2018 Great Lakes Loons Year in Review

The Great Lakes Loons of the Class-A Midwest League really presented a “Tale of Two Cities” scenario during the 2018 season. In the the first half of the season they posted a 24-44 won-loss record, the lowest in the Midwest League and perhaps challenging for the lowest in all of Class-A ball. During the second half they put together a record of 36-33 with a blistering 27-10 stretch starting during the third week of July following a five-game losing streak. That run gained them a wild card berth in the play-offs. Unfortunately, they were eliminated from further play by dropping two play-off games to the West Michigan Whitecaps.

The season started with much anticipation, on my part at least, with the return of the venerable John Shoemaker as manager and pitching coach Bobby Cuellar returning for a second stint with the Loons. Jair Fernandez returned for a second year as hitting coach and 26-year-old Seth Connor began his coaching career after a five-year minor league playing career as a versatile infielder.

The opening day roster included only one of the Dodgers top 30 prospects with still 19-year-old outfielder Starling Heredia returning to the Loons for a second season. Due to injury his 2018 season ground to a halt as he made no more appearances with the Loons after June 8th. In 53 games with the Midland squad he hit but .182.

The dugout door with the Loons turned out to be a revolving door as only eight players of the opening day roster were still with the Loons at the end of the season. Catcher Garrett Hope appeared in only 19 games making his last start on July 22nd.  Maybe he is coaching material in the Austin Chubb mold.

The excitement of opening day was heightened as the Loons could start any given game with as many as six players 20 or younger taking the field – pitchers Melvin Jimenez, Jesus Vargas, infielder Moises Perez and outfielders Starling Heredia, Carlos Rincon and Romer Cuadrado. That excitement soon subsided as most of the youngsters struggled in the pitching rich league.

Jimenez, who later returned to the Loons, and Devin Hemmerick  were the only opening day pitchers still on the staff in the final game of the season. Relief specialists Andre Scrubb, Zach Pop, Marshall Kasowski and Dan Jagiello all were promoted to the Quakes  with Scrubb and Kasowski also moving on to Tulsa.

Reliable starter Edwin Uceta was promoted to the Quakes as was Wills Montgomerie and  Max Gamboa. Right-hander Riley Ottesen had a forgettable season and will no doubt start with the Loons again in 2019 to get his career back on track.

All opening day infielders except shortstop Moises Perez were promoted to the Quakes as was outfielder Carlos Rincon.

So what happened to right the ship in July? Manager John Shoemaker suggested in an interview with Loons announcer Chris Vosters that the influx of 2018 college draftees made a significant difference in the on-field play. He suggested that coming out of the college ranks they came with a background not too dissimilar from Class-A and a regimented type of work ethic that let them fit right in.

Pitching coach Bobby Cuellar agreed with his manager. “From where we came from, clinching was very special,” Cuellar said. “The most important thing is what these young men did. With the people that came in, the culture was set.” A winning culture, that is.

Ten players from the 2018 draft class joined the Loons – pitchers John Rooney, Austin Drury, Bryan Warzek, Stephen Kolek, catcher Hunter Feduccia, infielders Devin Mann, Luke Heyer, Deacon Liput and outfielders Drew Avans and Josh McLain. Eight of those draftees were among the Dodgers first 12 selections in the 2018 draft. Actually, there were eleven from the 2018 draft as outfielder Matt Cogen – selected in the 30th round – played two games with the Loons in early September and had three runs batted in on a pinch hit double that cleared the bases.

Offensively the Loons as a team were in the lower third of the league with a triple slash of .244/.319/.363. They did rank third in stolen bases mostly because of the work of outfielder Brayan Morales.

On the mound they were in the middle of the pack or lower in most categories with a team ERA of 3.72 and a WHIP of 1.34. Interesting enough they led the league with 543 walks yet finished second with the fewest hits allowed with 1051.

Individually it was almost impossible to see how they ranked as all but one hitter – Romer Cuadrado – had too few at bats to qualify for league leading stats. Cuadrado hit but .210 on the season but turned it up in August in the play-off run hitting a solid .296 with several clutch hits.

In limited at bats these players hit quite well:

   Josh McLain – .303/ 195 AB

   Hunter Feduccia – .290/100 AB

   Gersel Pitre – .282/ 188 AB

   Deacon Liput – .280/168 AB

   Bryan Morales – .273/326 AB

Morales had 46 stolen bases, just shy of the league leading 49, although his season ended on July 20 th with a Hamate Bone injury.

The Loons pitchers also missed the qualifying number of innings pitched. Edwin Uceta and Alfredo Tavarez, both with just short of 100 innings pitched, would have finished in the top five with their 3.25 and 3.30 earned run averages respectively.

