CLINTON, IA (September 18, 2019) - The 2019 season has come and gone, and with it, the Clinton LumberKings 64th season in the Midwest League. In many ways it was a record setting year for the year-one Single-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins. By season's end, Miami sent seven of their top 30 prospects through Clinton, won 78 regular season games, and returned to the Midwest League Championship Series for the eighth time in franchise history.
The start of the 2019 season goes back to a September, 20th, 2018 announcement of the Marlins and LumberKings affiliation deal. It marked the 15th Major League team to come to Clinton - dating back to 1937 - and the start of the most successful first season of affiliation in club history.
Months later, the first glimpses of the 2019 team began to be known. Major League veteran slugger Mike Jacobs was named Manager in his third season as a coach in the Marlins organization and was soon joined by Hitting Coach Frank Moore and Pitching Coach Mark DiFelicie.
The three-man coaching staff that began the season was in charge of a talented roster filled with prospects. At the start of the season, four of the Marlins top 30 prospects, according to MLB.com, were on the LumberKings Opening Day roster; Thomas Jones (No. 30), Christopher Torres (No. 20), Will Banfield (No. 11), and Connor Scott (No. 6).
In addition, three players would play their way into the top 30 with their performance in Clinton during the first half of the season. Jerar Encarnacion (No. 17), Humberto Mejia (No. 29), and Chris Vallimont - before his trade to the Minnesota Twins - all ended the year in the top 30 of their Major League affiliates prospect lists.
The talent that was assembled in Clinton though, did not show immediately. Through the first week, the LumberKings stumbled out of the gate to go 2-5 and tie for last place in the Western Division.
The cold weather that marks the start to most Midwest League seasons was one of the reasons for a slow start during the first half. As a team, the LumberKings struggled with defense. By the end of the first half, no team had committed more errors in professional baseball.
In addition to the struggles with errors, Clinton batters were striking out at alarming rate, that combined with bullpen failures, prevented the LumberKings from climbing more than three games over .500.
Leading the way was Sean Reynolds. His 145 strikeouts over 231 at-bats were on pace to shatter the single-season club record before being demoted at the start of the second half. The first half totals were so large that despite a much reduced strikeout total to end the season, they still owned the most in the league, 1,448, a new franchise record.
When leads were held in the first half, the bullpen had trouble holding them. In total, the 2019 Clinton LumberKings were charged with 17 blown saves, 12 of which came during the first half. Zach Wolf, who would end his season as the team's defacto closer, was charged with four blown saves - all in the first half - before ending his season leading the team in saves with 15.
The struggles of the first half were not without positives. Strong pitching lead by starters Humberto Mejia and Chris Vallimont provided one of the most potent one-two punches in the league. By the end of the half, both pitchers owned ERA's that were sub three with Mejia's 2.03 ranked second best in the league, and Vallimont's 80 strikeouts the most by the end of the half.
The highlight of the pitching reached a high point over two days in Beloit. In game two of a doubleheader at Pohlman Field on May 20th, Mejia went the distance in an eight-inning performance against the Snappers. While he earned the win, it was his flirtation with a no-hitter that was the talk of the day. He allowed two singles in the Clinton win with the first coming in the seventh inning.
The following day, Clinton was even closer to achieving a no-hitter. Vallimont started with seven no-hit innings and was followed by C.J. Carter who kept the no-hit bid going until a one out single in the bottom of the ninth forced the LumberKings to settle for a 5-0 shutout win.
For his work, Vallimont became the first of three LumberKings to win Midwest League Pitcher of the Week honors over the course of the season. The Clinton Opening Day starter was the first LumberKing since Keegan McGovern in 2018 to win a weekly league award.
Offensively, Clinton was led by outfielder Jerar Encarnacion. Over his 68 games with the LumberKings, the everyday right fielder, batted .298 with a team leading 10 home runs and 43 RBIs.
The performances of Encarnacion, Vallimont, and Mejia culminated in their selection to the Midwest League All-Star Game in South Bend. Encarnacion participated in the home run derby and was eliminated in first round before going on to homer in the All-Star Game itself as part of a Western Division All-Star loss to the East that was decided for the first time in league history by a home run derby.
When the second half resumed, the LumberKings were part of a flurry of roster moves that laid the foundation to their second half postseason run. Over the first four days of the second half, the LumberKings were part of 12 roster moves that moved all of their All-Stars to High-A Jupiter. In return, Clinton received their new everyday first basemen Evan Edwards and left fielder Peyton Burdick.
Vallimont's promotion to High-A Jupiter was short lived. A little more than a month later, he was packaged in a trade with Big Leaguer Sergio Romo to the Minnesota Twins for first basemen Lewin Diaz.
