Welcome to Banished to the Pen’s preview of the 2015 season for The Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs.

Now entering its third season of play, the Pacific Association appears to have moved its way into the middle tier of the independent ball hierarchy, with one front office member commenting to BttP that the league may now rival the Frontier League for talent. While the league started with 5 teams, including 2 Hawaiian teams in 2013, the league now features 4 teams exclusively in Northern California: the San Rafael Pacifics, the Vallejo Admirals, the Sonoma Stompers and the Pittsburg Diamonds. You can find standings and statistics for the league on PointStreak.com as well as Baseball-Reference.com.

The Pacific Association season runs from June 1 to August 30, and uses a first half winner vs. second half winner format to determine the competing teams for a winner-take-all championship game at the end of the season. If one team wins both halves then no championship game occurs. Last season, the first half victor Pacifics were able to barely hold off the Admirals, defeating them in the final game of the season to clinch the second half and league championship.

The league favored hitters last season, with an average slash line of .280/.367/.400, but that can change quickly in a league with significant player turnover from one season to the next. We’re huge fans of two things here at Banished to the Pen: the Effectively Wild podcast, and baseball that is a little different from what you see on ESPN every Sunday night, so the Pacific Association is the perfect intersection of those two forces.

The Sonoma Stompers

If you read BaseballProspectus.com or follow the Effectively Wild podcast, you should be well acquainted with the Stompers by now. Baseball Prospectus editor-in-chief Sam Miller reported about a Stompers regular season game last summer and his coverage of the team led to jobs for Miller and his podcast co-host, Grantland’s Ben Lindbergh, this summer as the Stompers’ baseball operations department. In 2016, they’ll also release a book chronicling their season with the team. It’s because of Miller and Lindbergh’s work that BttP believed Effectively Wild fans would want to learn a little more about the teams in the Pacific Association, so we owe them a debt of gratitude. Sorry, you won’t find any spoilers for their book here. Tim Livingston, director of broadcasting for the Stompers, was kind enough to speak to BttP about the Stompers and the upcoming season and his comments helped make this preview possible.

Team in a Box

Owner: Sonoma Sports and Entertainment, Inc., led by President and CEO Eric Gullotta of Gullotta Law Group, a Sonoma native. The team was purchased at end of 2014 from Redwood Sports and Entertainment. In January, Gullotta spoke to Sonoma’s Press Democrat about his plans as the new owner.

VP and GM: Theo Fightmaster. Fightmaster joined the upstart Stompers in for their inaugural 2014 season after serving as director of operations for the San Rafael Pacifics, who were also owned by Redwood Sports and Entertainment.

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Arnold Field. Photo courtesy of Tim Livingston

Home Field: Arnold Field, Sonoma. Arnold Field is a hitter’s dream to right and left field with its 304-435-311 dimensions (from left to right) and 4 feet-high fences in right and left field. Like many PA fields, Arnold Field is used for other sports throughout the year and, because of this, featured a padded field goal post that is in play about 345 feet into right field last season. Move over, Tal’s Hill, I think we’ve found a more unique and challenging outfield feature. Unlike other PA fields, Arnold Field is located in a state park. Livingston commented that during Stompers games, “…you look onto golden hills. The National Veterans Memorial Cemetery is marked by a big cross on a hill” beyond the outfield and Sonoma Veterans Memorial sits just beyond the outfield fence.

Broadcast information: Fans who find themselves in the Sonoma area can catch the Stompers on KSVY 91.3 FM and on TV at SVTV 27. The radio broadcasts also stream via Tune-In Radio‘s web site and app. The TV broadcasts can be streamed on UStream.TV or the UStream app by searching for SVTV 27 (scheduled to start June 12).

Most famous player from Sonoma: Thornton Lee

Player/Manager: Fehlandt Lentini (first season with the Stompers). Lentini is a Sonoma County native who was born in Santa Rosa and is a member of the Sonoma State University Athletic Hall of Fame. A 14-year veteran of minor and independent baseball leagues, most recently with the Long Island Ducks, he is reported to be the career record holder for steals in independent professional baseball. At 37 years old, Lentini is still a burner. He stole 46 bases without being caught last season with the Ducks and, according to Livingston, was the “third or fourth” fastest runner when he ran with players at the PA open tryouts this spring. Lentini will play outfield this season when he isn’t in the dugout.

