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Minor League Wrapups: AA Montgomery Biscuits

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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 Montgomery Biscuits 2005 season wrapup.


TEAM: AA Montgomery Biscuits
LEAGUE: Southern League (South)
2005 1ST HALF RECORD: 35-35 (4th Place; 3 GB of 1st Place)
2005 2ND HALF RECORD: 32-35 (3rd Place; 12.5 GB of 1st Place)

SEASON IN REVIEW: This has got to be thee most disappointing team in the DRO. I myself predicted a SL championship for them before the season started. Granted, I did overlook the glut of prospects in Jacksonville and, to a lesser extent, West Tenn, and division rival Birmingham, but going into the season, you had to think they could at least sneak into the playoffs in one of the SL's two halves. Going into the season, just looking over Montgomery's roster made you drool. Shawn Riggans, Wes Bankston, Elliot Johnson, Elijah Dukes, Delmon Young, Jason Hammel, Chris Seddon, and Chad Orvella all were likely to appear at Riverwalk Stadium this year. Add in the surprise good seasons from Rico Washington, Jamie Shields, and Rudy Lugo, plus a breakout for Hammel, and how could this team not make the playoffs? Well, near as I can tell, like Durham, it is the pitching, stupid. The SL is a hitters league, but Montgomery's bullpen seemed to blow a lot of late leads, and the Biscuits seemed to play down to lesser teams (Tennessee, Mobile) and thus lost to them. Add in some quicker than expected departures, and this seems to be easier to piece together. Nonetheless, this year can be regarded as nothing short of a disappointement, and to place no higher than third with a record no better than .500 is unacceptable. The stats bear the ugliness of the Biscuits staff. Montgomery ranked next to last in ERA. They are near middle of the pack in all other stats, but it is clear pitching doomed them. Not with an offense  that ranked third in runs, first in homers, and second in SLG%. But what the stats can't measure is the cost of promotions. While they were able to add Johnson and Bankston, they also lost player. First it was Seddon. Then Orvella. Then Young. Then Hammel. Their replacements? Toolsy Jason Pridie, who has fallen flat and frequent Durham-Montgomery/Orlando shuttle rider Jim Magrane. This was, of course, in between Dukes' temper tantrums. So promotions killed what little shot Montgomery had of salvaging an awful season. Add in the sucktacular year by Scott Autrey, and his ensuing retirement, and Montgomery had a season to forget.

TEAM MVP: As stated, Montgomery had a lot of talent pass through Riverwalk this year. Each of my top three prospects spent at least half the year in the Biscuits dugout. Rico Washington and Elijah Dukes were pretty much the only players who stayed in Montgomery the entire year who had anywhere close to MVP-caliber numbers. But while taking nothing away from their years, there was a guy who spent about three months in town who struck fear into SL managers and players alike. He also happens to be the No. 1 prsopect in all of baseball. His name? Young. Delmon Young. Clearly this award goes to him. I am not like BA. I do not give lists or annoit MVPs based on tools. Doing so on my part would be foolish because I don't see these players in person. I can't tell you how well Young reads the ball of the bat. But nonetheless, I like my way better. It doesn't give. You have to earn. You can't put up a 5.16 ERA and expect to get an award. Not that any player really cares what I annoit them, but it gives players like Tim Corcoran a chance to get recognized. If I were to give that award based on talent, it would have surely gone to Jason Hammel. But stats, tools, anyway you look at it, Delmon runs away with this. In 84 games for Montgomery, Young hit 20 home runs while driving in 71 runs. Stolen bases? 25. Other extra base hits? 17. The only hole in Young's game is.....no, not arrogance, walks. He did struggle somewhat with taking a free base, and that problem was much more evident at Durham. As he goes up the ladder, he will have to adjust to pitchers who will just pitch around him and give him some tricky stuff. Obviously, he struggled with that. But this is about the positives. His line of .336/.386/.582 is beyond impressive, and is even better than his stats the year before in Charleston. While his Iso OBP of .50 again reflects his low walk rate, his Iso SLG of .246 is better than a lot of playuers' average. And this isn't in some two week sample size. He was in the SL for three months. And argue as you will about how he is a spolied little child, it don't matter. What matters is this. And 'this' is looking mighty good.

