Baseball: Missed opportunities — on field and off — costly to Slammers in 2013
By Tim Tierney For Sun-Times Media September 10, 2013 9:56PM
Shortstop Niko Vasquez and manager Mike Breyman (left) and Marquis Riley and hitting coach Stephen Holdren hug after the slammers' season-ending win Thursday at Schaumburg. | Tim Tierney~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 12, 2013 6:26AM
The statistical reasons the Joliet Slammers finished next-to-last in the Frontier League West Division are obvious: They didn’t hit or pitch very well.
What proved to be not so clear was picking the right players. Although the Slammers had their moments in the 95-game season, they wound up last in the league in batting average and two from the bottom in ERA.
“Some guys on the team, you watch them try out, they wow you,’’ Joliet manager Mike Breyman said. “They go out on the field, they’re not able to use it.’’
After the Slammers ended the season with a 38-57 record, only one win better than 2012, Breyman said he “missed on a few guys’’ in building his first roster.
“Look at the playoff teams, they had a good core of experienced guys coming back that they’ve seen produce,’’ Breyman said. “We brought in five or six guys we needed to produce and it just didn’t happen.’’
Evan Anundsen and Chuck Lofgren, starting pitchers with Triple-A experience who were signed for the top of the rotation, combined to win just 11 games.
Anundsen was the bigger disappointment. The 25-year-old Colorado native was released during the All-Star break with a 4-6 record and 6.09 ERA. Opponents hit .332 against the Opening Night winner.
The 27-year-old Lofgren (7-7, 4.27 ERA) won his first two starts, but made a lot of trouble for himself with 57 walks in 99 innings. The Slammers allowed first-inning runs in 20 home games, six times with Lofgren on the mound.
“There’s only so many bullets in the gun,’’ Breyman said. “His arm got tired.’’
Joliet lost the arm of Jacob Sanchez, the second-year pro signed in June by the White Sox after back-to-back 10-strikeout performances and a 5-2 rookie record. His promotion fulfilled a league goal to move players, but it removed one of the Slammers’ top starters.
The season-opening rotation also included Corey Kimes (4-7, 5.58 ERA) and Brett Zawacki (6-7, 4.59), the latter a Peru, Ill., native who fared much better out of the bullpen and could be a closer candidate next season.
Offensively, four players in the Opening Night lineup later were released and the others struggled, including Kyle Maunus (.219) and Seth Schwindenhammer (.208). Jerod Yakubik, the 2011 Pioneer League batting champ, hit just .243.
“We missed on some players that had down years who we expected to do a little better,’’ general manager Chris Franklin said.
It wasn’t all bad for the Slammers. Rookie infielder Marquis Riley was a starter in the All-Star Game and hit .301 for the season.
“I’ll take a couple weeks off and then I’ll be itching to get back on the field,’’ Riley said.
Opponents hit just .234 against rookie pitcher Andrew Busby, who set a franchise record with 12 strikeouts Aug. 27 against Evansville.
Niko Vasquez became the first Slammer to hit for the cycle, doing so Sept. 4 in the final series. Rookie Joe Meggs hit .282 after being signed during the All-Star break.
Nick Akins, second in the league in home runs (21) and tied for fifth in RBI (65), will become a father in a few months and is uncertain about his baseball future.
“It wouldn’t be that I didn’t want to come back,’’ Akins said. “It would be out of necessity. Life happens.’’
Breyman expects to have “11 to 12 guys coming back’’ for his second season.
“I’ll be back and forth quite a bit in the offseason,’’ Breyman said of his commute from Belleville. “Barring any unforeseen things, I’ll be back.’’
Hopefully, so will a winning team.
“We like some of our pieces,’’ Franklin said. “We laid a foundation to build on.’’