2014 in Review

In their inaugural season, the Stompers played competitively with the Pacifics and Admirals, finishing third (42-36) but only 6 games back in the final standings. They finished second in both runs scored (467) and allowed (430) with a team that fielded the second youngest group of hitters and pitchers. The Stompers’ pitching staff finished first in WHIP, holding hitters to the lowest amount of walks, while leading the league in SO/BB ratio.

Last Year Honors: MVP (Jayce Ray, CF), 1 Gold Glove (Andrew Parker, C)

Notable Departures

Ray-Wingnuts

Jayce Ray Headed East for 2015’s season. Photo credit: WichitaWingnuts.com

Jayce Ray (CF), Gabriel Garcia (SP), Yuki Sakama(RP)

If you’ve read Miller’s piece on the Stompers on BP, you should be familiar with last year’s PA MVP, outfielder Jayce Ray. Ray hit .355/.483/.543 with 8 home runs in 302 plate appearances. He led the league in batting average, on-base percentage, and OPS, while finishing 2nd in stolen bases (21 in 26 attempts) and was 3rd in slugging percentage. I don’t think anyone would disagree with Theo Fightmaster’s assessment that, if you calculated WAR for the PA, Ray would finish with a 7 or an 8 (scaled to 162 games). He wasn’t just a great hitter, either. According to Livingston, Ray threw out so many runners in the first half of the season that teams stopped challenging him in the second half. Ray will play for the Wichita Wingnuts this season, as they attempt to defend their American Association championship.

Gabriel Garcia finished 5th in the PA in SO/BB ratio among pitchers with more than 7 games started as well as 5th in ERA. Livingston described Garcia as a “Buehrle-esque” disruptive pitcher who used multiple wind-ups, quick pitches, and even changing his wind-up mid-delivery at times. Garcia will be pitching in Mexico this season.

Yuki Sakama was the surprise member of the Stompers in 2014, showing up in a taxi at tryouts in order to play for Ray Serrano, who was his manager in Hawaii the previous season. Livingston describes Sakama as “…a guy who could sling it from a low ¾ slot.” Sakama finished the season with a 4.75 K/BB, ratio (38/8 SO/BB) in 34 innings, good for third in SO% and 2nd in BB% among relievers

Notable returning players

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Joel Carranza: Single Season HR King. Photo courtesy of Tim Livingston.

Joel Carranza (1B), Matt Hibbert (OF),

Joel Carranza finished his 2014 campaign with a 270/.346/.516 line with 19 HR in 322 PA. His 19 home runs set a PA single-season home run record. In addition to the home-run crown, Carranza led the league in ISOP (.246) finished 2nd in total bases (147), and 5th in slugging. Livingston praised Carranza for his relationship with the fans, noting that Carranza, and other returning players, have “…  big personalities and are happy and willing to speak to the fans which allows them to, as a collective, fit into what the front office wants.”

While Carranza’s flashy power numbers might catch your eye, don’t sleep on his returning teammate, outfielder Matt Hibbert. Hibbert formed almost a platoon with former Red Sox prospect Matt Marquis last season, as the two outfielders “…battled injuries and seemed to trade places as they departed and returned to the field.” As Livingston explained, “When Hibbert got regular playing time, he just blew up.” The difference between Hibbert’s .421 OBP and Carranza’s .348 OBP is actually the same .071 points as the difference between Miguel Cabrera and Brandon Moss’ career OBPs (which is just a funny coincidence and not something resembling a Moss/Cabrera compariso). Hibbert finished 18th in OPS (.834) and 10th in OBP (.421) in the PA. The In addition to his high OBP, 20 steals in 23 attempts made Hibbert one of the most valuable base-stealers in the league.. While we all dig the long-ball, Hibbert may be the Stompers’ secret weapon in 2015.

Notable Additions

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After signing out of the D-R, Gregory Paulino was only 20 when he made it to full season baseball.

