2019 was a season of change for the San Antonio Missions Baseball Club as they ventured into the uncharted waters of Triple-A Baseball as an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. The Missions had a historic season in their inaugural year in the Pacific Coast League.
The Missions finished the season 80-60, good for second place in the American Southern Division and was tied for the third best record in the PCL. San Antonio spent 95 days in first place in the division standings and 46 in second place.
337,484 fans flocked to Nelson Wolff Municipal Stadium to see Triple-A baseball for the first time in San Antonio. It was the highest single-season attendance for the Missions since 1998. The Missions averaged 4,891 fans per game, which when up against a stadium capacity of 6,200 was the fourth highest percentage in the Pacific Coast League. Wolff Stadium hosted nine sellouts in 2019 including a season-high of 7,919 on April 14.
Home field advantage was in full effect at Wolff Stadium this season. The majority of the success on the season came in front of the raucous crowds at The Wolff where the Missions went 49-21. The 49 home wins were tied with Advanced-A Visalia for the most in MiLB and were the second most for a San Antonio ball club since at least 1988 behind only the 2011 team that set a franchise record with 55 home victories. Of the 49 home wins, 10 came via the walk off. Mauricio Dubon collected walk off singles in each of the first two home games in San Antonio's Triple-A era to secure 6-5 victories over the Memphis Redbirds
One of the biggest changes when moving from Double-A to Triple-A is the number of transactions. San Antonio made 258 roster moves throughout the 2019 season and a total of 62 different players donned a Missions uniform in 2019 including 39 pitchers and 23 position players. 22 different pitchers started at least one game for the Missions. 35 of the 62 Missions players appeared in Major League Baseball at some point during the 2019 season and four made their MLB debuts straight from San Antonio. Keston Hiura, Trent Grisham, Mauricio Dubon, Devin Williams, and Tyrone Taylor all saw their big league dreams come true this season as they all received the call to The Show for the first time in their careers.
Hiura showed why he was considered the top prospect in Milwaukee's organization according to multiple publications. In just 57 games the second baseman slugged a team-high 19 home runs while batting .329 (70-for-213) with 44 runs, 16 doubles, and 46 RBI.
Dubon was a mainstay at the top of the lineup for manager Rick Sweet for the majority of the season until a trade deadline deal sent him to the San Francisco Giants. In 98 games with the Missions Dubon hit .297 (120-for-404) with 59 runs, 22 doubles, 16 home runs, and 47 RBI.
Grisham joined the Missions on June 20 and made an immediate impact as he homered in each of his first three games with the ball club and never stopped until forcing his way into the Milwaukee Brewers' lineup. The 22-year-old had himself a sensational July en route to being named Brewers Minor League Player of the Month for the third consecutive month and a big league call-up. He finished among the July PCL leaders in runs (29, T-1st), average (.412, 2nd), on-base percentage (.500, 2nd), hits (40, T-2nd), total bases (79, 3rd), on-base percentage (1.314, 3rd), OPS (1.314, 3rd), triples (3, T-3rd), slugging (.814, 4th), stolen bases (5, T-4th), extra-base hits (18, 6th), home runs (9, T-6th), and walks (17, T-6th). He was among the MiLB leaders in runs (T-2nd), OPS (3rd), total bases (4th), slugging (4th), hits (T-4th), average (5th), and on-base percentage (T-7th) in July. Grisham put a bow on his time in the Alamo City with a historic performance in his final game with the Missions. Following the MiLB season he was named to MLB.com's Propsect Team of the Year.
On July 30 Grisham hit for the cycle against the Sacramento River Cats as he went 5-for-5 with 2 home runs, 3 runs, and 3 RBI. Grisham's 14 total bases were the second most in a single-game in franchise history behind only Buck Stanton who had 15 total bases against Dallas on May 5, 1934. It was the seventh cycle by a Missions player since 1994 and first since Daniel Robertson accomplished the feat on May 2, 2011 against Double-A Midland. It was one of 23 cycles hit in Minor League Baseball in 2019, one of nine hit in Triple-A, and one of five hit in the Pacific Coast League.
Pitcher Devin Williams began the season with Double-A Biloxi before being transferred to San Antonio on July 26. He needed just three scoreless appearances with the Missions to convince Brewers officials he was worthy of a big league call up. In 3 2/3 innings pitched for the Missions Williams fanned six batters.
