Minor League Season Recap: High Desert Mavericks
The California League is known for high-octane offenses, and the High Desert Mavericks, playing nearly three thousand feet above sea level in Adelanto, California, epitomize that trend almost every year. While they led the league in runs scored in 2014, the pitching staff could not overcome the adverse environment and the team failed to break .500 in either half in their last year as a member of the Mariners’ organization.
Only once in the Mavs’ first nine games was the winning score under five, though they found themselves on the winning end of seven of those contests, helped by a blistering 15-hit start from Gabriel Guerrero. In a 70-game First Half, that stretch can allow a team to cruise to a division title.
But streakiness throughout the rest of April, where double digit run totals were often scored and conceded, and High Desert gave ground with an 8-10 finish to the month. Still, 15-12 was certainly adequate for the first forty percent of the First Half, and if the club could avoid long streaks of ineptitude, the playoffs were by no means out of reach.
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May was nothing but mediocre, as an opening three-game winning streak was followed by two and half weeks of .500 baseball. A 2-5 road trip to Lake Elsinore and Bakersfield yielded more games in the standings to emerging contender Lancaster, and as the second month drew to a close it became clear that 35-40 wins would mean nothing: the Mavericks needed the second coming of the first week to climb back in the First Half hunt.
The season really fell apart in June, however, and it was another extended road trip that did the team in. Six losses in seven at middling clubs San Jose and Stockton were bookended by home losses, which turned a First Half for which optimism was appropriate into a sub-.500 disappointment.
The last four meaningless games at home against Lake Elsinore were split, leaving 34-36 High Desert in third place but a full 10.0 games behind First Half champion Lancaster.
The Second Half began on the road, but despite going 12-23 away from Heritage Field, the Mavericks took three of four against a dismal Modesto squad. Things were once again looking up for the club, but news that for the Mariners as an organization was seen as hopeful took the steam out of the new opportunity for the Mavs.
D.J. Peterson, the M’s first-round pick in 2013 who hit .326/.381/.615 with 18 HR and 73 RBI in just 65 appearances, was called up to AA Jackson, leaving a void in the lineup that Guerrero by himself could not fill. The team’s offensive output declined along with their record, and by mid-July the Mavericks were 11-13, many of those losses now coming at home.
Road struggles in the First Half turned into home woes in July…
Through the entire month of July, Heritage Field became an demon that the team could not exorcise. They won just three of fourteen home games, and even an improved road record could not keep the team afloat.
However, the rest of the South Division was not faring much better. Inland Empire and Lake Elsinore looked to be the favorites, but none of the five teams in the division could get more than five games over .500. A trip to Lake Elsinore and Lancaster ended with a 5-3 mark, and the Mavs clung to life.
But the home stretch was unkind, and eight losses in eleven brought the club’s elimination number to zero. A 32-38 Second Half record was only five games out of the division, but High Desert ended in last place in the ultra-competitive South. Overall, the Mavericks went 66-74, scoring 841 and allowing 870 in just 140 games.
Of course, all the individual stats must be taken with a grain of salt, but four of the Mavs (Jordy Lara, Guerrero, Jabari Henry, and Tyler Smith) hit over .285 in at least 100 games played. Henry and Lara also each hit over 20 home runs, giving the Mariners hope that more young power hitters are on the way to accompany Mike Zunino.
Only Dylan Unsworth (6-9) and Scott DeCecco (7-11) started more than twenty games in 2014, and each finished with an ERA over 5.00. Brett Shankin (5-5), albeit in a small sample size, was the Mavs’ best starter, ending a 79.2 IP season with a 4.97 ERA.
The bullpen featured a closer-by-committee approach, as Andrew Kittredge, Will Mathis, and Grady Wood each recorded at least five saves. Wood was the most effective, while Matt Brazis used a sub-3.00 ERA through the end of June to warrant a move to Jackson.
On Friday, Seattle announced that it would be leaving High Desert to begin a new High-A partnership with the Bakersfield Blaze. The M’s spent eight seasons with the Mavericks, but in 2015 either Texas or Atlanta will end up playing out of Heritage Field.