The Boston Red Sox farm system is talented despite the promotions of Yoan Moncada and Andrew Benintendi, but that talent is not always bound for Boston. In Brandon Magee‘s 2016 Lowell Spinners recap, he details the ups and downs of the short season league team.
Regular Season Record: 47-29
Division: First of four in Stedler Division
Playoffs: Swept by Hudson Valley Renegades (two games to nil) in NYPL Semi Finals
Players of the Week
Bobby Dalbec (8/15-8/21)
Bobby Dalbec (8/22-8/28)
Pitchers of the Week
Danny Zandona (8/22-8/28)
Players of the Month
Tyler Hill (July)
Bobby Dalbec (August)
Matt McLean (OF)
The New York-Penn League is traditionally a melting pot of talent: Newly drafted college kids making their professional debuts meet international youngsters who have finally boosted their way out of Florida’s rookie and instructional leagues. Mix in a few players who were not yet ready for the grind of full-season ball, and the NYPL participants have only one thing in common: their youth. This rung of the minor league ladder features inconsistent play, as well as streaks of wins followed by similar streaks of losses. But, for the better teams, consistency becomes a building block toward the future. So it was in 2016 for the Lowell Spinners, who cruised to a division title by six games by winning a franchise-high 47 games and playing consistent, fundamental baseball along the way..
Unlike the DSL and the GCL, the NYPL features regular season interdivision play. It also introduces big league-style multi-game series and road trips. The Spinners ended up slightly better as the home team, posting a 25-13 record at LeLacheur Park. But they were also one of only three teams in the 14-team circuit to have a winning road record, going 22-16 away from Massachussetts. While the team finished eight games over .500 with their rivals from the Stedler Division, they also logged a record of ten games over .500 when facing teams from the McNamara and Pinckney divisions.
The Spinners rolled out a mediocre pitching staff, finishing sixth (out of 14) in the league with 3.61 runs allowed per game – a bit better than the league average of 4.02. Their earned run average of 3.30 was eighth overall, with the league average being 3.42. The Spinners pitchers were tenth in the league in WHIP, recording a 1.300 mark where the league average was 1.280. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Spinners were stingy in allowing hits, with the fifth fewest of 584 but struggled with the free passes, giving up the third most walks in the NYPL with 273 – they also had three of the top five pitchers in walks allowed. Their walk on the wild side extended to wild pitches – second in the league with 79– but it did not extend to hit by pitches – third fewest with 38. Lowell was also fourth best in the league with 597 strikeouts but third worst in the league with 34 home runs given up.
However, just because the pitching as a whole was markedly mediocre does not mean the individuals weren’t worth watching. The Spinners saw 30 different players take a turn atop the pitching mound – including rehab appearances from players such as Michael Kopech, Jacob Dahlstrand, Brian Johnson, and Joe Kelly – non-pitchers throwing innings (Victor Acosta, Andy Perez, and Tucker Tubbs), and a few innings from 2016 draftees Shaun Anderson and Jason Groome, who each had very different 2 2/3 innings of work. However, there was a core of 13 that provided the lion’s share of the innings for the team.
The top performer among them was Kuehl McEachern, who was demoted to the Spinners from the Greenville Drive after recording a 7.71 ERA in 16 games for the Single-A squad from April through June. Kuehl put himself back together in the NYPL allowing just a single run in his 11 appearances with the Spinners, earning an All-Star bid and a ticket back to Greenville. In his nine games after returning to the Drive, the 23-year-old righthander put up an ERA of 2.18, proving he put his time in Lowell to good use.
Seven of the thirteen consistent contributors to the Spinners pitching staff logged over 40 innings. Dakota Smith – who was plucked from the independent Frontier League Gateway Grizzlies – put up a team best 1.77 ERA with a 1.139 WHIP in nine appearances for the team, including one in relief. The best reliever was Algenis Martinez, whose 0.888 WHIP led the team. He also posted a 1.94 ERA in his 18 relief appearances.
The four innings-leaders were each notable their own reasons. A pair of young prospects, 19-year-old Darwinzon Hernandez and 20-year-old Kevin Steen, led the team with 14 starts a piece. Steen notched a team leading 67 innings pitched, posting a 5.37 ERA, 1.672 WHIP, 70 hits allowed, 44 runs allowed, 42 walks, 41 strikeouts, and 4 home runs allowed in the process. However, Steen is still young enough where he could learn from his lack of success in Lowell, which he demonstrated in a pair of starts where he shut down the opposition.
