Minor League look: Class A Lynchburg
Hillcats rode torrid postseason to Carolina League title
Here is part three in a seven-part series that will take an in-depth look at how each of the Pirates' Minor League affiliates fared during the 2009 season. Previously, we examined Triple-A Indianapolis and Double-A Altoona. Up next are the high Class A Lynchburg Hillcats:
Record: 73-66 in Carolina League's Northern division; first half: 45-24 (first place); second half: 28-42 (fourth place)
What went right?
Despite having the Carolina League's worst record in the second half, Lynchburg went on a postseason tear to win the Carolina League Championship with a three-game sweep of the Salem Red Sox. Lynchburg has now won six Carolina League Championships.
The Hillcats went 45-24 in the first half, largely helped by the presence of third baseman Pedro Alvarez. In fact, the club actually had the second-most wins by any team in Minor League Baseball in the first half. That secured them a spot in the postseason.
In addition to Alvarez, the performances by Michael Dubee (1.05 ERA in 23 appearances), Dustin Molleken (3-1, 3.48 ERA) and Miles Durham (.296 average in 65 games) helped the Hillcats get off to such a strong start. All three were promoted to Double-A midseason.
Utility player Jose De Los Santos, who hit a game-winning home run in the Carolina League Championship series, stole 53 bases in 61 attempts.
What went wrong?
Lynchburg stumbled to the finish line, going 28-42 in the second half of the season. That was the league's worst second-half record. During that span, the team hit just .231 with runners in scoring position.
Bryan Morris, a prized piece in the Jason Bay trade in July 2008, flopped in his first full season in the organization. Not only was he temporarily suspended because of his on-field behavior during an August game, but Morris went just 4-9 with a 5.57 ERA. He struck out just 32 and walked 34.
Other recent pitching acquisitions pitched didn't overwhelm with their results either. Jeff Locke, who was acquired in the trade that sent Nate McLouth to Atlanta had a 4.59 ERA in 27 starts. Nathan Adcock, acquired from the Mariners in late July, posted a 5.25 ERA in 24 innings pitched with the club.
On the rise
Lefty Justin Wilson, the Pirates' fifth-round Draft pick in 2008, rebounded from a subpar season start to finish strong. After going 3-5 with a 6.75 ERA in his first 15 starts, Wilson went 3-3 with a 2.20 ERA in his final 11.
In his first full professional season, shortstop Jordy Mercer finished the season on the upswing. He had 22 RBIs in his last 24 games and finished second in the farm system with 83 RBIs. He led the Carolina League with 36 doubles.
Fellow middle infielder Chase D'Arnaud, who split time at second and short, also had a solid first full season in the organization. After being called up from low Class A in the middle of the year, D'Arnaud hit .295, stole 14 bases and drove in 26.
Batting average: Ray Chang, .303
Doubles: Mercer, 36
Triples: Alex Presley, 11
Home runs: Alvarez, 14
RBIs: Mercer, 83
Stolen bases: De Los Santos, 53
Wins: Matt McSwain, 11
ERA (starter, minimum 75 IP): Ronald Uviedo, 3.36
ERA (reliever, minimum 30 IP): Dubee, 1.45
Saves: R.J. Rodriguez, 27
Strikeouts: Locke, 99
End-of-season awards: Matt McSwain, Pitcher of the Year; R.J. Rodriguez, Reliever of the Year; Kris Watts, Most Valuable Player
After a sensational year in low Class A, lefty Rudy Owens joined the Lynchburg club for the final month of the year and continued to pitch well in the rotation. He'll likely start the season back with the Hillcats and anchor their rotation. The Hillcats' participation in the postseason gave those in Lynchburg a brief chance to see outfielder Starling Marte and catcher Tony Sanchez, both of whom will likely begin the '10 season back in Lynchburg. A sprained ankle kept Marte from playing much, though he did go 2-for-2. Sanchez, the organization's first-round Draft pick this season, played in three regular season games for the Hillcats before serving as the team's starting catcher through the playoffs.
Also, as announced on Thursday, the Pirates are in the process of finalizing a move that would send their high Class A affiliate to Bradenton, Fla., giving the players the convenience of working out at Pirate City. Assuming this goes through, it will end the Pirates' 15-year affiliation with Lynchburg.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.