While the Power didn't quite make the playoffs, the season can be considered a strong one for both player development and enjoyment. The power finished the year off with a record of 74-62 on the season and 35-32 in the second half. While it seemed like the Power could have won even more games than that at times, their final record is certainly not disappointing in anyway. This season we saw excellent pitching performances by starters and relievers, dramatic games, and record setting performances. As I have written several times before, the make-up of this team is fairly unique. For the most part, the team had 4 very high level prospects in Angel Salome, Will Inman, Mat Gamel, and Lorenzo Cain. After that, the team had a few other guys who played better than anyone could expect, and developed prospect status of their own---Darren Ford, Mike Bell, Ryan Crew, Joe Thatcher, Derek Miller, Ned Yost IV, Steve Garrison, David Welch, and of course Michael Brantley---a player with a well developed cult following at Brewerfan.net. After these guys, the team was well rounded, but not necessarily full of blue chip prospects. Players like Ryan Barba and Nate Yoho, as well as most of the pitching staff provided good defense and timely hits as well as assisting in every way that they were asked. You cannot fault a player for not being as highly regarded as some of his teammates, and with that in mind I think each player succeeded in some capacity.
Perhaps the best way to look at the players is to break it down individually, starting with the Team Mvp and Cy Young:
Lorenzo entered the season having just turned 20, and coming off one of the better Arizona League campaigns in recent memory, rewarding Cain with an MVP trophy. For Lorenzo the season began with high expectations and he met every single one along the way. Aside from shattering the West Virginia team hits record with 162, Lorenzo also led the team in batting at .307, and delivered 6 homers along with 60 RBIs. On top of his hitting prowess, Lorenzo also carried over his decent walk rate from rookie ball, which he actually managed to improve once the season got rolling along. Aside from April, Lorenzo never walked less than 9 times in a month, while topping out at 14. the ability to get on base frequently is an incredible asset when a player has plus speed, and in Lorenzo's case, reaching base over 220 times allowed him to steal 34 bases, while only being caught 11 times. While Lorenzo may not steal 30 bases at every level along the way, this season proved that he has plenty of speed to take an extra base when needed. Of course, you don't need to steal second if you are already there, so it is impressive that Cain had 36 doubles and 4 triples to go along with everything else. As most players progress, doubles tend to turn into home runs, a clear indicator that Lorenzo possesses the ability to hit 20 or more Home runs in a full major league season. Beyond just his obvious skill with the bat, Cain is also a terrific defender, using his great speed and obvious on-field intensity to his advantage. While Lorenzo's fantastic arm allows him to handle Right Field with ease, it is clear from his judgment and skill that he could more than aptly handle Center Field. Lorenzo Cain is a true Five Tool prospect and a well deserving Team MVP.
Already a legend in his own time for his efforts in Helena last year, as well as his feisty and eclectic demeanor, Will Inman dominated the Sally league. It is impossible to express with words how much talent Will Inman has on the mound. He can easily hit the mid-90's on the radar while also baffling hitters with his fantastic breaking ball. Will cruised to a 1.71 ERA with a WHIP of .90. Those numbers are unbelievable on their own, but barely begin to demonstrate Will's ability. Will also mowed down 134 Batters while only walking 24, giving him a K:BB ratio of 5.58---an astronomical level for a player who was still a teenager for the entire season. In 110 Innings, while managed to hold the opposing batter to a .190 batting average and didn't allow a single Home Run until after his 100th inning pitched. Will did miss some time with a sore shoulder, but it is likely that the Brewers Organization was just trying to play it on the side of caution with Will and limit his innings as much as possible. Much like Lorenzo, there is not much that Will is not capable of and expectations of him are sky high for next year. Will Inman is truly a star in the making.
Even though the team awards can only got to two players, there were several others who could have easily won MVP in another year.
At the beginning of the season, little was known about Darren besides his reputation for being blindingly fast. In 2005 in Helena Darren had gotten on base at a decent clip and stolen 18 bases, but he did little else that was statistically noteworthy, so coming into the season Darren was a bit of a mystery. After getting to see him play on numerous occasions, I can say with complete honesty that Darren Ford may be the most exciting player on the entire roster. In his first season above rookie ball, Darren managed to hit .283 and carry and OPS of .747. Those numbers are very impressive considering that Ford is still just 20 years old. Of course, Darren also stole 69 bases against 15 caught stealing, showing his tremendous speed in action. Like Lorenzo Cain, there were some questions about Ford's ability to get on base before the season, but Darren answered them all and more by collecting 139 hits and 56 walks, allowing him to carry an OBP of .361---more than .75 points higher than his batting average! Perhaps the most impressive revelation about Ford from 2006 was that he is not the light-hitting all speed Center Fielder he was previously believed to be. Darren actually out homered Lorenzo Cain with 7 and managed to play his speed into 24 doubles and 3 triples, giving him a decent SLG % of .387. It should be noted that Darren actually slugged .500 in 80 at bats in August, giving reason to believe that he could hit for even more power as he fills out. Like Lorenzo, Darren's swift feet and instincts allow him to play good defense in Center Field. Darren Ford used his 2006 campaign in West Virginia to prove his legitimacy as a prospect, and we all eagerly await his progress at a higher level in 2007
Much Like Lorenzo Cain, Mat Gamel entered the season as a highly thought of prospect because his 4th round draft pick status and his statistics at Helena in 2005. Like Cain, Gamel lived up to and exceeded his reputation. While there were concerns about his defense entering the season, Mat played well enough to maintain his position at Third base and showed consistent progress throughout the season. His batting ability was already well-known, and Mat proved his legitimacy as a prospect by hitting for an OPS of .827, with a team high 17 Home Runs. Like Cain and Ford, Mat also proved he knew how to get on base by smashing 142 hits and walking 52 times in 493 at-bats. Impressively, Mat only struck out 81 times in those ab's, demonstrating that his judgment of the strike zone goes well beyond just drawing walks. While Mat may have to move off Third Base as he rises in the system due to being behind Ryan Braun, He proved he could handle it defensively, and his hitting prowess shows that he would be a well-thought of player in the outfield as well.
