Season in Review: 2018 Great Falls Voyagers

Team: Great Falls Voyagers
League: Pioneer League (Rk)
Final Record: 34-41 overall (22-16 1st half, 12-25 2nd half)
Final Placement: 1st in first half, 4th in the second half in North division. Won PIO League Championship Series.

Complete Team Stats

The Great Falls Voyagers have made the playoffs in eleven of the past twelve seasons. They are a perennial participant in the Pioneer League playoffs. The White Sox High-Rookie level affiliate started off hot by going 22-16 and winning the 1st half title. The club struggled in the 2nd half with a record of 12-25. There was enough high impact talent left on the roster to win the league championship however. The Voyagers defeated Grand Junction in a three game set after falling to Ogden in last year's championship round.

The Pioneer League is traditionally very friendly for hitters. As a team, the Voyagers posted an OPS of .768 in 75 contests. The club hit 75 homers. The Voyagers' team batting line of .271/.334/.434 placed them 6th in the 8-team league. The pitching staff was 3rd in the league with a team earned run average of 4.69 in just over 684 innings. The pitching staff only gave up 48 home runs which was the fewest total in the league. They also allowed the least amount of walks with 195. Billings was next with 241 walks allowed to give some context on the accomplishment there. The staff was also third in the Pioneer League with 630 strikeouts. Now let's take a look at the individual contributors.

The Great Falls Voyagers swept their first round playoff series in 2018 (Shawn Tiemann / Great Falls Voyagers)

The Great Falls Voyagers swept their first round playoff series in 2018 (Shawn Tiemann / Great Falls Voyagers)

Position Players

The Great Falls Voyagers are usually stocked with college performers from the most recent draft and former international signings. This year in Montana was no different. The majority of the college players selected by the White Sox in June played for the Voyagers. The team's performance in the first half of the season was boosted by contributions from three players that didn't spend a lot of time in the Pioneer League though. 21-year-old infielder Ramon Beltre hit .290/.319/.466 and knocked in 18 runs for Great Falls before a promotion to Low-A Kannapolis. Former Oklahoma outfielder and most recent 2nd round pick Steele Walker also had a cup of coffee with the Voyagers. He only played in 9 games but posted a 193 wRC+ in his brief stint. The player that really made an impact on the Pioneer League though was Corey Zangari. The 21-year-old slugger was a 6th round pick of the Sox back in 2015. In 73 plate appearances in Great Falls after missing 2017 recovering from Tommy John surgery, the 6'4", first baseman produced a .420 wOBA and a 142 wRC+. He hit 9 homers in 17 games before a promotion to Kannapolis as well.

The outfield in Great Falls was made up of former college outfielders that the organization spent day three draft picks on. Ian Dawkins (27th round), Logan Sowers (28th round), Travis Moniot (17th round) and Romy Gonzalez (18th round) were all 2018 draft selections. Dawkins only played 28 games in the Pioneer League before earning a promotion to Kannapolis. The 23-year-old hit .328/.362/.437 in his brief look. The 6'5", 230 pound Sowers provided the thump slugging 9 homers in 64 games. The former Hoosier posted a .388 wOBA and a wRC+ of 123. It was a bit of a mystery as to where Gonzalez would play positionally but he settled in as the primary CF to close the season. The Miami product hit 10 homers in 223 plate appearances after working his way back from a wrist injury. Moniot was another guy that played some outfield for this club. He was a 17th round pick this year and has some versatility. The 21-year-old posted a 112 wRC+ in 38 games. Alex Destino was a 14th round pick of the Sox back in 2017 and he struggled in 277 plate appearances with the Voyagers this year. Jay Estes and late trade addition Bryan Connell also saw some time in the Great Falls outfield.

2018 9th round pick Gunnar Troutwine saw most of the action behind the plate. The Wichita State product mashed in his 35 games of action. He posted a .385 wOBA to go along with a 122 wRC+. The 22-year-old was a college draftee and it will be curious to see if he can keep it up at a full season affiliate but he did an admirable job on the offensive side to close out his season. Jhoandro Alfaro also played 28 games at backstop for the Voyagers. Alfaro was a fairly significant signing out of Latin America that is known for his defensive skills. He struggled with the bat but is solid behind the dish and is a switch hitter. Adam McGinnis was signed as an undrafted free agent last year and he played in 29 games as well. The 23-year-old hit .235/.309/.469 with 6 homers on the year.

Infielders Amado Nunez, Lenyn Sosa and Bryce Bush could all be realistic options for the White Sox top 30 prospects list. Sosa already slotted into our midseason list at #24. He was a member of the 2016 international signing class and he immediately played stateside ball for the AZL affiliate as a 17-year-old. In 65 games, the shortstop hit .293/.317/.406 for the Voyagers while playing reportedly solid defense in the middle of the infield as an 18-year-old. Bush joined the Pioneer League after destroying the AZL in a small sample. The 18-year-old was a 33rd round pick of the White Sox in the most recent draft but the top-5 round talent was given a bonus of $390K. We profiled Bush here. In 24 games in Great Falls, the Michigan prep star hit .250/.327/.385 but flashed extraordinary upside. Nunez made some large strides offensively. Signed as a shortstop in the 2015 international class, he showed up on publication prospect lists soon after. The Venezuelan struggled in a big way in 2017 but bounced back this year. In 60 games with Great Falls, Nunez hit .357/.394/.568 with 6 dingers and 52 runs knocked in. The 20-year-old primary second baseman posted a .417 wOBA to go with a staggering 141 wRC+ and won the league's batting title. The infield for the Voyagers was rounded out by Maiker Feliz and a trio of college draft picks in Jimmy Galusky, Micah Coffey and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Pitchers

