After winning their first New York-Penn League championship since 1999 in 2012, the Hudson Valley Renegades slipped to just 38-37 in 2013. However, the Tampa Bay Rays’ Short Season-A affiliate rebounded in 2014 to win the McNamara Division once again and cap another impressive season.
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Shades of 2012
In that championship season, Richie Shaffer led the way with a big regular season and more clutch hits in the playoffs. This year, yet another first round corner infielder joined Hudson Valley in Casey Gillaspie. Overall, he hit to a .262/.364/.411 line with 16 doubles, 7 homers, and 42 RBI, not as impressive as Shaffer’s .308/.406/.487 mark. One big difference, though, was how much better Gillaspie’s plate discipline was. His strikeout to walk ratio of 69-42 stood out much more than Shaffer’s 31-16 mark that year, and we know that plate discipline and pitch recognition have been Shaffer’s flaws moving up the ranks. Gillaspie’s power may be more of a question than Shaffer’s, but his approach at the plate gives him a higher floor and a better chance of turning into an impact major leaguer
Best Offensive Performers
Hunter Lockwood has the best raw power in the system, and low-minors pitchers continue to pay because of it. He hit to a .266/.313/.494 line for the Renegades with 13 doubles, 13 homers, and 46 RBI. Unfortunately for Lockwood, a comparison to Shaffer makes more sense for him than for Gillaspie because he has power, but his plate approach needs to be reformed entirely. He struck out 98 times versus 15 times for Hudson Valley, and he has adjustments to make it he wants to continue tapping into his strength at the plate.
Grant Kay lit the world on fire to begin his pro career, hitting an even .400 in his first 103 plate appearances, and even a late-season slump left him with impressive numbers. He hit to a .314/.376/.491 line with 14 doubles, 2 homers, and 20 RBI while playing third base, second base, and left field. Kay looked like a sleeper from the moment he was drafted after a knee injury caused him to slip in the draft, and while he has plenty more to prove, he has put himself down as a player to watch.
Coty Blanchard was an interesting selection as a 15th rounder in 2013 as an ex-football player who could make significant strides when shifting to baseball full-time. Blanchard started tapping into his potential this season, hitting to a .298/.364/.423 line with 15 doubles, 2 homers, and 22 stolen bases. Things are also getting interesting for him defensively as the Rays played him at shortstop and centerfield (plus third base and left field) after he played exclusively second base in his pro debut. Blanchard will turn 23 in July, but we can’t completely disregard a player with his athleticism.
I would have a “best pitchers” category, but the rotation might as well just share the award. Of the five Renegades pitchers who made at least 10 starts, none posted an ERA above 3.66 or a strikeout to walk ratio below 2.93-to-1. That is awfully impressive.
Chris Pike, a 9th round senior sign in the 2014 MLB Draft, finished with the best ERA of the group at 2.72. Overall, he went 4-1 with a 41-15 strikeout to walk ratio in 53 innings pitched, quite a respectable showing. We’ll see what he becomes once he pitches in full-season ball.
More of a question mark entering the year was Nolan Gannon, who has been projection and little else for most of his professional career. This year was a step in the right direction as he went 6-2 with a 2.84 ERA and a 47-9 strikeout to walk ratio in 57 innings pitched. We still should not expect too much yet, though, because his fastball command and his secondary pitches still need plenty of work. His big breakthrough was throwing his fastball for strikes more consistently (albeit often up in the zone), and while that is nice, we need to see him continue to improve.
While Pike played well, the player who was drafted one round ahead of him, Daniel Miles, didn’t do anything for Hudson Valley. He hit to just a .219/.309/.313 line before being released. Yes, he was a another senior sign, but the Rays certainly wanted to see more than that.
Jace Conrad looked like a sleeper when the Rays drafted him in the 13th round, but he showed that his plate approach needed plenty of work when he took the field for the Renegades. He did hit .265, steal 19 bases in 24 tries, and play strong defense at second base, but he managed just a .297 OBP and a .365 SLG. Conrad has enough tools to be interesting, but none of it will matter if he doesn’t hit.
Jose Alonzo pitched very well for the Princeton Rays to get promoted to Hudson Valley, but then he had the worst outing by any Renegades starter in 2014 in his team debut, allowing 8 runs in 0.2 innings pitched. Overall, he finished with a disappointing 4.94 ERA in his 7 starts with the team, but he did look much better after that first game. If you take away his first start and his last start, he had a 2.05 ERA and a 22-6 strikeout to walk ratio in 26.1 innings pitched.
One More Sleeper
In the interest of ending the piece on a positive note, let’s discuss Gerardo Reyes. The 21 year old’s 4.09 ERA does not particularly stand out, but you have to like his 10.6 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9. He even has the stuff to match, touching touching 97 MPH with his fastball to go along with a promising slider. Especially since Reyes is a slender pitcher at 5’11”, 160, expect the Rays to keep him in relief, where he has a chance to start moving quickly towards the major leagues.
Overall, the Hudson Valley Renegades had quite a successful season, both in terms of their on-field performance and the development of their prospects. Casey Gillaspie represents a true top prospect from this group while others like Nolan Gannon and Hunter Lockwood have a chance to join him eventually. It was going to be next to impossible for this team to match the prestige of the 2012 squad, which featured Shaffer, Taylor Guerrieri, and Jesse Hahn, but in a few years, it will be exciting to see where these players end up.