League: Pacific Coast League (Triple-A)
Record: 60-84 (15th out of 16 teams in the Pacific Coast League)
Runs Scored: 757 (5th of 16 teams)
Runs Allowed: 793 (14th of 16 teams)
Recap: in case you missed my earlier write-up of the Visalia Rawhide and the park effects of playing in the California League, you should read it if only for the much-needed context of hitters and pitchers playing in extreme environments. Everything I said about the CAL League is pretty much applicable to the Pacific Coast League, especially parks like Reno, Albuquerque, Salt Lake and Las Vegas. Hits are relatively easy to come by in these parks, usually because of altitude, making them havens for hitters and hell for pitching staffs.
So it should come as no surprise that basically the entire Reno pitching staff spent the season getting shelled. And I mean that. The WHIP for the bulk of starting staff is routinely over 1.50 with ERA’s often pushing 6.00. Of course, some of that is because the staff contains guys that aren’t really quality pitchers, but the park effects don’t help. Zeke Spruill, Tyler Skaggs and Charles Brewer were technically the best starters on the staff, but take a look at the numbers and be reminded that context is critical. Joe Paterson was really good out of the ‘pen as were Chaz Roe and Warner Madrigal. It wasn’t enough, though, as collective pitching staff routinely took a beating. But hey, if you can pitch in Reno, you can pitch anywhere.
Every coin has two sides and the offense feasted in the hitter-friendly PCL. With several OPS’ in the .800’s, the Aces racked up the hits. Chris Owings absolutely destroyed the league while Matt Davidson did damage of his own, mostly in the first half. These two worked with older prospects like Brad Snyder and Mike Jacobs to lead a very potent offense that fun to watch. Tony Campana did his thing swiping 32 bags while Tyler Bortnick, a player picked up in the 2012 Ryan Roberts trade, got on base at an outstanding .397 clip over 88 games. The Aces may not have pitched well, but the offense was potent all year long.
Offensive MVP: Chris Owings, SS
As noted above, Owings ripped up PCL pitching all year long before getting his first stint in the majors. He hit to the tune of .330/.359/.482 over 125 games, racking up 31 doubles, eight triples and 12 home runs. He also stole 20 bases but was caught seven times. Owings played the vast majority of his innings at short but did see some action at second base for the first time in his career. He led the team in RBI (81) and runs scored (104), something you don’t see very often. He was the motor of the Reno Aces.
Runner Up: Matt Davidson, 3B
Long-known as one of the organization’s top prospects, Davidson erupted for the Aces in 2013, earning him a call up to the majors. His electric first half saw him win the Future’s Game MVP award and the PCL Home Run Derby crown in a matter of days, elevating his stock higher than ever. Despite rumors that he could get traded, Davidson hit .280/.350/.481 on the year over 115 games for Reno, including 32 doubles and 17 home runs. The walk rate was solid but the strikeouts were a bit troublesome, something that will have to improve if he wants to find success in the majors.
Pitcher MVP: Tyler Skaggs, LHP
Tyler Skaggs had a rough year. In the spring, he was battling for a spot on the roster but narrowly missed out, instead heading to Reno to start the year. Once he arrived in the majors, he got hit hard in seven starts and sent back down to refine his command. Unfortunately, he didn’t find much solace with the Aces but remained the best starter on an ailing staff. He put together nice strikeout and walk numbers on the year but gave up a lot of hits. Some of that is Skaggs and some of that is the PCL working it’s magic. The job of the Diamondbacks organization is determining how much each of those things contributed to his struggles and where to go next.
Runner Up: Joe Paterson, LHP
I’ve always had a soft-spot for Paterson as he attended my alma matter, Oregon State University, when they won back-to-back national championships. Unfortunately, he’s turned into the definition of a quadruple-A player: the guy that can kill AAA hitters but can’t take the success to the majors. He was filthy for the Aces, especially when facing lefties and has all of the makings of a left-handed specialist but it just hasn’t translated in the majors. He’s not likely to get many more opportunities and a change of scenery could be what he needs at this point.
Top 5 Prospects
Tyler Skaggs, LHP – I’m not ready to give up on Tyler Skaggs. The low to mid-90’s fastball paired with a devastating curve from the left side is too much to ignore. If he can get the changeup to come around, Skaggs could be very, very good. I think the PCL was tough on him in terms of hits allowed, but he kept the ball in the park and walked only 39 over 104 innings while striking out 107. The command has to improve, especially in the majors, but if it does, I still think he has a ton of upside. Like the rest of the Diamondbacks’ staff, he just needs to avoid mistakes and keep the ball in the yard, something he has plenty of time to do.
Chris Owings, SS – Owings raked in the PCL all year but I wonder how much the environments he played in inflated his numbers. A .386 BABIP is crazy and due to fall rapidly in the majors. He doesn’t hit for much power, his 3.8% walk rate in the minors is very worrisome and he strikes out a fair amount, too. My other concern is his ability to play solid defense at short and whether or not he’s better suited for second base long term. I’m cautiously optimistic, but I still have questions.
Matt Davidson, 3B – it’s seems like the organization has never been all that high on Davidson even though he’s had some memorable performances. There’s some swing-and-miss to his game and he’ll always strikeout a lot, but he takes walks and hits for power. His defense at third has received mixed reviews and it’s still yet to be seen how well it’ll play in the majors. I see him as a second division major league starter down the road. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with him over the winter as he’s pretty much blocked by Martin Prado.
Tyler Bortnick, 2B – he may never be a star, but Bortnick has utlity guy written all over him. He played second, third, short and even outfield for the Aces this year. He has a good idea of the strikezone and won’t hit for a high average but will take some walks and can steal bases. There’s virtually no power to his game, but I think he can be a very useful role player, perhaps as early as 2014.
Chase Anderson, RHP – a 2009 ninth-round selection, Anderson continued his progression through the minors, spending the whole season in Reno. As with the rest of the pitching staff, it did him no favors. He finished the year as a reliever but was most effective as a starter. He’s not a flamethrower but still posts reasonable strikeout and walk numbers. He has a chance to be a good back end starter if he continues to progress.
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