Thursday, April 3, 2014

Oklahoma City RedHawks 2014 Season Preview

Earlier this week, I posted my Season Previews for the AA Corpus Christi Hooks and for the Advanced A Lancaster JetHawks. Today, we'll look at the AAA Oklahoma City RedHawks.

[NOTE: This is all subject to change as rosters are not 100% final at this point. Additionally, LHP Raul Valdes made it through waivers and was outrighted to OKC which complicates matters a little further.]

The pitching for the RedHawks should be very strong, anchored by several pitchers who played in a significant number of games at that level in 2013. The four initial tandem pairs will be Rudy Owens and Mike Foltynewicz; Jake Buchanan and Paul ClemensDavid Martinez and Bobby Doran; and Nick Tropeano and Collin McHugh. That's an impressive line-up of talent, plus Asher WojciechowskiAlex White and Kyle Weiland are all waiting in the wings. That trio will start the season on the DL.

Of those starters, Buchanan, Clemens, Doran, Owens and McHugh have all had enough time at AAA that they should benefit from the experience and be able to build on it. The collective team ERA for Oklahoma City last season was 4.29 and the WHIP was 1.395. Buchanan and Doran were able to beat those marks in their time with the RedHawks in 2013, as did McHugh in his time at AAA in 2013. Clemens had a slightly higher ERA (4.50) than the collective, but a lower WHIP (1.267), plus his experience at the major league level should serve him well.

Owens only appeared in four games before injury derailed his season, but his 2012 AAA ERA was 3.48 with a WHIP of 1.190. Owens also pitched extremely well in winter ball in the Dominican Republic during the off-season. David Martinez has the least experience at AAA of those pitchers mentioned thus far. He struggled in two of his three outings at the level, but Martinez dominated in AA, putting up a 2.02 ERA and a 0.997 WHIP in 26 games (18 starts) at Corpus Christi.

Mike Foltynewicz and Nick Tropeano have no prior AAA experience. Tropeano had a 4.11 ERA and a 1.339 WHIP in 28 appearances in Corpus Christi while Folty had a 2.87 ERA and a 1.229 WHIP in 23 appearances at Corpus, after starting his season in Lancaster. Both will likely need to make adjustments to the AAA level, but I have no reason to believe that won't happen. In Folty's case, based upon his Spring Training performance, that adjustment may not take long.

The bullpen should be pretty steady, anchored by Josh Zeid and Jason Stoffel, both of whom had significant experience at AAA last season. And of course Zeid, Darin Downs, Chia-Jen Lo and Jose Cisnero all have major league experience as well. Lo actually leap-frogged Oklahoma City last season, getting the call directly from Corpus so this will be his first experience at the level. Patrick Urckfitz only pitched in 10 games at AAA last season, but his transition was solid. One key to the success of this particular group is keeping their walks down. In particular, Cisnero and Zeid tended to walk more than their share of batters last season.

The 2013 RedHawks team had a collective batting average of .271/.347/.403. This group should outperform that line. Just look at an opening day roster that features Max Stassi, Carlos Perez and Ryan McCurdy behind the dish as compared to Cody Clark, Jason Jaramillo and Chris Wallace on last year's opening day roster. That is definitely an offensive (and defensive) upgrade. Perez played 75 games at AAA last season and was solid offensively and Stassi crushed pitching at AA Corpus before making his major league debut. McCurdy isn't flashy with the bat, but he can get on base consistently.

George Springer and Jon Singleton should provide a lot of offense, at least until they hit Houston. Springer will presumably move up first, but Singleton shouldn't be too far behind. Utility player Ruben Sosa has a little prior experience at AAA in which he held his own. Gregorio Petit hit a very nice .292/.344/.380 in 134 games at AAA in 2013. Adron Chambers had a .252/.338/.387 batting line at AAA in 2013, but actually hit better at that level in 2012 -- .319/.405/.403. Austin Wates only played in 15 games at Oklahoma City last year before a fractured forearm derailed his season, but Wates has always been able to hit at every level. I don't think AAA will deter the career .304/.377/.424 hitter. Japhet Amador got 10 games under his extra large belt in Oklahoma City last year. How he will adjust over the long run as he transitions from the Mexican League is a wild card.

George Springer - March 2014
Photo by Jayne Hansen

That leaves Erik Castro, Jonathan Meyer, Ronald Torreyes and Domingo Santana as the only remaining players on the team with no experience above AA. Castro is one of those under-the-radar guys. He hit .280/.368/.480 in AA in 2013, and I think he will make the quickest adjustment of these four to the AAA level. I don't have a good enough feel for Torreyes to say how quickly he will adjust. Torreyes hit a combined .269/.329/.368 at AA with the Cubs and Astros organizations. Santana (.252/.345/.498 at AA) and Meyer (.260/.318/.403 at AA) will likely be slower to make the necessary adjustments to AAA pitching than Castro, but I feel certain that both will quickly provide some extra-base excitement for the team.

One thing that I am struck by is that Singleton and Castro are the only left-handed hitters in this line-up. They are joined by the switch-hitter Sosa as the only real options from the left side of the plate. Left-handed OF Preston Tucker, who will start the season at Corpus, could very well be slated for Oklahoma City as soon as Springer gets to Houston.

It is very difficult to predict any minor league team's season, but it is most difficult to predict AAA as the opening day roster and closing day roster will look very, very different. Several of these players will end the season in Houston. Some will likely be traded or released. However, with that said, I'm game to make a prediction.

Last season, the RedHawks ended the year with a 82-62 record or a .569 win percentage. I think that the 2014 team will be an upgrade over 2013 in both pitching and offense, but particularly in pitching with Wojciechowski, White and Weiland adding their contributions at some point. I'm going out on a limb and saying that the RedHawks will end the season with an 86-54 record and will bring home some hardware this season.

This is the opening day roster as we know it today. I will update it with any changes that may be made before tonight's opening game which will be on the road vs. Round Rock. The schedule can be found here and all games will be available on MiLB.tv.

PITCHERS
Jake Buchanan
Jose Cisnero
Paul Clemens
Bobby Doran
Darin Downs*
Mike Foltynewicz
Chia-Jen Lo
David Martinez
Collin McHugh
Rudy Owens*
Jason Stoffel
Nick Tropeano
Pat Urckfitz*
Josh Zeid

CATCHERS
Ryan McCurdy
Carlos Perez
Max Stassi

INFIELDERS
Japhet Amador
Erik Castro*
Jonathan Meyer
Gregorio Petit
Jon Singleton*
Ruben Sosa#
Ronald Torreyes

OUTFIELDERS
Adron Chambers
Domingo Santana
George Springer
Austin Wates

* - denotes left-hander
# - denotes switch-hitter

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