The success of most minor league teams (at least record-wise) is much harder to predict than their MLB counterparts, and perhaps no level better exemplifies this than AA.
Those who have hot starts to the season normally find their way to AAA before their impact can solidify any lasting team success. At the same time, the best of the High-A crop take their places, with many struggling to adjust to the higher level of competition while having at-bats shoved down their throats by executives in a hurry to bring the new draft class up to the majors as quickly as possible.
Thus. it should come as little surprise, despite the plethora of talent that passed through the Jackson Generals’ clubhouse, that the Mariners’ AA affiliate struggled to find playoff-worthy form throughout 2014 and ultimately failed to play into September for the second consecutive year.
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The year stared out well enough, as the Generals rode an potent (albeit inconsistent) offense to a 9-6 start. But a dry spell of six runs in three games followed two days later by six runs in four brought with it a seven losses in nine contests. Wins at Mobile and at home against Pensacola righted the ship a bit, but even at .500 through the first month, the team was looking extremely vulnerable, especially when the bats could not put five or six runs on the board.
In short, Jackson lacked the pitching necessary to steal the victories that turn an average club into a true contender, even with Stephen Landazuri racking up three victories in April.
But while the team was able to limp through the first thirty games, the First Half completely fell apart in May.
After Pensacola took the last three of five at The Ballpark at Jackson by an aggregate score of 17-3, the Generals had to travel to division foe Hunstville, who were quickly establishing themselves as a heavy favorite in the North Division. While the pitching improved, Jackson’s lineup proved even more myopic, as two shutouts set a painful tone for the series.
Jim Pankovits‘ squad was fortunate to stagger out with a 1-4 mark, and the spiral continued against the Tennesse Smokies back at home, despite the promotion of Patrick Kivlehan from High Desert. It nearly took until the end of the month to stop the bleeding, and three weeks of 4-15 baseball was more than enough to bury the club. June brought with it a much-needed turnaround, but as a consolation prize two weeks of competitive play was a pittance.
After giving up ten or more runs on back-to-back days to Jacksonville on June 14-15, the Generals concluded the First Half at 31-38, worthy of third place but 14.5 GB of Huntsville (46-24).
The Second Half, sadly, went much like the first, with the key difference being that the team did not provide fans any false hope early on. After a pedestrian 2-2 start, Jackson dropped nine of ten to Mississippi, Tennessee, and Mobile. July had barely commenced, yet the Generals had already in sixteen games lost half as many as the First Half champion Stars did in seventy.
But while as a unit the team was not worthy of any accolades, it continued to accumulate the best of High Desert: D.J. Peterson, who along with Gabby Guerrero represented the Mariners at the 2014 MLB Futures Game, made the jump to AA. And he immediately stole the show, hitting safely in his first seven appearances in a Generals’ uniform before putting together a nine-game streak just a couple days after the first was broken.
While there was plenty of individual talent in the lineup, putting it all together was another matter…
Peterson’s performance played a big part in ending Jackson’s deplorable play, but even with him, Kivlehan, and Ketel Marte continually putting the bat on the ball, the team could not sustain any run above .500. Winning streaks of three or four were wiped out just a week or so later, and though the division crown was much more attainable the second time around, the Generals never really threatened a march to the postseason in July.
August was much more of the same. Though Chattanooga and Tennessee continued to shoot themselves in the foot, Jackson’s offense, while putting up competitive numbers in the categories concerning overall production, was plagued by consecutive days of between zero and two runs, and the staff, much depleted from previous years by Tacoma and Seattle, could not keep the team in low scoring contests.
Still, with two weeks to go, the Generals found themselves still mathematically alive, and series against Huntsville, Chattanooga, and Montgomery would determine if they could pull off a most improbable North Division title. Unfortunately, the offense would be down a key piece for the remainder of the year: Ketel Marte got the call-up to Tacoma after the August 9 win at Pensacola, and his .302 AVG would be near-impossible to replace.
As a result, Jackson did not score more than six runs in any game after August 13, and the only series of the final three in which they were victorious was the finale at the Biscuits, by which points postseason dreams had already been dashed.
The team finished the Second Half in third place with 38 losses once again (though they won 32 as opposed to 31), though this time such a record was just four games short of Chattanooga. Overall, the Generals were 63-76.
Only four players (Marte, Kivlehan, Leon Landry, and Daniel Paolini) finished 2014 with more than 100 games played, a major reason for the offensive shortages. The first two each posted an AVG of at least .300, while Peterson tied for the team with Paolini lead with 13 homers despite getting just 222 at-bats (compared to Paolini’s 410).
Tyler Olson (10-7, 3.52 ERA) was the Generals’ best starter, and only he and Victor Sanchez (7-6, 4.19 ERA) made more than 20 starts. Out of the bullpen, Mayckol Gualpe was Pankovits’ closer of choice at the end of the year, recording 12 saves. However, Stephen Kohlscheen, who only played the First Half in the Southern League before jumping to Tacoma only to be traded as part of the Chris Denorfia deal.