North Little Rock, AR - The 2019 season for the Arkansas Travelers will go down as one of the best in the history of the franchise. Although it did not include a league championship, the Travs went 81-57 in the regular season, their second most wins in the Texas League
North Little Rock, AR - The 2019 season for the Arkansas Travelers will go down as one of the best in the history of the franchise. Although it did not include a league championship, the Travs went 81-57 in the regular season, their second most wins in the Texas League era (1966-present) and the best record in the circuit in 2019. The winning percentage of .587 also marked their second best in the club's 55-year history in the Texas League. They won the North Division first half championship for the second straight year but fell in the division round of the playoffs after dropping a winner take all fifth game to the Tulsa Drillers.
In a rare occurrence, Manager Mitch Canham left the team in mid-June to accept the head coaching position at his alma mater, Oregon State. He was replaced by Cesar Nicolas, the Mariners coordinator of Latin America Development, for the remainder of the summer. The campaign also featured numerous award winners including the league's Pitcher of the Year and Coach of the Year. Many of the Seattle Mariners top prospects donned a Travs uniform over the course of the season including several ranked among the best in all of baseball.
FIRST HALF CHAMPIONSHIP
With a 43-25 record, the Travs cruised to the first half championship. They were atop the standings for every day of the half but one (the fourth day of the season) and clinched the title with more than a week remaining. The final margin in the standings had the Travs 6.5 games ahead of the second place Tulsa Drillers. It marked the second consecutive season for Arkansas to claim a first half divisional title, something not accomplished in the franchise's history since the 1979-80 seasons.
Much of the Travs first half success was due to their dominance over their division and in particular, Tulsa. They won 21 of 30 matchups with the Drillers during the regular season including winning 12 out of 15 meetings in Tulsa. The highlight of that was a four game sweep from June 7-9 (starting with a doubleheader) with the victory in the finale of that series on a Sunday afternoon clinching the first half title for Arkansas. That game ended with an 11-7 final score as the Travs scored eight times in the second inning and bashed five total home runs in the game. Jake Fraley hit a pair with Evan White, Jordan Cowan and Nick Zammarelli each going deep as well. Starting pitcher Andrew Moore retired the first 16 batters of the game before the Drillers made a charge offensively but the Travs bullpen was able to close it out.
Despite the excellent regular season, the Travs would again meet Tulsa in the division round of the playoffs after the Drillers captured the North second half title. It was the second season in a row for the clubs to meet in the postseason and for the second year in a row, the result was a 3-2 series victory for Tulsa. Arkansas took game one at home before the Drillers won games two and three. The Travs bounced back with a game four victory in Tulsa but the decisive fifth game was won by the homestanding Drillers, 5-1. For the series, the Travs offense managed only nine runs including just one apiece in each of the three defeats.
THE TL PITCHER OF THE YEAR
Right-handed starter Darren McCaughan was voted as the Texas League Pitcher of the Year. After opening the year with Arkansas, he posted a 7-5 record with a 2.89 ERA in 17 starts before being bumped up to Triple-A Tacoma. Over 102.2 innings with the Travs, McCaughan struck out 89 while walking only 10. At the time of his promotion in mid-July, he was on top of the league leader boards in ERA, wins and WHIP while ranking third in innings pitched and tied for fourth in strikeouts. McCaughan fell eight innings shy of the threshold needed to have his earned run average top the league for the season. His best stretch of the season came from May 18 - July 6 when he strung together nine consecutive quality starts, allowing more than one run in only one of those nine outings. He became the first Traveler pitcher to earn this honor since Nate Smith in 2015.
