2016 Gateway Grizzlies Season Recap
October 22, 2016
This piece was originally published October 19 on the Gateway Grizzlies official website. I’ve added some additional commentary that I’ve written in red.
The Gateway Grizzlies put together a productive campaign both on and off the field in 2016. Although the team fell short of a trip to the Frontier League’s postseason, manager Phil Warren has a lot to look forward to as he eyes his 11th season with the organization in 2017.
It was a season full of memorable moments and key takeaways as we turn our attention towards next summer in Sauget. Let’s recap how things went before putting the final bow on 2016.
The ultimate goal for Phil Warren and his staff is always to win a Frontier League title and you can bet that’s the mission as the Grizzlies get ready for 2017. People always ask me to give predictions for the Frontier League prior to the season starting, but that’s really impossible to do.
As always, I’m sure there will be many familiar faces and new faces in Spring Training. It’s then up to Phil and the coaching staff as to how they put the roster together by Opening Day. The mix of new players, trades, and signings into MLB organizations makes the league nearly impossible to predict year-to-year.
FANS FLOCKING TO GCS BALLPARK
The Grizzlies finished with the second highest attendance in the Frontier League during 2016. In 48 games at GCS Ballpark, the organization welcomed more than 163,000 fans to Sauget and averaged an attendance of 3,410 per night.
The annual “Greatest Night in Baseball” on September 4 brought the largest crowd of the season with 7,255 in the ballpark. It was the seventh-largest attendance in GCS Ballpark history.
I’ve said this many times…the Grizzlies are a class organization and one of the best in indy ball. The attendance numbers and support this team receives from the St. Louis community is truly special. It’s a credit to the people of that area and the organization’s effort into making the experience at GCS Ballpark so unique.
GRIZZLIES SEND TWO ARMS TO MLB ORGANIZATIONS
Gateway was thrilled to vault a pair of pitchers to major league organizations in 2016.
The Miami Marlins purchased the contract of Trevor Richards on July 3. Richards joined the Grizzlies during the 2015 season and is a native of nearby Aviston, Ill. Before getting picked up, Richards followed a stellar rookie campaign with a 3.21 ERA in eight starts during May and June. He was among the league leaders in strikeouts before leaving the Frontier League.
Richards threw 54 innings with the Marlins organization after being signed. He put together an impressive couple of months with a 2.48 ERA between the Batavia Muckdogs (Short-Season) and the Greensboro Grasshoppers (Single-A).
A couple of weeks later on July 18, the Grizzlies had the contract of Dakota Smith purchased by the Boston Red Sox. Smith was in the midst of his second season in a Gateway uniform.
Smith left the Grizzlies with a 3-1 record and a 2.25 ERA in 2016. He then was assigned to the Lowell Spinners (Short-Season), where he threw for a 1.77 ERA in 46 innings.
The Grizzlies have now had a total of 39 players signed by major league organizations. Smith was the 20th player signed since Phil Warren took over as manager in 2007.
Both these guys have enormous potential to advance in MiLB ranks. I truly believe that. Trevor is a terrific young man who has an important sense of composure on the mound while he also is a tremendously hard worker. His changeup is a big-time breaking pitch that highlights his arsenal.
Smith is a guy who throws hard and can fill so many different roles. He did it all at Gateway…starting and working in long relief…and he did a great job in every way. Here’s the thing about Dakota: he’s still new to pitching. He played mostly outfield at the University of Kansas and only started pitching full-time when he arrived at Gateway in 2015. He’s an impressive arm who should get better and better.
PITCHING SHINES ALL SUMMER
The Grizzlies pitching staff was the strongest group of the team all season. They finished with a staff ERA of 3.94 and led that pitching category for a good chunk of 2016. July was especially impressive as the Grizzlies completed the month with a season-low 3.44 ERA.
Gateway arms led the Frontier League with 765 strikeouts and a .244 batting average for opposing hitters.
Both familiar and fresh faces led Gateway’s pitching staff and contributed in different ways. Here were some highlights:
- RHP Vince Molesky led the Frontier League with a 110 strikeouts in a team-best 117 innings. Molesky also threw two complete games for the Grizzlies in 2016, including the first complete game shutout of his career during the season’s final week. Molesky finished his second year in Sauget with a 3.70 ERA.