Taylor was recalled by Milwaukee on September 7, after the conclusion of San Antonio's season. Despite being limited by injuries, Taylor appeared in 92 games for San Antonio and hit .269 with 20 doubles, 14 home runs, and 59 RBI. Taylor got San Antonio's inaugural season off to a buzzing start as he collected the team's first Triple-A hit, run, home run, and RBI with one swing off Los Angeles Dodgers ace, Clayton Kershaw, on Opening Day at Oklahoma City on April 4.
Seven Milwaukee Brewers players (Chase Anderson, Corbin Burnes, Gio Gonzalez, Jeremy Jeffress, Jimmy Nelson, Travis Shaw, and Brent Suter) made Major League rehab appearances for the Missions. Just three players (Lucas Erceg, Jake Hager, and Nate Orf) spent the entire season on San Antonio's active roster.
There were 11 different players ranked among Milwaukee's top 30 prospects by MLB Pipeline at some point throughout the 2019 season who suited up for the Missions. Those include Zack Brown, Dubon, Lucas Erceg, Hiura, Corey Ray, Grisham, Adrian Houser, Jacob Nottingham, Troy Stokes Jr., Trey Supak, Taylor, and Devin Williams.
David Freitas and Jay Jackson represented San Antonio in the Triple-A All-Star Game while Hiura and Tyler Saladino were selected but were recalled by Milwaukee prior to the game. Freitas was also named a PCL postseason All-Star and won the PCL batting title as he hit .381 in 91 games (85 with San Antonio and six with Tacoma). Freitas became the first catcher to win the Pacific Coast League batting title since Jesse Gonder paced the circuit with a .342 average in 1962 for the San Diego Padres. The only other catcher to win the PCL batting championship was
Portland's Gus Fisher in 1914 when he hit .355. He was the first Missions player to win the league batting title since Chase Headley claimed the Texas League title in 2007. Freitas became the 11th player in franchise history to lead the league in batting average. His .381 average was the highest by a Missions player since Danny Clark hit .399 for San Antonio in 1925, which led the Texas League.
Saladino spent three stints with the Missions and was one of the ball club's most productive hitters. Saladino played in just 79 games for San Antonio but finished second on the team in home runs (17) and RBI (61). One of Saladino's signature moments of the season came on April 12 against the Nashville Sounds. The San Diego, California native collected the team's lone inside-the-park home run of the season in the seventh inning.
Two players garnered weekly awards from the PCL. Starting pitcher Aaron Wilkerson was named PCL Pitcher of the Week for May 13-19 as he made two starts and allowed just one earned run on six hits in 10 1/3 innings while striking out nine batters. Tyrone Taylor claimed the PCL Player of the Week honor from August 19-25 as he hit .560 (14-for-25) with three home runs and 13 RBI.
Triple-A made the switch to using the same ball as the big leaguers and the number of homers hit across Triple-A skyrocketed. The Missions belted 195 dingers on the year to set a new franchise record. The previous mark was 171 home runs set back in 1925. Four of the Missions top five monthly home run totals since 2005 came in 2019 led by the 44 they swatted in July. Hiura played in just 57 games for the Missions but paced the team with 19 long balls. 21 different players went deep for San Antonio including pitchers Adrian Houser and Burch Smith. San Antonio's slugging percentage of .457 was the highest it's been since at 1977.
The new baseballs had an effect on the pitching staff as well. Missions pitchers posted a 4.15 ERA, which was the team's highest since a 4.53 ERA in 2003. However, the 4.15 ERA was the lowest in all of Triple-A. The bullpen was spectacular for the Missions all season long as they boasted a 3.41 ERA, which was the lowest in Triple-A by a wide margin. The next closest team was Gwinnett, which sported a bullpen ERA of 4.08. San Antonio's bullpen walked just 3.29 batters per nine innings (211 walks in 578 innings), which was the lowest ratio in the PCL.
Strikeouts were a huge part of the season for the Missions as they set new pitching and hitting single-season franchise records. The Missions pitching staff tallied 1,276 strikeouts this season to surpass the previous mark of 1,186 set in 2017. The 1,276 punch outs were the second most in the PCL behind only Oklahoma City. Offensively the Missions were fanned 1,261 times, which set a new franchise record.
San Antonio's Thomas Jankins was one of the most consistent starting pitchers in the Pacific Coast League. He was among the league leaders in ground ball rate (2.07, 2nd), winning percentage (.670, T-4th), ERA (4.38, 5th), wins (10, T-5th), and WHIP (1.37, 7th). The right-hander led all PCL pitchers with 17 putouts and had the highest caught stealing percentage among qualified pitchers. Only 4 base runners attempted to steal a base on him and three were caught in the act. Jankins had a historic June as he became just the second Missions pitcher (Mike Ekstrom) since 2005 to record five wins in a single month. He went 5-0 with a 3.12 ERA in six starts.