After a three-game losing streak to start the second half, the LumberKings went on a tear to become the hottest team in the Midwest League. They won 21 of their next 27 games to take over first place and received stand out performances from Connor Scott and Christopher Torres.
Scott, who began the season with a slow start, ended his time in Clinton with the hottest stretch of his young professional career. From July 7th through July 26th he batted safely in 16 straight games going 27-for-65 (.415) during the stretch with an impressive 10 doubles.
Scott's hitting streak ended as the longest by a LumberKing during the season but was quickly eclipsed by Christopher Torres. The everyday shortstop improved through the season and had the most dramatic splits from first to second half. From July 8th through August 1st, Torres hit safely in 19 straight games, the longest streak by a LumberKing since 2009 and longest by a player in the league for the season, batting .356 (31-for-87) over the stretch.
By the end of Scott's hitting streak, he had earned a promotion to Jupiter. His promotion to the Hammerheads coincided with the addition of the 35th overall pick in the MLB Draft Kameron Misner. The newest addition to the LumberKings made friends home runs in each of his first two games.
As the calendar turned to August, another Clinton bat began to heat up. Over the month of August there was no more productive hitter than Peyton Burdick. His torrid month ended with him hitting .337 with six home runs and 30 RBIs to become the first LumberKing since 2016 to win Midwest League Player of the Month.
Despite missing the first half, Burdick ended his season leading the team in RBIs, 64, and tied for the lead in home runs, 10. After winning Player of the Week honors for August 5th through the 11th, he celebrated with the first multi homer game of his professional career on August 12th in Peoria.
Over the final month of the season, Burdick's success at the plate combined with suffocating pitching to put Clinton in a three-team race with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, and Kane County Cougars for two playoff spots in the second half.
Following a seven-game losing streak from August 2nd through the 8th, Clinton began to pull away. They never again lost more than two games in a row and closed out the regular season having won 19 of their final 24 games.
In the middle of a seven-game winning streak, Clinton punched their ticket to the postseason with a 5-0 win over the Burlington Bees at Community Field on August 28th. The clincher ended a playoff drought that went back to 2016 and was followed by a masterful Remey Reed performance on the 29th. Over six innings of work, Reed could not be touched. He did not allow a base runner of any kind to reach against him in his strongest start as a LumberKing.
The performance was then recognized by the Midwest League when they named Reed the Pitcher of the Week for the final week of the regular season.
A day after Reed's performance, the LumberKings received even more good news with the addition of infielder Jose Devers. The cousin of Major League Rafael Devers, Jose came to Clinton as the Marlins 10th ranked prospect to fill a hole at second base.
In the first round of the Midwest League playoffs, the LumberKings drew the second half division winner Kane County Cougars. In the only game of the series to be played in Clinton, the LumberKings sank the Cougars in Game One behind a pair of three-run home runs from Bubba Hollins and Kameron Misner. The following night in Kane County, Clinton finished off the Cougars with a dominate 10-1 win that featured Clinton pitching allowing just one infield single.
The first round sweep of Kane County propelled the LumberKings into a Western Division Championship Series match-up with the Cedar Rapids Kernels. Clinton took their only home game of the series behind strong pitching, 4-0, before being walked-off in come-from-behind fashion 3-2 in Game Two.
In a winner take all Game Three, the LumberKings led throughout. Scoring three runs in the first before Hollins first triple of the season knocked in two in the seventh to put the game out of reach and move Clinton into the Midwest League Championship Series for the eighth time in club history.
The wins ended there for Clinton. They dropped a pair of tight games in South Bend to fall down 0-2, with game two being decided on a 10th inning wild pitch that followed a one hour and 40-minute rain delay. In the final match-up of the series, the LumberKings were shutout 5-0 to mark the first Midwest League Championship Series sweep - in a best-of-five-game set - since 1954.
The 2019 season came three wins short of ending Clinton's championship drought that goes back to 1991 - the longest active drought in the league. Still, no other LumberKing team in the first season of an affiliation with a Major League club had gone further.
The second season of the Clinton LumberKings affiliation with the Miami Marlins will begin in Beloit when the 2020 season opens against the Snappers on April 9th at Pohlman Field.
About the LumberKings
The Clinton LumberKings, the only remaining Charter Member of the Midwest League, are preparing for their 65th season in the league and their first year of affiliation with the Miami Marlins. They play their home games at NelsonCorp Field a park that has been home for the Clinton franchise since 1937. Since the club's inception, 285 former Clinton players have gone on to reach the Major Leagues. Advertising and tickets for the 2020 season are available by calling (563)242-0727 or by visiting LumberKings.com
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.