In the minor leagues, change is normal and normalcy feels like a change. Where managers and affiliates shift constantly, Joe Mikulik and the Asheville Tourists have been mainstays in the Rockies organization. The Tourists have represented the Rockies in the South Atlantic League since 1994, with Joe Mikulik at the helm since 2000. Yet a league championship had always eluded Mikulik and the Tourists, aside from a shared title in 2001 due to the 9/11 attacks. Finally, the Tourists are champions.
Asheville became a thoroughly compelling story in the Rockies' system this season. Many prospect fans, myself included, looked at the roster before the season and yawned. Seven members of the Spring PuRP's list were set to play for Asheville, but only one top 12 prospect (Trevor Story, #3) was on the roster Opening Day. Instead, this group became arguably the most dominant minor league team in Minor League Baseball, finishing with a MiLB-best 88-52 record and winning the North divisional title in both season's halves. Joe Mikulik was named SAL Manager for the fourth time in his career in Asheville.
In addition to Will Swanner and Trevor Story, who were among the Rockies' systems biggest breakouts in 2012, the Tourists experienced large contributions from past forgotten prospects (Tyler Massey, Delta Cleary) and excellent seasons from more under the radar players - Taylor Featherston, Sam Mende, Harold Riggins and Jordan Ribera.
Low-A Asheville - South Atlantic League Finals Game 4 - W 10-4, Tourists Win SAL Championship
The latter has filled in for an injured Riggins at first base since August 8, and his very good job continued into the season's final day. Ribera fell a triple shy of the cycle and drove in four to pace the Tourists' offense in a championship rout on the road and finished hitting .357 in the playoffs. Jared Simon, who hit .407 in the postseason, had three hits, and Tyler Massey hit a solo home run in the first inning to get the ball rolling.
Chris Jensen struck out eight in 5.2 IP for the Tourists, allowing two runs on five hits.
The Tourists finished the season leading the SAL in hits, runs, doubles, triples, home runs, RBI, total bases, batting average, OBP, slugging and OPS. That might not be shocking given their offensive home park, but the pitching staff also finished 4th in a 14-team league in ERA and led the league in shutouts.
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High-A Modesto - California League Finals Game 3 - L 2-3, Nuts Lose CAL Championship Series 0-3
The Nuts would not experience the same joy in their championship finals series. Jorge de la Rosa allowed three runs over five innings, striking out six on six hits. That would be too much for Modesto to overcome in Lancaster, where the JetHawks (Astros) completed the Championship Series sweep by outscoring Modesto 21-8.
The Nuts managed just three hits, but three of them came in a two-run fourth inning, with triples by Delta Cleary and Timothy Smalling, and a double from Brett Tanos.