THE COACH OF THE YEAR
Pitching coach Pete Woodworth was voted the Mike Coolbaugh Texas League Coach of the Year in his first season with the Travs and fourth as a coach in the Mariners organization. Woodworth's pitching staff was the top crew in the league pacing the circuit in earned run average, shutouts and complete games while easily giving up the fewest walks and home runs. They also had the second most strikeouts in league history (1,324), trailing only this season's Corpus Christi Hooks who established a new record. In 2019, he mentored four TL postseason All-Stars including the league's pitcher of the year and four league Pitcher of the Week award recipients. Additionally, nine pitchers went on to MLB after pitching for the Travs during the summer. After the season, Seattle promoted Woodworth to the 'show' himself as he will take over as the Mariners big league pitching coach in 2020. He is the second Travs coach to win this award joining 2009 pitching coach Ken Patterson.
NAMES TO REMEMBER
Many memorable players were part of the Travs 2019 season. Here are some of the most notable (in alphabetical order).
RHP Jack Anderson: a member of the Hawgs (the Travs bullpen) all season long…known for his submarine pitching motion…pitched 54 innings over 41 appearances with a 1.50 ERA…stranded 16 of 18 inherited runners…a midseason Texas League All-Star
INF Jordan Cowan: Travs primary 2nd baseman…hit .264/.345/.307 while tying for the team lead with 124 games played and leading the club with 17 stolen bases…reached base in 36 straight games spanning from late in the regular season and into the playoffs
RHP Nabil Crismatt: part of the starting rotation from mid-April through mid-July before earning a promotion back to Triple-A Tacoma…went just 4-5 but had a 1.94 ERA…struck out 89 against only 11 walks in 83.2 innings while holding opponents to a .186 batting average…threw a dominant complete game shutout against NW Arkansas on July 10 using just 95 pitches on the night…held the Naturals to two hits while striking out a career-high 14…threw an immaculate 2nd inning in that game, punching out the Naturals 4, 5 and 6 hitters on 9 pitches...won a league Pitcher of the Week award and was a TL midseason All-Star
RHP Sam Delaplane: joined Travs bullpen on June 4 after earning a promotion and a midseason All-Star nod in the California League…surrendered only two earned runs over 37 innings (0.49 ERA) with 58 strikeouts, nine walks and just 25 total base runners allowed…pitched in the Arizona Fall League at the conclusion of the year
RHP Justin Dunn: the Opening Night starter and in the starting rotation all season…was 9-5 with a 3.55 ERA and 158 strikeouts in 131.2 innings…led the league in wins, strikeouts and WHIP and finished top 5 in several other categories…a Texas League midseason and postseason All-Star…represented the Travs and Mariners organization at the MLB Futures Game in July…called up to Seattle at the conclusion of the minor league season and made his Major League debut
OF Jake Fraley: with the Travs from the start of the season through late June…the team's unofficial MVP of the 1st half of the season slashing .313/.386/.539 with 11 homers, 47 RBIs and 16 steals in just 61 games…named a Texas League midseason All-Star and won a league Player of the Week Award…the Texas League Player of the month for May when he paced the circuit in average, hits and RBIs…after time in Triple-A was called up by Seattle and made his Major League debut
RHP Logan Gilbert: elevated to the Travs starting rotation in mid-July, marking his third club of the summer in his first full pro season…made nine starts and was 4-2 with a 2.88 ERA…struck out 56 and allowed only 53 base runners in 50 Double-A innings…did not allow a run over three consecutive starts in August while earning a league Pitcher of the Week award…named the Mariners Jamie Moyer Minor League Pitcher of the Year
OF Jarred Kelenic: made Travs debut in mid-August less than one month after his 20th birthday…played just 21 games with Arkansas but bashed six homers and stole three bases…was part of an overall 20+ HR, 20+ SB season over three levels of the minors…had a pair of two-homer games with the Travs including September 1 when he set a career best with five RBIs…second blast that night was a three-run shot to tie the score with the Travs down to their final out in the 9th of an eventual comeback win…named the Mariners Ken Griffey Jr. Minor League Hitter of the Year
