Hot Rods Smoke The Competition

Image credit: The Rays-affiliated Bowling Green Hot Rods rode a prospect-heavy lineup and rotation to 90 wins and a low Class A Midwest League title.

What are the marks of a great minor league team?

A great minor league team can be measured by its win total. If 100 wins is the demarcation line for greatness in the major leagues, then 90 wins is a fair number to filter out all but the best of minor league teams. Winning 90 games over a 140-game season is the equivalent of winning 104 games in a 162-game major league season.

The low Class A Bowling Green Hot Rods won 90 games in 2018, setting a record for Rays minor league affiliates while also being the only minor league team this season to clear the 90-win bar.

But to be considered truly great, a team also must win its league championship.

In the Midwest League playoffs, Bowling Green won seven of eight games, steamrolling the rest of the competition to win the league title.

Ideally, a great team should be consistent. Most everyone playing in the Midwest League is playing a full 140-game season for the first time, which usually means that teams run hot and cold as young players struggle to keep up their focus and effort level every night.

The Hot Rods lost six straight games in the first week of the season. But after that they dominated week after week. From April 13 until the end of the season, Bowling Green never lost four games in a row. They only had two threegame losing streaks over the final 130 games of the season. Over that same stretch, they had an 11-game win streak, another 10-game win streak and another eight-game streak.

Bowling Green Hot Rods Baseball America's Minor League Team of the Year 2018

A great minor league team also will make its mark over the long term by producing major leaguers. When pro scouts talked about Bowling Green this year, they were almost unanimous in saying it was one of the most talented minor league teams they saw all year.

But what was fascinating was that scouts usually mentioned a different prospect as the one who most caught their eye.

Ronaldo Hernandez is a 20-year-old catcher who finished second in the Midwest League with 21 home runs and third with 79 RBIs.

Second baseman Vidal Brujan and shortstop Taylor Walls are a low Class A double-play combo that will likely play together in the major leagues.

Lefthander/first baseman Brendan McKay is a two-way star who will likely fit in the middle of the Rays’ rotation one day. Outfielder Moises Gomez has the best power potential of them all. He led the league with 34 doubles and ranked fourth with 19 homers while playing most of the season as a teenager.

“We had a lot of talented players. It all goes back to just a great group effort. Amateur scouting, international scouting. pro scouting,” Bowling Green manager Craig Albernaz said. “To have all these talented guys, it was a fun effort. The talent jumps out at you, but the way they played the game jumped out even more.”

Bowling Green finished second in the MWL in runs scored and second in runs allowed. It was a team that dominated from start to finish.

“It was a great season. It was a special year,” Albernaz said.

And it was a great team, one that is the Baseball America Minor League Team of the Year. 

Winningest Full-Season Teams Of 2018

Team (Org) W L PCT
Bowling Green (Rays) 90 49 .647
Lakewood (Phillies) 87 51 .630
Rancho Cucamonga (Dodgers) 87 53 .621
Winston-Salem (White Sox) 84 54 .609
Lehigh Valley (Phillies) 84 56 .600
Corpus Christi (Astros) 82 56 .594
Memphis (Cardinals) 83 57 .593
El Paso (Padres) 82 57 .590
Fresno (Astros) 82 57 .590
Buies Creek (Astros) 80 57 .584

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