RiverDogs Leave Their Mark with Memorable Walk-Offs and Dominant Pitching Runs in 26th Season

Charleston came up short in two playoff pushes, but still impresses with milestones and record-breaking performances

By Matt Dean & Ryan Ladika / Charleston RiverDogs | September 6, 2019 11:37 AM

The Charleston RiverDogs' 26th season in franchise history showcased one of the deepest rosters of future Major League talent in recent memory as the RiverDogs came up short of a pair of playoff chases in another jam-packed season at Riley Park.

 

Under the guidance of second-year manager Julio Mosquera, the RiverDogs finished 73-66, marking Charleston's third winning season in the past four years and their sixth in the previous eight. The RiverDogs featured nine of the Yankees' Top-30 prospects according to MLB.com's midseason list and saw several future Yankees stars breakout in the Single-A circuit.. The club fought for a playoff spot in all but three days of the season and finished with the second-best record in their division while 301,320 poured through the turnstiles, marking the third straight campaign that Charleston eclipsed over 300,000 in attendance at Joe Riley Park.

 

The RiverDogs got off to a fast start in April, taking three-of-four against their in-state rival Columbia Fireflies at Segra Park as part of a 4-3 season-opening road trip through Columbia and Asheville. Charleston was unable to find consistency both at the plate and on the mound, finishing the first month of the season with a 10th-ranked team batting average (.226), 11th-ranked OPS (.637) and a 9th-ranked ERA (3.98) through its first 25 contests en route to a 12-13 record. Exceptional pitching performances, like that of reliever Shawn Semple, helped the Dogs hang around .500 entering the second month of the season.

 

May saw the Dogs pick up the pace a bit, playing themselves back into the playoff conversation with a 17-11 record. The Holy City rattled off an incredible tear between April 25 and June 14, winning 28 of 48 contests, a stretch that included 43 consecutive days Charleston spent holding at least a share of first place between May 3 and June 14. Charleston sputtered to the finish line, losing four of seven games to the Braves and Drive to end the first half and falling a half-game shy of clinching a playoff spot. Despite a win over Greenville on the final day of the first half, the Lexington Legends finished off an 11-3 run over the final two weeks before the break to overtake Charleston and Augusta for the first-half title.

 

In the second half, Charleston skidded to a 16-23 start following the break, seeing themselves 7.0 back in the standings heading into August before a complete offensive turnaround. The Dogs won a league-best 20 of their last 30 games down the stretch, including taking 11 of 13 to start their best month of the campaign to pull within 2.0 games of first place Augusta. That's as close as Charleston would get as they finished four games out despite the late push. Several RiverDogs finished the year red hot. Josh Stowers hit .354 over his final 28 games to rank second in the league while Eduardo Torrealba went 13-for-29 with five multi-hit games in his last seven to earn SAL Player of the Week honors. Eric Wagaman and Canaan Smith each closed the year on eight-game hitting streaks. Charleston's offense overall led the league with a .751 team OPS from August 1 to the close of the year.

 

Charleston once again received a wealth of talent from the Yankees who sent nine of their top-30 prospects according to the MLB Pipeline's midseason list. Right-handers Luis Gil (#4), Roansy Contreras (#13), Alexander Vizcaino (#14) and Luis Medina (#21) along with C Josh Breaux (#22) and OF Canaan Smith (#26) all opened the season with the RiverDogs while C Anthony Seigler (#9), RHP Yoendrys Gomez (#8) and SS Oswald Peraza (#30) would all join Charleston for stints by season's end.

 

Land of Canaan

 

The RiverDogs saw seven position players on their Opening Day roster remain in the Lowcountry for the whole season but none endeared themselves to the fanbase more than left fielder Canaan Smith. The lefty bat from Rockwall, Texas was voted by the fans as the "Top Dog" of the season. The 20-year-old produced one of the all-time great pure-hitting seasons in RiverDogs history, batting .307 with 11 homers and 74 RBI in 124 games. He showed an elite control of the strike zone, finishing the season ranked second in the league in on-base percentage (.405) and third in OPS (.938) while leading the circuit in walks (74).