OF Kyle Lewis: with Arkansas all year…hit .263/.342/.398 over 122 games with 25 doubles, 11 homers and 62 runs driven in…delivered a pair of walk-off hits a week apart on June 29 and July 6…reached base in nine consecutive plate appearances on two different occasions…won a TL Player of the Week award…called up by Seattle at the conclusion of the minor league season and made his Major League debut…became only the second player in MLB history to hit six homers in his first 10 games
C Joseph Odom: team's primary catcher until early August promotion to Triple-A…second season with Arkansas and earned nickname "The Mayor" as the clubhouse leader and his popularity with fans and teammates alike…batted just .219/.285/.307 but shepherded the league's best pitching staff and was extremely well regarded for his leadership, game calling and especially his pitch framing…a midseason Texas League All-Star
LHP Ricardo Sánchez: 22-year old southpaw was the workhorse of Travs starting rotation…led league in games started (27) and was second in innings while also finishing runner-up to teammate Justin Dunn in win and strikeouts in the league…allowed only three earned runs over five starts in April…a midseason Texas League All-Star…gave up only one run in five frames in the opening game of the playoffs
LHP Justus Sheffield: made 12 starts with Arkansas from mid-June through late August…came down from Triple-A Tacoma but was recalled directly to Seattle…allowed no more than two earned runs in any of his first 10 Travs starts while working at least seven innings in six of those games and not surrendering a homer…tossed seven shutout innings while giving up just two hits in a July 4 win at Dickey-Stephens Park…named a Texas League postseason All-Star selection
INF Donnie Walton: team's primary shortstop and leadoff batter…regarded by his teammates as the heart and soul of the club…finished second in the league in on-base percentage (.390), hits (144) and walks (63)…posted a batting average right on .300 for the year…honored as the Minor League Gold Glove award winner at shortstop for 2019 after committing just four errors in over 900 innings at the position…won the Mariners minor league community service award…called up by Seattle at the conclusion of the Travs league season and made his Major League debut
RHP Art Warren: member of the Hawgs (the Travs bullpen) all season long with the exception of a pair of stints on the injured list…led the TL in saves with 15…posted a 1.71 ERA and 41 strikeouts over only 31.2 innings…named a Texas League postseason All-Star…called up by Seattle at the conclusion of the minor league season and made his Major League debut
1B Evan White: spent all of the season with Arkansas…hit .293/.350/.488 with 18 home runs and 55 runs batted in…had a Texas League season-best 23 game hitting streak from late May to late June…lived up to his reputation as a sensational defensive player with a number of outstanding plays with the leather…had a trio of contests with two home runs, the first three such games in his career…won a league Player of the Week award and was the TL Player of the Month for June after topping the circuit in homers, runs scored and slugging percentage…named a league midseason and postseason All-Star…represented the Travs and Mariners organization at the MLB Futures Game…signed a multi-year Major League contract with Seattle in November, making him just the fourth player ever to sign a such a contract before their Major League debut
PLAYERS TO MAJORS AND ML REHABS
A talented roster showed their skills with several of them ascending to the game's highest level. All told, three hitters and nine pitchers who played for the Travs reached the Major Leagues after playing for Arkansas in 2019. That includes eight different players who went on to make their Major League debuts. Those who made their ML debuts were outfielders Jake Fraley and Kyle Lewis, infielder Donnie Walton and pitchers Justin Dunn, Zac Grotz, Parker Markel, Reggie McClain and Art Warren. Seven times throughout the summer, players were called up directly from the Travs roster to Seattle's.
Four pitchers, Dan Altavilla, Jimmy Cordero, Andrew Moore and Justus Sheffield had previous big league experience and all returned to the game's highest level after their time with Arkansas. The Mariners also sent two pitchers to Arkansas on ML Rehab assignments. One-time Trav reliever (2015-16) Austin Adams and fellow relief pitcher Sam Tuivailala both made multiple appearances with the Travs while on the Mariners injured list before returning to the big league club.