Oh, what a season. The 2021 Minor League season was anything but ordinary in Eugene, but it was undoubtedly one to remember. Look back on all of the major moments on the diamond from a year that ended with another league title.
HIGH-A WEST CHAMPIONS:
Let’s start with the obvious: THE EMS ARE CHAMPS. Eugene claimed their third league title in five seasons after defeating the Spokane Indians (Colorado Rockies) four-games-to-one in the High-A West Championship Series to be crowned as the first-ever High-A West champions.
The series started with a bang – an eight-run first inning in Game One to be specific. After a blowout win in Game One was followed by a shutout win in Game Two, the Emeralds dropped Game Three only to then bounce right back in Game Four, putting together one of the team’s most well-rounded performances of the season in what was a 5-0 victory to win the High-A title.
Winning the 2021 High-A West Championship continued a recent run of excellence in Eugene with the Ems having previously won the Northwest League crown in both 2016 and 2018.
Coincidentally, the team below the Emeralds in the San Francisco Giants minor league system – the San Jose Giants – also won a league title this year, sweeping the Fresno Grizzlies (Colorado Rockies) in the Low-A West Championship Series.
SEASON STARTS WITH CHANGE:
But well before the Emeralds would hoist the High-A West Championship trophy, the 2021 season started with changes across the board.
For starters, the 2021 season marked a move up the Minor League Baseball ladder for the Emeralds, transitioning from Short-Season (76 games) Single-A ball to long-season (120 games) High-A Ball.
The move up was also accompanied with a brand-new Major League affiliate: the San Francisco Giants. The 2021 season marked the first time the Emeralds had served as a San Francisco affiliate since 1959-62.
The Emeralds saw a steady stream of players promoted up the San Francisco Giants minor league ladder all season long, starting in the very first month of the season. From the season’s first promotion, RHP Jose Marte, to its final promotion, C Ricardo Genovés, the Emeralds saw ten significant player promotions during 2021:
- RHP Jose Marte (Double-A Richmond): May 24 (Traded to Los Angeles Angels at Trade Deadline as part of package for LHP Tony Watson. Marte made his Major League debut with the Angels on August 20, firing 2.0 scoreless innings with four strikeouts against Houston.)
- RHP Caleb Kilian (Double-A Richmond): May 25 (Traded to Chicago Cubs at Trade Deadline as part of package for 3B Kris Bryant.)
- INF Simon Whiteman (Double-A Richmond): June 14
- RHP RJ Dabovich (Double-A Richmond): June 14
- C Brandon Martorano (Double-A Richmond): July 1
- OF Diego Rincones (Double-A Richmond): July 6
- SS Will Wilson (Double-A Richmond): July 6
- RHP Ryan Walker (Double-A Richmond): August 5
- OF Heath Quinn (Double-A Richmond): August 17
- C Ricardo Genovés (Triple-A Sacramento): September 23
Emeralds players weren’t just called up the Minor League ladder, though. Three different Ems – RHP Jasier Herrera, OF Ismael Munguia, and OF Diego Rincones – also answered calls from their respective national teams during the 2021 season to participate in Olympic Qualifying.
RHP Jasier Herrera – Columbia: Herrera was called up to join the Columbian National Team as part of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament held in Florida. Herrera made one appearance during the tournament, firing 2.0 scoreless innings against Venezuela:
OF Ismael Munguia – Nicaragua: The do-it-all center fielder was called up to the Nicaraguan National Team on May 29 to participate in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Florida. Munguia went on to lead the team in batting average (.500).
OF Diego Rincones – Venezuela: The barrel-chested slugger got the call from his national team on two separate occasions this season – once to participate in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Florida, and another to participate in the Final Qualifier held in Mexico.
WEEKLY (AND MONTHLY) HONORS:
As a whole, eight different Emeralds earned High-A West Pitcher of the Week or Player of the Week honors this season:
Eugene’s nine total weekly honors won this season is the most in the High-A West (next closest: Tri-City | 8).
As an organization, the San Francisco Giants led all MLB teams in terms of weekly awards garnered by their minor league affiliates:
- San Francisco: 32
- New York Yankees: 28
- Seattle Mariners: 25
Additionally, RHP Caleb Kilian and RHP Ryan Murphy each won High-A West Pitcher of the Month once this season. Kilian won the honor for the month of May while Murphy was named the league’s best arm for the month of August.
NUMBERS BEHIND THE SUCCESS:
The Emeralds were clutch all season long. CLUTCH. When it came to hitting in late/close* situations (see definition below), the Emeralds’ High-A ranks were as follows:
- Batting Average: .275 (1st)
- On-Base Percentage: .393 (2nd)
- Slugging: .497 (1st)
- OPS: .890 (1st)
*Late/close definition per MLB.com: Late-inning pressure situations are defined as any at-bat in the seventh inning or later where the batter’s team trails by three runs or fewer, is tied or is ahead by only one run. Also counts if the bases are loaded and the batting team trails by four runs.
In addition to those late-inning hitting numbers, the Emeralds bullpen went 45-9 with a 3.68 ERA (1st in High-A) and 695 strikeouts (2nd in High-A).
