Plenty of Bright Spots Emerge in Second Straight Sub-.500 Campaign
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Brooklyn Cyclones suffered through their second straight losing season on Coney Island, missing the playoffs for a fourth consecutive summer.
And yet, there were plenty of positives that emerged from a see-saw campaign that appeared, at least on the surface, to have more pitfalls than sterling performances.
The development of several young pitchers was undeniable in 2016 as staff ace Harol Gonzalez thrust himself into serious contention for the New York-Penn League’s Pitcher of the Year award.
The All-Star right-hander from the Dominican Republic, signed by the parent-club Mets as a non-drafted free agent back in 2014, went 7-3 with a 2.01 ERA in 14 appearances, including 13 starts.
After going 2-4 with a 4.96 ERA in 13 outings at Rookie-level Kingsport a season ago, Gonzalez appeared to put it all together on Surf Avenue, including a stretch of six victories in seven starts between July 21 and Aug. 31, which almost singlehandedly kept Brooklyn afloat in the NY-Penn playoff chase.
Though he absorbed a loss in relief in Monday night’s season finale in Staten Island, yielding an uncharacteristic four runs on five hits over 3 2/3 innings in his only relief appearance of the season, Gonzalez led the team in WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) at a minuscule 1.01 clip.
“[Gonzalez] keeps hitters off-balance all game,” Brooklyn pitching coach Billy Bryk Jr. told MiLB.com earlier this summer. “He's one of those pitchers that reads the batter pitch for pitch. Harol calls his own game and he sees what the hitters are trying to throw at him.
“He knows what pitch he's going to throw before the catcher does. He's a master of pitching out there and I love watching him throw."
That mound mastery hadn’t been evident on Coney Island since the summer of 2012, the last playoff campaign for the Baby Bums, when another Dominican righty, Hansel Robles, guided Brooklyn to the brink of a league title by going 6-1 with a 1.11 ERA in 12 starts, not including a one-hit gem tossed in his lone postseason start.
Robles, who is currently a key part of the Mets’ bullpen, struck out 66 batters and walked 10 in 72 2/3 innings that year, while Gonzalez finished 2016 with 88 Ks and 17 walks in 85 frames.
The hurler Gonzalez relieved in Monday’s 5-3 loss in Staten Island was Justin Dunn, the Mets’ first-round pick out of Boston College in this past June’s MLB Draft.
Dunn gave up a run on three hits over three innings in his final turn of the campaign, finishing up his debut pro season with a 1-1 mark and 1.50 ERA, fanning 35 batters in his 30 innings of work.
Though he was on a strict pitch/innings limit throughout his stay in Brooklyn, Dunn showed tremendous poise and a solid mound presence throughout his 11 appearances, including eight starts.
"The kid, I can list him as being the third man in a rotation for any team in the big leagues or even a back-end guy," Bryk Jr. told MiLB.
"I'm not saying now, but in the future that's what I would list him as on a scouting report. He's got three or four pitches he can throw for strikes and get guys out with. … He's got electric stuff."
That electricity was seriously lacking in the Brooklyn lineup this season as the club finished dead last on the 14-team circuit with a cumulative .216 batting average.
However, budding sluggers like Peter Alonso, who hit .321 with five homers and 21 RBIs in only 30 games before being shelved due to injury just prior to the All-Star break, and center field prospect Desmond Lindsay (.297, 4 homers, 17 RBIs in 32 games) showed they had some thwack in their bats.
“He has Mike Napoli out-of-the-stadium-type power,” third-year Cyclones manager Tom Gamboa said of his All-Star first baseman. “He’s a potential impact bat for the Mets … In the big leagues, if you get down early, you need to have somebody that can hit a three-run homer to get your team back in the game. Certainly, Alonso provides that.”
Shortstop prospect Colby Woodmansee, the Mets’ fifth-round pick out of Arizona State earlier this year, put together two solid months, both at the plate and in the field, before wearing down in August.
Woodmansee, who also appeared in the NY-Penn All-Star Game this summer, finished with a .257 average, two homers and a team-best 29 RBIs in 64 games. But Gamboa readily admitted that the lanky 22-year-old was beaten down by season’s end after playing a full collegiate slate with the Sun Devils.
As for the rest of his slumbering offense, Gamboa admitted that the numbers didn’t seem to add up for the latest crew of Baby Bums.
“I know that the talent level here is definitely better than a year ago,” he noted. “But it’s not reflected in the way the team has hit.”
This, That and the Other Thing: Gamboa showed he wasn’t taking a second straight losing campaign lightly by getting himself tossed from Monday’s finale after a questionable call at first base by home plate umpire Jhonathan Biaretta on an apparent infield single by Blake Tibieri. After originally calling Tibieri safe on a missed tag by Staten Island starter Jonathan Padilla, Biaretta reversed his call, sending Gamboa on a rampage that included firing bats and helmets onto the field from the dugout … The NY-Penn playoffs will begin Wednesday night with Staten Island taking on State College in one semifinal and Hudson Valley meeting Lowell in the other. … Just because the Cyclones are done playing at MCU Park until next June doesn’t mean the end of baseball at Coney Island in 2016. The stadium by the sea will host this year’s World Baseball Classic qualifiers later this month, with the action kicking off on Sept. 22, when teams from Brazil, Great Britain, Pakistan and Israel hit the beachside facility.