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Minor League Wrapups (10/3); A+ Visalia

With the conclusion of the 2005 minor league season, I will now begin a series of wrapups on each minor league team's season, starting with the Triple A level down to the Short Season teams. I have decided o do it on a week by week basis. So without further adieu, here is the Visalia Oaks' 2005 season wrapup.

TEAM: A+ Visalia Oaks
LEAGUE: California League (North)
1ST HALF RECORD: 26-44 (Last Place; 18 GB)
2ND HALF RECORD: 29-41 (Last Place; 13 GB)

SEASON IN REVIEW: The Oaks were the worst team in the DRO this yeare, both talent-wise and on-field record, funny about how those two go together, someone should tell the major league club. Visalia was good at the very beginning and very end of the year, but in between they were a mess. As much could be expected with the level of talent they had. The only prospects of note coming into the season were Wes Bankston, Jeff Niemann, Jason Pridie, and Jon Barratt. Niemann was injured, Bankston was promoted very quickly, Pridie had all of two at bats before getting injured, and Barratt sucked, to be concise.

The team started to get better at the end of the season, going 15-10 from August 11th to the season's end. Still, a combined 55-85 rfecord might be the reason the Oaks finished last in attendance, and their average crowd of 933 is barely over half of small Recreation Park's 1800 capacity. The Oaks were the Rays' last choice for a new affiliate this year, and you can expect that they will try again for a FSL affiliate next year, most likely with Brevard County.

TEAM MVP: How bad was Visalia this year? Well, they finished last in runs scored and second to last in runs allowed. But Visalia did have their offensive highlights. Joey Gomes, Jason St. Clair, Kris Dufner, Aneudi Cuevas, Josh Arhart, and John Paul-Davis all had pretty good years. But in the end, therte was really only one person to give this award to. If you were to listen to the minute or so on the Rays' radio broadcasts devoted to the minors, his name was always mentioned on there, and his long hitting streaks were a prime reason. While not a prospect, he is even older than his brother, who is raking in the major leagues. He really has no future in the organization, and his season may be a product of inflated stats, but there is no arguing this one. The tale of the tape shows that Joey Gomes was a cut above the rest.

Gomes finished the year as the Oaks' leader in games, at bats, runs, hits, doubles, RBI, and TB. If you take away Francisco Leandro's 248 ABs and .355/.449/.569 line, he leads in  BA and OBP. Gomes ended up belting 12 home runs and driving in 86 runs. He also had a very good .58 BB/K while hitting to a line of .325/.383/.460.

Clearly it is time for Gomes to go to Montgomery, if the Rays do keep him next year. He hadn't got past the High A Level until last year, when he was called up to the Biscuits for an 89 at bat stint. He didn't really do that badly in the SL, hitting to a .270/.312/.416 line, but ended up in Visalia for this year any way. In all honesty, he shouldn't have been in Visalia this year. He should have been the third member of the Dukes-Young outfield at Double A. And the Rays' continued moronic approach to promote him has resulted in the 'prospect' label being taken off of his name. Gomes will be 26 in less than a month, and he needs to keep up this production and get quick promotions for him to have any worthy major league career.

PITCHER OF THE YEAR: Now, the offense as a whole was bad, but even the worst offense in the Cal League has plenty of good statlines. However the second worst pitching staff in the Cal League has got to be extremely bad. And that is just what it was. The Pitcher of the Year awards have all been very close races, and had Andy Sonnanstine not been promoted, we'd have had to choose between the lesser of evils again. Only two players finished with an ERA below 4.46, and just three had an ERA under 5.03 for Visalia. The lowest ERA, which belonged to David Coggin, was earned in just 29.1 IP. Now I understand the Cal League favors pitchers, but this is just dumbfounding.

But on to the positives, and for the Oaks' staff, Sonny clearly provided most of that. Despite only making 10 starts, Sonny wins the Pitcher of the Year award by pitching to a 3.80 ERA. That might not sound impressive, but again, this is the Cal League. He gives up over a hit per inning, but his WHIP is just 1.22. Why is that? Why, because of a 75:7 K:BB. No, that isn't 7.5, that is 75. He actually strikes out almost 11 batters for every walk he gives up. Now, it may be that he is facing inferior competition, but the Cal League had some impressive hitting prospects (Daric Barton, Steven Drew, Howie Kendrick, Brandon Wood, to name a few) this year.

Sonny's problem has been his hits given up. His H/9 of 11.23 is not even mediocre, and while hits are due mostly to luck, in my state of thinking, 11.23 is still not a good number. But every thing else statisticly about Sonny is gold.

