Lutz Was Run Producer for Blaze Before Injury
Bakersfield was the only Reds affiliate to see post season action this year after finishing with the best record in the first half of the California League. Five Blaze players earned all-star selections and promotions to AA. There season was ended with a loss at Modesto in game five of their first series.
2012 was a tale of two teams for the Bakersfield Blaze. They got off to a strong start and secured a post season spot with the best first half record in the California League. Five Blaze players were selected on the All Star team at midseason. Then, as is often the case in the lower minor league levels, blessings turned into vacancies as many of their top performers were promoted to Pensacola. Eight players on the Bakersfield opening day roster finished their season in AA. They finished the second half season with a 31-39 record, bringing their overall mark to 72-68. Things started off well in the postseason when they won their first two games but then their season ended when Modesto took the final three of the series.
The most memorable performance was Billy Hamilton’s assault on the minor league record for steals in a season. At Dayton in 2011 the speedster put up the first 100-steal season in the minor leagues in over a decade and did not slow down this year. He hit .323 at Bakersfield in the first half and swiped 104 bags in 82 games before breaking the record after promotion.
Donald Lutz was an effective run producer in the middle of the lineup and was leading the Cali League in homers before fouling a pitch off his ankle and going on the DL. After rehabbing he continued his season at the next level. Third baseman David Vidal was productive hitting behind Lutz before he was promoted after 35 games.
There were multiple leadoff options on the Blaze roster. Bryson Smith ( .313/.376) could have manned the top spot of the lineup had they not had Hamilton. He hit .313/.376 before his promotion after 57 games. Theo Bowe arrived from Dayton early in the season and eventually took over leadoff by hitting .314/.391 OB%. It’s difficult for anyone else on a roster with Hamilton to get attention for stealing bases, but the Bowe was successful stealing 58 times.
Bakersfield was also the starting place this season for Tucker Barnhart who was the top-rated catching prospect remaining in the system after a promotion and trade of a couple of former first round selections. The receiver lived up to his reputation as a good on-base hitter by batting .278/.409 OB.
Of the personnel spending their entire season at Bakersfield Travis Mattair emerged as the top run-producer. Cincinnati nabbed the third baseman out of the Philadelphia organization via the Rule 5 draft. He took over for Vidal and hit .274/.344 OB/.465 SLG. He also led the team with 19 HR/82 RBI.
Late round selection Dominic D’Anna kept his hopes for advancing alive by hitting .277/.386 while manning first base after Lutz’s departure. Infielder Devin Lohman led the team in at-bats and finished at .257/.353 with 14 homers.
A couple of high-profile Latin American prospects started off their seasons slowly at Bakersfield in 2012. Juan Duran raised his average to .235 by the end of the year while hitting twelve homers. Yorman Rodriguez was under .200 before returning to Dayton where he hit better for the Dragons. Both outfielders are still under twenty-two years old and the recipients of large signing bonuses, so they will return to get their development back on track somewhere in the organization next season.
The Blaze did benefit from the arrival of a couple of Dayton’s top players as personnel indexed up the pipeline. The Cali League has a reputation for being hitter-friendly and Steve Selsky can attest to that. The outfielder hit .348/.420 while slugging fifteen homers in 69 games after hitting only three in 59 Midwest League appearances. Ryan Wright moved into the Blaze infield and hit .271 with five homers.
Kurtis Muller had an early season demotion and returned to Bakersfield after knocking the cover off the ball for Dayton. The outfielder finished at .262 in 183 AB with the Blaze and also stole fifteen bases. Danny Vicioso defended his spot in the catching pipeline by hitting .290 and slugging .443 in 131 AB.
The Blaze not only had a good performance guarding the plate, but also had some pitchers who were effective at attacking it. Tony Cingrani mowed down California League hitters with a 1.11 ERA over ten starts before his promotion. The southpaw eventually wore a Reds uniform after an expansion call-up. Kyle Lotzkar also started off his season with a brief low-A stint. The former supplemental round pick had his career put on hold from Tommy John surgery and the Reds fast-tracked him to AA after five starts.
The nicest surprise in the rotation was Chad Rogers. The 28th-rounder kept a low-three ERA before a late season promotion. Josh Smith led the Blaze in innings pitched and ended up with nine wins and a 3.80 ERA. Closer Brian Pearl also earned an all-star selection and promotion with a 1.31 ERA and thirteen saves.
Daniel Renken was The Opening day starter and disappointed with an ERA close to six. Tim Crabbe arrived after a late season demotion and went 5-2 with a low-three ERA in ten starts. He’ll likely use his mid-90’s fastball in another shot at the AA level next season.
Tanner Robles arrived from Dayton in time to make seven starts and kept a mid-two ERA. Another former Dragon, Justice French kept his ERA under four in 22 appearances. Pearl was replaced by Dayton closer Carlos Contreras who finished the season at 2.70 with four saves in nine appearances.
Looking forward to next season, Bakersfield is the next stop for Reds prospects at Dayton who had the worst record in the Midwest League this season. Wright is emerging as a top prospect in an organization already flush with middle infielders. Duran and Rodriguez figure to get the first shot at outfield jobs. Others like Mattair, Selsky, and Bowe will likely start out at the highest level where the Reds can still give them plenty of playing time. Robles impressed in his brief time in the Blaze rotation this year and 2011 first round pick Robert Stephenson will likely don a Bakersfield uniform in the near future.
Every team drafts forty new prospects into the organization each year and there’s not much room to hang around in the lower minor league levels. Often the game is “move up or move out”. Bakersfield fans got to see a lot of “move ups” in 2012. This was facilitated by vacancies at the top level after promotions and offseason trades. Right now no one knows what’s in store for this offseason. The Reds starting lineup figures to remain intact, but there’s a good chance some of this year’s prospects can grab reserve spots. Depending on how things shake out from trades or lack thereof during the offseason there’s reason to believe that Bakersfield will once again be competitive in the California League in 2013. Next time they might even get to keep more of their top players for more than half a season.