The majority of this pitching staff was made up of 2018 draft picks of the college variety. This is a common practice of the organization. There was some success in this department just with the ability for some of these guys to get their feet wet in the professional ranks. The pitching ranked 3rd in the league in ERA, 3rd in strikeouts and 2nd in WHIP with a total of 1.43. Due to the amount of pitchers that threw an entire season's worth of innings in college, many of the pitching appearances were done in shorter or tandem stints by design. Many of the arms selected on day three of the 2018 MLB Draft comprised much of this pitching staff, but there were some legitimate prospects on this pitching staff. 

Lefty Konnor Pilkington was the club's 3rd round selection in June and he only threw 12 more innings after a long college season at Mississippi State. The 21-year-old compiled 9 strikeouts with 4 walks and posted a 5.25 ERA in the very small sample. Konnor was the #21-ranked prospect in the system on our midseason list. 2018 5th round pick Jonathan Stiever threw 28 innings after a heavy load for Indiana this spring. He posted a 4.18 ERA with 39 strikeouts and 9 walks while surrendering 46 hits. He's another guy that will be in the discussion for top 30 prospect status in the organization. Codi Heuer was the 6th round pick of the Pale Hose out of Wichita State. The 6'5" 195 pound righty threw 38 innings in 14 games. He struck out 35 and walked 14 with a 4.74 ERA in his 14 games. 13th rounder Jason Bilous and 14th rounder Davis Martin also saw time. Bilous has a live arm and struggled with command in 36.2 innings. The Coastal Carolina product had 31 strikeouts with 24 walks on his way to a 7.85 ERA. Martin pitched deep into the college season with Texas Tech and only threw 18 innings as a pro. He did strike out 21 hitters with a 4.50 ERA in that brief stint however.

Andrew Perez and Bennett Sousa were day two selections by the White Sox in the 2018 draft. Perez was the closer at South Florida and was quickly promoted to Kannapolis after posting a 1.42 ERA in 6.1 innings for the Voyagers. Sousa was a reliever at the University of Virginia and was also promoted to the Intimidators after striking out 18 hitters in 13 innings for Great Falls. There were six more pitchers from the 2018 draft class on the Voyagers roster as well, mostly working from the bullpen. Nick Johnson (21st round), Lane Ramsey (23rd round), Rigo Fernandez (24th round), Jack Maynard (25th round), Devon Perez (26th round) and Austin Conway (31st round) all pitched in relief for the league champions. Perez was dominant in the AZL after pitching at the University of Oklahoma and he compiled 35K in 32.1 innings in the Pioneer League. Maynard struck out 42 hitters with a 3.00 ERA in 39 innings and Johnson struck out 28 batters with a sparkling 0.90 ERA in 28 frames.

Right-hander Chris Comito and southpaw Matt Portland were the innings leaders on the year for the champs. Comito was a 15th round pick of the Sox back in 2015 and he repeated the level this year. Chris started 15 contests and threw 71.1 innings with a 6.06 ERA. Portland was a 17th rounder of the Royals back in 2015 as well. The left-hander posted a 4.70 ERA in 53.2 innings pitched on the year. Righties Michael McCormick, Vince Arobio and Greg Minier were selected in the 2017 draft by the Sox and they combined for over 90 innings for the Voyagers this season. The club received help from some free agents as well. Spencer Moran threw 34 innings for Great Falls with a 3.71 ERA prior to earning a promotion. Spencer was an 11th round pick of the Rays in 2014. Righty Wyatt Burns contributed 43.2 innings of a 3.92 ERA after going un-drafted in June as well. Kevin Folman, Carter Love and Drew Weston combined for nearly 25 total innings.

Looking Forward to 2019

The fans in the Pioneer League and the Great Falls Voyagers in this case rarely have the luxury of seeing the same players for multiple seasons. The nature of this team and league is that it's comprised of recent college draft picks for a shortened season. The Voyagers are likely to lose the majority of their title-winning roster for next year as many of the players will move on to a full season affiliate. Players like Bryan Connell and Jhoandro Alfaro in addition to some of the pitchers could be candidates to return next spring. Most of the college infielders and outfielders will move on though. That should include young infielders like Nunez, Sosa and Bush. Those players performed well enough at a young age to possibly land a spot in full season ball.

With that being said, many of the players on the next Great Falls' team aren't even in the White Sox organization currently. The bulk of that roster will be selected using the 40 rounds of next June's amateur draft. Some players should join the Voyagers from the Low-Rookie level AZL though. Former international signings like Harvin Mendoza (1B), Anderson Comas (OF), Luis Mieses (OF) and Camilo Quinteiro (IF) along with catcher Tyrus Greene could be candidates for the Pioneer League in 2019. On the pitching side, Brayan Herrera, Taylor Varnell and Yordi Rosario could be candidates after strong seasons in the AZL. 1B Franklin Reyes could return to the Voyagers after undergoing Tommy John Surgery.

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