Let's look back at the 2017 season with the third in our Year In Review series.
Editor's Note - We will be publishing a series of "Year in Review" stories that look at each half, position groups, and some of the best moments and promotions from the 2017 season. This is the third in this series.
Previously - First Half In Review, Second Half In Review
Our BlueClaws Year In Review Series continues with the BlueClaws Infielders, a group led by a record-breaking season from Darick Hall, excellent catching, and a double-play combination featuring two 19-year olds.
Darick Hall led the offense, and the league, en route to becoming the first BlueClaws player ever to win South Atlantic League MVP. Hall's year got off to a slow start - he was injured during batting practice before the third game of the season in Kannapolis. Hall, however, returned to the lineup in the final week of April, and led the BlueClaws the rest of the way.
As part of an eight-game BlueClaws winning streak in May, Hall homered in three straight games - May 3rd and 4th at Charleston and May 5th at Columbia. It was just the fourth time since 2010 that a BlueClaw had homered in three straight games - Jose Pujols did it twice last year and Jim Murphy homered in three straight games in 2011. In June, he was the South Atlantic League Player of the Month, hitting .308 with eight home runs. Hall accounted for the lone run in a 1-0 win over Rome on July 14th with a solo home run. On August 1st, he joined Pujols (2016), Juan Richardson (2001) and Jim Murphy (2011) as the lone BlueClaws to hit 20 home runs in a season.
Hall broke Pujols' franchise record of 24 home runs set last year when he hit his 25th in Hagerstown on August 23rd. The slugger hit two home runs and tied the BlueClaws franchise record with seven RBIs in the record-breaking game. He got to 27 home runs and 96 RBIs, both league-leading and both franchise-record breaking, before a promotion to Clearwater for the final week of the season.
The BlueClaws were one of the youngest teams in Minor League Baseball up the middle of the diamond, featuring a double-play combination of two 19-year olds: 2B Daniel Brito and SS Arquimedes Gamboa, both of whom signed with the Phillies in 2014 out of Venezuela.
Brito jumped out to a great start, hitting .327 with three of his six home runs during April, including 13 hits over the first seven games of the season.
Gamboa, meanwhile, got hurt in the seventh game of the season and was on the disabled list until the last week of May. The switch-hitting shortstop saved his best baseball for the end of the season, as he finished the year on a 14-game hitting streak, going 23-55 with four home runs over the final two weeks of the year.
The BlueClaws also got a spark from utility infielder Raul Rivas. Rivas joined the BlueClaws in mid-May and played second base, third base, and shortstop while hitting .282. Rivas also had what would have been the biggest hit of the season had things broken a little better for the BlueClaws over the final weekend of the first half.
The BlueClaws went into their game against Hickory on June 17th, the penultimate game of the second half, needing two wins and two Kannapolis losses to win the division and earn a playoff spot as First-Half Champions. Trailing the Crawdads 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth, Rivas came through with an RBI triple to tie the game and the BlueClaws would win in the 10th. Unfortunately, despite a win on Sunday in the first-half finale, the BlueClaws would fall one-game short of a playoff spot, but Rivas' triple did produce one of the more exciting BlueClaws wins of the season.
Luke Williams was the BlueClaws primary third baseman all year long, playing vacuum-like defense at the hot corner. Williams had a walk-off hit in an April 17th win over Hagerstown and a 12-game hitting streak that ended on June 11th. Williams was also Lakewood's leading base-stealer, swiping 29 bases in 31 attempts. Not since Roman Quinn stole 32 bases in 2013 had a BlueClaw stolen as many bases as Williams did this year.
Lakewood also got substantial production out of the catcher position. Edgar Cabral, who was the lone position player selected to participate in the South Atlantic League All-Star Game, was one of the league's leading defensive catchers until his July promotion to Clearwater. On the year, Cabral threw out 46% of the 67 base-stealers against him. Of the catchers that threw out at least 20 runners in the league this year, only Charleston's Eduardo Navas (48%) had a better caught stealing percentage.
Henri Lartigue and Colby Fitch were the BlueClaws other primary catchers during the season. Lartigue, drafted last year from Ole Miss, was with the BlueClaws the entire season and Fitch, drafted this year from Louisville, joined the team on August 1st. Lartigue hit eight home runs on the year, and one accounted for the only run in Nick Fanti's no-hitter on July 17th against Charleston.
Fitch, who helped Louisville reach the 2017 College World Series, hit .217 with two home runs in 22 games with the BlueClaws. But what stands out is Fitch drew 16 walks in just 85 plate appearances in Lakewood for a .379 on-base percentage.
Our Year In Review series will continue with outfielders, starting pitchers, and relief pitchers over the coming days.
- BlueClaws -
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.