Series Preview: Great Lakes Loons
Good afternoon Chiefs Fans!
The Chiefs road trip to the Eastern Division rumbles on, so we’ll keep you up to date with another preview. After yesterday’s rainout in Lansing, the Chiefs take a 1–1 record on this trip and a 10–14 record overall to Dow Diamond for a showdown with the defending Midwest League Champion Loons.
The Great Lakes Loons head into the weekend series 11–16, six games back of Eastern Division leaders Dayton and West Michigan. The Loons are .500 over their last 10 games, going 5–5 with a two game win streak to close out their inter-division series with the Burlington Bees. In the final game of that series (Thursday), the Loons won 2–1 while Brendon Davis (see below) went 1-for-3 with a home run and an RBI.
The Loons have been the class-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers since moving to Midland in 2007, but have carried affiliations with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, New York Yankees, Houston Astros, Boston Red Sox, and even our very own St. Louis Cardinals dating back to the early 1980’s. Prior to being located in Midland, the franchise was situated in Battle Creek, Michigan by way of Madison, Wisconsin. While in Cereal City, the had numerous name changes depending on the parent club, and even adopted the name of the state for a seven year stretch being called the Michigan Battle Cats.
Great Lakes and its predecessors have collected two Midwest League Championships, one in 2000 while in Battle Creek and the other last season. Dow Diamond has been the home of the Loons since they moved to Midland in 2007, holding 5,200 fans right in the downtown. Dow has been voted one of the best minor league parks in the country by multiple sources and will play host to the 2017 Midwest League All-Star Game on June 19th and 20th.
Peoria is 22–19 all-time against the Loons and Dodgers affiliates. This is the only matchup of the season between the teams as the Chiefs do not host Great Lakes in 2017. Last year the Chiefs swept Great Lakes in Peoria but in 2015 they got swept in Great Lakes with losses of 4–2, 7–3 and 3–2. The Chiefs won 2 of 3 in Peoria in 2014 with a 5–4 win before the teams traded 4–0 wins. In 2013 the Chiefs won 2 of 3 in Midland, including a 13–4 win, in their lone series against Great Lakes. In 2012 the Loons came to Peoria and got their first ever sweep of the Chiefs, April 19–21. The Loons won 11–4, 7–5 and 2–1 in the series after starting their history just 5–8 in Peoria. In 2011 the Loons took 2 out of 3 at home in early June. The Chiefs won the season series 2–1 in 2010 with all three games coming in Peoria. In 2009, the Loons won the season series 4–2 for their first season series win over the Chiefs in their young history. The teams split six games in 2008 with each team going 2–1 in their home ballpark. The Chiefs won the 2007 season series 7–1 including a win against Clayton Kershaw. Peoria is 13–9 all-time against the Loons at Dozer Park and 9–11 at Dow Diamond.
Enough about the past, though. The real reason we’re here is to prep for the series, so let’s get to know about the Loon’s top performers and their top prospects.
Carlos Rincon, RF (#24 Prospect)
Rincon has arguably been Great Lakes’ best offensive player thus far in 2017, but I say that facetiously. The corner outfielder has been tearing the cover off of the ball for the Loons, leading the league in home runs (7) while holding second place in slugging (.662). Rincon’s .338 batting average is good for eighth in the MWL right now, and fifth in the East. Rincon split time between the AZL Dodgers and the DSL Dodger in 2016 and hit 13 home runs between the two levels. It’s worth noting that he’s swatting dingers at a pace comparable to that of last season, with seven through 21 games so far. The Loon’s Brad Tunney broke down just how easy the first eight games seemed for the 19-year old. This will be the first time Rincon faces a Cardinals affiliate.
Brendon Davis, SS (#27 Prospect)
Davis is a veteran, of sorts, for the 2017 Loons after helping Great Lakes win a MWL Championship last season. Loons’ Skipper Jeremy Martinez is expecting big things from his middle infielder this time around. Listed as a shortstop, Davis has been used all over the infield including second and third base already this year. He has the second highest average on the team (.302) and has a pair of five-game hit streaks already in 2017. In 2016, Baseball America had Davis listed as the Dodgers’ best defensive player in all of their system and the 25th best prospect. Davis has not faced any current Chiefs pitchers, but last season with Great Lakes he went 1-for-6 against Peoria with a run scored, a double, three walks, a strikeout, and was caught stealing once over two games played.
