Keys 2017 Season in Review

Quest for Co-Championship Comes up Just Short

By Frederick Keys | September 21, 2017 9:40 AM ET

The 2017 Frederick Keys baseball season saw a number of things happen that had not occurred for quite some time. For the first time since 2011, the Keys made it to the playoffs. Before this year, only Keys one player in 28 seasons had been named Carolina League MVP. That grew by one while two others made strong cases before each was promoted. One of those individuals even made their Major League debut, a rare feat.


Coming into Opening Day 2017, the excitement surrounding the Keys was palpable. The team on paper was one of the strongest in recent memory. Headlining this "who's who list" were Ryan Mountcastle , Austin Hays and Jomar Reyes as well as the Orioles top two draft picks of 2016: Cody Sedlock and Keegan Akin .


In April, the Keys would play an inordinate number of games against the Carolina Mudcats-11 of 24. This included the first three games of the regular season. Following a rainout on Thursday night, Frederick and Carolina kicked things off on Friday. A game that featured a nine-run Keys sixth inning, the orange and black rallied back from a 10-0 deficit to level the game. Unfortunately, the Mudcats had the final say in a 15-11 triumph.


Carolina's offensive momentum did not carry over into game two though. Making his CL debut, Sedlock delivered six shutout innings of two-hit baseball to go with five strikeouts. This would sadly be one of the high points of Sedlock's season, one marred with injuries and inconsistency.


In contrast, Hays started the season hot and rarely cooled down over his 64 games with the Keys. Eventually promoted to the Double-A Bowie Baysox at the all-star break, the former Jacksonville star reached base in his first 21 games with the orange and black, while posting a .341 average with 14 RBIs and a .529 slugging percentage.


Thanks in large part to the offense, the Keys won six of their final nine April contests to ensure a .500 first month of the season (12-12). Although players like Hays and Stevie Wilkerson (.351 BA) helped the Frederick offense tally a .284 average and post 121 runs scored (both second-best in the league) the pitching staff struggled, racking up a league-high 5.86 ERA and 137 runs allowed.


The Keys earned series wins in each of their first two home sets in May. This included a de-facto two-game sweep of the Down East Wood Ducks from May 9-10. Akin provided the performance of the series, delivering 7.1 innings of two-run, three-hit baseball. Now three games over .500 for the first time all year, the orange and black would embark on a seven-game roadtrip to Wilmington and Salem. The front end of the trip did not go as planned, with the Keys dropping all three games to the Blue Rocks. However the team regained its footing in Salem, claiming three of four from the Red Sox. After the offense was held in check in Wilmington, Frederick pounded out 30 runs in four nights.


Hays enjoyed a strong series, going 11-for-21 with two homers, four doubles and six RBIs en route to winning his first Carolina League Player of the Week award. Mountcastle also performed well, as did Ademar Rifaela . Not an everyday player in his previous four pro seasons, May proved to be a jumping off point for the Curacao native, who became the Carolina League's biggest surprise player in 2017. Named the league's MVP, the Curacao native set career-highs in home runs (48), RBIs (78), total bases (225) and a variety of other categories while capitalizing on the increased playing time he received.


His production on offense offset the temporary loss of Randolph Gassaway who earned his first promotion to Double-A. Registering a .351 average in May to go with 13 RBIs in 15 games, the Georgia native was one of the club's top run producers in the first-half.


A rough patch at the end of May saw the Keys finish three games below .500. This included series losses to Wilmington and Potomac as well as a four-game split with Buies Creek. Even though the month did not end the way the team wanted it to, Hays and Mountcastle each ended on a high note. Hays became the first player in team history to slug three home runs in a game, before Mountcastle accomplished the same feat two games later. The latter was named the Orioles Minor League Player of the Month for May.


Following a pair of win over Buies Creek which pushed the Keys to 24-24, the club saw its playoff chances take a major hit. Dropping five in-a-row to the Astros and Red Sox, the Keys were suddenly 9.5 games out of first and in last place for the first time all year.


The team rallied, winning five in-a-row thanks in large part to a four-game sweep of the Potomac Nationals (the first four-game home sweep for the Keys since 2011). Unfortunately, Frederick's playoff chances looked grim, with the orange and black trailing first-place Salem by six games in the standings. Several days later, those hopes would officially end with a 5-4 setback to Lynchburg.


That loss was the third of seven in-a-row to the Hillcats and the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. Against Myrtle, the Keys bats disappeared, with Pelicans arms posting 22 straight shutout innings to close out the set.


Concluding the first-half in Frederick, the Keys split their final four games of the half with the Hillcats. In the finale, Hays went 5-for-5 with two homers, six RBIs and four runs scored while ending a triple shy of the cycle.


Promoted to Double-A following the game, Hays finished his Keys tenure with a .328 average to go with 16 home runs, 41 RBIs and a .592 slugging percentage. The CL's leader in hits, Hays also ranked fourth in Minor League Baseball in total bases (155) at the time of his promotion. This scalding start continued in Bowie and eventually led to a Major League call-up. The first player since Dylan Bundy to appear for the Keys and Orioles in the same year, Hays made his MLB debut on September 7.