PITCHER OF THE YEAR: While Montgomery's pitching was terrible just like Durham's, the Biscuits did have their shining stars. Rudy Lugo, Jason Hammel, and Jamie Shields are basicly our choices. Funny how the tough choices always seem to involce the pitchers. Shields made one start for Durham at the end of the season, but made 16 for the Biscuits. In 109.1 IP, Shields posted an awesome 1.15 WHIP, a K:BB of over 3:1, and an ERA of 2.80. He clearly will start in Durham next year, as he should. As for Hammel, he spent less time with Montgomery, but still racked up 12 starts and 81.1 innings. He posted a 2.66 ERA and an even more awesome 1.10 WHIP. His K:BB was exactly 4:1, very solid. So his numbers were fantastic across the board. Lugo made 26 appearences, posting a 1.12 ERA, and a WHIP of 1.20 . His K:BB was near two. So, despite the lack of earned runs surrendered, his other numbers are lacking. That, combined with his lack of work, eliminate him from the running. So we have two starters in the running. Hammel leads in all three categories, but Shields has about 20 more innings and four more starts. So we'll have to use my favorite (and hardest to calculate) pitching stat, DIPS ERA. Assuming I calculated right, here are the results.

Hammel-3.14 (His DIPS looks like pi, except the seven is in the ten-thousandths place)
Shields-3.16

Yes, this is as hard of a choice as DIPS makes it look. Despite Hammel having the better K:BB, WHIP, and ERA, the numbers were close, and DIPS indicates just how close it is. But I'll let the stats speak for themselves. Jason Hammel is the Biscuits' Pitcher of the Year.

PLAYER NOTES: In this section, we dedicate space to the individual players who were of interest during the 2005 season.

RHP Scott Autrey-It was a very sad season for Scott Autrey. After a bad four months for Montgomery, Autrey retired in late July. Autrey compiled a 5.71 ERA, an unheard of HR/9 of 2, and a WHIP of 1.67. There is no doubt that these numbers are extremely bad, that is beyond a doubt. But one has got to think that something could have been done to rectify the problems of a guy who put up a 3.81 ERA in the hitter's utopia that is the California League. He was just so full of promise. He never had an ERA above 3.57 before coming to Riverwalk Stadium last year. Noinetheless, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, and I wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors.

LHP Brian Henderson-The southpaw had a very good year for Montgomery, and is very underhearalded among Rays prospects. He fell just short of POY consideration. He put up a K:BB of 49:21, though his 1.51 WHIP needs a little work. Still, Henderson has emerged as a possible Top 30 or 40 prospect within the DRO, and if he can put up numbers like this next year in DBAP, he could be a very useful relief prospect.

RHP Brian Stokes-Another underhearlded Biscuits relief prospect. Stokes started the year at A+ Visalia, putting up a K:BB of 4 and a WHIP of 1.25 in four starts. He left the Cal League with a 4.24 ERA, but I'll take that for a pitching prospect in that league. After being bumped up to the SL, Stokes did even better, putting up a 3.47 ERA. He had a very good HR/9 of 0.77, and had an awesome 1.18 WHIP. Stokes has, like Henderson, emerged as a viable relief prospect, and will likely join Henderson in Durham next year.

RHP Jim Magrane-Can this guy really even be considered a prospect anymore? Why he is still in the DRO, I don't know. Whether it is a favor to Joe, or not, it is time to pull the plug. Even if he had put up half-decent numbers this year, which he did not, there is no room for him anywhere in the Rays' future. He has had one decent stint above Double A, and has been commuting between Durham and Orlando/Montgomery so much that the flight attendants know him by name. Magrane was demoted from Durham to take Autrey's place after going 1-5 with a 6.68 ERA at Durham. Be it DBAP, Magrane sucking, or better hitters, he just isn't that good. The only bright spot is his good control, which yields a K:BB of 38:7. For some reason, that disappeared in Montgomery, as his K:BB became 26:21. His H/9 at Durham was his main problem, as that totaled an unbelievable 13.79, and despite only walking seven, ended up with a WHIP of 1.65. Overall, Magrane did slightly better at Montgomery, ending up putting a 5.40 ERA on the board against SL hitters. This guy does not need to be back in the DRO, and I doubt he will.

