As with any season wrap-up, there’s some good and some bad.
Then again, until he starts selling out every game and winning West Coast League titles, Medford Rogues General Manager Chuck Heeman said Monday that he’ll never be satisfied with a summer collegiate wood-bat season.
Medford concluded its second season in franchise history – and first outside the WCL playoffs – with a 6-5 victory on Sunday against the WCL South Division champion Corvallis Knights to finish at 26-28 overall.
“Overall it was successful,” said Heeman. “It could’ve been more successful but overall your big fear is after the first year, where everybody’s excited, is that you fall back a little bit as far as getting people to the ballpark and entertained, and we didn’t do that. We built that off-field product up and developed our community relationships and still put a good team on the field so I’m happy with that.”
Medford again finished among the WCL leaders in paid attendance, standing third out of the 12 teams with an average of 1,387 fans in 27 dates, and was in the top half for team ERA (4.00) and batting average (.268).
The biggest issue for the Rogues came between the lines at the ballpark, where a lack of production in middle relief proved costly throughout the season.
“I think we found out how important it is to line up your pitching early,” said Heeman. “We saw 20-30 times during the year that our relief pitching really got us in trouble. (Manager Josh Hogan) and I have talked about it already and we’re trying to maybe go in a different direction next year.”
The issue with summer franchises is you don’t know what you have until the players finally come to town since many are coming from Division I programs where they saw limited to no action during the spring. Heeman said the hope is that those players will come in and blow everyone away, but that’s not always the reality.
“I think we need to focus on getting guys in here who have a little bit more of a track record,” he added. “There’s always a place for people like that who have thrown maybe three innings at the Division I level, but we had too many of those. Overall it was a good squad going in, we had good hitting and our starting pitching was solid but we just couldn’t get our relief pitching lined up.”
Struggles in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings were instrumental in leaving the Rogues to post a 7-15 record in one-run contests. Medford played six one-run games against Corvallis alone, going 1-5 in those tilts against the playoff-bound Knights.
“We had a ton of close games,” said Heeman. “If we turn around five of those games we lost from relief pitching, we’re in the playoffs.”
Sunday’s season finale was, in fact, the only game Medford came back and won after trailing in the seventh inning or later.
“It was a little bit of a letdown this year because we made the playoffs last year and you kind of think you’re going to improve on that,” added Heeman, “but we kind of found our weak area pretty quick and once you’re in it, it’s hard to improve on that.”
That said, there were plenty of bright spots on the field this season as the Rogues set a host of team and WCL records.
Infielder Yuto Kata established a WCL record with 19 sacrifice bunts and also capped his only season in Medford with team records in games played (51) and walks (35). Kata and Nathan Etheridge also tied for team-high honors with 11 doubles apiece, topping the former team record of seven shared by Kevin Davidson and Joe Chavez. Kata finished with a .244 batting average, 29 runs and 19 RBIs.
Second-year Rogues outfielder Spencer Smith set a WCL record by being hit by a pitch 18 times – his former team record was nine – and his 36 runs scored surpassed A.J. Balta’s previous team record of 26. Smith batted .288 with 13 RBIs and 10 doubles.
Balta, who just completed his first season at the University of Oregon, had a couple other team records topped this summer by Chris DeVito (11-game hitting streak) and Nathan Etheridge (181 at-bats). DeVito batted .263 with 13 runs and seven RBIs.
Etheridge, a late addition to the Rogues’ roster from Western Oregon University, also set a team record with 62 hits, surpassing Davidson’s 53, and with three triples, edging the record of two shared by Smith and Chavez. Etheridge finished with a .343 batting average to go with 27 runs and 32 RBIs.
Despite being one of the youngest Rogues players, Victor Garcia Jr. chased the WCL record for home runs before falling just shy with his seven home runs, which were two more than the Rogues record shared by Davidson and Jared Casper. Garcia’s 33 RBIs also tied Davidson’s team record, and his five sacrifice fly balls were one more than previous team record-holder Corey Wynant. Garcia batted .224 with 23 runs and 23 walks.
“Etheridge turned out to be a great find for us, along with Victor Garcia,” said Heeman.
On the pitching side, Lane Community College freshman Jackson Bertsch broke the team record in wins with six, finishing one ahead of Matt Acker’s total last season. Bertsch finished 6-2 with one save and a 2.90 ERA.
Overall, catcher Tanner Lubach led the Rogues in batting at .368, just ahead of incoming Oregon freshman Joey Morgan (.351), and fellow Nebraska product Christian Cox batted .304 with 17 runs and 23 RBIs while also going 2-2 on the mound with a 3.18 ERA.
Ivan Dilda led the pitching regulars with a 1.94 ERA in 20 appearances spanning 37 innings. Closer Shane Quarterley managed a team-record six saves with a 2.22 ERA, while starters David Peterson (5-1, 3.75 ERA), Nathan Kuchta (4-3, one save, 3.68 ERA), Brandon Erickson (2-2, 3.71 ERA) and Jeff Hardy (3-2, 4.69 ERA) were integral to the team’s success.
Heeman said he’s already secured commitments from about 16 players for next season, including the return of Garcia, DeVito, Etheridge, Bertsch, Quarterley, Smith, Hardy, Kuchta, Kyle Beam and Levi Pereira.
“You can’t start this too early,” said Heeman, noting Hogan and pitching coach Jeff Lyle are also slated to return. “I think we ended up on a nice upswing and I’m really looking forward to next year.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry