,000,000. The team made no real attempts to add cash this season, however. Coupled with an early round playoff exit costing the team an additional $10-$12 million in playoff revenue, the Millers will lose about $30 million this season, with key players Desi Reamer, Ed Donoho and Jose Marin set to test free agency for the first time in their careers. That’s a lot of money for an owner to pay to NOT win the championship.
Down On The Farm
Shortstop Dexter Morgan, the former #2 overall pick, has had an interesting minor league career so far. He’s been moved around several levels to get him the most game experience as possible. After hitting just .185 at the High A level, Morgan improved to .256 when the Low A season started and he was sent there. He finished the season at the rookie league level, playing third base for the first time, and he hit .347/.391/.617 with 8 home runs in 43 games. He will likely be moved around a lot again next season, both on the field learning new positions, and off the field at different minor league levels. The Millers expect him to be a big part of the team’s future.
Shortstop Elijah Tatis, drafted #3 overall this past season after the Millers traded down from the #1 pick, had an impressive 17 game debut, hitting .297/.378/.391 while stealing 5 bases as an 18-year-old. Like Morgan, Tatis is expected to be moved around the diamond to get him experience at several positions, but scouts believe he could stick at shortstop long-term. The Millers organization is known to value versatility, so it’s no surprise Tatis is expected to learn new positions as he develops.
79-83, 6th Place
SP Joey Svetz had a nice year between the bullpen and the rotation. The 26-year-old right hander appeared in 35 games, including 12 starts, and finished the season with a 3.05 ERA in over 90 innings. He posted a 3.78 ERA in his 12 starts, and looks like he should be a fixture in the Nashville rotation for years. 22-year-old southpaw Antonio Mora also had a great rookie season, going 10-4 in 17 starts, posting a 3.02 ERA despite very low strikeout numbers. Mora and Svetz give the Outlaws good, talented and cheap starting pitchers to build around for the next few years.
Mike Portz made 32 starts for the Outlaws, posting a 6.13 ERA while going 5-14. Advanced statistics said he was better than his ERA, but his 4.85 xFIP still left a lot to be desired. Closer Jorge Moyao took a step back, posting a 4.75 ERA this season after an impressive 2.49 ERA last season. Third baseman Raul Dominguez hit just .222/.268/.343 in 138 games at the hot corner, and while he provided above average defense, his WRC+ of 65 was among the worst offensive numbers among starters around the league. Outside of Portz and Dominguez, though, Nashville had solid depth and at least average-ish starters at every position. Adding a little bit of star power to the top of this team’s roster could make a huge difference next season.
Down On The Farm
Right fielder Tom Macdonald, the #6 overall pick back in 2042, hit an impressive .323/.391/.484 at the High A level, and scouts feel he isn’t too far from making his CBL debut. His defense is terrible, but his bat is spectacular and he should be a great DH for years to come. He seems likely to start next season in AA.
First baseman Virgil Klahre, a 3rd round pick from 2042 as well, looks like the next big power hitter. He hit .274/.384/.512 with 24 home runs in 125 games at AAA this past season, and he seems like a lock to be Outlaws starting first baseman on opening day next season. Klahre and Ed Zickefoose should form a great 1B/DH duo until Macdonald is ready, but it’s also possible the Outlaws will look to trade one of Klahre or Zickefoose this off-season to improve other parts of their roster. But the Outlaws farm is in great shape, to be sure.
San Diego Surf Dawgs
51-111, 8th place
There’s no way to sugar coat it: This was a very rough year for the Surf Dawgs. However, it wasn’t all bad. The Dawgs finished 3rd in the FL in base running value added, with an impressive +24 rating. Milo Smart continued to bounce between the bullpen and starting rotation as he’s done his entire career, but had a solid all around season, posting a 4.00 ERA in over 130 innings, including 14 starts. Still just 26-years-old, Smart would likely benefit from being moved to a relief role exclusively. He could be a very good late inning reliever for years. Tim Flores had a solid bounce back year, hitting .288/.331/.457, but even that positive was outweighed by Flores -10 Zone Rating as a second baseman, and his expected $17 million salary next season in his final year of arbitration makes keeping him far from a certainty.