Outside of Hays, there were few changes to the Keys roster to start the second-half. The lone exception was the arrival of former Key, Glynn Davis , who was sent down from Bowie in the wake of Hays' promotion. The veteran outfielder would be a key leader during the team's playoff run while serving as a Swiss Army knife in the lineup.


Following a four-game sweep in Lynchburg to open the second-half, the orange and black rallied for three straight wins against the Blue Rocks. The highlight was 7.2 no-hit innings by Akin. Eventually broken up by Cody Jones with a bloop single to center, it marked the longest nine-inning no-hit bid since Parker Bridwell 's 8.1 frames against Potomac in May 2014.


Akin's performance capped off the best month of his season. Garnering Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Month honors, the southpaw went 3-1 with a 0.90 ERA in June, the lowest ERA by any Carolina League starter that month. He also allowed only 13 hits in 30 innings.


After a month of mostly home games, July featured lots of road travel for the Keys, with week-long stops in North Carolina and Virginia. A problem for the team all season long, the Keys kicked off their road swing on July 12 stuck in a 12-game losing streak. This grew to 14 after back-to-back setbacks to Buies Creek to start the trip-the longest road slide in franchise history.


Fortunately, the orange and black turned things around from there. Winning four of the final five road games, starting pitching played a big role in the turnaround. After Cristian Alvarado delivered eight innings of two-run baseball, the Keys got back-to-back quality starts from Brian Gonzalez and Ofelky Peralta , as well as a 10-strikeout performance from Akin.


Earning a three-game sweep of Down East, the Keys followed with four more wins against Wilmington at Nymeo Field to give Frederick its first seven-game win streak since June 2011. Now within a game of .500 in the second-half and four games behind the first-place Hillcats, the Keys would have a chance to pull within striking distance during a pivotal series at City Stadium.


The Hillcats ballpark haunted the Keys all season long. Entering the three-game set, Lynchburg had won all 8 games against Frederick in the Hill City that year. A mark that extended to nine after a loss in the opener, the Keys attempted to change up the mojo with a pre-game burning ceremony. Each player chipped in an offering ranging from playing cards, batting gloves and even a jock strap. The remains were then buried down the rightfield line.


With the evil spirits sealed away, the Keys won the next two games to put them over .500 for the first time in the second-half. That figure would dip to one below sea-level by the end of the roadtrip, but the orange and black managed to hold their own over the travel-heavy month, going 7-7.


Following the front-end of the roadtrip, Mountcastle was called up to Double-A. The Floridian's first promotion to the Eastern League, Mountcastle left with enough plate appearances to win the Carolina League batting title (becoming the first since Michael Ohlman claimed it in 2013). Mountcastle also ended the year with 48 doubles, most in the MiLB.


Transitioning back into home play, the Keys rattled off series wins against Myrtle Beach, Winston-Salem and Potomac before hitting the road for one last long roadtrip. Even though the orange and black went 3-4, Frederick and Salem were still tied for the wildcard, with Potomac and Wilmington one and 2.5 games out respectively.


Taking a three-game series with the Blue Rocks, Frederick went into its final regular season series one game behind the Red Sox in the wildcard. Although it appeared the Keys might lose ground in Potomac, scoring just six runs in five games, Keith Bodie's team squeaked out two wins. Still one game behind Salem, the Keys would have a chance to go ahead in the wildcard race with the Red Sox arriving at Nymeo field for a three-game series. All three contests came down to two runs or less but each time Frederick prevailed.


Not only were the Keys up on the Red Sox by two games in the race, but a sweep gave Frederick the tiebreaker over Salem. With a magic number of only two to clinch a playoff berth, the Keys sliced that number down to one on Friday, before a Red Sox loss on Sunday allowed Frederick to celebrate. Moreover, momentum was on the side of the orange and black heading into the playoffs with wins in six of their last seven games.


Drawing Lynchburg in the Northern Division Championship Series, the Keys would begin their playoff run at home before traveling to Lynchburg. Due to the effects of Hurricane Irma, this year's playoffs contained two twists. First, the league would crown co-champions for the first time since 1999. Second, the best-of-five series would be altered to a best-of-three format.


In game one, the Keys pulled off an improbable 10-9 walk-off win. Trailing by four runs after 7.5 innings, the orange and black also navigated around a season-high four errors, and two very tough relief pitchers. Unfortunately Frederick could not capitalize in the Hill City with setbacks in games two and three.


The Keys finished the regular season with an overall record of 68-71 and 37-33 in the second-half. Frederick led the CL in hitting (.266), hits (1199), home runs (126) and total bases (1856) while also ranking in the top three in runs (633), RBIs (571) and doubles (249). To go along with a batting title, Mountcastle led the league in slugging (.542) and extra-base hits (51). Rifaela led the loop in home runs and total bases.


At the gates, Frederick once again paced the league in average attendance and placed second in overall attendance (303, 930) despite losing seven openings on account of rain. In 29 seasons, more the 8.6 million fans have passed through the gates at the Grove.

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

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