THE APPY LEAGUE playoffs begin late Sunday afternoon with East Division winner Princeton at Danville and West Division winner Elizabethton at Johnson City. The two wild card teams host the first game of the best-of-three with the series reverting to the division champs for the rest of the way.
It’s clear how those four teams wound up in the playoffs – they placed seven position players on the 2014 Grading On The Curve All-Appy League Team.
However, none of them accounted for the league’s Most Valuable Player and Most Valuable Pitcher.
Without further ado, here’s the team, followed by a quick playoff preview:
GOTC MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Arby Fields, Pulaski – It has been a long, strange trip to this point for the Mariners’ do-it-all center fielder. He was first drafted in 2009 in the 27th round by the Padres, but he didn’t sign. Two years later, the Braves came calling with a 34th-round pick and again he declined. In the meantime, he bounced through three colleges – Northwestern, Cypress (Calif.) Junior College and LSU. Tipping off his extreme athleticism, Fields was the leading rusher on Northwestern’s football team as a freshman before transferring out and focusing on baseball. Alas, Fields went undrafted after his senior season at LSU and signed with the Chicago White Sox as a free agent too late to play in 2012. The White Sox released him after just a handful of games and the Mariners came calling. He thanked Seattle by winning the Appy League OPS title (.932), while batting .331 with 18 extra-base hits and swiping 19 bases.
GOTC MOST VALUABLE PITCHER
Agapito Barrios, Greeneville – Barrios bubbled up through Houston’s Dominican Summer League team in 2011 as a 17-year-old and spent the 2012 and 2013 seasons growing into himself with the Astros’ Gulf Coast League squad. That seasoning was on display during a scintillating run through the Appy League. Barrios, now 20, won the league’s ERA (2.09) and WHIP (0.89) crowns while going 5-0 in 13 games (6 starts). He struck out 46, walked just 11 and permitted a miserly 39 hits.
GOTC ALL-APPY LEAGUE TEAM
C – Nick Ciuffo, Princeton: The 2013 first-round draft pick hit just .224 with 12 extra-base hits but flashed a superior glove and arm. He threw out a whopping 27 of 56 base stealers for a league-leading 48 percent clip.
1B – Trey Vavra, Elizabethton: The 33rd-round pick in this year’s draft batted .319 with an .846 OPS and led the league with 20 doubles.
2B – Casey Turgeon, Johnson City: Only a late-season swoon dropped this 24th-round pick’s on-base percentage below .500. As is, he batting .306 with 20 extra-base hits and a .874 OPS. He drew a league-best 42 walks
3B – Hector Montes, Princeton: The 33rd-rounder from the 2013 draft led all third basemen with a .325 batting average with 18 extra-base hits and a .854 OPS.
SS – Nick Gordon, Elizabethton: The Twins’ first-rounder lived up to the hype, batting .294 while making flashy plays in the field. He closed out the regular season by hitting .341 over his final 10 games.
OF – Logan Moon, Burlington: This sixth-rounder won the Appy League batting title, edging Fields at .332.
OF – Arby Fields, Pulaski: In addition to all his previously mentioned superlatives, Fields led the league with a .429 OBP
OF – Ivan Wilson, Kingsport: This third-round pick took the league’s home run crown with 11 blasts.
DH – Casey Grayson, Johnson City AND Tyler Kuresa, Elizabethton: These two were virtually indistinguishable when it comes to their value. Grayson (46) edged Kuresa (44) for the league RBI crown and offered up 23 extra-base hits to Kuresa’s 19. Kuresa posted a .298 batting average, better than Grayson’s .283 and bested Grayson in OPS, .859 to .813.
P – John Sever, Bristol: Not much went right for Bristol in 2014, but this 20th-rounder was dominant. In 40 2/3 innings, Sever fanned 63 batters while walking just 17. He posted a 1.16 WHIP and a 1.33 ERA that would have led the league by a wide margin had he qualified for the title.
P – Agapito Barrios, Greeneville: Showing how much he was improving, Barrios lowered his ERA over each of his final eight appearances.
P – Niklas Stephenson, Burlington: This undrafted free agent was second to Barrios in ERA (2.14) and WHIP (0.92). In 59 innings, he fanned 47 while walking just nine.
OTHERS OF NOTE: Elizabethton’s Max Murphy would have been the league’s runaway MVP had he not been promoted a mere 35 games into the season. Up to that point, he boasted a .378/.483/.723 line with 10 home runs and 26 RBIs. … Pulaski’s Carlton Tanabe had a .326 average and 13 doubles in 39 games before Seattle bumped him up to Double-A Jackson. … If offense was the sole consideration at catcher, no backstop put together a better overall offensive year than Bristol’s Daniel Arribas. … After a rough stay at Cedar Rapids (2-5, 9.00 ERA) Felix Jorge reset himself at Elizabethton and wound up near the top of most pitching categories this year, going 4-2 with a 2.59 ERA. … Bluefield’s Richard Urena showcased a superb bat (.318, 15 doubles) before his promotion to Vancouver
Princeton (40-28) vs. Danville (38-30): Danville wrestled its playoff berth away from Pulaski this weekend by taking two of three from the league’s cellar-dwelling Bristol Pirates while Pulaski faded with two losses to close out the regular season. The Braves were the league’s best-hitting team (.266) and Ozzy Albies is their hitter to watch. He went 3-of-4 with two triples and three runs batted in during the playoff-clinching win. His batting average of .356 is tops among all players with at least 100 at-bats. All Princeton has done this season is post the league’s best record behind the league’s best pitching staff (a collective 2.92 ERA). Moreover, they won 7 of 10 meetings with Danville this season.
Elizabethton (38-30) vs. Johnson City (37-31): The Twins are one of the most storied franchises in minor league baseball with a very long tradition of postseason success. This year could bring more of the same. Though Princeton sported the league’s best record, Elizabethton was the league’s best overall team statistically, finished second in team ERA (3.00) and second in team hitting (.262). In fact, they finished in the top half of the league in every major hitting and pitching category. For its part, Johnson City simply found ways to win games. Middling in most statistical categories, the Cardinals relied on clutch performances throughout the lineup. Plus, the Cardinals appear to have the Twins’ number, winning each of their final four meetings to take the season series, 7-4.