Season in Review: 2015 Great Falls Voyagers

The rookie affiliate Great Falls Voyagers were in the playoff hunt until the regular season finale but fell just short with an overall record of 35-39. The disappointing finish snapped an amazing streak of eight consecutive playoff appearances by the Great Falls affiliate. The White Sox usually stash college draft picks in Great Falls and send international prospects south to the warmer Arizona League but this year the Voyagers had a few key international free agents play a large role.

If you would like a reference point on what the Voyagers season outlook was, check the preview article here.

Pitching

The big name pitcher to start the season for the Voyagers was 2015 4th round draft pick Zach Erwin. Erwin was an advanced college lefty who predictably dominated Pioneer League hitters to the tune of a 0.84 ERA over 21.1 innings with a 15/3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Erwin’s success led him to being promoted to Kannapolis in early August, hurting the Great Falls rotation. Tanner Banks (2.51 ERA) and Brannon Easterling (3.50 ERA) anchored the pitching staff, but they are repeating Great Falls and are much older than the league average. Evin Einhardt and Matt Ball were the only other pitchers to make more than ten starts for the Voyagers. Einhardt was repeating rookie ball from the Arizona League and drastically improved his (albeit poor) 2014 numbers. Ball, repeating rookie ball for the third year now, simply got worse, as his ERA and walk rate spiked.

The Great Falls bullpen preformed well and had some interesting names to keep tabs on. College relievers and 2015 draft picks Danny Dopico and Alex Katz both pitched relatively well and flashed major league stuff. Dopico served as the team’s closer and was 7-for-8 in save opportunities throughout the year. Dopico’s ERA was nothing special (4.37) but he had an eye-popping 56 strikeouts over his 35 innings and ERA isn’t a good evaluation stat for relievers. Katz was promoted from the Arizona League to Great Falls on July 22nd and was fantastic for the Voyagers, throwing 23.2 innings and only allowing four earned runs. Ryan Riga was very solid during his short tenure with the Voyagers, posting a 1.50 ERA over 12 games before being promoted to Kannapolis. Tanner Mendonca, who notably was drafted and subsequently cut by the Twins organization after throwing 37 walks in his first 23.1 innings in 2013, had a very strong 2.38 ERA over 22.2 innings in relief to follow on his 2014 turnaround.

Offense

The Great Falls offense ranked near the bottom in most of the offensive categories in the hitter friendly Pioneer League. However, there was some encouraging individual performances which highlighted the season. Johan Cruz, who was one of big names in Marco Paddy’s first international class in 2012, took huge step forward in his development. Cruz hit .179/.273/.256 in his stateside debut last season with the Arizona League White Sox but was a different animal in 2015 with the Voyagers. Cruz led the team in hits, doubles, and average by posting a .312/.338/.442 slash line. However, it wasn’t all good as he shifted from his original position of shortstop to playing primarily at third base, where the expectations for offensive production are higher. Another member of the 2012 international class, Antonio Rodriguez, basically repeated his 2014 numbers with the AZL Sox, only significantly improving his slugging percentage at the expense of his on base percentage.

From the 2015 draft class, 21st round pick Landon Lassiter shined in his professional debut by hitting .312/.420/.447. Lassiter could be a player to be keep an eye on as he produced big numbers at the University of North Carolina but was suspended from the team during his final year which may have caused him to fall in the draft. Fellow college outfielder Frank Califano was another highlight as he hit .291/.365/.341 over the course of the season. Outfielder Jackson Glines did not have a fantastic statistical year (.240/.349/.336), but was praised by newly appointed Scouting Director Nick Hostetler for his plate discipline and stellar defense. Second baseman Dante Flores was noted as a surprise signing in the 18th round, and he didn’t disappoint, hitting .276 with six home runs.

The catching picture was complicated. Zach Fish was far and away the team’s best overall hitter (.885 OPS, team-leading 10 HR), but he was a 22-year old and had begun the year with full-season Kannapolis. He’s relatively new to catching and was fighting with Brett Austin for time in A-ball, so he was likely there to get in full-time work at the position. 8th round pick Casey Schroeder came into Great Falls as the key backstop prospect, but he did struggle a bit at the plate in his pro debut (.236/.323/.371).

Unfortunately, one of the major disappointments of the Great Falls lineup was second baseman Jake Jarvis. Jarvis was a celebrated high school signee in 2014 and had understandable struggles in the Arizona League in his professional debut, but I was hoping for a significant improvement in year two while repeating rookie ball. Jarvis started off on fire, hitting .378/.415/.541 in June, but he struggled the rest of the way and ended up with a .234/.271/.351 line.

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