Burch Smith and Wilkerson each came out of the gates on fire on the mound. In four starts in April Smith went 3-0 with a 0.42 ERA (1 ER/21.1 IP) with 23 strikeouts and only 9 walks. Wilkerson meanwhile bounced back and forth between Milwaukee and San Antonio but over his first eight starts with San Antonio he was dominant. The right-hander went 5-0 with a 0.40 ERA (2 ER/44.2 IP) with 45 strikeouts and 14 walks while boasting a 0.78 WHIP and limiting opposing hitters to a .139 batting average in those eight starts.
San Antonio also set a new franchise record as they were hit by 78 pitches during the 2019 campaign surpassing the previous record of 75, which was set in 2018. Nate Orf led the PCL as he was plunked 22 times, which are the second most by a Missions player in franchise history behind only Ty France who was hit 25 times in 2018.
The Missions scored 775 runs, which were the most since 2011. The top three scoring months since 2005 came in 2019 highlighted by 172 runs scored in June. Orf paced the ball club with 85 runs scored while Cory Spangenberg was second with 82.
Spangenberg moved into the franchise's top ten all-time list in batting average with his performance in 2019. The utility man has spent parts of four seasons (2013-15, 2019) in the Alamo City and has a career batting average of .306 (312-for-1,018), which is good for seventh in franchise history.
Spangenberg struggled out of the gates for the Missions but came on strong in late May and was a key cog in San Antonio's lineup throughout the season. He played at least two games at every position on the field except catcher and pitcher. From the time Spangenberg was sent outright to San Antonio on May 18 until August 23 when he was selected by Milwaukee he was one of the PCL's top hitters. In that span he played in 81 games and was among the PCL leaders in stolen bases (23, 1st), hits (109, T-2nd), average (.341, 4th), total bases (178, 7th), triples (5, T-7th), runs (64, T-10th), doubles (23, 11th), on-base percentage (.402, 13th), and extra-base hits (40, T-14th). On the season Spangenberg led the Missions in hits (131), doubles (28), triples (5), and stolen bases (28). His 28 stolen bases were good for third in the Pacific Coast League.
Erceg, Hager, and Orf were the only players to spend all of 2019 on San Antonio's active roster. Orf was the team-leader in games played (125) and runs scored (85) to go along with a .272 average (110-for-405), 21 doubles, a career-high 11 home runs, and 54 RBI. In his first year at the Triple-A level, Erceg belted 15 home runs to match a career-high while also driving in 52 runs. The third baseman prospect recorded his first career multi-home run game in San Antonio's home opener on April 9 with a pair of long balls against the Nashville Sounds. Hager was one of the team's most clutch hitters in 2019. The utility man came through with two walk-off hits throughout the season and was 6-for-11 as a pinch hitter with a triple, a home run, and 4 RBI. On Opening Day at Oklahoma City, he came on as a pinch hitter in the top of the ninth
inning with the score level at three runs apiece and delivered a two-run triple to give San Antonio the 5-3 victory. Hager's pinch-hit home run also came against the Oklahoma City Dodgers on April 25 at Wolff Stadium in game one of a double header. Hager saw time at every infield position as well as left field.
San Antonio played its best stretch of baseball from July 11-18 when the Missions completed an eight-game homestand sweep of the Omaha Storm Chasers and Nashville Sounds. During the eight games the Missions scored 65 runs on 97 hits.
One team the Missions had their way with were the Memphis Redbirds. The Missions won 13 of the 16 games they played against the Redbirds including each of the final 11 meetings. San Antonio completed a five-game sweep of Memphis at Wolff Stadium from May 16-20 and then a six-game sweep at AutoZone Park from May 25-29.
June 25 was a historic night as Missions manager Rick Sweet became just the 12th manager in minor league baseball history to reach 2,000 wins. The Missions trounced the Round Rock Express 10-2 on the night to give Sweet the milestone victory. For his career Sweet now sits at 2,031 wins and 1,922 losses in 30 seasons as a manager. His 2,031 wins puts him 11th in all-time victories among MiLB managers.
Despite coming up just short of a berth in the PCL Playoffs, 2019 was a successful season and one that won't soon be forgotten by Missions fans. A big thank you goes out to all the fans who came to The Wolff this season to cheer on the Missions. 2020 Is right around the corner and there are a lot of bright spots to look forward to next season!
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.