In a lot of ways things did not go as planned for the first year of the Hartford Yard Goats. The team played every game on the road and finished out of an Eastern League playoff spot.
However the team did finish with the third best record in the division (74-67) and saw three players not only get promoted from the roster but also make their major league debuts!
We’ll have more retrospectives on the Yard Goats season in the coming weeks but for now we’ll limit our focus to the final week of the regular season.
Last week Michael James spoke with one of the humans responsible for the sublime Yard Goats social media presence, Dana Feigenbaum. Check it out to learn more about what goes into managing minor league social media or how the offseason is spent.
News and Notes, August 31 to September 5
|Aug 31||@||Richmond||W 3-2|
|Sept 1||@||Richmond||L 0-7|
|Sept 2||@||Harrisburg||L 3-4|
|Sept 3||@||Harrisburg (Gm 1)||W 3-2|
|Sept 3||@||Harrisburg (Gm 2)||L 0-3|
|Sept 4||@||Harrisburg||L 3-6|
|Sept 5||@||Harrisburg||L 4-5|
The Yard Goats were a little shorthanded for their last series of the season as catcher Jan Vasquez and utility man Cesar Galvez were sent up to Triple-A Albuquerque in order to fill the roster spots vacated due to September MLB roster expansion. One of the beneficiaries of that roster expansion was former Goat Raimel Tapia, who went 7-for-15 with a stolen base over the weekend for the Rockies.
Ryan McMahon (no. 6 PuRP) finished the season strong, going 8-for-28 with three doubles and a home run over the final week of the season. McMahon probably had the most interesting season of those who spent the whole season with Hartford. He’ll get a month off before heading out to Salt River Fields for the Arizona Fall League (more on that below).
Yency Almonte (no. 18 PuRP) ended up making five starts for the Hartford Yard Goats this season and each of them were very similar: five to seven innings, two to four hits allowed, two or three earned runs, two or three walks, and four to six strikeouts. His final start of the season on Friday was his shortest (just five innings with 95 pitches) but he still managed six strikeouts and just two walks.
Sam Howard’s (no. 23 PuRP) last two starts of the season were probably his best in a Yard Goats uniform. On August 31 he went seven shutout innings and allowed just seven hits and one walk with five strikeouts. Then on the season finale yesterday he went seven innings and alloweed just two runs on eight hits with no walks and six strikeouts, bringing his Double-A ERA (3.99) below 4.00 for the first time since July 1.
Omar Carrizales (no. 31 PuRP) earned his promotion to Double-A after hitting .294/.336/.428 for High-A Modesto, but struggled in limited duty for the Yard Goats. He made the most out of his final week, going 8-for-26, including a 2-for-4 performance with two stolen bases on the finale.
Unfortunately for Antonio Senzatela (no. 8 PuRP) his season ended on June 15 against Reading. Due to various injuries he made just seven starts but did finish with a 1.82 ERA and a 27:9 K/BB ratio in 34 2⁄3 innings pitched. Likewise Alex Balog (no. 29 PuRP) made his last appearance on August 23.
Spotlight On: Yard Goats in the Arizona Fall League
As if they didn’t get enough travel during the regular season, four Yard Goats were pegged for extra postseason work. Fortunately for them, all the stadiums in the Arizona Fall League are within a 30 minute drive of each other, so every game may as well be a home game.
Five of the seven representatives for the Rockies playing with the Salt River Rafters spent time with the Yard Goats this season: third baseman Ryan McMahon, shortstop Pat Valaika, outfielder Noel Cuevas, and relievers Rayan Gonzalez and Jerry Vasto.
McMahon was perhaps the most obvious candidate for the AFL. Coming into the season with great expectations (top 50 prospect across multiple outlets) he bounced between ugly (.192/.271/.274 in April) and great (.286/.346/.553 in July) all season. Another month in the AFL will allow him the chance to continue working on his adjustments and may give him the chance to play more first base.
There will be no rest for Pat Valaika, who as called up to the MLB roster on Tuesday. He went from being the everyday shortstop for Hartford (hitting .269/.314/.450 with 13 home runs and 95:28 K/BB ratio in 474 plate appearances) to playing everyday for the Triple-A Isotopes on August 9 (he hit .209/.226/.327 in 115 plate appearances there). He made his major league debut on Wednesday as a pinch runner in the ninth inning of the Rockies 6-5 victory over the Giants.
Cuevas had a great season for the Yard Goats, peaking with being awarded Eastern League Player of the Month for July thanks to an incredible .425/.440/.598 line. Cuevas spent most of the first half of the season with Albuquerque, hitting .234/.293/.328 in limited duty before being sent down to Hartford for good on July 5. He did earn a call-up back to Triple-A for the final weekend of the season but did not get any game action.
Gonzalez didn’t get much fanfare, even though he put up a 3.14 ERA in 48 2⁄3 innings this season. Like McMahon, it seems like Gonzalez’s trip to the AFL will be spent trying to recapture the form of previous seasons. He went over 110 innings in 2013 and 2014 without allowing a home run, putting up K/9 in the 10-12 range as well. His strikeouts dropped to below one per inning this season, and he allowed twice as many home runs (2) as he had in the previous three years combined. His fastball sits in the mid-90’s and has enough downward sink to generate high groundball rates, though he went from 66% in Modesto in 2015 to 55% this season. He also has a big curve ball with potential and a developing change up.
Vasto was the Bobby DeMuro Special this season (which is normally a terrible label to earn, but go with it). DeMuro has been touting Vasto’s credentials since April, noting his big fastball-slider combination and his thirst for late inning situations. He had a 1.38 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 26 innings for Modesto and 2.33 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 27 innings for Hartford this season and will look to continue that run of success against some of the best hitters the minor leagues have to offer.
Dunkin Donuts Park Update
Countdown to Opening Day: 213 days
The uncertainty surrounding the new stadium in Hartford finally has some resolution. As first reported by NBC Connecticut’s Max Reiss, the stadium will be completed in time for the home opener on April 13, 2017. Arch Insurance, the bond surety company insuring the project, will take over responsibility for construction of the project, whatever the remaining costs. It’s worth remembering the stadium is about 95% complete, with primarily only finishing work and certain internal structures to do, so the Connecticut winter shouldn’t have too much of an impact on the completion of the work.
Thanks for following along in this space. Next week we’ll have a full review of the season from a team perspective and a development perspective.