As minor league teams clear the 30 games played mark, five of them had failed to win even 30 percent of their games. It’s no coincidence that four of the five are low Class A clubs stocked with inexperienced players, and two of those teams have had to make due in the miserable conditions of the Midwest League.
A look at the early-season laggards:
1. Kane County Cougars (Athletics) • low Class A Midwest League
Gory details: 5-23, .179, 13 games out of first
Run differential: 100-143 (-43)
Longest losing streak: 8 games
2006 draft picks: 12. OF Matt Sulentic (3rd round), OF Jermaine Mitchell (5), RHP Andrew Bailey (6), SS Christian Vitters (10), RHP Jason Fernandez (11), OF Toddric Johnson (14), LHP Branden Dewing (16), SS Mike Affronti (17), 1B Greg Dowling (19), C Jake Smith (21), RHP Scott Moore (23), OF Larry Cobb (27)
The Cougars are a miserable 2-14 on the road and rank dead last in the MWL in ERA (4.69) and next-to-last in runs scored. Sulentic (.170/.243/.202) and Mitchell (.256/.356/.308), two of the Athletics’ finest hitting prospects, have had a tough time getting it going in the cold Midwest.
2. Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Mariners) • low Class A Midwest League
Gory details: 6-22, .214, 12 games out of first
Run differential: 96-170 (-74)
Longest losing streak: 7 games
2006 draft picks: 10. RHP Chris Tillman (2nd round), LHP Tony Butler (3), RHP Ricky Orta (4), RHP Nathan Adcock (5), RHP Steve Richard (8), RHP Justin Souza (9), OF Gavin Dickey (12), RHP Joe Kantakevich (13), RHP Kyle Parker (24), RHP Rob Harmon (33)
First-year pro: SS Carlos Triunfel ($1.3 million from Dominican Republic)
The Timber Rattlers rank last in the MWL in runs scored and sport the league’s second-worst ERA (4.27). It’s been a slow learning process for the young Wisconsin club: Triunfel (.241/.276/.277), 3B Alex Liddi (.216/.318/.392) and OF Carlos Peguero (.235/.264/.314) have all gotten off to slow starts.
3. Savannah Sand Gnats (Mets) • low Class A South Atlantic League
Gory details: 7-23, .233, 18 games out of first
Run differential: 93-174 (-81)
Longest losing streak: 6 games
2006 draft picks: 5. OF Daniel Stegall (7th round), RHP Tobi Stoner (16), RHP Tim Stronach (22), SS Jake Eigsti (29), RHP Josh Stinson (37)
First-year pro: C Francisco Pena ($750,000 from Dominican Republic)
The Sand Gnats’ offense is the culprit, as they trail the SAL’s next-worse offense by 16 runs scored, and the league’s top offense by nearly 100. Middle-of-the-order hitters Pena (.257/.288/.271) and Stegall (.220/.276/.246) have combined for zero home runs and just four RBIs.
3. Harrisburg Senators (Nationals) • Double-A Eastern League
Gory details: 7-23, .233, 10 games out of first
Run differential: 110-143 (-33)
Longest losing streak: 6 games (twice)
2007 Top 30 Prospects: 5. RHP Collin Balester (No. 1), RHP Zech Zinicola (6), C Devin Ivany (26), OF Frank Diaz (27), LHP Mike Hinckley (30)
The Senators are the only club above low Class A to win fewer than 30 percent of its games thus far. The EL weather hasn’t been cooperative, but what makes Harrisburg’s slow start most puzzling is the fine pitching by Balester (1-2, 2.51 with 8.1 strikeouts/9 innings) and Hinckley (4-2, 2.97 with 7.6 SO/9). First baseman Josh Whitesell (.359/.454/.587 with five homers) is carrying the Harrisburg offense.
5. Rome Braves • low Class A South Atlantic League
Gory details: 9-22, .290, 16.5 games out of first
Run differential: 120-152 (-32)
Longest losing streak: 6 games (twice)
2006 draft picks: 7. SS Chase Fontaine (2nd round), RHP Tim Gustafson (9), RHP Kris Medlen (10), 1B Josh Morris (12), RHP Joe Johnson (13), RHP Duente Heath (19), RHP Ryne Reynoso (26)
2005 draft-and-follows: 3. OF Willie Cabrera (14th round), RHP Tommy Hanson (22), 1B Tyler Flowers (33)
The R-Braves are the least likely of this season’s slow starters, as many of their core players helped Rookie-level Danville win last year’s Appalachian League title. Rome’s pitching, led by Hanson (0-2, 2.40 with 13.5 SO/9) and Richmond (1-2, 3.49 with 8.25 SO/9), has compiled the 16-team league’s sixth-best ERA (3.80), but have gone just 4-13 at home because of below-average offense.