 

Also adding a career-high 16 stolen bases to his impressive stat line, he became just the sixth player in Charleston's history as a South Atlantic League franchise (circa 1980) to hit over the three-century mark while adding double-digit homers and stolen bases, joining an illustrious list that includes Tyler Austin (2012), Delmon Young (2004), Josh Hamilton (2000), Fernando Tatis (1995), and former SAL batting title winner Cliff Pastornicky (1982). Of the exclusive list, Smith is the only one to have walked 70 times; only Tyler Austin also maintained an on-base percentage over .400 in the same season.

 

Originally a fourth-round selection by the Yankees out of Rockwall-Heath High School in 2017, the lefty bat showed a tremendous turnaround in his third year as a pro. With Staten Island in 2018, he hit a career-low .194 with five home runs in 64 games in the New-York Penn League. After failing to crack Charleston's Opening Day roster at the onset of 2019, he would be called up as an injury replacement for Isaiah Pasteur just a week into the season. After a tentative 0-for-10 start, he established himself as a regular in the lineup, slowly climbing his way up Julio Mosquera's batting order and finished the year as the premier hitter consistently in the three-hole.

Smith's most impressive stretch of the season started in mid-July, when he went a blistering 25-for-50 over a 15-game stretch from July 18-August 3, a span in which he ranked second in Minor League Baseball with an astounding .609 OBP. He cut his strikeout-rate 10 percentage points down from a career-worst mark at 30 percent last year. At the season's midpoint, he was named the Southern Division starter at left field as one of Charleston's six All-Star selections.

 

Cool Story, Breaux

 

While Josh Breaux's time with Charleston was cut short due to injuries, the hulking backstop made an impression whenever he was on the field. Despite playing in just 51 games due to an elbow injury that saw him miss over two months between late-May and early-August, the second-round pick finished the year leading the Dogs in home runs, including ripping lucky number 13 on the final day of the season to pass Brandon Lockridge. After failing to go yard in a brief pro debut in 2018, he hit .271 and slugged .518 while driving in 49 runs in 51 games.

 

The Tomball, Texas native hit five home runs and plated 22 in an 11-game span from April 23-May 17, his hottest stretch at the plate before hitting the injured list on May 23. He wouldn't return until August 10, when he promptly homered and doubled to plate three in a come-from-behind win for the Dogs in Hickory. Breaux thumped his tenth home run of the season on August 22 in just his 41st game of the season, making hi the fastest RiverDog to 10 homers since Tyler Austin in 2012 and the third-fastest in the club's history as a Yankees affiliate (circa 2005).

 

Power and Speed, Staying Locked In

 

There may not have been a more feared leadoff hitter in the South Atlantic League in 2019 than Brandon Lockridge. The Yankees' fifth-round pick out of Troy had a breakout campaign in his first full year and impressed with a rare power-speed combination that saw him steal 22 bases, crush 12 homers, and lead the league with 50 total extra-base hits. Making 121 starts all in the leadoff spot and starting 103 games in centerfield, the most for any RiverDog at a single position all season, the 190-pound top-of-the-order hitter was a staple in the Charleston lineup and finished the year hitting .251 with a .729 OPS.

 

In what was an up and down season, Lockridge had flashes of outright dominance including bouncing out of an early-season skid to finish the first half with 10 homers and 21 doubles, the most two-baggers for a RiverDog before the All-Star break since J.R. Murphy in 2011. Although is newfound power production trailed off in the second half, he still finished as just the fifth player in Charleston's franchise history to hit at least 30 doubles, add double-digit homers, and steal 20-plus bases.