The relief pitcher took up the slack after the loss of several stellar performers to the Quakes with three of the 2018 draftees matching their predecessors.

   RHP Stephen Kolek  0.66 ERA, 27.1 IP, 0.80 WHIP, 27 K, 6 BB

   LHP Bryan Warzek  2.75 ERA, 19.2 IP, 1.22 WHIP, 33 K, 3BB

   LHP Austin Drury 0.51 ERA, 17.2 IP, 0.74 WHIP, 18 K, 5 BB 

Right-hander Melvin Jimenez returned to the Loons in a relief role and wound up as a closer at the end of the season. In 41.1 innings pitched in relief he posted a 2.61 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP along with 45 strikeouts and 16 walks. He will return to a starting role at some point in the future.

Not to be forgotten is right-hander Devin Hemmerick who made 31 relief appearances with the Loons over 56 innings. He posted a 2.73 ERA on the season and apparently didn’t like the colder weather in April and May. In the second half over 30 innings he posted a 1.50 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP along with 18 strikeouts and nine walks. If he can up his strikeouts a bit and limit his walks a bit he just might be an Andrew Istler type of pitcher.

Also, if the plate would just stand still, right-hander Andre Jackson might just live up to his “sleeper” alert.

What happens for 2019? That one is almost impossible to predict but here goes. I expect pitchers John Rooney, Stephen Kolek, Austin Drury and Bryan Warzek along with Devin Hemmerick to start the 2019 season with the Quakes with Jesus Vargas, Alfredo Tavarez and Gerardo Carrillo to follow sometime later. I think Andre Jackson may fall in the later category but would not bet on it. I expect left-hander Warzek to become a starter. He is a strikeout machine.

I expect Brayan Morales and Gersel Pitre to begin the 2019 campaign in a Quakes uniform. They have paid their dues. Morales is a speedster and Pitre has become a very versatile player who seems to like to bat in clutch situations. Third baseman Brock Carpenter should accompany them to the Quakes.

I feel quite certain that outfielder Josh McLain is on a Zach Reks trajectory and that catcher Hunter Feduccia will move on to the Quakes as still 19-year-old catcher Ramon Rodriguez takes aim at a full time job behind the plate with the Loons. Feduccia is a catcher’s catcher. Shortstop Deacon Liput is a sparkplug, perhaps prepping for second base, and is a sure bet to play in Rancho Cucamonga at some point in 2019 if not on opening day. I would not be surprised to see third baseman Luke Heyer begin the season with the Loons and then follow the Brandon Montgomery path to the Quakes. Romer Cuadrado may well start the 2019 season with Great Lakes to see if his late season surge was the real thing.

Don’t give up on Starling Heredia. He lost much of his season due to an eye injury. Keep an eye open for right-hander Zach Willeman, the Dodgers 19th round selection in 2018.

This article has 51 Comments

  1. DC, great write up on Great Lakes. The ten college draftees certainly helped to turn the season around. Most of those kids should have been in Ogden. Most June draftees end up in high Rookie League, so these kids pushed the envelope.
    I have been searching for the next Caleb Ferguson, a pitcher that really started to blossom with Great Lakes, and maybe that guy is Bryan Warzek. Being a 6th round pick is not like a 38th round pick with TJ surgery, but he flashed some good command with the Loons just like Caleb did. 33K and 3BB in 19.2 IP!! 11 to 1 K/BB ratio!! Not bad at all. He is already 21, so I can see a quick run up the organization ladder.
    Of the draft picks, I am also interested in following Deacon Liput, Josh McLain, Hunter Feduccia, and John Rooney. Liput and McLain were college seniors so they must start at RC and hopefully impress enough to get the AA promotion mid year. I still believe in Jimenez, and am excited to watch Jesus Vargas and Alfredo Tavarez along with Uceta and Carrillo. There is a lot to like about this latest Loons team. They are somewhat reminiscent of the 2016 club.
    I think Gerardo Carrillo starts at RC. I think he has the makeup to get pushed.
    Off to soccer tournament games. So I will not be watching the Dodgers trounce the Padres today.

    1. Warzek has really progressed as he came along. In his freshman year at New Orleans he had more walks than strikeouts. I think he will return to starting but if not will be a left-handed Marshall Kasowski.

      Kolek and Drury are really intriguing. Stephen is the brother of Tyler Kolek who was a second overall selection in the 2016 draft by Miami. I expect we need a larger sample with the terrific trio – Kolek, Drury, Warzek – to be sure of their path but they indeed were dominant with the Loons.