A.J. Alexy, RHP (#29 Prospect)
Though he doesn’t have much to show for it, Alexy has been the Loon’s best right handed starter this year. He’s 0–1, but with an ERA of 2.03 through five games and 20 strikeouts to four walks in 13 1/3 innings, he’s put Great Lakes in good position in most of his outings. His last start came on May 2nd against Burlington, but lasted just 2/3 of an inning when he gave up two runs on two hits, walking a season-high three hitters. Alexy hasn’t lasted longer than 3 2/3 innings in any start this season. He also helped extend a shutout streak to 22 innings earlier this season. Alexy will start game three of the series, and has never faced a Cardinals Affiliate.
Devin Smeltzer, LHP (Not Ranked)
Smeltzer is scheduled to start Saturday’s game for the Loons. This season, the left hander has pitched to the tune of a 1.96 ERA over five starts while striking out 29 hitters in 23 innings. The team’s leading lefty went a stretch of 19 innings without allowing a run from April 14th to his last start on April 30th, a streak that spanned four game. Smeltzer spent last season with the AZL Dodgers, but outside of baseball has an incredible story. Smeltzer is a cancer survivor who stays rooted in his experiences and those who were less fortunate than he by writing the names of victims inside of his cap.
In all, the Loons are carrying seven of Baseball America’s top prospects in the Dodgers’ system, including #9 prospect Gavin Lux who is ranked #7 on MLB Pipeline. Nine Loons appear on the MLB Pipeline rankings, with Lux being the highest rated there as well.
Here’s the breakdown: SS Gavin Lux (BA:9, MLB:7), RHP Jordan Sheffield (MLB:9, BA: 12), C Keibert Ruiz (BA:20, MLB: 13), 3B/SS Oneil Cruz (BA: 27, MLB: 21), RHP Dustin May (BA:13, MLB: 23), OF Carlos Rincon (BA:NR, MLB: 24), SS/3B Brendon Davis (BA: NR, MLB:27), RHP A.J. Alexy (BA: NR) MLB: 29), OF Mitch Hansen (BA: 28, MLB: NR), OF Cody Thomas (BA: 29, MLB NR).
Despite heavy output from Carlos Rincon this year, the Loons offense has struggled in the early part of the season. They rank second to last in the Midwest League in batting average (.213), scoring 106 runs, 18 home runs, and an on base percentage of .302 as a team. Loons hitters have been patient, tallying 105 walks thus far which is fourth in the MWL. Their 282 total bases are more than just three teams in the entire league.
Peoria heads into the series with the third best team average at .258 this year. Through 24 games this season, the Chiefs have scored 104 runs this year and hit 24 home runs, good for second in the league behind Quad Cities 37. Peoria is one of two teams in the MWL who have not struck out more than 200 times this season, coming in a 193 which is 19 more than Burlington.
The Great Lakes pitching staff has been a tale of Jekyll and Hyde this year. On one hand, you have their starters where all but one (Leo Crawford) have ERAs under 4.00 and all of whom are holding opponents to averages under .250. As a staff they have a 4.32 ERA (11th) with 93 walks issued (T-3rd most) while hurling 22 wild pitches which is tied for fourth.
The Chiefs pitching is ranked second from the bottom in ERA this season, checking in at 5.13. The staff has struck out a league-low 165 hitters while issuing the second most hit batsmen in all of minor league baseball with 27. The 117 earned runs Chiefs pitchers have allowed this season is tied for the second most in the Midwest League.
You can catch all of the action from the series in Midland at www.peoriachiefs.com/listenlive which also has downloads for a free app on the iPhone, iPad, Blackberry and Android or by using the TuneIn radio app on your smart phone and other devices. The Chiefs pregame show for Friday night’s 6:05 first pitch will be at 5:50 p.m. with the Voice of the Chiefs, Nathan Baliva.
Thanks for reading and have a great day, everybody!