High-A: at Down East 3, Fayetteville (HOU) 6
Down East loses best-of-five semifinal 2-3
SP Alex Eubanks: 4.1 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 SO
RP Joe Kuzia: 3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 3 SO
1B Curtis Terry: 0-3, walk, HBP
DH Yohel Pozo: 1-3, double, walk
PH/2B Josh Altmann: 0-0, 2 walks
For the second straight game, the bullpen allowed multiple runs before retiring anyone. In the 5th inning of Saturday's second game, six straight batters reached and four scored to build a six-run lead for the Woodpeckers. In Sunday's 6th, Down East couldn't record an out until seven had reached and four scored. All told for the series, the bullpen allowed 37 runners in 17 innings and walked or hit nearly one of every four opposing batters.
Down East had its chances, drawing seven walks and a hit batter in the last four innings, but Yohel Pozo's two-run double was the only hit in that span. In the 7th, Fayetteville missed on 19 of 29 pitches but escaped unharmed. Bubba Thompson and Josh Altmann walked to lead off the 9th and put the tying run at the plate. Julio Pablo Martinez flied out, Sam Huff struck out, Curtis Terry extended the game on an error, and Sherten Apostel took a called strike three.
Despite that concluding K, Apostel was Down East's offensive hero, batting .375/.444/.750 with two homers and five driven in. Martinez reached at a .350 pace and scored three runs from the leadoff spot. Sam Huff (.167/.211/.222) hit 28 homers in 2019 but hasn't gone deep in 98 trips to the plate since a mid-August dinger versus these same Woodpeckers.
Down East had the best regular season record (87-52) of any Texas-affiliated team since 1993 and the fourth-best in franchise history. An outstanding season, despite the ending. PLAYOFF PREVIEW
South Atlantic League Finals (best-of-five)
Hickory Crawdads (83-52) vs. KC-affiliated Lexington Legends (68-70)
Season Run Differential: Hickory +153, Lexington -37
Last 20 Games: Hickory 14-6, Lexington 12-8
Season Series: Hickory 6-5
By winning percentage, the 2019 Crawdads are the best Texas-affiliated low-A team in 30 years. They clinched a wild card spot early in the season's final week and upgraded to a second-half division title on the final day. Claiming the title didn't affect the playoff schedule, but it did let 90-win Delmarva know Hickory was the Shorebirds' equal. Hickory swept Delmarva 2-0 in the semis.
Six teams had better records than Lexington’s 68-70. In the first half, the Legends were swept by Augusta in June to fall 1.5 games behind two teams with four to play, but they swept Columbia on the road while the leading teams could only split their series, and Lexington won the division by one-half game with a 37-32 record. In the second half, the record dropped to 31-38 with a -60 run differential, mostly via inferior pitching. Nevertheless, Lexington knocked out Augusta in two straight last week. History
Hickory won the league title in 2015. This is Hickory’s second trip to the finals and fourth playoff visit in eleven years with the Rangers.
In 2018, Lexington broke an eleven-year postseason drought (the first six as a Houston affiliate) and won its first league title. During that span, the Legends posted one winning record, barely (71-68 in 2010) and were at least 20 games under .500 in six seasons.
Top 30 Prospects on Active Roster per MLB.com
1. 3B Josh Jung (#56 overall)
3. RHP Hans Crouse (IL, #79 overall)
4. RHP Cole Winn
17. IF Jonathan Ornelas
19. RHP Ronny Henriquez
24. RHP Ricky Vanasco
13. RHP Carlos Hernandez
22. OF John Rave
27. RHP Zach Haake Offense / Hickory Position Players
C Matt Whatley
1B Kole Enright
2B Frainyer Chavez
3B Josh Jung
SS Jonathan Ornelas
LF Ryan Anderson
CF Miguel Aparicio
RF Pedro Gonzalez
DH Tyreque Reed
Also C Melvin Novoa, IF Jax Biggers
Hickory outscored the park-adjusted league average by 8%. The roster has lost several power sources (Huff, Terry, Apostel), but the expected starters are no slouches in that regard. Pedro Gonzalez led the league with 23 bombs, and four other active hitters clubbed ten or more. The squad improved at drawing walks as the season progressed. Only Miguel Aparicio (.297 OBP) is a laggard in that regard. The entire group can reach base and/or hit for power; even the bottom of the order won’t afford any rest to the opposing pitcher. More than half the lineup can run, although Lexington's battery might have a contrary opinion.