Obviously, a lot of things went wrong. The team finished last in the FL in Starters ERA, Bullpen ERA, FIP, Pitching WAR, Zone Rating and Defensive Efficiency. Right Fielder Bobby Axelrod signed a three year, $70 million extension prior to this season, and then continued his struggles, hitting just .229/.274/.429 in 130 games before breaking his elbow and missing the remainder of the season. Reliever Steve Pascuzzi, making nearly $13 million, posted a 5.02 ERA in 118 innings, blowing leads all season. Manny Soto and Sam McClammy failed to earn their large salaries, as well. There will need to be a lot of changes in the San Diego this off-season, and there’s no doubt the Surf Dawgs are hoping by some miracle both Soto and McClammy opt out of their deals.
Down On The Farm
While the Dawgs big league roster is a mess, the good news is the team has a lot of prospects worth keeping an eye on that should give the team some hope into the future. Starting pitchers Luis Zuniga and Cesar Santana, both top 2 picks over the last two drafts, look like future rotation anchors. Both players look like they are developing quickly, too. Zuniga is probably ready for the AA level right now, but after struggling at the High A level in 12 starts it seems likely he’ll begin the year by dominating that level next season. Santana is better right now than most of the Dawgs big league pitchers, and after dominating High A hitters, he should begin the year in AA before a quick promotion to the big leagues.
Nacho Diaz is a future DH, but at 20-years-old he hit .316/.366/.531 in 76 games at AA, and should make his CBL debut sometime next season as well. SS Robby Swigert, drafted in the second round this past June, hit .349/.386/.454 in 53 games at the Rookie League level, and scouts rave about his defense. Some scouts even prefer Swigert’s defense over Milwaukee’s Daniel Pena, but everyone agrees both players are elite defensive shortstop prospects. Swigert could also move quickly through the Dawgs system, as he’s close to his potentials. Using Swigert at shortstop and moving Stan Struckhoff to third base or a utility role would likely give the Dawgs a big boost defensively, and would give the team some much needed depth. Swigert could debut by mid-season next year, in most scouts opinions, despite only playing at the Rookie League level thus far.
86-76, 2nd Place
Closer Antonio Fuentes was great, posting a 2.03 ERA in 61 appearances, finishing with 39 saves. The team’s offense was spectacular, finishing second in the FL in runs scored and first in home runs. Malik Carr had a monster season, hitting .327/.387/.612 with 29 home runs in just 111 games. He’ll receive a $32 million raise on his salary next season. Third baseman Dirk Gently missed quite a bit of time, but when he was healthy he continued to rake. He finished the year hitting .290/.354/.508 in 101 games.
The team’s defense was bad, finishing 7th in the FL in both defensive efficiency and zone rating. Injuries continued to haunt the organization, as only three players played more than 130 games. The pitching staff struggled as a whole, partly because of the defense and partly because of the injuries. The fact that the Canadians were able to finish second in the league despite a starting rotation and bullpen that ranked fifth in their respective ERA’s shows how good the offense was.
Down On The Farm
The Canadians didn’t have many standout statistical performances in the minor leagues, but they have loads of talented prospects. Starting pitcher Juan Aleman, signed out of the Dominican Republic, threw just 37 innings this past season as he got his feet wet in professional baseball. He pitched well at the Rookie League level in 4 starts, and then struggled in 5 starts at the High A level. But scouts think he’ll develop three and possibly four plus pitches in time. With a fastball that can top 100 MPH, the left handed flamethrower is a prospect to watch over the next few seasons.
First baseman Stan Struchen was drafted 14th overall this past June, but didn’t play at all after signing with Vancouver. He hit .341/.427/.644 for Duke prior to the draft, and is expected to grow into a middle of the order bat as time goes on. He’ll likely make his debut at the High A level next season, and a fast track to the CBL level certainly isn’t out of the question.