Eugene was the only team in Minor League baseball to have its bullpen post single-digit losses (next closest: Portland Sea Dogs | 13).
Altogether, those numbers are a big reason why Eugene went 22-11 in one-run games this season.
As a staff, Eugene’s pitchers were one of the best in all of Minor League Baseball in terms of strikeouts. The Emeralds’ 1,311 strikeouts were the third-most amassed by any MiLB team this season, trailing only the Greenville Drive (1,315) and the San Jose Giants (1,439).
FITZGERALD HITS FOR CYCLE… IN FIVE INNINGS:
Versatile Emeralds infielder Tyler Fitzgerald needed just five innings on August 6 to hit for the cycle. Yes, five innings. Fitzgerald accomplished the feat in what was a 5-for-6 night at the plate that included 6 RBIs as the Emeralds went on to rout the Tri-City Dust Devils via a 20-2 drubbing.
WALK-OFFS AND WIN STREAKS
PK Park saw four walk-off winners this season: May 27 vs. Spokane, July 22 vs. Hillsboro, July 25 vs. Hillsboro, and August 20 vs. Everett.
Eugene also saw multiple extended win streaks this season, including an eight-game win streak in June and a ten-game win streak over rival Hillsboro.
- Ismael Munguia - CF: A candidate for for league MVP honors, Munguia led the High-A West in batting average (.336) while ranking 3rd in hits (112), 2nd in slugging (.502) and 3rd in OPS (.868). The Nicaraguan finished the season batting .485 (49-for-101) over his last 23 games played, tallying hits in 22 of those 23 contests and multiple hits in 18.
- Tyler Fitzgerald - INF: The steadiest force on the team all season long, Fitzgerald saw solid time at three different positions - second base, third base, and shortstop - while leading the team in games played (103), at-bats (432), total bases (189), doubles (28), and homers (19 | tied with Sean Roby). His 49 extra-base hits and 189 total bases each led the league.
- Chris Wright - LHP: The High-A West league leader in saves was dominant from the moment he arrived in Eugene from Low-A San Jose. The southpaw finished the regular season going 17-for-18 in save opportunities, a 0.97 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 37.0 innings. Wright went 1-for-1 in save opportunities in the High-A West Championship Series and was on the mound for the final out when the Emeralds won the league title in Game Four.
- Caleb Kilian - RHP: Though he only made four starts with the Ems before being the team's second promotion to Double-A Richmond, Kilian was masterful in all four of them, going 3-0 with a 1.25 ERA, 32 strikeouts and just one walk in 21.2 innings. Kilian's most dominant outing as an Emerald was his last one on May 22 in which he carried a perfect game through 6.2 innings. The right-hander won High-A West Pitcher of the Week twice and was also named the May High-A West Pitcher of the Month.
- Sean Roby - 3B: At the end of July, Roby was batting just 1.88 with a .248 on-base percentage and a .390 slugging percentage. Over the ensuing 39 games to finish the regular season, Roby batted .320 with 11 doubles, 10 HRs, a .389 on-base percentage, a slugging percentage of .607, and an OPS of .996. This .320 average since the start of August ranked 3rd in the league while his .996 OPS ranked 9th in all of High-A.
- Travis Perry - RHP: Despite making just two starts over 29 appearances, Perry finished the season tied for the most wins in the league (10) while serving as one of the workhorses in an Emeralds bullpen that was one of the best in the minors. The right-hander posted a 2.88 ERA with 71 strikeouts over 59.1 innings of work
- Brett Auerbach - UTL: Through he played in just 53 games as an Emerald, Auerbach certainly made his mark. He finished the season with 15 homers as an Emerald - 3rd on the team and 7th in the league - while playing all around the diamond defensively. Eugene's Swiss Army Knife saw time at catcher, second base, third base, shortstop, left field, center field, and right field.
- Ryan Murphy - RHP: Like Auerbach, Murphy spent the majority of his 2021 season with Low-A San Jose, but the right-hander was phenomenal in six starts as an Emerald. Murphy went 2-2 with a 1.44 ERA, 44 strikeouts and just 8 walks over 31.1 innings pitched. If not for a late-season injury that forced him to miss 2-3 weeks of time, Murphy likely would have finished the regular season as the Minor League strikeout leader. Instead, Murphy finished 3rd in the minors behind only Cade Cavalli (WSH | 174) and his former San Jose teammate Carson Ragsdale (SF | 167). Murphy started Game four of the High-A West Championship Series for Eugene going 5.0 scoreless innings with two hits, two walks and seven strikeouts.
While the 2021 season was one that finished as every organization hopes it will - with some hardware - it certainly wasn't a season without it's own unique challenges and obstacles. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic prevented PK Park from being full-capacity for a majority of the season, and PK Park itself wasn't even able to serve as the home of the Emeralds for the High-A West Championship Series, a championship that would have been won here in Eugene if not for the team's annual lease running out on September 10 (CLICK HERE to learn why).
That's why the Emeralds need your help to find our new home. Please visit SaveOurEms.com to learn more.
Tickets to Emeralds home games are available at www.EmeraldsBaseball.com or by calling (541) 342-5367.
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