Gregory Paulino (RHP), Sean Conroy (RHP), Paul Hvozdovic (LHP), Collin Forgey (OF), Yuki Yasuda (INF)

The 22-year-old Gregory Paulino was a real prospect with the A’s until injuries ended his 2013 season and kept him out of regular season games in 2014. Known for his low-90’s fastball and a “mature” change-up, Paulino last pitched in affiliated minor league baseball as a 20-year-old starter for the Vermont Lake Monsters, the A’s low- A affiliate in the NY-Penn League. After speaking to media relations directors around the Pacific Association about starting pitchers, it appears that Paulino might stand out for his velocity compared to many of the starters in the league who tend to throw fastballs in the mid-80’s.

According to Stompersbaseball.com, Conroy has performed well during spring training as he attempts to make the rotation. In college Conroy developed a low side-arm delivery and threw a 2-seam fastball, slider, and curve. Conroy attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) where, in his senior season, he was named Liberty League pitcher of the week 3 times on the way to winning pitcher of the year and a spot on the D3baseball.com All-American Second Team.

Hvozdovic also played college baseball on the East Coast, at Shephard University in West Virginia, where he was a finalist for the Brett Tomko award, given annually to the best Division II pitcher, and MEC Pitcher of the Year. Last summer, he was plucked out of the Canadian Western Major Baseball League by the River City Rascals, of the Frontier League, where he pitched 14.2 innings in relief, surrendering 3 runs while striking out 2 batters for every one he faced.

Collin Forgey spent 2014 with the Alpine Cowboys (Texas) in the Pecos League, where he posted a .904 OPS in 14 games. Forgey made an impact at St. Joseph University (PA) where he was named A-10 conference player of the year in 2014 after hitting .355/.449/.542 (good for 3rd in SLG and 5th in OBP) with 6 HR and stealing 14 bases in 15 attempts. It appears Forgey is the favorite to join Hibbert and Lentini as part of the starting outfield [Note: this is the writer’s speculation and not based on information from the Stompers].

Yuki Yasuda – I have to be honest here – I don’t have a whole lot of information about Yasuda other than the fact that he’s expected to play a utility role for the Stompers. What I do have is a link to his YouTube channel which, in spite of the fact that I speak almost no Japanese, I’ve found incredibly fascinating. Enjoy.

The Season Ahead

Speaking about the coming season, Tim Livingston highlighted the fact that the Stompers are no longer the red-headed step-child of the Redwood Sports and Entertainment family, now that they’re under local ownership. Gullata has “infused a lot of different things into how the team is being directed.” Not least of the new directions is the hiring of a baseball operations department for this season. The idea of what Miller and Lindbergh are doing “makes this season feel big”, Livingston said. “We have something I don’t think anybody in the league has.” Miller and Lindbergh’s efforts have already led to the recruitment of players who should make the roster out of spring training, for example, instead of simply relying on coaches to tell the team “This guy should be good for your league.”

The focus from internet watchers and fans of EW will clearly be on what happens when Miller and Lindbergh put their curious nature into play. In their Q&A with Stompersbaseball.com, it appears that the duo will be taking risks while balancing the idea that they will only have a limited number of games to bring players around to new ideas, rather than the several years of development that takes place in an affiliated system. Whether it’s changing batting practice, pre-game routines or pushing players to go beyond “being limited to their roles”, we look forward to seeing how different baseball can be when it’s different.

In addition to the addition of a baseball operations department, the Stompers recently announced Jose Canseco weekend, in which the former AL MVP will play in 2 games and hold a home run derby contest against players from the Stompers and Pacifics and 2 lucky fans.

Visit the official site for the complete season schedule.

You can also listen to Lindbergh talk to NPR’s Morning Edition about his role with the team. 

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Arnold Field as photographed by Stompers’ baseball operations employee and Grantland writer Ben Lindbergh.

 

 

Disclaimer: In the interest of fair disclosure, BanishedtothePen.com advertises with the Sonoma Stompers.

Stats in this article are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and PointStreak.com.

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  1.  2015 Pacific Assoc Preview – The Pittsburg Diamonds | Banished to the Pen
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