Visalia Rawhide 2009 Review

Visalia Rawhide 2009 Review

After beginning the season 10-0, the newly-named Visalia Rawhide were 22 games under .500 the rest of the way. Armed with a renovated ballpark to go along with their new name, logo, uniforms, and mascot, however, the Rawhide set a franchise record for attendance

Rawhide broadcaster Donny Baarns interviews Keith Glab

Part 1: Overview of the D-backs farm system -
Part 2: Preview of the 2010 season -

When a team begins the season 10-0, anything short of a postseason berth is a disappointment.  The Rawhide were still 14 games over .500 and in first place in the North Division with six games remaining in the first half when they proceeded to drop six straight and lose their playoff spot.  Then nothing went right in the second half, as the team was 20-games below .500 for the worst record in the California League.

Despite a disappointing product on the field, newly-renovated Recreation Ballpark was a smash-hit.  BallparkDigest.com nominated the updated Visalia ballpark as one of three finalists for best ballpark renovation for 2009.  New promotions - such as the first annual Bark in the Park July 22nd, when dogs were welcome to accompany fans to the ballpark - generated fan interest, as did a new menu full of unique concessions.  The Rawhide drew over 105,000 fans on the season, setting a new record for the Visalia franchise.

Promotions and Additions

Part of the reason that Visalia waned as the season went along is that they lost more talent to promotions than it brought in from South Bend. 

Jarrod Parker and Wes Roemer were the biggest losses on the starting pitching front.  The two first-round picks from the 2007 draft combined to go 4-1 with a 1.63 ERA in 10 starts before advancing to Mobile.  Tom Layne provided a 2.86 ERA shuttling between the bullpen and the rotation before earning a late-season promotion.  The departure of bullpen stalwarts Leyson Septimo (2-1, 6 SV, 3.52 ERA) and Jordan Norberto (4-1, 2 SV, 1.51 ERA) made the later innings more interesting than the team would have liked.  Billy Spottiswood (5-4 8 SV, 4.54 ERA) spent the season shuttling between Visalia and Reno, but nevertheless led the Rawhide with eight saves.

The losses on the other side of the ball weren't as great, but they biggest hit came at the all-important catcher position, affecting both the Rawhide offense and defense.  Sean Couglin was splitting time between catcher and first base with the Rawhide, but hadn't made an error at either position at the time of his promotion.  He was also among the team leaders with a .442 slugging average at the time.  Konrad Schmidt stepped in beautifully, leading the team with a .304 batting average and slugging .443 himself before advancing all the way to Reno late in the year.  He committed 15 errors with the Rawhide, but gunned down 32% of would-be basestealers and worked very well with his pitching staff.


Konrad Schmidt

Trevor Harden had pitched brilliantly for South Bend, but could only manage a 2-9 record after joining the Rawhide.  T.J. Hose continued his success, posting a 2.78 ERA in 22 innings after excelling as the Silver Hawks' closer, but could not replace three departed relievers all by himself.  Brendan Duffy continued to reach base at an excellent clip in Visalia, but what the Rawhide needed was middle-of-the-order help, not another table-setter.  Wade Miley was solid in three late-season starts for the Rawhide, but the team was basically out of contention at that point.  James Skelton moved down from Mobile in an effort to help offset the catcher losses, but did not fare well on the offensive side of the ball.

Injuries

The Rawhide really only suffered one key injury in 2009, but it was a biggie.  Collin Cowgill was the team's best all-around offensive player for 61 games before fracturing his hand on June 14th.  Schmidt really stepped up his game after Cowgill went down to give the team another middle-of-the-order threat and Taylor Harbin showed some improvement as well before the pair joined the Aces in September, but the offense just wasn't quite the same without Cowgill's blend of power, speed, and ability to reach base.

