PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (September 6, 2018) - The tenth season in team history was undoubtedly one of the best for the Charlotte Stone Crabs.
The Stone Crabs used a historic offense and strong home-field advantage to finish with the second-best record in franchise history, falling one win short of their fifth postseason berth.
Charlotte shattered eight franchise records in hitting, leading the league in nearly every offensive category. They scored a remarkable 710 runs, 99 more than any other lineup in franchise history.
Led by a talented group of position player prospects, the Stone Crabs' bats came out of the gates hot. Over their first 33 games, Charlotte led Minor League Baseball with a .305 batting average, scoring 6.3 runs per game while featuring two-time FSL Player of the Month Nathaniel Lowe . Lowe hit .356 with 10 home runs and 44 RBI in 51 games before being promoted to Double-A Montgomery, leading the league in all three Triple Crown categories in late May.
When it was all said and done, the Stone Crabs finished the season batting .274, ten points ahead of any other group in team history. They also destroyed the team record in doubles (283), connecting on 48 more than any other team in the league. Infielder Tristan Gray led a group of six players to collect 20 doubles or more. Gray tied Michael Sheridan's single-season record by swatting 38 doubles.
The crowd at Charlotte Sports Park helped to energize the team all year long, inspiring several comebacks and walk-off wins in the second half. The Stone Crabs went 45-23 at home, batting .281 while pitching to a 3.59 ERA (29-39, .266 AVG, 4.63 ERA on road).
However, it was the team's pitching remained the culprit for the second straight year. The Stone Crabs' staff pitched to a league-worst 4.43 ERA through the first 63 games, keeping Charlotte around five-hundred for the entire first half.
However, successful adjustments and promotions from Low-A Bowling Green led to improved second half pitching numbers and a record 11 games above five-hundred.
The Stone Crabs were locked into a feverish pennant race with the Fort Myers Miracle in the second half, with neither team leading by more than three games at any point. Charlotte entered their August 13-16 series in Fort Myers with a 1.5 game lead. In four wild one-run games, the Miracle took three, earning the tiebreaker that would eventually decide the division.
Charlotte held a 1.5 game lead entering the final week of the season. After losing three straight to Daytona, it looked like a 1.5 game deficit with four to play (and Fort Myers possessing the tiebreaker) would be too much to overcome. However, the Stone Crabs won three straight while Clearwater beat Fort Myers twice. Entering the final day of the season, Charlotte simply needed to beat last-place Florida to clinch the division title.
After taking a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth, the Fire Frogs took the lead on a two-run home run from Jordan Rodgers and went on to win 5-2, sinking the Stone Crabs' postseason hopes.
Despite the disappointing finish, the Stone Crabs possessed a group of young and electrifying young prospects, many of whom are destined for long Major League careers. Seven of the Tampa Bay Rays' top-15 prospects (according to MLB Pipeline's midseason rankings) played for the Stone Crabs in 2018.
Outfielder Jesus Sanchez (No. 4 Rays' prospect) placed fourth in the league in hitting and eighth in Stone Crabs' single-season history, batting .301 with 24 doubles, 10 home runs and 64 RBI in 90 games. The Crabs' only Postseason All-Star, Sanchez exhibited premium power while spraying hits to all fields as Charlotte's cleanup man.
May 14 brought about the promotion of one of the most intriguing figures in the sport in two-way prospect Brendan McKay (Rays' No. 3). Despite missing a month with an oblique injury, McKay dazzled on the mound, pitching to a 3.21 ERA while fanning 54 batters in 47.2 innings. He hit just .210 in 32 games at the plate, but slugged five home runs and drew 16 walks while delivering two home runs in the team's July 27 win in Port St. Lucie.
Shorstop Lucius Fox (No. 7) was the team's spark plug in the leadoff spot for the majority of the year, batting .282 with a team-high 23 stolen bases before his promotion on August 4.
Second baseman Vidal Brujan (No. 19) stepped in shortly after Fox was promoted to take over the leadoff spot. Brujan hit a remarkable .347 with 13 extra-base hits, 15 walks and 12 stolen bases in just 27 games (1.015 OPS). His performance on August 22 in Bradenton was the most remarkable single-game output of the year (3-3, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 2 BB, 4 R, 3 SB).
Josh Lowe (No. 11) played a dynamic center field for Charlotte, taking away many extra-base hits with his long, graceful strides. Lowe finished second on the team in walks (47) and stolen bases (47), connecting on 34 extra-base hits and 47 RBI in 105 games.
Utility players Miles Mastrobuoni and Robbie Tenerowicz also made major contributions to the Stone Crabs' success. Both named FSL Midseason All-Stars, Mastrobuoni hit .289 with a team-high 50 walks, leading the league in on-base percentage for much of the second half. Mastrobuoni played seven different positions on the field, even pitching twice. Tenerowicz hit third in the batting order for most of the season, batting .292 with 64 runs scored and 61 RBI.
Catcher Rene Pinto and outfielder Jake Fraley helped Brujan fill the void left behind by the promoted Charlotte bats. Both did most of their damage over the final two months. Pinto hit .301 with 23 extra-base hits in 72 games. Fraley clobbered FSL pitching to a .347 average with 28 extra-base hits and 41 RBI in only 66 games (.962 OPS).
No one pitched more for the Stone Crabs in 2018 than Kenny Rosenberg . The left-hander became one of three pitchers in the league to win 11 games. Rosenberg was the only Charlotte pitcher to eclipse 100 innings and 100 strikeouts, and was the only hurler to remain on the active roster all season.
Starting pitchers Brock Burke (3-5, 3.84 ERA in 82 IP) and Willy Ortiz (6-2, 3.73 ERA in 84.1 IP) both pitched well atop the Stone Crabs' rotation until Burke was promoted on July 9 and Ortiz was placed on the disabled list on July 19.
Right-hander Blake Bivens was Charlotte's best starting pitcher in the middle third of the season, returning from injury to go 6-4 with a 2.83 ERA over 12 outings (57.1 IP).
The bullpen was led by the tough lefty Ivan Pelaez . The aggressive soft-tosser earned seven saves while working to a 2.05 ERA over 52.2 innings.
Led by first year manager Reinaldo Ruiz, the 2018 Stone Crabs will be remembered for their young, powerful bats. Part of an organization that ranked atop professional baseball with a .604 winning percentage, several of the Charlotte players could soon rise to the Major Leagues together and help the Rays become one of the best young teams in the sport.
Team Records Set:
Home Runs (82)
Batting Average (.274)
On-Base Percentage (.344)
Slugging Percentage (.407)
Individual Single-Season Records:
Tristan Gray: T-1st in doubles (38), T-3rd in home runs (13), 4th in RBI (69), 6th in Runs (71)
Jesus Sanchez: T-6th in RBI (64), 8th in AVG (.301), T-8th in HR (10)
Josh Lowe: T-9th in Runs (62), T-9th in walks (47)
Kevin Padlo: T-9th in walks (47), T-10th in doubles (26)
Nate Lowe: T-8th in home runs (10)
Robbie Tenerowicz: 8th in runs (64), T-10th in RBI (61)
Jake Fraley: T-6th in triples (7)
Lucius Fox: T-9th in stolen bases (23)
Kenny Rosenberg: 3rd in K/9 (8.44, Min. 100 IP), 4th in wins (11)
Ivan Pelaez: 9th in ERA (2.05, Min. 50 IP)
Brock Burke: 10th in K/9 (9.54, Min. 50 IP)
First Half Record: 34-33 (.507)
Second Half Record: 40-29 (.580)
Overall Record: 74-62 (.544)
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.