  2. D.C. – You’re not skipping a beat…
    Really admire Shoemaker, but this year was an ulcer ride, esp. in the beginning… I think he may have lit a few votive candles along the way…
    A.C. – I’m anxious to be seeing you 11-24 at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum…

    1. Peter, I have been to exactly 20 USC ND games. My first was in 1964, a 20-17 victory for the Trojans. My last game was in 2002, yet another SC victory (44-13). I think they were 11-7-2 in those games. Of course my favorite game was 1974, the 55-24 comeback victory with Anthony Davis. I had a clock of the scoreboard and the end of the game score, but it was destroyed in the Northridge earthquake.I did not see a loss in my school years 70, 72, and 74.
      My next SC ND game will be in South Bend. I do not know when, but that will be my next SC ND game.

    1. Both good young players. Vargas is a big kid for 18 years of age – 6’3″/198-pounds. He destroyed the pitching in the rookie level with the Ogden Raptors, both left and right-handed pitching. He was signed as a free agent out of Cuba in September, 2017. The amazing thing he did play any competitive ball in 2016 and 2017.
      Raptors hitting coach Dustin Kelly had this to say about him: ” And, perhaps the best parts about Vargas’ game are his professionalism and his composure—qualities that are rarely found in a prospect at such a young age.”
      “If you see him on the field, it’s a smooth, easy and relaxed playing style,” Kelly added. “And he’s got the same personality in the clubhouse. He’s got a big personality, but he goes about his business and people seem to really like him. He engages with people and he’s pretty infectious.”
      He found the going a bit tough in the Midwest League but that is a big move for an 18-year-old hitting against good college pitchers. He is a keeper and will start with the Loons in 2019, most likely at third base. I expect his power to develop as he matures. Perhaps in the 15-20 home run range.
      Amaya is another keeper in my opinion. Just turned 20 and hit .265 in his stint with the Loons. A 6’0″/180-pound right-handed hitter. One of those 11th round selections by the Dodgers. Looks like he will steal some bases. Hit right-handed pitching really well at Ogden and .247 with the Loons. Billy Gasparino said this about Amaya.
      “We just think he’s a really good player,” said Dodgers director of amateur scouting Billy Gasparino. “Ability to play short, we like his bat, played on a successful team. We think he’s tough. We think he’s competitive. Really excited to have a shot at signing him.”
      He says his defense is his best tool. Only seven errors in 404 innings this year.
      Vargas and Amaya on the left side of the infield for the Loons in 2019 is exciting with Jeremy Arocho at second base.

      1. Amaya is going to be a keeper. If he hits at all he will make a ML roster with his defense. I met his uncle about a month ago. His uncle’s daughter is on my granddaughter’s club soccer team in Reno. He was the one that told me that Jacob spent the winter working out with the veterans at Dodger Stadium in the winter, and he especially likes JT who worked with him. Jacob was more Ogden this year. He should start at Great Lakes, but hopefully get that mid season promotion to RC. He is going to be one of my favorites. He was before I met his uncle, but even more now.

      2. Jeremy Arocho is another that just exceeds expectations. He was a 27th round draft pick (2017) out of a Maryland HS, and hit .313/.401/.380/.781 at Ogden. I do not know if his power will ever translate to a .800+ OPS, but he is a pest that will get on base. He is also a plus defender at 2B. He is one of those “names” you just latch on to and root for.

  3. I’ve given up trying to understand Doc’s line ups

    Taylor LF
    Turner 3B
    Freese 1B
    Machado SS
    Hernandez CF
    Kemp RF
    Dozier 2B
    Barnes C
    Ryu P

    1. They were so successful yesterday with the L/R/L/R lineup, why would they change to an all right hand hitting lineup?
      Okay, maybe it works better than it did Friday!

  4. I think I need to move here. This is paradise because I can get up at 7AM and watch the Colts and then the Dodgers at 10! What a life! 😉

    1. I went there on my honeymoon 18 years ago. Kuaui. Never used my hotel drink tickets. So beautiful.

  5. AC – I was a ND fan when I was baptized… Just the way it is with us Irish Catholics…
    Been to South Bend twice and it’s a must trip for you…

  6. Doc is pressing the right buttons more often now. This lineup did a great job vs whoever was pitching against us.

    Meanwhile, Col 1, AZ 0 in the 5th. That’s a good one over there; Freeland v Godley

  7. Man, I hope the D-Bags treat us like they have the Rockies. Totally rolling over for them this weekend. Weak.

    1. MLB.tv showed him hit 97 and was using a change up. He may be good enough for the playoffs but the Dodgers may not want to crowd innings on him in a short period of time.

      1. I don’t want to see him in back-to-back games but he looks to be all the way back and that bodes well for next year. He’s still an asset if he can pitch 2 times in the playoffs (each round). I’d take him over Rosscup.

