2011 Great Falls Season in Review

We conclude the season in review series with the Pioneer League champion Great Falls Voyagers. The Voyagers went from last place in the first half to winning the division in the second half and staying hot in the playoffs. Great Falls went 17-21 in the first half, but took the second half North division title with a 25-13 record and still just won the division by a game. In the playoffs the Voyagers (42-34 overall) took down Missoula in a decisive third game before sweeping Orem in two in the league championship series.

A few high draft picks were on the team, but most of them didn’t play much. Supplemental pick Keenyn Walker was promoted to Kannapolis after just 15 games while second round pick Erik Johnson and fourth round pick Kyle McMillen (injury) made just two appearances each. So as usual, the team was a combination of college draft picks and returning pros.

Offense (team ranks out of 8 teams)
Team stats: .273 avg (6th), .770 OPS (6th), 5.78 runs per game (t-6th)
Top hitters: Kevan Smith (.318/.417/.523), Mark Haddow (.312/.375/.528), Joe De Pinto (.285/.388/.433)

As you can see from the numbers in both hitting and pitching below, the Pioneer League is an offense happy league. The combination of playing at elevation throughout the Rocky Mountains and facing inexperienced pitchers typically makes the Pioneer play that way. In other words, rookie ball numbers in an offensive league should be taken with a grain of salt.

That said, it’s hard not to be impressed with Kevan Smith. After blowing through the Appalachian League, the 23-year-old started 5-48 with the Voyagers, but emphatically turned that around. He put the Great Falls’ offense on his back down the stretch and continued his hot play in the playoffs, where he had 8 RBI in 5 games. His age plays against him in rookie ball, but as a catcher he will have every opportunity to succeed. Smith is a good athlete and has a decent arm behind the plate. Hopefully he gets pushed next year and can continue to mash pro pitching.

Haddow, De Pinto and Martin Medina (.825 OPS) were also key cogs in the Voyagers’ offense. Haddow showed some big power with 12 HR, but he also struck out 70 times in 269 at-bats. Medina, another catcher, was a bit of a surprise. Like Smith he had a stint with Bristol, but Medina really struggled in the Appy and then posted solid numbers for the Voyagers’ down the stretch. De Pinto, 22, is a USC product that looks like a typical top of the order college middle infielder. He makes good contact, walks a lot, has some speed and a bit of power as well.

Qualon Millender, though 24, is a possible sleeper. He led the league with 28 stolen bases and was second with 39 walks.

Team stats: 4.45 ERA (1st), 692 strikeouts (5th), 227 walks (3rd), 5.25 runs per game (1st)
Top pitchers: Blair Walters (4.03 ERA, 72 K, 17 BB in 73.2 IP), Scott Snodgress (3.34 ERA, 68 K, 17 BB in 59.1 IP), Joe Dvorsky (2.93 ERA, 32 K, 9 BB in 27.2 IP), Cody Winiarski (1.80 ERA, 29 K, 4 BB in 20 IP)

A pair of lefty starting pitchers, Walters and Snodgress, impressed this summer. Both were relievers in college that transitioned to the rotation in pro ball and did surprisingly well. Walters faded towards the end of the season, possibly due to fatigue following college season, but showed fantastic peripherals. Snodgress became the Voyagers’ best pitcher once Walters tired. He showed good control of his low 90s fastball, but will need to improve his curve and change to remain a starter.

Winiarski, Dvorsky and Stew Brase (2.27 ERA) were good out of the bullpen. All three came from Division 1 college programs. Winiarski joined the team a bit late due to Virginia’s run to the final four of the College World Series so he only pitched 20 innings with Great Falls, but was absolutely dominant. Kevin Vance, out of UConn, is another one to keep an eye on. He struck out 58 and walked just 10 in 35.2 innings, but gave up 45 hits suggesting maybe he was getting too much of the strike zone.

My season preview (at least the outlook part) was fairly accurate. The offense did fine, but until Smith joined the team didn’t have hitting prospects. The bullpen was solid and a pair of needed starting pitchers stepped up in Walters and Snodgress. Those are really the only prospects for now. Others are still in the sleeper category until they succeed in full season ball as well.

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