The first half of the 2019 season has been one that the Lakeland Flying Tigers would like to forget. They started off the year with a 9-14 record through April, and barely improved in May, managing a 12-18 for the month. June has proven to be the best month so far for them, where they currently sit at 11-9. While there were struggles on the mound and at the plate, the biggest storm the team had to weather is one that all minor league ball clubs face: roster instability.
Eleven of Lakeland's opening day starters have been called up, sent down, or retired since the start of the season. Pitching phenom Casey Mize was the most obvious call-up choice, but several other players have worked their way up through the system this year. Ethan DeCaster improved mightily after being called up to Double-A Erie, and is now pitching in Triple-A Toledo. Shortstop Cole Peterson is continuing to dazzle crowds with his glove in Erie, while outfielder Luke Burch continues to swing a steady bat, hitting over .300 for the SeaWolves.
While these key contributors will be missed by Flying Tigers fans, there have been others that have stepped up in their stead. All-Stars Brady Policelli and Tarik Skubal will look to lead the team to a second half surge. The lineup consists of dual threats Policelli and Kody Clemens (2nd and 3rd in the FSL with 8 and 6 triples), speedster/defensive stud Brock Deatherage (2nd in the FSL with 22 stolen bases), and quality bats in West Michigan newbie Nick Ames and incumbent Dylan Rosa. Skubal is flanked in the starting rotation by workhorse and team wins leader, Elvin Rodriguez, and former Whitecap Garrett Hill. Hill's teammate, Angel de Jesus, and Erie send-down, Billy Lescher, have already shown they can lock down the bullpen with relievers Max Green and team saves leader, Wladimir Pinto, with all four posting sub-3 ERA's.
All in all, Lakeland has the potential to reach the postseason, but consistency will be the key. The offense leads the league in triples, is 3rd in stolen bases, and in the top half in home runs, but is in the bottom half in average and runs, and has the 3rd-most strikeouts. Though the pitching staff remains in the top half of the league in strikeouts and WHIP, it is also in the top half of home runs surrendered, and has the 2nd-worst ERA. While the team started off June winning their first 9 out of 10 games, they went on to lose the next 8 out of 10. Being this inconsistent and streaky will lead to a crash-landing in the record column. And after starting off the second half with a 2-5 road trip (9-21 on the road in the first half), the Flying Tigers have to be thrilled to be back home in the friendly confines of Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium, where they are currently 20-15 on the season.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.