May 1, 2010

Minor League Month in Review: Beloit Snappers - April

Beloit Snappers (12-8, 3rd in Midwest League Western Division)

             Team Leaders - Hitters                     Team Leaders - Pitchers    
             Hits: Brian Dozier - 23                    Wins: Tom Stuifbergen - 3
Avg: Brian Dozier - .319 ERA: Liam Hendriks - 0.41
OPS: Aaron Hicks - .890 IP: Tom Stuifbergen - 26
HR: 4 - tied with 3 K: Liam Hendriks - 26
RBI: Angel Morales/Steven Liddle - 11 Saves: Steven Blevins - 5
SB: Angel Morales - 8 WHIP: Liam Hendriks - 0.41

2009 is a season that the Beloit Snappers would like to forget. They finished the season with a 57-83 record, the 2nd worst record in the Midwest League. And on top of that, they finished second worst in attendance, accounting for only 2.3% of the 3,629,038 people that attended Midwest League games.

Nine players have returned from last year's roster to help turn get the team off on the right foot. And so far, they're doing just that. Through 20 games, the Snappers have the fifth best record in the Midwest League and finished off the month of April with nine wins in their last 12 games. The team's success has hinged on the pitching staff. The starters have a collective 2.38 ERA in 102 innings of work. They also have a 93/30 K/BB ratio and a 113/82 ground-ball/fly-ball ratio.

Liam Hendriks (#42) has been astonishing thus far. The 21-year-old Aussie started 11 games for the Snappers last season and is off to a hot start in 2010. Through four starts, Hendriks is 1-0 with a 0.41 ERA. He has a 13-1 K/BB ratio and has induced 24 ground-ball outs. The only run he surrendered came in his last start. He gave up a lead-off double to Sean Halton of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and he scored on a ground-ball later in the inning. He won the "Midwest Pitcher of the Week" on April 19.

Another player off to a grat start is Tom Stuifbergen (#29). The 21-year-old Dutch has a 1.38 ERA through 26 innings. He has made four starts, and has thrown at least six innings in each of them (he also made a relief appearance in the season opener). He has a ground-ball/fly-ball ratio of 33/17 and a K/BB ratio of 23/7.

Miguel Munoz struggled in has last two starts, but he still has a 2.75 ERA on the season. Dan Osterbrock, on the other hand, has been great over his last two starts. He has a 3.10 ERA on the season and was named the "Midwest Pitcher of the Week" for the week of April 19-25. He was 1-0 with a 1.35 ERA in two starts.

Having four of the five starting pitchers with an ERA of 3.10 (or under) are a main reason that the Snappers are second in the Midwest League with a 3.01 ERA. But the bullpen has been great as well. The group has an ERA of 3.84 in 77 1/3 innings pitched.

Kane Holbroooks has not allowed a run in 12 1/3 innings out of the pen while Steven Blevins has converted five saves in as many opportunities. Edgar Ibarra gave up four runs in his first outing of the season, but has not allowed a run over his last 9 2/3 innings pitched. Over that same span, Ibarra has walked just one batter while striking out 12.

The biggest struggle has come from 2009 3rd round pick Ben Tootle (#32). Tootle has given up 10 runs in 9 2/3 innings and has struggled with his control. He has given up three runs in an appearance on three different occasions. He can throw in the upper 90's, but with no sense of control, he will not make it very far. He has a team lead four wild pitches, despite pitching in the second fewest innings.

The offense, unfortunately has been a cause for concern for the Snappers. It averaged only 1.7 runs per game through the first six games, but since has averaged 5.4 runs over the last 14.

And it's no surprise that consensus top prospect Aaron Hicks (#1) has been the reason for this offensive turnaround. Since starting the season 1-31, Hicks has hit .528 (19 for 36) with three home runs, six RBI and five stolen bases since April 17th. I was able to ask Aaron what has changed and he said, "I'm just trying to stay on the ball more and watch it as long as possible."

He now how has a team high .890 OPS and has walked six times more than anyone else on the team. He began the season hitting third, but has since been moved to the top of the order, which the Twins Minor League direct Jim Rantz says is another reason for his turnaround. Hicks remains versatile in the outfield, starting 11 games in center field and five games in right field. He has two of the team's six outfield assists, both of which came in the first two games of the season.

Like Hicks, Angel Morales (#6) is also back with the Snappers and is also off to a great start. He is tied for the team lead in home runs, RBI, outfield assists and leads the team in stolen bases and slugging. He and Steven Liddle join Hicks in the outfield and the three of them have done a tremendous job so far. Liddle is also tied with Morales in each of the three categories mentioned above.

But Liddle isn't the only 2009 draftee that has been a surprise for the Snappers offense. 9th round pick Brian Dozier (#44) is the team leader in hits and batting average (.319).

What's Next?: Before heading out on a grueling 13 game road trip on May 25th, the Snappers have a very favorable schedule, with no team above .500. They play state rivals the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers nine times this month, which bodes well for the Snappers since they've won five straight against them (dating back to last September). Watch out for the promotions of Hicks, Morales and Hendriks. All three are in their second season with the Snappers and all could be in the Florida State League sometime in the next 45 days. This will pose a problem for the Snappers who will have a hard time trying to fill the void of these three.