FutureBacks.com Position Player of the Year

Indeed, in the absence of Cowgill, Harbin took up the mantle of undersized player hitting for surprising amounts of power.  The 5-foot-9 infielder led the team with 14 home runs, stole a dozen bases, and played well at shortstop after spending more time at second base the previous two seasons. 

Taylor Harbin has been very good defensively, and his power numbers have been a nice surprise," Rawhide broadcaster Donny Baarns told FutureBacks in early September.

Schmidt's contributions at a key defensive position were also hard to ignore.  Not many plus-defensive catchers can hit .300 with power, but that's exactly what Schmidt did for the Rawhide.

"He had a really slow start to the year where he was just missing his pitch," offered Baarns. "He has not been missing in the second half."

Perhaps the most unusual offensive season from a Rawhide player came courtesy of Kyle Greene.  He batted just .237 and slugged only .376, but let the team with 77 RBI and the entire organization with 80.  He was a different hitter with men on base, hitting .268 and slugging .430 while with the sacks empty, he batted just .204 with a .320 slugging average.

"Whether clutch hitting is a definable, provable skill or not, Kyle seems to have it, or at least he does this year," said Baarns.  "All those hits seem to be big ones, with two outs or men in scoring position."

Another reason Greene drove in so many runs is that there was a man on-base for over half of his at-bats with the Rawhide.  More often than not, Ollie Linton was one of those base runners.  Linton reached base in 39.4% of his plate appearances.  And of course, he was easy to drive in, since he was usually in scoring position by the time Greene got to the plate.  Linton tied for the Rawhide lead in doubles (28) and walks (65), plus led alone in triples (10), stolen bases (28), hits (145) and runs scored (81).  When he was drafted last year, there was speculation that Linton was all legs and nothing else.  Certainly speed is the driving component of all that he does, but he has proven this year that he can handle himself at the plate as well.


Linton signs autographs for the fans

He also puts his speed to great use in centerfield, where he flags down any ball unfortunate enough to get hit towards the middle 60% of the field.  Again, it's not just speed; Linton gets amazing jumps on the ball and makes acrobatic dives once he has sprinted full speed on a direct line to it.  He was only charged with one error all season long.

For his consistent contributions on both sides of the ball all season long, Ollie Linton is our FutureBacks.com Position Player of the Year for Visalia.

FutureBacks.com Pitcher of the Year

This is essentially a toss-up between three pitchers who thrived all season in the unfriendly pitching conditions of the California League.

All-Stars Josh Collmenter and Pat McAnaney were among the best starting pitchers in the league.  They were both among the top three in strikeouts,  top nine in innings, and top 11 in ERA.  Collmenter was also 4th in WHIP, while McAnaney was tied for ninth in wins.  Both pitchers performed very well, but it's difficult to rank one ahead of the other.

Then we have Bryan Henry, who had a 2.88 ERA in 31 games as a reliever before making seven starts in the rotation down the stretch.  He was fifth on the team with 105.2 innings pitched despite spending four months in the bullpen.  He fell just shy of qualifying for the ERA title.  If he had, his 3.15 ERA would have ranked third, while his 3.65 starter's ERA would have ranked fourth.


Collmenter throws in the All-Star game

"He's really come a long way this season, challenging guys," lauded Baarns.  "He throws so many strikes, he works at a quick tempo, keeps the game moving.  Defenders love playing behind him because they're always on their toes.  There's no downtime."

Bryan Henry's ability to succeed in multiple roles has been invaluable to the Rawhide this year, and the statistics suggest that he would have been as productive as McAnaney or Collmenter had he been used as a starter all season long.  Henry is the FutureBacks.com Pitcher of the Year for the Rawhide.

Final Word

Despite suffering a big letdown this season, the Visalia Rawhide have a lot to look forward to for 2010.  A rejuvenated fan base will get a chance to see the cream of a deep 2009 draft class, plus some other promising players from the playoff-bound Osprey and Silver Hawks teams.  The Rawhide isn't going to begin the season 10-0 next year, but they may well finish the season atop the California League standings.


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