Great Falls Playoff Preview

The Great Falls Voyagers were the first-half Champions of the North Division of the Pioneer League earning themselves a spot in the post-season against the second-half champions, the Billings Mustangs. Their series is best two out of three, with Billings hosting the first game and Great Falls hosting game two and game three if necessary.

The Voyagers roster has changed considerably since the beginning of the season thanks to losses to promotions. Most notably among those promotions are pitchers Chris Freudenberg, Connor Walsh, Brad Salgado, and hitters Chevy Clarke, Jake Peter, Toby Thomas, and Ryan Leonards, to name a few. When you are a Rookie League affiliate you should expect to lose your best players to promotion. However, the Voyagers were on the receiving end of two promotions and a demotion that has them hopeful for their first Pioneer League Championship since 2011.

Pitching 

Pitching is undoubtedly the strength of Great Falls, as they led the Pioneer League comfortably in team ERA with a 3.74 mark. While Billings won the season series with the Voyagers 9-7, Great Falls pitching held the Mustangs hitters to a cumulative .221 batting average. It all begins with game 1 starter, Luis Martinez, who in his five starts since being promoted to Great Falls from Arizona, has a sparkling 1.42 ERA with two wins and 22 strikeouts. Martinez was signed as a 16 year-old in 2012 out of Venezuela and is pitching in his first professional season.

The Game 2 starter is another mid-season addition, Dominican righty Kelvis Valerio. Valerio is a product of the White Sox Dominican Summer League, where he pitched in 2011 and 2012. Like Martinez, Valerio started in Arizona and was recently promoted to Great Falls with fantastic results. Valerio owns a 1.64 ERA over his two starts as a Voyager, striking out five and walking one.

Game 3 starter (if necessary) is 2014  9th round draft pick Brian Clark. Clark, unlike Martinez and Valerio, has been with the Voyagers all season and has racked up a 3.35 ERA over 48.1 innings pitched, striking out 52 and only walking 14. Clark is a lefty and does an excellent job keeping the ball in the yard, having only allowed one home run all season. If the Voyagers advance, expect to see starter Dane Stone, who owns a 3.99 ERA over 79 innings pitched, striking out 76 and only allowing 20 walks.

Coming out of the bullpen, relievers Aaron Bummer (2.45 ERA), Matt Cooper (3.18 ERA), Devon Davis (2.43 ERA), Alex Powers (3.68 ERA), and closer Jon Bengard (3.44), are a formidable force at the end of games.

Hitting

Offensively, it was an up and down season for the Voyager hitters. As a team, Great Falls finished sixth out of eight teams in batting average at .274. However, the Voyagers received reinforcements in the form of Hunter Jones as a mid-season demotion from Kannapolis, and he’s been nothing short but excellent. Jones, who plays centerfield and leads off, has hit .351/.411/.577 over 28 games for the Voyagers, while stealing 9 bases. Catcher/designed hitter Zach Fisher has been just as good, batting .348/.410/.579 while spending most of the season in Great Falls. Splitting the catching duties with Fisher, Dillion Haupt has hit .288/.362./.480. While the previously mentioned hitters were all in the Sox system going in, the Voyagers also received help from the draft. Mason Robbins was a 25th round selection of the White Sox out of Southern Mississippi University and the outfielder has hit well all season, slashing .304/.335/.470. Middle infielders Ethan Gross and John Ziznewski, both 2014 draftees, have been steady contributors as well.

Outlook

The Great Falls Voyagers are one of the premium teams in the Pioneer League, having won the Championship in 2011 and having made the playoffs consistently in recent history (this is their 8th straight year doing so). They seem poised for another run thanks to their strong starting and relief pitching. If the offense can come up with enough timely hitting, Great Falls could be headed back to championship glory.

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