By Steve Ruman
The Mahoning Valley Scrappers began their season with a 5-4 home loss to West Virginia.
On Monday, the Scrappers closed the season at Morgantown, W. Va., with a resounding 17-1 win over the Black Bears.
It was indeed an unpredictable campaign for the Scrappers, who experienced an historically bad start, followed by a month-long stretch in which they were the hottest team in the New York-Penn League. It all added up to a 37-38 finish for the Scrappers, their best showing since 2011.
The Scrappers opened the season by losing 17 of their first 22 games. In early July, they were on pace to finish with the worst season record in NYPL history. However, the Scrappers rebounded to win 22 of their next 32 games. Through late August, they were one of the hottest teams in the league.
“From the developmental side, it was a very good season,” Scrappers first-year manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “You always want to win more, but I think we had a pretty good combination of winning and development.
“For the past month and a half, we were one of the best, if not the best team in the league. We had a lot of things come together after the first three weeks.”
Through their first 22 games, the Scrappers owned a .196 team batting average. However, the roster received a boost in mid-July with the addition of several new draft picks. The production at the plate picked up as the summer wore on.
“Most of these guys, it was their first year in professional baseball and it would have been very easy for them to get down on themselves after a rough start,” Scrappers hitting coach Justin Toole said. “Instead, they dug in and the overall improvement throughout the summer was very noticeable. I’m super proud of the way this group hung in there and continued to grow as professional players.”
Outfielder Andrew Calica batted .388 with two home runs and 27 RBI. He appeared in 40 games before being moved up to Lake County. Fellow outfielders Gabriel Mejia (.322, 28 stolen bases) and Todd Isaacs (.333, 6 homers) also put up strong offensive numbers.
Infielder Erlin Cerda led the team with 35 runs batted in.
“It’s funny, early in the season I was asked how we could possibly expect production from our outfielders because they were so small,” Toole said. “It turned out all three were all-stars.
“Across the board, I think we saw improvement from our entire everyday lineup.”
While the offense took awhile to find its groove, the Scrappers pitching staff — and the starters in particular — were solid throughout the summer.
Triston McKenzie (4-3, 0.55 earned-run average) owned the best ERA in the NYPL until being moved to Lake County in mid-August.
Shane Bieber (eight starts, 0.38 ERA), Aaron Civale (13 starts, 1.67 ERA) and Micah Minard (seven starts, 2.38 ERA) all earned high praise from Scrappers pitching coach Mark Allen.
“For the majority of this staff, maturity has been the key to success,” Allen said. “Dealing with some of the in-game situations, throwing secondary pitches, working through hitters counts. It’s all a part of the maturation process, and they handled it well.
“This was a very steady group. It showed up in their daily work, in their routines, and the way they went about their work on a daily basis. There is a lot of promise with this group. It will be fun to watch them progress.”
The Scrappers accumulated a 20-17 home record. It marked the first time in five years they finished with a winning mark at Eastwood Field.
Despite the success, they drew a franchise-low 92,117 — an average of 2,632 fans per home game. The previous lows were 109,545 (season attendance, 2014) and 3,001 (season average, 2011).
The Scrappers will return to Eastwood Field in June 2017 to mark their 19th season in the Mahoning Valley.