RHP Jeff Niemann-The 2004 first round pick was the longest holdout in Rays history, with the two sides finally coming to terms in January. With his signing came a lot of expectations, and Niemann was not going to live up to them after an injury-filled year. Certainly, his various problems this year are concerning, but on the field, Niemann did pretty well in my opinion, albeit in limited action. He held his own in the California League, ending up with a 3.98 ERA. His K:BB was close to three, and he has the potential to be a high strikeout pitcher. His 1.09 WHIP down at Visalia was impressive. Then came the injuries. He spent awhile at the Naimoli Complex rehabbing, and when he finally returned, found himself at Montgomery. The SL, like the Cal League, is slanted towards hitting, though less so. Still, Niemann put up an ERA of 4.35, again putting up a K:BB close to 3, and again put up a low WHIP of 1.19. So if his peripherals are good, why isn't his ERA up to that level. Well, simply, luck. The walks and hits that Niemann did surrender came at inopportune times, so he should probably do better next season. Speaking of next season, that will be key for Niemann. Keep in mind, he only pitched 30.2 innings this year, and only 20.1 of those were in a start. Niemann is on the fast track to the majors, but I gotta think that with Stu likely to take over, Niemann will be slowed down and kept in Montgomery.

C Shawn Riggans-After getting a little taste of the big leagues in spring training with the Rays, Riggans' year started out disappointingly. He was injured and was out for a couple months, and this was thought to derail his season. It turns out, his season was anything but over. When he returned, Riggans did nothing but hit, hit, hit, and finished the year with a line of .310/.365/.454. He was a doubles machine, hitting one in almost every 15.5 ABs. Riggans looked very well, and should start next year in Durham. With Toby Hall's status uncertain, Riggans may find himself as our starting catcher at some point next season if he keeps playing like this. Say what you will about his high BABIP, but these stats are great, by any measure of success.

3B Rico Washington-The Biscuits third baseman was thought of coming into the season as a space filler. The Biscuits were a team loaded with prospects, and bringing in a few minor league veterans to show the prospects the ropes and maybe hit a little was the plan. Rico Washington hit a lot more than a little. A journeyman farmhand who was given up on by the Padre and Pirate organizations, Washington made a strong run at Delmon Young for Team MVP, hitting to a line of .300/.387/.500. He ended up hitting 19 long balls, and drove in 77 runs. While Washington still obviously has no room in this team's future, if the Rays need a space-filler at third base in Durham or Montgomery next season, expect Rico to get the call. Then again, the Rays could have competition.

1B Wes Bankston-My No. 2 Rays prospect, Bankston absolutely flushed California League pitching at the start of the season, but hit for an average 92 points less in Montgomery. The scary part? That average was still .292. After tearing up the California League to a tune of .387/.507/.629, 'Banky' continued to cash in at Montgomery, going .292/.360/.482. Someone within the DRO tells me that a widely-acclaimed scout says that Bankston is essentially Jonny Gomes at a less demanding defensive position with better 'tools'. In fact, while BA and the mainstream media can talk about Conor Jackson or some other first base prospect, but Dan McAvoy's article a couple months ago hits the nail on the head. I could go on and on about Wes, but the bottom line is, this kid is an  amzing prospect and we should expect to see him in a Rays uniform about midway through next year. I am just gonna love to see what Wes can do at DBAP, but for now, this kid is an amazing prospect.