 

Throwing Gas, the New Yankee Way

 

There was a tremendous hype surrounding Charleston's Opening Day pitching staff that featured a fire-balling, six-man rotation to catch the eyes of Yankees fans and prospect hounds around the country. Five of the Yankees' Top-30 prospects all resided in Charleston's rotation to start the year and Alexander Vizcaino, the only unranked prospect in the name-heavy staff, would finish the season's end as a Top-30 prospect in the organization. Right-handers Luis Medina and Luis Gil routinely flirted with 100 mph each start and Vizcaino, Roansy Contreras, and Tanner Myatt all weren't far behind. Right-hander Matt Sauer, the Yankees' second-round pick from 2017, also opened the year in the Lowcountry but made just two starts before undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery.

 

While the RiverDogs staff had tremendous talent taking the mound on a night-to-night basis, the team's relative inexperience showed especially early in the year. The club finished the season with 3.84 staff ERA that was tied-ninth in the SAL circuit after the club had finished as a top-two pitching staff in the league the previous three seasons.

 

Of the original 13 arms that opened the season with Charleston, only Contreras remained on the active roster the whole year. The 19-year-old finished the season with a 3.33 ERA and became Charleston's first 12-game winner since 2007. The Dominican Republic product threw a team-high 132 1/3 innings while striking out 113, bested only by Luis Medina (115) for the most on the team. He finished the year at his peak, winning five straight starts and six of his last seven. Over his final 11 outings on the season dating back to June 29, he recorded a 1.80 ERA. He went at least five innings in each start over the stretch and allowed more than two runs just once.

 

While Contreras provided a standout season over the long haul, Gil proved the most dominant among the RiverDogs' lauded rotation during the time he spent in the league. Before a July 25 promotion to Tampa, the 21-year-old recorded a 2.39 ERA that ranked third in the league at the time of his call-up. He struck out 112 batters over 83.0 innings, a K per nine inning mark of 12.3. The Azua, Dominican Republic native paired a dominant fastball with improving confidence in his offspeed stuff to induce a swing-and-miss on nearly 17 percent of his pitches, a league-best rate at the time of his promotion. The wiry hurler was named the Southern Division All-Star starter in the mid-summer classic, although he did not participate in the All-Star festivities.

 

Called up at the same time as Gil, Vizcaino, 22, also showcased some of the most electric stuff in the SAL circuit to start the year. The fellow Dominican hurler went 5-5, 4.41 ERA while whiffing 101 in 87 2/3 frames this season before his call up while producing a swing-and-miss rate surpassed only by Gil. He was also a mid-season All-Star pick. Vizcaino flashed a fastball that touched as high as 99 mph this year, paired with an outstanding changeup, considered one of the best in the system along with an improved slider.

 

Although he required a bit more seasoning in the South Atlantic League, Luis Medina finished the year looking just as dominant as his peers. The 20-year-old fire-baller did a complete 180 following a disappointing first 14 starts of the season. From Opening Day through his July 3 outing against the Augusta, he struggled to the tune of an 8.38 ERA in 58 innings of work with a 2.05 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched), as well as a league-leading 55 walks allowed. When he toed the rubber on July 11, he began a remarkable, season-salvaging run. Through his final six South Atlantic League starts, Medina pitched 35 innings, surrendering just nine runs (eight earned) for a 2.06 ERA. He yielded only 22 hits and 12 walks while fanning 55 opposing batters, tied for the third-most in the league in that span. He was called up to Tampa on August 19 after being named the league's "Pitcher of the Week" for his dominating 10 strikeout performance against Columbia on August 13.

 

Out of the bullpen, Carlos Espinal made more appearances than any other pitcher on the staff and was by far Charleston's most effective reliever. The 22-year-old Dominican struck out 75 to 16 walks across 59 2/3 innings on the season. He posted a scoreless outing in 16 of his 29 appearances and allowed one or fewer runs in all but six. The right-hander led the staff with six saves.

