Hillsboro Hops

League: Northwest League (Short Season)

Record: 34-42 (t-6th of 8 teams in the Northwest League)

Runs Scored: 298 (5th of 8 teams)

Runs Allowed: 319 (5th of 8 teams)

Recap: Hillsboro struggled in it’s inaugural season as a franchise, replacing the Yakima Bears as the Diamondbacks’ short-season affiliate. The excitement for the team came via the pitching staff, where several touted arms made their debuts. Braden Shipley (1st Rnd), Aaron Blair (1st Supplemental), Daniel Gibson (7th Rnd) and Jimmie Sherfy (10th Rnd) were all highly-regarded out of college and got their feet wet in Hillsboro. While the results were occasionally electric and sometimes not, all four received their first taste of what’s to come.

At the plate, catcher Grant Nelson was the only top-ten pick to debut (9th Rnd) while the rest of the squad was filled with a mixed-bag of organizational players and players selected in the middle or later rounds of the 2013 draft. Overall, the team struggled to produce runs and there are few inspiring performances, but like the pitchers, many players were just getting their pro careers off the ground. These guys have a long ways to go and due to their recent draft selection, the sample size to evaluate is small, making it tough to draw solid conclusions.

Offensive MVP: Yogey Perez-Ramos, OF

Selected out of Miami-Dade CC (17th Rnd) back in 2012, Perez-Ramos was repeating the Northwest League but did so by carrying the team offensively. The lanky lefty didn’t hit for much power, but he clearly has contact ability, hitting .314/.382/.398 with only 39 strikeouts in 261 at-bats. Of his 82 hits, only 19 went for extra bases and none left the park. He did steal 15 bags in 19 attempts, suggesting that he may have some value in the running game. Unfortunately, time may not be on his side as he played the season at 24-years old, a time when you’d like to see a player in double or triple-A.

Runner Up: Zach Esquerra, OF

A 17th-round pick from the 2013 draft, Esquerra showed a nice display of power for Hillsboro. His triple slash of .283/.347/.500 shows that the guy can slug. He led the squad in home runs (8) while hitting 10 doubles and three triples in just 46 games. His approach seems to be the exact opposite of Perez-Ramos’ from above, however, as he struck out in 33% of his at-bats. His trade of contact in exchange for power will likely be problematic going forward, as players who show a lot of swing-and-miss at lower levels will struggle as the face increasingly advanced pitching. He’s got all winter and spring to work on it, so 2014 will be interesting to watch as the raw power is already clearly present.

Pitcher MVP: Ross Gerdeman, RHP/Ben Eckels, RHP/Austin Platt, RHP

Gerdeman, Eckels and Platt share this award because of quantity, not necessarily quality. Selected in the 35th-round of the 2011 draft, Gerdeman logged an impressive 93.2 innings, Eckels, a 17th-round selection from 2012,  threw 83.2 innings and Platt pitched 79 innings as 2011 26th-rounder. Combined, the trio pitched an impressive 33% of the team’s innings over fifteen games each. Gerdeman’s line: 3.56 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 59 K’s, 26 BB’s. Eckels’ line: 3.12 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 60 K’s, 40 BB’s. Platt’s line: 2.62 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 53 K’s, 40 BB’s. None were dominant but together, they carried the team on the mound.

Top 5 Prospects

  1. Braden Shipley, RHP – Shipley was the team’s first-round choice for a reason. He has the highest ceiling of the bunch and despite a bit of a rough transition to pro ball. He made several planned two-inning starts for HIllsboro, which were abnormal for him, as well as logging the most innings of his career in 2013. The stuff is still there and the sky’s the limit for Shipley. Hopefully he has a good start to 2014 in South Bend and moves on from there.
  2. Aaron Blair, RHP – Although he’s not exciting as Shipley, Blair throws strikes and keeps the ball down. The sinkerball pitcher gets grounders by the boatload, something I’ve been vocal about given the park effects of Chase Field. While his ceiling is probably that of a number three starter, he’s a guy that can log innings and get outs, a combination that every team in baseball is dying to have.
  3. Jimmie Sherfy, RHP – An elite closer in college, Sherfy is a funky righty with electric stuff. His throwing motion is far from clean and I do have concerns about injuries down the road, but he’s deceptive and has good raw stuff. He’s a reliever all the way but I think he has the ability to move quickly and could eventually be a late-inning bullpen piece.
  4. Daniel Gibson, LHP – Gibson is a lefty-reliever who can flash starter-quality stuff. He’s not a soft-tosser and has some deception to his delivery, combining to create an effective pitcher. Like Sherfy, I tihnk Gibson has a chance to move somewhat quickly. He’ll start 2014 in South Bend and go from there.
  5. Zach Esquerra, OF – The Hops were short on legitimate hitting prospects, but Esquerra’s ability to hit for power puts him on the list. Power bats are always tough to come by and there’s a premium placed on the ability to hit the long ball. As mentioned above, he’s going to have to work on making more contact but professional coaching can assist that. If he can find a way to cut down the whiffs without sacrificing the power, he could become a legit prospect. That’s a big, big “if,” though.

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