- RHP Adam Eggnatz was one of the most impressive rookie arms in the Frontier League. After starting the year in the bullpen, Eggnatz transitioned to a starting role in June. He entered August with just a 2.98 ERA and finished the season throwing 78 innings.
- RHP Will Landsheft and LHP Corey Kimes provided a veteran presence in Gateway’s rotation all season long. Landsheft led the Grizzlies with 19 starts while Kimes made 18 starts and collected a 3.98 ERA.
- RHP Will LaMarche took over closing duties midseason and flourished in that role. LaMarche finished 2016 with just a 2.01 ERA and six saves in 29 appearances. He allowed just seven earned runs in 31 innings.
- RHP Jordan Wellander put together a remarkable season with a 2.23 ERA in 30 appearances. He struck outs 39 batters while issuing just nine walks.
- RHP Ja’Vaun West transitioned to the bullpen during his fifth year with the Grizzlies and he shined in a setup role. He made a team-high 39 appearances while striking out 73 hitters in just 60 innings. West allowed just six earned runs after the league’s all-star break.
- RHP Jon Pusateri proved to be one of the most promising young arms in the Frontier League. He was a steady presence in Gateway’s bullpen with a 3.15 ERA in 32 appearances. He struck out 58 batters.
Trevor Richards, Adam Eggnatz, and Jon Pusateri were all named to Baseball America’s top-independent league prospects list for 2016.
Gateway’s pitching staff was the team’s biggest strength in 2016…there’s no question. It’s also a staff that went through a lot of changes early in the year…with guys being forced into different roles than anticipated. At every turn, this staff answered the bell.
The young arms have so much promise. It will be a ton of fun to watch how these guys develop heading into 2017.
GRAND SLAM HEARD AROUND THE WORLD
During a game at GCS Ballpark on August 21, one of the most famous moments in franchise history transpired.
Grizzlies outfielder Brandon Thomas launched a grand slam to deep left field. But there was just one problem. The ball smashed the windshield of his own truck as it was parked beyond the outfield fence.
The story went viral. It was featured on CNN, Fox News, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, and dozens of other media outlets. Thomas even joined ESPN’s SportsCenter for a live segment just 24 hours after he hit the home run.
Check out the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Pfm65eYGH8.
The few days around this happening were crazy…and truly awesome. Watch the video, look at the articles, etc. A great dose of exposure for the Grizzlies.
A trio of Grizzlies were selected to the West Division’s All-Star team in 2016.
Tyler Tewell, Craig Massoni, and Logan Davis represented the organization as the Frontier League’s all-star festivities in Florence, Ky.
PLENTY OF POWER
The Grizzlies had a knack for hitting the long ball in 2016, as five different players reached double digits in home runs.
Craig Massoni led the team with 14 homers and also collected a team-high 52 RBI. Ben Waldrip and Sam Fischer were tied for second with a dozen homers a piece.
Tyler Tewell and Brandon Thomas also popped 11 homers each.
There’s a lot to look forward to out of many of these guys in 2017. It’s a veteran group. If you listened to the Grizzlies Radio Network last season, then you know that the Grizzlies offense only lacked consistency. The power and ability to score runs was there on plenty of nights. There’s a lot of promise and I think the offense will definitely improve.
LOOK OUT FOR THE YOUNG ONES
The Grizzlies watched a number of rookies step up in 2016 and show what they’re capable of moving forward.
Zach Lavy and Josh Bunselmeyer joined the team during the summer and took significant roles in the season’s second half. Bunselmeyer hit .256 and hit five homers with 22 RBI. Lavy hit six homers and collected 22 RBI in just 126 at-bats.
Sam Fischer battled to make the opening day roster and smashed 12 homers.
The potential for all three of these guys is sky high. Lavy was a very good player for Mizzou in the SEC and could be a star in the Frontier League. Bunselmeyer has a steady bat with plenty of pop for a middle infielder.
Fischer really should excite you as a Gateway fan. He has every raw tool that you could ask for in an outfielder. He showed flashes of tremendous power and what he can be. Sam is a former Division III college player and had a lot of learning to do at the pro level. He’s going to keep learning and getting better.