 

Top Moments of 2019

 

APRIL- SHAWN SEMPLE CARVES UP THE LEAGUE

 

Reliever Shawn Semple made quick work of virtually every team he faced in his brief stint with the RiverDogs to begin the season. The New Orleans product posted the league's fifth-best ERA (1.71) in his five Charleston appearances from April 5-26, fanning 32 of the first 75 hitters he faced to post a 42.7 strikeout rate that ranked third-best in all of Minor League Baseball. In his April 10 appearance, Semple struck out 11 Tourists in just four innings of work at McCormick Field, a mark that stood as the most by a single Dogs pitcher in one game for the rest of the season.

 

APRIL- HE LIFTS, BREAUX

 

Selected in the second round of the 2018 MLB Draft by the Yankees, catcher/DH Josh Breaux made his full-season debut in 2019 with the Dogs. With his club tied 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning in its second home game of the year, Breaux crushed a 2-2 pitch off the right-center field videoboard for his first pro homer, serving as the eventual winning run in Charleston's first home victory of the season. Nine games later, Breaux would embark on a remarkable tear through SAL pitching. Between April 24 and May 9, the Texas native would go 15-for-39 (.405) with a 1.301 OPS in nine games, driving in 18 runs and slugging two doubles and five home runs.

 

Video: RiverDogs' Breaux bashes one

 

APRIL 22- EL KRAKEN RETURNS TO THE LOWCOUNTRY

 

RiverDogs fans were in for a special treat in the series opener against the Intimidators, when a rehabbing Gary Sanchez made his first appearance at Riley Park since 2012. After appearing in just 11 games to start the season with the Yankees, the catcher was shelved with a left calf strain. The Yankees sent him to Charleston ten days later for a brief rehab assignment, and the catcher was slotted in the two-spot in Julio Mosquera's lineup for the Holy City. Sanchez finished his night 0-for-3 before being replaced in the sixth inning but gave fans and RiverDogs players alike a night to remember with a former Charleston regular and current Bronx Bombers star in the house.

 

Video: El Kraken Returns to the Lowcountry

 

MAY 12- SMITH GOES CYCLING

 

During the RiverDogs' first road series against the Hickory Crawdads, outfielder Canaan Smith had one of the best games of his career. The Texas native lined his eighth double of the season to center field in the top of the first inning, singled in the third and tripled to right field in the top of the fourth inning. After lining out to second base in his fourth at-bat in the top of the fifth, Smith received another chance in the top of the eighth inning. He stepped to the plate and immediately fell behind 0-2 before crushing the following pitch out to straightaway center field for a leadoff home run. The blast marked the first cycle for the RiverDogs since 1997. Smith nearly had a second cycle also against Hickory July 31 at The Joe, but finished a double shy.

 

 

MAY 14-15, AUGUST 12-13- HEY, WE'RE WALKIN' (OFF) HERE!

 

The RiverDogs went their first 37 games of the season without earning a walk-off win before the West Virginia Power made the trip to Riley Park. With the game tied at five entering the bottom of the ninth May 14, Brandon Lockridge was hit by a pitch leading off the frame. A hit-by-pitch and groundout advanced him to third, before a wild pitch uncorked by David Ellingston allowed the Troy product to scamper home with the winning run. Charleston walked the Power off the following night as well, on an RBI single by Josh Stowers. The Dogs walked off in two consecutive games later in the year as well, on another single by Stowers and a double by Eric Wagaman against the Fireflies in mid-August.

 

Video: Dogs Walk It Off Back-to-Back Nights...TWICE

 

MAY 14- EDUARDO TORREALBA CHANNELS EL MAGO

 

Prior to Lockridge scoring on the walk-off wild pitch May 14, Eduardo Torrealba took his turn at the plate leading off the bottom of the fifth inning. He popped a 1-0 pitch into shallow right-center field, which found the outfield grass for a leadoff knock. Torrealba ambitiously took the turn and headed for second base, gunning for a leadoff double. The throw into second base beat the infielder, but in Javier Baez-esque fashion, Torrealba hit the brakes and jumped outside and around to the third-base side of the bag. He avoided the attempted tag, and dove into second safely.