  8. Hey Mark, does that clear ocean water sorta shock you when you taste how salty it is? It did me as it was so clear. Which brings to mind….my next visit there I’ll be taking my father ashes to put in the Pacific. I have a friend who’s father is still on the USS Arizona RIP. The Memorial is the work of Elvis. At any rate it’d be nice if Colorado would lose a couple games soon, but hopefully it won’t matter if we just stay in the same pace with them ahead 1.5

  9. The water in all of the Pacific looks like this. Of course, I know it’s salty. We make it unsalty – that’s what we do.

  10. Is that the reason you’re there? Desalination is a major project. Only warm water has that blue color that surrounds those islands. Still I’ve never seen ocean water as clear as it is there. Of course i knew it was salty. It just looks so refreshing.

  11. The boys are playing as well as they have all season but by no means is it over . Ray is always tough on us, a game one win will likely demoralize them even more and lead us to at least a series win. Will be there tomorrow, definitely wil be a pro blue crowd. Usually about 60/40 them when the Diamondbacks are in it and good. After being eliminated today I suspect it will be about 60/40 blue tomorrow maybe even 65/35 with Kersh going tomorrow.

    I hope Robert’s roles out the lineup from game 2 of the division series last year.
    Granted it was against a tired Ray, but they got to him early and often if I remember correctly. That lineup included Seager I think but we can replace him with Machado and maybe Forsythe who we can replace with Kemp indirectly moving Kike to 2nd? Think everyone else from that game is still on board but I may be wrong? Someone correct me if I am?

    Ray has only given up 7 hits in his last four outings, walked a lot, but his stuff had been fiflthy, get him out by the 5th and then role their bullpen.

    Interested to see what Phillies team shows up in Denver, can’t believe they will lay down 4 like they did against the Braves. I see them getting a game at least. So if we win 2 out of 3, then we are up 1 going into SF. Like our chances in that scenario as I think the Nationals will win one. We will just need to win a pair aagaimst the Gnats.

    Go Blue!!

  12. And I want us to win as much as anyone and happy we are doing so more lately, but make no mistake I don’t believe it is because of Robert’s much at all. I know manager has a small effect on outcomes but I believe we would be in already without Robert’s. I feel he is a poor in game manager and below average at lineup construction. His one strong suit seems to be managing egos and getting people to buy into this platoon mania. However I don’t really know and maybe the buy in is not as great as we think. I do hope only his 2019 option is picked up and he is not given a 3 or 4 year extension at season’s end.

  13. The Dodgers are pretty awesome against righties and with Kemp rested, he makes the Dodgers solid against lefties.
    Kershaw, Buehler, Hill, and Ryu are solid playoff starters.
    A team never knows how often or how many innings a reliever is needed. A player can’t be swapped out during a playoff series unless they are injured. That is the risk the Dodgers would have if Urias were on one of the playoff rosters. I don’t think they want to use him in back to back games and maybe not in more than 3 games of a 7 game series. Otherwise, he is pitching well enough to have a planet named after him. If the Dodgers wind up in a playoff series with Colorado, Jansen might not pitch in Colorado and that would further reduce the bullpen.
    If Wood is left off the opening playoff roster it would be reminiscent of when Rick Sutcliffe was left off the 1981 roster after winning the 1979 ROY. Might Wood be traded after not making a playoff roster like Sutcliffe? Would Wood do as well after being traded?
    “The Red Barron” led the AL with a 2.96 ERA in 1982, made his first All-Star team in 1983 and in 1984 went 16-1 with a 2.69 ERA after a June trade to the Cubs, becoming the only player ever to win a Cy Young Award after switching leagues midseason. Sutcliffe spent seven more years in Chicago, making two more All-Star teams and finishing second in the 1987 NL Cy Young Award voting for a season in which he led the league with 18 wins. After shoulder injuries shorted his last two years with the Cubs, he threw 237 1/3 innings and won 16 games for the 1992 Orioles, but that was his last gasp of effectiveness. He finished his 18-year career with 171 wins.

  14. It was good to see Urias throw so well but let’s not forget who he was throwing against and under what circumstances.
    We all know the Dbags won’t lay down for the Dodgers the way they did for Colorado so the Dodgers better be ready to play tonight. It would be nice to see Philly show more pride than AZ did too.

  15. Seeing how Urias pitched yesterday just makes me anxious, playoff roster or not, to see him at Camelback in the Spring..
    Gotta have a little L4-L5 back surgery Oct. 12. Figuring 3-4 months one the DL… Seems do-able…
    Damn Adam, I’m soooo glad you’re happy, but you seem to hedge all your bets!!! Is it dump Roberts or not???
    As far as Ray goes, I got a hymn for him, phuck him…
    Were going to win this thing and go the Classic..

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