Lexington’s offense was 5% worse than league average for the season and worse in the second half. In particular, the Legends hit one-third fewer homers in a park nearly a hitter-friendly as Hickory’s. Catcher Chase Vallot led the team with 14 homers but had a .190 average and sat during the semifinals. The other two catchers have some pop, as does OF Eric Cole. Lexington lacks a formidable on-base threat with Michael Gigliotti gone. Postseason leadoff hitter Rubendy Jaquez had a .320 OBP during the regular season, and #2 hitter Jeison Guzman was down at .296. Those two and 3B Nathan Eaton are the base-stealers. Pitching / Possible Rotation
1: Ronny Henriquez (4.50 ERA, .284/.340/.444 oppo line, 8% BB+HBP rate, 28% SO rate)
vs Jon Heasley (3.12 ERA, .222/.290/.360, 9% BB+HBP, 25% SO)
2: Cole Winn (4.46, .233/.340/.360, 14% BB+HBP, 22% SO)
Vs Carlos Hernandez (3.50 ERA, .250/.295/.390, 6% BB+HBP, 29% SO)
3: Ricky Vanasco (1.81 ERA, .167/.282/.220, 14% BB+HBP rate, 38% SO)
vs Charlie Neuweiler (4.36 ERA, .241/.330/.390, 12% BB+HBP, 26% SO)
4: Abdiel Mendoza (3.15 ERA, .215/.293/.350, 10% BB+HBP, 22% SO)
vs Zach Haake (2.85 ERA, .218/.315/.309, 12% BB+HBP, 29% SO)
Hans Crouse’s IL addition near the end of August did indeed end his season. This might sound heretical, but given his actual performance while pitching through bone spurs, his omission isn’t a terrible loss. Henriquez has been intermittently dominant, but on occasion his fastball arrives straight and hittable, especially in the early innings. Those rougher outings have inflated his ERA. Cole Winn is the obverse: tough to hit but sometimes very erratic in his control. He’s looked better down the stretch and concluded the regular season with the best outing of his career. Vanasco and Mendoza started in Hickory’s opening-round sweep and were outstanding.
Kelvin Gonzalez, he of the upper-90s fastball that touches 100, is the closer. Acquired for international slot money a year ago, he’s fanned 33% of his opponents and has average control. Softer-throwing Lucas Jacobsen has an even higher K rate of 38% and has featured in some high-leverage innings. Hever Bueno reaches the upper 90s and misses plenty of bats, albeit with worse control. Beyond them, Hickory has what appears to me a deeper bullpen than Lexington.
The rotation is Lexington’s strength. All can deliver fastballs in the low-to-mid 90s plus breaker or changeup no worse than average. Neuwiler has the lowest K rate of the four at 24%, which is slightly above average for a Sally League starter. Hernandez and Haake have reportedly touched 97. On the downside, only Haake has avoided trouble with homers. KC appears to love Heasley, who started Game 1 of the semis and is also slotted for Game 5 if necessary.
Lexington’s closer is undrafted RHP Brandon Marklund, a Canadian who signed with KC over the winter after a stint in the Australian Baseball League. He occasionally struggles with control but was mostly dominant. I’ve seen reports of up to 97 MPH on his fastball. Other late-inning relievers include righties Kyle Hinton and Dan James, both high-K, high-walk types. Beyond them, the bullpen is either mediocre or untested at this level. Defense
Hickory avoided errors and mistakes in general and was best in the league at turning batted balls into outs. Lexington presents a mixed picture. They shut down the running game like no other Sally team, with the second-best CS% and fewest attempts. They’re pretty good at turning batted balls into outs. But they have signs of sloppiness in the form of a high error rate and fewer double plays than expected. Advantages
Offense – Hickory
Pitching – Hickory
Defense – Hickory Park Factor
Hickory -- 1.04, an especially good homer park
Lexington – 1.02, also homer-friendly Outlook
Other than Lexington’s seeming ability to squelch the running game, I can’t find a single aspect at which the Legends outperform Hickory. I’m hopeful this exciting set of players will claim another title for Hickory. That said, playoffs are a crapshoot, and Lexington did just sweep a solid Augusta squad. Don’t reserve your parade route spot just yet.