 

 

MAY 30- BRANDON LOCKRIDGE GOES YARD IN GRAND FASHION

 

In the first of a four-game road series against the Lexington Legends, Brandon Lockridge stepped to the plate with the bags full in the top of the second inning. After working into a favorable 2-1 hitter's count, he crushed a Charlie Neuweiler pitch over the left-center field wall, giving the Dogs an early 4-0 lead in an eventual 7-3 Charleston win. The shot would mark the only RiverDogs grand slam of the season.

 

JUNE 4, 7- STARS SHINE BRIGHTEST IN HOLY CITY

 

Just after the start of the final month of the first half, six RiverDogs were initially selected to represent Charleston at Appalachian Power Park for the 2019 SAL All-Star Game. Canaan Smith, Mickey Gasper, Josh Stowers, Luis Gil, Alexander Vizcaino, and Josh Breaux were all rewarded for their outstanding first halves with All-Star selections. Three days later, outfielder Brandon Lockridge was the seventh RiverDog to be honored with a selection. Lockridge, Smith, Gasper, and Vizcaino all made appearances at some point in the Midsummer Classic, highlighted by Lockridge's pinch-hit, two-run homer that would prove to be the entire offense for the Southern Division in a 6-2 Northern Division win.

 

JUNE 5- HIGHWAY ROBBERY & A PAIR OF BLASTS

 

On getaway day in Greensboro, the Dogs snagged a close 2-1 finale to take the series win back to Charleston. With the Grasshoppers already up 1-0, Ji-Hwan Bae singled to lead off the bottom of the third inning against Alexander Vizcaino. The Dogs starter bounced back with a punchout of Mason Martin, but Rodolfo Castro crushed a deep drive out to right-center field. Brandon Lockridge leaped at the wall and brought back a potential two-run shot, keeping the Charleston deficit at just a single tally. The score remained unchanged until the seventh inning. Braeden Ogle retired the first two Charleston hitters before Mickey Gasper crushed his fourth homer of the year over the left-center field wall to tie the game. The long ball came back to bite Ogle once more, when Canaan Smith crushed his fifth long ball of the season in the top of the ninth inning, again with two outs, to propel the RiverDogs to the late victory.

 

JUNE 10- TOE-TO-TOE WITH DALLAS KEUCHEL

 

Prior to a late-season callup to High-A Tampa, righty Luis Gil was Charleston's best starter through the first two-thirds of the season. His dominant season was highlighted by a June 10 outing on the road against the Rome Braves. Rome's parent team had just inked southpaw Dallas Keuchel to a contract, and the former Cy Young winner made his first Minor League rehab start against the Dogs. Gil was undaunted, matching Keuchel's seven shutout frames with seven of his own, and besting the new Brave's nine punchouts with 10 of his own. Unfortunately for Gil, the Dogs offense couldn't muster a run even after Keuchel's exit, and Charleston fell 1-0 in 10 innings.

 

JULY- YOU CAN'T GET CANAAN OUT

 

Canaan Smith blazed through South Atlantic League pitching in the month of July and right to the top of many offensive statistical categories. His .393 average and .509 on-base percentage led the league, and his 1.026 OPS was bested only by Alex Destino's 1.045 mark. Smith slugged six doubles, one triple and one homer during the month, and his torrid month even included a stretch between July 18 and August 3 that the outfielder earned 25 hits in 50 at-bats, slashing .500/.609/.680 with a 1.289 OPS, six extra-base hits and 14 RBI during the 15 games. His on-base percentage was second in Minor League Baseball during the stretch.

