In what would turn out to be the final season in Silver Hawks history, South Bend utilized a breakout season from shortstop prospect Andrew Velazquez and consistent pitching from the rotation and closer Silvino Bracho to make a playoff run. Although they lost in the first round of the Midwest League playoffs, the Diamondbacks’ full-season single a affiliate is yet another group of minor leaguers to have a successful campaign in 2014. After the season, the Diamondbacks and South Bend parted ways, resulting in Arizona moving it’s full-season operation to Kane County for 2015 and beyond.
AZL D-backs at a Glance
Midwest League (A) Ranks (out of 16 total teams)
- Record: 83-56 (2nd)
- Runs: 694 (1st)
- OPS: .721 (2nd)
- HR: 104 (t-2nd)
- SB: 131 (8th)
- K: 1208 (15th)
- BB: 481 (3rd)
- Runs Allowed: 570 (t-4th)
- ERA: 3.49 (t-4th)
- WHIP: 1.26 (t-3rd)
- K: 1128 (8th)
- BB: 397 (3rd)
At the plate, South Bend was a force to be reckoned with. They had a nice blend of former high school selections and recent college picks who came together to pack a punch. They got on base with excellent frequency while also showcasing some plenty of power. Together, those things outweighed the team’s strikeout problem. They were in the middle of the pack in terms of stolen bases and were all-around far above average as a complete offense.
On the mound, things were similar. The rotation wasn’t excellent, but it wasn’t bad either. Four starters made up the bulk of the rotation over the duration of the year and they were more solid than good. The bullpen was another story, however. South Bend had a bevy of relief pitchers who struck out more than a batter per inning while the entire staff did a good job of limiting the walks. Altogether, the pitching staff was more than adequate given the runs the offense scored.
Andrew Velasquez, SS: make no doubt about it, Velasquez stole the show in South Bend. After being drafted in the 7th round of the 2012 draft out of a New York prep school. It was an unconventional pick of a guy who was considered “under the radar,” but it now appears to be yet another nice scouting find on the part of the D-backs. Granted, Velasquez repeated full season single-a this season, but he absolutely destroyed the league and was just 20 when he did it, which is right on track when considering the age/level perspective.
Daniel Gibson, LHP: Gibson is a lefty reliever who came to the Diamondbacks in the 8th round of the 2013 draft out for the University of Florida where he’d started and relieved. He was quite successful for the Silver Hawks on the year as a set-up man before being called up to high-a Visalia where he struggled in the high desert environment. Still, Gibson is another talented bullpen piece who’s still on track to keep climbing the ladder.
Daniel Palka, 1B: Palka is another 2013 draft selection, being drafted in the 3rd round out of Georgia Tech. He was a bit of a curious selection as he’s a first baseman all the way and offers nothing more on the defensive spectrum. Still, his raw power is easily noticed and the calling card that got him drafted. True to form, he led the Silver Hawks in home runs in 2014. Despite the performance, Palka is still not considered much of a “guy” by scouts, as was noted by Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs in a recent chat after he spoke to several scouts and sources inside and outside of the D-backs’ organization.
Michael Perez, C: the Diamondbacks are thin on catching prospects, in case you haven’t noticed. Stryker Trahan isn’t working out back there and Jose Herrera is only 17 and way too far away to know they have in him, leaving Perez as the team’s best catching prospect with any kind of future that’s projectable. The Puerto Rico native had a solid season for the Silver Hawks, although making consistent contact still plagues the 22-year old. He’ll give high-a another go in 2015 (he started 2013 there, then was demoted to South Bend midseason) and given his fly ball rates, could really take off. He has some power although his defense isn’t noted as anything more than average at best. 2015 is huge for him.
Jamie Westbrook, 2B: a personal favorite of mine, Westbrook continues to climb the ladder more quickly than expected and produce at the same time. At just 19, the 2013 5th round choice out of an Arizona high school held his own against older, more advanced competition over the whole season, proving his toughness and ability to adapt. He’s short with a thick lower half but runs well enough to be above average on the bases. He produced offense at a league average level in 2014 and may just see high-a next season as a 20-year old, although the bat will have to continue to improve if he’s going to keep succeeding at higher levels.
Chuck Taylor, OF: Taylor is noted for having every day tools but hasn’t necessarily put the whole package together as of yet. He was relegated to left field at times for the Silver Hawks although he can play center in a pinch. He put together his best season as a pro for South Bend after being drafted in the 4th round of the 2012 draft. He’s got a great feel for the strike zone and can make plenty of contact, but he doesn’t have much pop and although he runs well, is yet to establish himself as a true base stealing threat. Taylor looks like a wait-and-see prospect who’s shown progress this season. He’ll start 2015 in high-a for the Diamondbacks.
Silvino Bracho, RHP: one of the many flame-throwing relievers in the Diamondbacks’ system, Bracho served as the Silver Hawks’ closer in 2014 and absolutely carved up the league. He was old for the level, however, and his diminutive size may not allow him to succeed against older, stronger, more advanced competition. Still, it’s hard to argue with the results and until he starts to get hit around, he’ll keep climbing the ladder. High-a Visalia will be a stiff test for him.
Position Players: the trio of Velsquez (.796), Palka (.798) and Perez (.776) powered the Silver Hawks all season long with above average OPS numbers. They were the engine of the team offensively, hitting 40 of the team’s 103 homers, but weren’t completely going it alone. Second baseman Jamie Westbrook, third baseman Joe Munoz and outfielders Chuck Taylor and Breland Almadova also helped pick up the slack. It was team effort for the Silver Hawks and they were up to the task with the second-best offense in the Midwest League.
Pitchers: South Bend’s rotation was more solid than good, but it did enough to keep the team afloat. Primary starters Blake Perry, Sean Furney and Blayne Weller did a nice job of managing games until the electric South Bend bullpen could take over. Closer Silvino Bracho was truly dominant, but lefties Daniel Gibson and Jose Jose were also very effective over a bulk of appearances. After coming over from the Brewers in the Gerardo Parra trade, starter Anthony Banda was very effective and should be followed closely.
Most Valuable Position Player: Andrew Velasquez, SS
Make no mistake about it, this was a true breakout year for Velasquez. He set a minor league record for consecutive games reaching base (72) while hitting 18 doubles, 15 triples and nine homers. Velasquez also stole 50 bases in 65 tries, putting his wheels to use. He has the tools to potentially stick at short long-term, making him all the more valuable. Visalia will be a stiffer test for the 20-year old, but one has to like where he’s headed.
Most Valuable Pitcher: Silvino Bracho, RHP
I’m not a big fan of awarding relief pitchers much of anything, but what Bracho did to the competition was downright wicked. Consider this: in 43.1 innings, he struck out 70 batters and only walked eight, surrendering a grand total of 25 hits over 45 appearances. True, he was older than some of the competition at 22, but his performance was incredible as he’s clearly doing something right. Like Velasquez, Bracho will face a much tougher time in Visalia.
Yet again we see a Diamondbacks minor league affiliate posting a winning season, helping to change the culture of the organization. The top prospects did their thing and most of them had positive campaigns. While there is clearly a long way to go for these players before we see them in Phoenix, full-season ball is usually the separator. For those moving on, high-a Visalia will pose a new challenge, benefiting hitters and punishing pitchers. It’s yet another step closer to the end goal, however, and several prospects for the Silver Hawks made a solid leap forward in 2014.
Visalia Rawhide of the California League
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