The 51s went into the All-Star break 35-55, tied with New Orleans for the worst record in the Pacific Coast League.
With the second half of the season beginning on Thursday, here is a look at some of the positives in the first half and a look forward into what’s to come.
Who took the biggest step forward in the first half?
Pedro Lopez, manager: “I really have to say both (first baseman) Dom Smith and (shortstop) Amed Rosario. (At) 21 years old, being able to go out there on a daily basis, and Rosario playing up the middle, doing it defensively and offensively and not only that, on the base paths as well. And Dom, hitting in the middle of the lineup … They’ve both done a great job and I think what helps those two guys is they’re grounded. They’ve got a good head on top of their shoulders. They know what they’re going after. They understand the process. They know that it’s a big scenario going forward, but at the same time, this is their big leagues and I think that’s what keeps both of those guys grounded.”
Frank Viola, pitching coach: “Tyler Pill. Just because of everything he’s been through the last couple years at the Triple-A level. To be put back to Double-A this year to begin the season, it was an eye opener for all of us, for coaches to see them send him back to Double-A and for probably Tyler himself personally because all of a sudden he realizes ‘I better start doing something.’ And he sure as hell did. He put together a couple great starts in Double-A and then he just kept it going in Triple-A and got some starts in the big leagues. That’s a great, great storyline.”
Jack Voigt, hitting coach: “I don’t want to single anyone out because they’ve all done some good things. Guys that were in Double-A last year, when I’ve looked at their numbers, and then the things we talked about in spring training as an organization, they’ve made improvements from that. Not only coming to a new league but then also improving upon the things personally they needed to improve on in a new league. … Sometimes it’s not just the improvements you need to make but now you need to make improvements on something against even better talent than you were at the year before. That’s what I’ve been most proud of. These guys, one thing as a whole they’ve never quit offensively, they’re always grinding out at-bats.”
Who is one player to watch for in the second half?
Lopez: “I think our whole lineup, it’s going to be fun to watch. I think these guys are starting to turn the corner. I think the pitchers are doing much better even though we’ve been shorthanded most of the season. I think as a team, as a group, as a whole, we’re coming together and we’re starting to play better baseball. You’ve seen it. Probably the record doesn’t show it but I’m really pleased with the at-bats, I’m really pleased with the way these guys are going out there on a daily basis.”
Viola: “I think there’s going to be two of them. I think Kevin McGowan’s going to better and better out of the bullpen. I think he’s starting to gain some confidence and he’s starting to understand what pitching’s about, especially keeping the ball down in the zone. … I think the one starter, you take that one inning out of every game and Ricky Knapp could be having a really good year. He’s capable, if he can get that one bad inning out of each outing. I think he’s going to piece together a pretty good second half.”
Voigt: “We have a number of players who have a chance to go to the big leagues possibly sooner than later depending on what happens in New York in the next month or so. We have other guys that could get a chance later in September based on what happens. And then from a personal standpoint, you also have guys at this level who are coming up on being minor league free agents that they want to continue to be successful because of maybe a different employer next year. So it’s tough to predict who is going to be maybe one of the best ones in the second half because they’ve all improved in the first half.”
Contact Betsy Helfand at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @BetsyHelfand on Twitter.