 

AUGUST 8- STOWERS USES CHEAT CODE

 

Some baseball players dream of one or two chances a season that will forever be in their highlight reel and Josh Stowers got four in one game during a memorable night in Hickory. In what the RiverDogs right fielder would later describe as "like a video game," the former Louisville product started out his night by making two tremendous grabs back-to-back to close the bottom of the 1st inning at L.P. Frans Stadium, leaping at the warning track to take an extra-base hit away from Rangers' first-rounder Josh Jung before scaling the wall to rob Tyreque Reed homer on the very next pitch. You couldn't write a better script as the speedy outfielder came up to bat to lead off the Top 2nd and promptly whacked the first pitch he saw down the left-field line for a double before scoring one of the game's few runs in a 3-1 Charleston victory. Stowers would be a human highlight reel the rest of the night, leaping into the extending netting down the right-field line to take another hit away from Reed in the fourth and adding another diving catch to his resume in the third.

 

AUGUST 10- CALL IT A COMEBACK

 

The Dogs were down but not out, entering the top of the seventh inning trailing 9-4 to the Hickory Crawdads on the road. In his first game back after a two-month stint on the injured list, Josh Breaux crushed his eighth home run of the season leading off the inning, and Josh Stowers followed with a single to left field. Later in the frame, Welfrin Mateo brought Stowers home with another single to left, cutting the Crawdads' lead to four runs. Hickory made a pitching change in the top of the eighth, but Charleston was relentless. Eduardo Navas hit a leadoff double and Oswald Peraza singled him to third. A double by Breaux plated his two teammates to bring the Dogs to within one, and first baseman Eric Wagaman completed the furious rally with a two-run blast on the first pitch he saw, his second of the game. The homer lifted the Dogs to an eventual 10-9 win, their largest comeback of the season.

 

AUGUST 13, 14- HOLES IN THEIR BATS

 

The Columbia Fireflies were thrilled to finally escape Riley Park for the final time this season after a three-game series sweep at the hands of the RiverDogs August 12-14. In game two of the series, Luis Medina continued the best stretch of his season with seven spectacular innings of two-hit baseball. He fanned 10 Fireflies, tying his career-high and marking one of three outings with 10 punchouts. The next night, Roansy Contreras did one better, allowing just one hit over seven frames of one-run ball, also striking out ten hitters. The two dominant starts punctuated an incredible performance the RiverDogs put on against Columbia in 2019. Charleston won 15 of 21 total meetings, outscoring the Fireflies 90-61. Columbia hit just .188 against RiverDogs pitching, and the Holy City posted a 2.30 ERA against their in-state rival.

 

AUGUST 20- CANAAN SMITH HITS HISTORIC BLAST

 

In his first at-bat of the homestand, Smith continued to make his case for the SAL MVP Award as he took West Virginia starter Evan Johnson deep for his 10th home run of the season, putting the left fielder into an exclusive company. After maintaining his average over the three-century mark, he finished as just the sixth player in Charleston's franchise history (circa 1980) to bat over .300 while adding double-digit home runs and stolen bases.

 

Video: Canaan Smith belts his 10th home run of the season

 

AUGUST 21- IT WAS OVER BEFORE YOU COULD SAY MACIEJEWSKI

 

With a series win on the line against the West Virginia Power at The Joe, southpaw Josh Maciejewski threw one of the best games of his young career. The North Carolina native spun eight shutout innings to set a new career-high, fanning seven hitters along the way to tie a career-high he set June 23 with the Staten Island Yankees. Carlos Espinal relieved the lefty in the ninth inning and sealed a 1-0 RiverDogs win, a contest that took a mere one hour and 59 minutes to complete. The game was the shortest Charleston played since a 1:54 road affair against the Greensboro Grasshoppers April 29, 2018, and the shortest at Riley Park since August 22, 2006 when the Dogs wrapped things up in 1:55 against Savannah.

 

Video: RiverDogs' Maciejewski ends start with strikeout

 

AUGUST 27- DOUBLE TROUBLE

 

Canaan Smith slugged his 30th double of the season during Charleston's 11-5 rout of the Asheville Tourists on its final road trip of the season, joining Brandon Lockridge as the only two RiverDogs this season to hit 30 two-baggers. The dynamic duo became the first RiverDogs teammates to each hit 30 doubles in one season since Jake Cave (37) and Greg Bird (36) did so in 2013.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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