LF/CF Elijah Dukes-You just can't say 'Elijah Dukes' without having the words 'loose  cannon' anywhere near it. Nonetheless, you also can't say the words 'Elijah Dukes' without having the words 'examplary talent' somewhere nearby. And that theme pretty much continued to bite Dukes this year. Though his on-field issues, in my opinion, were stressed too much and overblown, there is no doubt that he needs to check his attitude at the door. It became clear, once again in my opinion, that the Southern League was treating Dukes unfairly. For as much of an off-field rap sheet as Dukes has, that is his business, and only his unless it violates a contractual obligation, in which the Rays have a right to step forward. But it is unfair and wrong to judge Dukes different on the field than other players, it just is. He was not spouting off all year, he only argued calls a couple times, and he got slapped with a six game suspension for doing so. Are you going to tell me that James Loney, for instance, would have gotten the same six games? I think not. And I have heard all these notions  that because Dukes was teamed with Delmon Young and the two were roomates, that Dukes must be the reason Delmon is suddenly mouthing off to the media. Is this a possiblity? Sure. But you don't know that, and there is no reason to hang him up in the town center and throw stones at him. Regardless of his behavior, there is no question as to whether Dukes can hit. After putting up a .956 OPS in the California League the year before, Dukes took his promotion to Montgomery and ran with it, staying all year with the Biscuits and hitting to a line of .287/.355/.478. Dukes also showed an ability to steal the base, as he swiped 19 of them this year, especially uplifting considering Dukes is 220 pounds. So  unless Dukes really gets into trouble this offseason, he should be at Durham next year. Then again,judging from offseasons past, it looks like he has just as much of a chance to end up in Starke.

2B Elliot Johnson-Rarely do you call a top prospect a success without reaching Triple A. But, Elliot Johnson already knows what it is like to be a rarity. Johnson, WHO WAS NOT EVEN DRAFTED, has been that type of player. and when I say 'Not even drafted' I ma not talking about a two round or seven round draft, I am talking about a 50 round draft, with even more supplemental rounds. For Johnson to have gotten this  far, it is amazing. After putting up pedestrian numbers in Princeton and Charleston coming into this year, Johnson broke out in the California League, hitting to a line of .273/.347/.449 in 56 games while stealing 28 bases. Johnson was then promoted to Montgomery in early June, and was up and down. Coincidentally, right after I stated that he was a 'letdown' in Double A, Johnson went on a tear, hitting his only three home runs in Montgomery in a very short span of time after that. But as the season wound down, so did Johnson, and his stats returned to his best totals before this year. He finished the year in Montgomery hitting to a line of .261/.301/.375, and stealing 13 less bases in seven less games in Montgomery. Nonetheless, if you ask Johnson, I'm sure he'd say something to the tune of 'getting this far is not enough', and you can expect the scrappy second baseman to try his damndest every day, in and out. And whether that will be in Montgomery or Durham next year, Johnson will keep trying.

1B Gabriel (Gaby) Martinez-The 22 year old Martinez hit a bump in the road this year at Montgomery, and you've got to question whether his stats in the Cal League are real. Martinez started the yer in Montgomery, but after doing awful and hitting in the .210 range, he was demoted down to Visalia in favor of Wes Bankston. Martinez showed a good grasp of the California Leaguem, hitting .280/.332/.470 in 24 games. When he was promoted back up to Montgomery, he started hitting a lot better, but was doing so in limited playing time behing Bankston, and still ended the year in the SL at .233/.308/.372. Martinez hit a bump in the road, but with Bankston likely to move on up to Durham next year, Martinez should be given all the opportunity he needs to rectify his problem at first base.

CF Jason Pridie-This is BA type of prospect. Loaded, absolutely loaded with tools, and if he had qualified and hit in the range of .250, BA would have probably put him in their Top 20 SL prospects. But unfortunatly, Pridie didn't give them the chance to do so, getting only two at bats in Visalia to start the year because of injury. After missing three months, he was given what amounts to a courtesy promotion to Montgomery and a starting job alongside Elijah Dukes. And he did not do well. He hit for a line of .213/.280/.394, and really has  dropped of the Rays' prospect radar. But you will note his high slugging percentage, as related to his BA and OBP. Pridie got an XBH every 10.44 ABs, and that is pretty much the only good thing you can dredge out of his season. But with a weak Visalia crop and Elijah Dukes most likely heading to Durham, Pridie will likely get a full season (barring injury) to prove himself next year in center field for the Biscuits.

SERIES: This week was the second of a six part series examining the 2005 Rays minor leagues. Next up is the Single A Advanced Visalia Oaks, and that is coming up next Monday. So stay tuned every Monday for the next four weeks as I present my season wrapups leading into the AFL season.

LAST WEEK: AAA Durham
THIS WEEK: AA Montgomery
NEXT WEEK: A+ Visalia
Oct. 10th: A- Southwest Michigan
Oct. 17th: Short Season Teams
Oct. 24th: Awards Show