The Eastern League All-Star break is upon us, and it provides a timely opportunity to examine the most positive and the most disappointing performances from the Hartford Yard Goats during the first half of the 2016 campaign.
Six players were recognized as All-Stars: Connecticut-native RHP Matt Carasiti, RHP German Marquez, OF David Dahl, OF Raimel Tapia, OF Dillon Thomas, and INF Pat Valaika. Dahl and Tapia were also named to the U.S. and World rosters, respectively, for the MLB All-Star Futures Game, held Sunday in San Diego. Dahl will not play in the Eastern League All-Star game tomorrow in Akron as he was recently promoted to Class AAA Albuquerque, where he has gotten off to a blistering start at the plate.
The Yard Goats take a 48-40 record into the break, six games behind the Trenton Thunder (New York Yankees) for the second—and final—playoff spot in the Eastern Division.
Without further ado, here are the superlatives:
MVP: OF David Dahl
Dahl's .278/.367/.500 line also featured a team-leading 13 home runs (7th-most in the Eastern League), 21 doubles (tied for 6th-most in the EL), and 53 runs scored (6th-most in the EL). He also stole 16 bases, just six short of his career high for a season.
Dahl's batting average was identical to his 2015 mark in AA in exactly the same number of at-bats (288). This year, however, he hit for substantially more power and drew more than three times the number of walks he took in New Britain. His OPS was the 5th-highest in the Eastern League.
Defensively, Dahl rotated between all three outfield positions, though most of his time came in center and right. His arm was on display in the Futures game, and his quickness and range will serve him well in the spacious dimensions of Coors Field.
Honorable Mention: OF Raimel Tapia (.337/.381/.463; 113 H, 63 R, 22 BB/40 SO)
Most Outstanding Pitcher: RHP German Marquez
Marquez was traded to the Rockies organization last offseason as part of the Jake McGee-Corey Dickerson deal with Tampa Bay, and Colorado seems to have gotten the best of the swap. Marquez has thrown 106 innings in 17 starts, compiling an 8-5 record with a sterling 2.63 ERA and 98 strikeouts against just 25 walks. That ERA is the 4th-best in the league, coming in its second-most innings pitched and with its second-most strikeouts.
Opponents have hit .246 off Marquez with nine home runs, already the highest total against him in his professional career. Still, his opponents' batting average is 26 points lower than his mark at Charleston last year in the pitcher-friendly Class A-Advanced Florida State League. Playing the Class AA season at 21 years of age, this has been a terrific campaign for Marquez.
Marquez sits comfortably in the low-to-mid-90s with his fastball, his best pitch, and also shows a curveball that has the potential to develop into a second quality offering.
Honorable Mention: RHP Matt Carasiti (25/29 SV, 2.34 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 34.2 IP/39 K, .208 Opp. BA); LHP Harrison Musgrave (5-1, 1.79 ERA, 0.69 WHIP, 40.1 IP, 30 K/8 BB, .145 Opp. BA)
Most Improved: OF Dillon Thomas
I wrote about Thomas' terrific campaign a couple weeks ago and he has only continued to rake since then. His slash line is now a solid .302/.361/.434 over 258 at-bats; his batting average is 7th-best in the Eastern League and his 26 doubles tie him for the league lead. The left-handed outfielder from Houston is impressively performing better against southpaws than he is against right-handers (.839 to .783 OPS), though in a limited sample size.
Thomas' prep pedigree hasn't translated to overwhelming success in professional ball; his season averages across five injury-plagued seasons are mostly mediocre, though there have been a fair share of bright spots, as well.
With Dahl's promotion to Albuquerque, Thomas should have a clear path to consistent at-bats in the second half of the year. His outstanding start in Class AA has turned him into an intriguing player to watch moving forward.
Honorable Mention: INF Pat Valaika (.255/.307/.421; 22 2B, 9 HR, 51 R); RHP Johendi Jiminian (2.13 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 38 IP/32 K, .230 Opp. BA)
Most Disappointing: 3B/1B Ryan McMahon
McMahon's last ten games have been extremely encouraging after a woeful June saw him limp to a .191/.287/.266 line with 37 strikeouts in 94 at-bats. After watching McMahon extensively in Asheville and again this season, I firmly believe he has a bright future but the All-Star break has come at the right time for the Californian.
McMahon is hitting a career-worst .231/.313/.369 this year, and his 17 doubles and six home runs are well below his normal pace. His strikeout rate (35.2%) is concerning, as is the fact that he has just eight extra-base hits against left-handed pitchers. Not surprisingly, breaking balls have given him fits from what I've observed.
He recently told Craig Forde of MILB.com that he had tinkered with his mechanics, setting up in different stances and in different spots in the batter's box. These bad habits led to him pulling off instead of staying through the ball. However, he also said that he was making the necessary adjustments, "getting back in the cage, working it out, starting to get back to the things I used to work on the last couple of years...I'm just getting back, having a good approach."
It is important to note that his year to date is disappointing not in a vacuum, but primarily when compared to the lofty standards he set during his time at Grand Junction, Asheville, and Modesto. McMahon is playing the Class AA season at 21 years of age while learning a new position on the other side of the diamond, as Nolan Arenado has the hot corner in Denver locked down.
Look for McMahon to turn things around in the second half of the campaign, boosting his average closer to .260 and finishing the year with 11-13 home runs. Two more stolen bases would get him to double digits, illustrating his solid baserunning acumen despite below-average speed.
(Dis)honorable Mention: INF Michael Benjamin (.194/.259/.259; 33 H, 1 HR, 45 K/170 AB); 1B Correlle Prime (.230/.291/.309; 50 H, 1 HR, 16 RBI, 10 R, 78 K/217 AB)
The Yard Goats begin the second half of the season on Thursday night, when they resume their two-weeklong stint in the Southern Tier of New York by opening a series with the Binghamton Mets (New York Mets). From there, the Yard Goats will trek across Pennsylvania, making stops in Altoona (Pittsburgh Pirates) and Reading (Philadelphia Phillies) before being scheduled to return to Connecticut on July 28, though that appears unlikely at this time.