The Winston-Salem Dash had been to the playoffs for three consecutive years, but fell a couple games short of the second half title in the Southern Division of the Carolina League. The 37-33 second half record wasn't enough for a fourth straight postseason and at 69-71 overall it's also the first time since the franchise was renamed the Dash in 2008 that they've had a losing record.
The Dash began the season with just four of our 2010 postseason top 25 prospects: Andy Wilkins, Jared Mitchell, Andre Rienzo and Santos Rodriguez. Five others joined during the season: Tyler Saladino, Mike Blanke, Ryan Buch, Jacob Petricka and Addison Reed. Wilkins, Saladino and Rienzo appeared to be sleeper candidates, but the early attention surrounded Mitchell's return from an injury suffered in spring training the year before. Mitchell played in the Arizona Fall League last year, but suiting up for the Dash was his return to regular season baseball.
Mitchell racked up the strikeouts like none other, leading the league with 183 punch outs. It was a tough year for the former LSU star and strikeouts have become a storyline throughout the system. Fellow outfield prospects Trayce Thompson, Jordan Danks and Keenyn Walker also failed to make enough contact. However, outside Mitchell, most of the quality prospects on the Dash had positive seasons.
Offense (team ranks out of 8 teams)
Team stats: .253 avg (4th), .732 OPS (1st), 4.6 runs per game (1st)
Top hitters: Ian Gac (.279/.358/.535), Tyler Saladino (.270/.363/.501), Andy Wilkins (.278/.349/.485)
It should come as little surprise that the Dash had the league's most potent offense. With a number of power hitters in a hitters' park, the Dash pounded the ball on a regular basis at home. They led the league with 133 home runs, second place had just 101, and 41 triples.
Leading the way in the power category was Gac. His 33 homers was most in the league by a long shot. Wilkins had the second most jacks in the league with 23 while Saladino (16) and Ciolli (14) also finished in the top ten of the league. Gac, 96 RBI, and Wilkins, 89 RBI, were also top two in that category as well. At 26, Gac isn't thought of as a prospect, but he's too advanced for the Carolina League. He should get a shot to carry the Barons' offense next season.
The rest of the successful hitters on Winston-Salem should create a bit of optimism on the prospect side though. Wilkins, who turns 23 tomorrow, and Saladino both had fantastic second halves. Both players were in their first full seasons of pro ball and adjusted to an advanced level of competition for their experience. Saladino, 22, broke his hand in spring training, causing him to miss all of April and part of May. In May Saladino wasn't quite back to form and hit just .192. After that he showed good upside by displaying patience, power and good defense. His second half performance likely puts him among the system's top five prospects.
Meanwhile, Wilkins didn't have the injury excuse, but he did skip low-A Kannapolis. His first half was decent (.730 OPS), but he showed a major spike in both his average and power in the second half to post a .938 OPS. One concern is that Wilkins, unlike Saladino, showed a disparity between his home and away splits. Heading to Birmingham's Regions Park next season should affect his power numbers.
Ciolli was productive, but didn't show enough to raise his prospect status. Jose Martinez had a strong start to the season, earning a promotion to AA, but doesn't show much power for a corner outfielder. Mike Blanke was a disappointment in 2011. He earned a surprising promotion from Kannapolis and was unable to be a productive hitter at either stop.
Next year the Barons should have a good offense next season with Saladino, Gac and Wilkins likely leading the way again. Don't expect a league leading offense with these players going from one extreme to another in terms of ballparks.
Team stats: 3.96 ERA (6th), 989 strikeouts (6th), 476 walks (7th), 4.39 runs per game (6th)
Top pitchers: Addison Reed (1.59 ERA, 39 K, 4 BB in 28.1 IP), Ryan Kussmaul (2.51 ERA, 88 K, 21 BB in 57.1 IP), Andre Rienzo (3.41 ERA, 118 K, 66 BB in 116 IP), Cameron Bayne (3.65 ERA, 79 K, 51 BB in 148 IP)
The Dash had a handful of pitchers that earned promotions to AA midyear. Starters Terry Doyle and Hector Santiago and relievers Reed and Brandon Kloess moved up to the Barons. In came Jacob Petricka and Ryan Buch, but both had injuries and their effectiveness was limited. Reed joined the Dash after his cameo with Kannapolis and Winston-Salem became stop No. 2 on what became a five-team tour en route to the Majors where Reed currently is.
Rienzo and Bayne were the anchors for the rotation with Bayne leading the league in wins and Rienzo finishing fourth in strikeouts (and also tied for most walks). Rienzo is clearly the better prospect of the two, though it's starting to look like he might be destined for the bullpen. His lack of control is obviously a concern, but he was a different pitcher away from BB&T Ballpark. The Brazilian's ERA was more than a run lower on the road and he strangely posted better peripherals away from home as well. Both starters should be productive in Birmingham.
The bullpen was one of the strength's of the team. Even after Reed and Kloess got promoted Kussmaul and Ryan Thompson were shutdown relievers. Kussmaul turns 25 in a week, but was among the league leaders for relievers in several categories. His 13.81 K/9 is second among all full-season relievers, even higher than Addison Reed's 12.75 K/9 in the minors. Other relievers with good arms, Santos Rodriguez and Leroy Hunt, had disappointing seasons.
Obviously the pitching wasn't good, but factoring in the ballpark they did alright. Look for Kussmaul as a possible sleeper just because of the ridiculous numbers and Rienzo to have a better year in a bigger park.
The Dash had an interesting mix of prospects and relative unknowns and players from both groups were good and bad. There were bright spots, but not enough of them. Jared Mitchell could return to the Carolina League next year and a talented group from Kannapolis would join him. Petricka and Buch could be back as well to give the rotation a pair of strong anchors. As far as the 2012 Barons are concerned many of the Dash's success stories can boost their value by succeeding in AA.