His .7 HR/9 is great, by any standard, especially is the Cal, and just to emphasize further how good that walk ratio is, his BB/9 is 0.98. Yes, 0.98. He doesn't even walk a full batter per game. His 10.55 K/9 is also something very special, proving that his K:BB isn't based entirley on no walks. In simple terms for the casual fan, if Sonnanstine were a Devil Rays, and he were to put up these stats in a complete game, you'd get 10 free wings from Hooters. Going back to the stathead speak, I calulated Sonny's DIPS for fun, seeing just how low his DIPS would be considering it places less of an emphasis on hits. The final product? 2.66

Nonetheless, apparently the stats don't speak it all. Sonny does not have much velocity, his average fastball is around 89, and his unorthodox sidearm motion may be the reason that hitters cannot figure him out. A lot of people feel that he may have to convert to a reliever somewhere down the line. Another issue? He is already 22, which is getting old in prospect terms, but the college expierence has its advantages on the contrary. There are just so many questions about Sonny's future that can only be answered by movin' him on up and letting him faced more expierenced hitters. But for now, Sonny should savor the moment. Because for me, he is the second best pitching prospect in the DRO.

Sonny pitched longer and almost twice as many innings for Southwest Michigan, with similar results, so he is still very much in the running for that award to. Could Sonny win two POY awards? Check DRays Bay on Tuesday to see if he did.

PLAYER NOTES: In this section, we dedicate space to the individual players who were of interest during the 2005 season. Because the the lower levels are full of players who are much bigger crapshoots and less cemented as 'players of note', this section will get shorter each week.

OF Francisco Leandro-Leandro absolutely raked in the Cal League after a late season promotion from A- Southwest Michigan. Like Sonny, he is still in the running for an award with SWM, so we'll discuss his MWL stats on Monday with the SWM wrapup. But there is no doubt that Leandro will be climbing on a lot of prospect lists after his amazing numbers in Visalia. The Cal League undoubtably gives a boost to hitters, but the league by itself does not create a .355/.449/.569 hitting line. In fact, the league has nothing to do with the fact that his IsoOBP was .120. The slugging percentage increase of .138 from SWM might be a little Cal inflated, but his OBP was also high with the M-Rays. The only drawback is that Leandro is 25, but the 2004 24th round pick is movin on up, and that could also mean his minor league level for next season.

3B Aneudi Cuevas-Cuevas has snuck under the radar, but he did earn a spot on RaysBaseball's midseason Top 25 prospect list, and his numbers showed why. He didn't stand out statistically from the other bloated Cal League statlines, but he still had a good year, hitting to a line of .281/.377/.518. We don't know how much of that is authentic, but we can develop a hypothesis based on his previous years' stats. Despite being in pro baseball since 2001, Cuevas still is just 24 (his birthday was Thursday). He has been in the DRO since 2003, and has not done well in any of his stops prior to this season with the Rays, leading to questions about whether this is a fluke. Previously, he was in the Astros organization, doing reasonably well between the Appy League, Sally League, and NY-Penn League. He should find himself in Montgomery next season.

RHP Jon Barratt-Barratt may just earn the title of 'Most Disappointing' in my upcoming awards show. We were just so filled with hope for him after he put up a 1.15 WHIP and a 4.55 K:BB for Hudson Valley last year. Alas, whether it was because he was given too big of a promotion, or that last year was a fluke, Barratt did not come anywhere close to decent this year. Is he finished as a prospect? Certainly not. But he was one of the bottom-feeders on a very awful Visalia staff, putting up a 6.59 ERA. In my opinion, this year's collapse was probably due to a big step up, and on top of that, a step up to an extreme hitter's league. I could go through all the stats. The 1.93 WHIP. The K:BB barely above 1.5. But they all say the same: he sucked. I could not give you an analysis of his stuff, as I don't live in California, but it obviously needs work. Barratt always seemed to be coming around, but then would come back to earth with a stretch of awful play. He is in no way ready for Montgomery next year, and will be back in Visalia, if not Southwest Michigan.

SWM has tons of other hitters with great stats, but the ones I commented on were the only ones I felt would be of note or in consideration for a Rays' Top 25 prospect list.

SERIES: This week was the third of a six part series examining the 2005 Rays minor leagues. Next up is the Single A Southwest Michigan Devil Rays, and that is coming up Monday. So stay tuned every Monday for the next three weeks as I present my season wrapups leading as we begin the AFL season.

Sept. 19th: AAA Durham

LAST WEEK: AA Montgomery

THIS WEEK: A+ Visalia

NEXT WEEK: A- Southwest Michigan

Oct. 17th: Short Season Teams

Oct. 24th: Awards Show