HAGERSTOWN, MD (September 5, 2019) - The 2019 Suns broke camp with an impressive roster boasting seven of the Washington Nationals' top 30 prospects according to MLB.com. Highlighted by 2018 second round pick Tim Cate and international signee Israel Pineda, manager Patrick Anderson was given a strong group to lead into the season starting versus the Greensboro Grasshoppers on the road April 4.
Despite all the prospects on the roster, Hagerstown stumbled out of the gates, winning just one of their first six games. As the Suns found their identity, they rebounded, reaching a 9-9 record before the first half of the season was derailed.
Hagerstown met a road block in the Greensboro Grasshoppers, who they lost three of four to by a total of 41-18. That stretch started a streak where the Hub City dropped seven of eight games. During that time, Cate went on a tear that would see him get called up to Potomac. The lefty tossed quality starts in seven of his first 11 outings with the Suns and in the first half led the team with 70 strikeouts.
The U-Conn-product was just one part of an absolutely dominant pitching staff in the month of May. The Suns had the best team-ERA in Class-A Affiliated baseball, with a 2.74 mark in 29 contests across the month. During that run, the staff fanned 251 batters in 252 innings of work.
Despite the tough offensive stretch, infielder Gilbert Lara found a way to become the toast of the South Atlantic League, earning a Minor League-best 19-game hittings streak from April 14-to-May 4. During the streak, Lara maintained a .358 average while driving in 16 RBI and hitting 11 extra-base hits. His streak turned into the second-longest hitting streak in the South Atlantic League during the 2019 season, trailing only Kannapolis' Ian Dawkins, who hit safely in 20-consecutive games beginning May 18 and ending June 5.
Both Francys Peguero and Joan Adon helped pace the staff during that month as well, leading the team in ERA (2.74) and wins (five), respectively. Those two players would have separate fates. Peguero was promoted to Potomac after 91.2 innings in Hagerstown, in that time he held a team-best 2.94 ERA, but did not get the run support needed for a positive record. He finished with 80 strikeouts compared to just 19 walks while in the South Atlantic League.
Meanwhile, Adon would earn the most wins by any South Atlantic League pitcher in the 2019 season (11). His 11th win came while doing something for the first time this season. The Dominican Republic-native started in 21 of the 22 games he played in this season, but earned his 11th win while tossing four innings of one-run relief at Appalachian Power Park August 15 against the West Virginia Power. In his third season in affiliated ball, he worked 105 innings, decimating his previous career-high 30.2 innings of work.
Meanwhile, Lara and Jacob Rhinesmith represented the Suns in Charleston, West Virginia for the South Atlantic League's 60th All-Star Game. Lara finished 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored. The shortstop joined Jonathan Ornelas as the only North representatives to have multiple hits in the 6-2 win.
Rhinesmith led the Suns in on-base percentage with a sizzling .389 mark at the season's mid-point, while Lara was hitting .261 with a team-high nine homers and 44 RBI.
Despite a rough start to the second half, highlighted by a seven-game losing streak beginning June 22 and ending June 28, the Suns were able to erase the 3-9 kick-off to the half to push back above .500.
A big part of getting on-track in the second half started with the team's longest winning streak of the year. A seven-game tilt from July 24-31. There Hagerstown took the final two games at Rome, swept a four-game set at Columbia and won the first home contest against Rome. The four-game sweep of Columbia was the Suns first four-game brooming of a team since they swept a four-game slate at Perdue Stadium versus Delmarva June 26-29, 2017.
Hagerstown's roster was bolstered by a few 2019 draft picks of the Washington Nationals, including first-rounder Jackson Rutledge, third-rounder Drew Mendoza, fourth-rounder Matt Cronin and sixth-rounder Jackson Cluff.
Rutledge wrung up 31 batters in 27.1 innings across six games while maintaining a 2.30 ERA and Cronin proved to be an unstoppable force in the bullpen, locking down a 0.82 ERA in 17 appearances while fanning 41 batters in just 22 innings. The lefty also held opponents to a .153 average.
Meanwhile, Cluff and Mendoza were an incredible duo at the plate, anchoring the Suns top of the order at the lead-off spot and third in the order, respectively. Cluff finished the year with five homers and five triples, providing power and three hitting streaks of six-games or longer. Meanwhile, Mendoza found his pop late, but still provided the team with four bombs and had an out-of-this-world July where he hit .313 through 25 games.
The Suns finished the year reaching a .500 record in the first-half or second for 10-games prior to ending the season with a 35-35 record in the second half.
There were two big catalysts in the second half for Hagerstown. The first was 2018 fourth-round pick Jake Irvin, who started out the first half slow, posting a 5.11 ERA in 72 innings while allowing opponents to hit .274 against him. After the break, he turned a corner and crushed opponents, earning a 2.75 ERA and holding opponents to a .229 average. He also led the team in quality starts, spraying 10 across the season.
The pen was also one of the best secondary units in all of Minor League Baseball in the month of August. The bullpen allowed just 26 runs in 104.2 innings during August, totalling a 2.24 ERA in the dog days of Summer.
While the Suns weren't post-season contenders, they still saw a few Suns records get pushed over. Rhinesmith had 129 hits, finishing with the most hits for the Suns since Jose Marmolejos had 145 in 2015. Rhinesmith also tallied 67 RBI, which was more than any Suns player since Rhett Wiseman had 75 in 2016.
The Suns also finished the year with 1201 strikeouts, the most team-strikeouts Hagerstown has had since joining the South Atlantic League in 1994. This was aided by Tomas Alastre's 117 strikeouts and Jake Irvin's 113, making them the first tandem of Suns pitchers to have 100 or more strikeouts since Pedro Encarnacion and Nick Lee accomplished the feat in 2013.
The 2020 season is just around the corner and new records will be broken and new memories will be made. We're celebrating the 40th year of Hagerstown Suns baseball in 2020. For tickets or more information visit hagerstownsuns.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.