Salome has a tough job to due, considering that everyone who has ever heard his name pins their hopes for the future of catching in Milwaukee on his shoulders. Angel, like the others listed above him more than surpassed expectations: he dominated until his season ending injury. Salome is perhaps the most unique catcher in baseball: he's barely 5 foot 6 inches tall, but he's built like a Greco-Roman wrestler. Even though he did not turn 20 until the middle of the season, Angel already has the physique of a Major league baseball player. This physique not only makes Angel an impressive looking figure, but gives him the stamina to catch most of his team's games, as well as hit for an impressive .796 OPS. Angel was second on the team in RBI with 85; an astounding figure considering he only had 418 at bats. Like Mat Gamel, Angel was able to reach double-digits in Home Runs with 10 and even tacked on 31 doubles. While Angel does not walk at quite the same rate as the other 3 position players mentioned above, he did managed to draw 39 free bases while only striking out 63 times. If he adds a few more walks, Angel could develop into the star catcher the Brewers have desired forever. Angel's defensive reputation is mixed, but in my limited experience watching Angel he demonstrated a very strong arm and quick movement behind the plate. It is well known that Salome is one of the hardest working players in the minor leagues, so Brewer fans should have confidence that Angel's glove and stick will continue to improve as he draws closer to his star potential in Milwaukee.
A few other players are worthy of mention:
Bell came seemingly out of no-where to club 49 extra base hits this season in time split between Second Base and Designated Hitter. While a quick glance at his stats will show that he played well at Helena in 2005, there was no way to know how much power the 21 year old Bell possessed. While Bell's defense was not particularly strong and he drew slightly less than 1 walk for every ten at bat, bell's power alone was enough to convince me that he is a prospect in his own right.
While I did not personally get to see Steve pitch this year, the 19 year-old player's statistics show that he had a successful season in West Virginia. In Steve's 88 innings, he allowed 86 hits and walked 22, against 77 strikeouts. These numbers allowed Garrison to carry an ERA of 3.47 and a whip of 1.22. While Garrison did allow 10 home runs in his limited innings, he showed enough of the potential that got him drafted in the 10th round in 2005 to be advanced to a higher level in 2007.
Dave may have been a little old for Low A ball, but he rolled through the Sally league with an ERA of 2.43 and a WHIP of .98. David also managed to strike out 85 batters in 100 innings, demonstrating that he can be counted on to efficiently eliminate the opposing batter. Sadly, I did not get to witness Welch pitching this season, but like Garrison his stats give reason to believe that he can succeed at a higher level in 2007.
Michael Brantley began the season at 18 years old and having played the vast majority of 2005 at the Arizona level. Even so, Brantley was able to lead the team with an On Base percentage of .402, a staggering percentage for a player of any age. Brantley proved his unbelievable hitter's eye by walking 61 times and striking out an equally impressive 51 times. While Brantley does not have the same quickness as Darren Ford or Lorenzo Cain, he was able to steal 24 bases against 7 times caught. Brantley only slugged .339, but his incredible youth and body size should allow him to develop into a stronger hitter, capable of more than the 12 extra base hits he collected in 2007.
There were many other noteworthy performances by West Virginia's players this season, but in trying to keep this article under novel length, I can only briefly mention that Ned Yost IV and Tony Festa had successful years, as well as pitchers Rafael Lluberes, Dane Renkert, Joe Thatcher, Derek Miller, and Kevin Roberts (after being moved to relief). Several other players did not dominate statistically, but gave depth to the team and provided leadership, including Nat Yoho and Kenny Holmberg.
While the team did not quite make the post season, it was a wildly enjoyable year to follow the West Virginia power. Between absurdly dominant pitching performances by Will Inman and excitement all around from Lorenzo Cain, the season was a blast. My final wish is that the Brewers can find a way to keep the Low A team in West Virginia or at the least somewhere else in the northern division of the South Atlantic league so that I can continue to enjoy this ball club!