Hernandez jumped over the Gulf Coast League during this, his first season in the United States. The southpaw was an enigma from game to game, racking up seven game scores over 50 (and four over 60) in his 14 starts… but also barfing up four game scores under 35 – with two starts lasting just one out. However, the lefty showed a potential for strikeouts, leading the team with 58 in just 48 1/3 innings – a 10.8 K/9 – but also having trouble finding the strike zone at times, putting 36 men on base with free passes and uncorking nine wild pitches.
Josh Pennington was the most consistent full-season starter, putting up a 2.86 ERA in his 13 starts lasting 56 ⅔ frames. Pennington allowed two runs or fewer in 11 of his starts and had a game score over 50 in nine of those games. Pennington was particularly stout down the stretch, where he twirled three consecutive six-inning starts, allowing a total of three runs on 11 hits and four walks, while striking out 15. Pennington was a hit suppressor, allowing only 39 during the season (6.2 H/9) but was, like the rest of the team, a bit wild, giving up 27 walks, nine wild pitches, and a team high six hit batsman.
The last of the innings-eaters was Danny Zandona, who put up a 2.88 ERA and a 0.976 WHIP over 56 1/3 innings. The righty averaged over four innings per game despite coming out of the bullpen in 14 of his 16 appearances. Unlike Hernandez, Steen, and Pennington; Zandona excelled in avoiding hits (6.9 H/9) and walks (1.9 BB/9). Zandona also led the team with six victories and was the only pitcher to secure a Pitcher of the Week Award.
While the pitching was mediocre, the offense led the way to the division crown. The Spinners finished second only to the eventual League Champion State College Spikes in runs per game (4.87) . Lowell led the New York-Penn League in batting average (.270), slugging (.392), as well as OPS (.732), and was second in OBP (.340) to the West Virginia Black Bears (.343).
Lowell also led the circuit in hits (683) and doubles (tied with Tri-City with 131) while landing second in the league in triples (30) and home runs (39). However, the team did not have speed to burn – despite the triples – landing second to last in steals with 51 while also being caught 40 times. They were worst in the league, grounding into 59 double plays. The team was middle of the pack with only 237 walks and struck out 538 times.
Bobby Dalbec – this year’s fourth-round draft pick out of the University of Arizona – did not begin his professional career until the end of July. But, he made his first 34 professional games count, landing back-to-back Player of the Week Awards and the Player of the Month Award in August. Dalbec ended up leading the league with a 1.101 OPS, thanks to a .386/.427/.674 line, with his slugging percentage also topping the league leaderboard. Despite just 34 games to make his mark, Dalbec ended up sixth in the league with seven home runs and was just outside the top ten in doubles (13) and RBI (33). Dalbec also reached base in each of his final 18 games of the season, while failing to reach base in only two games on the season. If there is a concern going forward, it is with his strikeouts, as he picked up just under one per game.
If there was an MVP of the league, it may have gone to his teammate Tyler Hill, who posted a line of .332/.400/.487 over 61 games, and was the Player of the Month in July. Hill led the NYPL in total bases (113), was second in hits (77), fourth in runs (43) and triples (5), seventh in RBI (38), and ninth in doubles (14). Hill was second on the team with 11 steals – to Chris Madera’s dozen – and in walks: 24 to Matt McLean’s 25. On the down side, Hill was also caught stealing 11 times and grounded into nine double plays, both team highs.
Beyond Dalbec and Hill, Lowell featured a number of excellent batters. Of the nine players who participated in over 40 games, six recorded an OPS above .700. Carlos Tovar tied for the team league with 14 doubles while notching a line of .287/.323/.402. Tucker Tubbs slugged six taters while batting .238/.339/.455 and Jerry Downs went downtown five times while putting up a line of .261/.350/.414. Ryan Scott slugged eighteen extra base hits while hitting .276/.337/.443. Chris Madera used his 24 walks to boost his OPS to .713. And while Matt McLean was unable to break the .700 OPS barrier, he led the team with 25 walks and slapped four triples, putting forward a .255/.367/.314 line.
What will next season bring to Lowell? As usual, a mix of newly signed draftees and the best youngsters from the GCL and DSL will attempt to meld into a winning team. The success of the Spinners from year-to-year is not in their record but in the advancement of skills for the players moving up the ladder. A large portion of the 2016 squad will move forward to the full-season teams in Greenville and Salem in 2017, where they hope to be able to reproduce their successful seasons.