Jason Coats' standout season at Winston-Salem earned him the Grading On The Curve Carolina League MVP. Mandatory credit: Jody Stewart/Winston-Salem Dash

No one finer in the Carolina than MVP Jason Coats

BEFORE WE DIVE too deeply into the Grading On The Curve’s All-Carolina League team, let’s offer up one last slow clap for the departed Joey Gallo.

Despite being gone since the All-Star break, Gallo finished the season as the league’s home run champion with 21. For giggles, he also hit 21 home runs in the Texas League (narrowly missing out on that league’s home run title as well). His future, of course, seems blindingly bright as long as he can bring his strikeout rate under control at the big league level when he arrives in 2015.

It’s worth noting that six of the eight league teams are represented on this year’s star-studded squad. The only two teams left out are Lynchburg, who promoted a pair of would-be MVP candidates at midseason (Jose Peraza, Kyle Wren) and Frederick, who also boasted an MVP candidate in Michael Burgess, who was promoted just early enough to fall short of the necessary at-bats.

The Hillcats also are the team that accomplished the vanishingly rare feat of tossing consecutive no-hitters during the season. On the road.

So, yeah, they could play some ball in this league. Anyway, on to the kudos:

GOTC MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

Jason Coats, Winston-Salem – The Dash didn’t make the playoffs, but boasted the league’s top two remaining MVP candidates in Coats and Courtney Hawkins. Coats gets the edge after batting .291, leading the league in extra-base hits (52), finishing third in home runs (15) and leading the league in OPS. He was promoted to Double-A Birmingham in mid-August.

GOTC MOST VALUABLE PITCHER

Glenn Sparkman, Wilmington – This could have been about a three-way tie among the Blue Rocks pitching staff, as Jonathan Dziedzic had the best ERA among pitchers who started the entire season and Sean Manaea ran away with the strikeout crown. But Sparkman gets the nod after his move into the rotation in May led to an utterly dominant stretch of hurling. Sparkman (8-3) won the ERA title by nearly a full run (1.56), qualifying through the back door in the season’s final two weeks with 18 starts 121 innings pitched. He averaged nearly a strikeout per inning and his worst outing in three months came in his final start of the season, and even that was a “quality start” – six innings, three earned runs. In all, only twice this season did Sparkman surrender three earned runs (and never any more than that). He gave up no runs in eight of those 18 starts.

GOTC ALL-CAROLINA LEAGUE TEAM

C – Jorge Alfaro, Myrtle Beach: This one pretty much was a no-brainer after Alfaro was first or second among catchers in virtually every statistical category. It was constant battle to find consistency at the plate, but he had found a groove just before his promotion to Double-A Frisco. He finished his Carolina League chapter with 22 doubles, five triples and 13 home runs. He also threw out 19 of 72 baserunners (and six of 16 at Frisco) in a league cluttered with extreme speed.

1B – Shawn Pleffner, Potomac: Pleffner was third in the league with a .298 batting average. Displaying his extreme consistency at the plate is the fact he hit .298 in July and .298 in August. With runners in scoring position, Pleffner batting a whopping .373.

2B – Tony Renda, Potomac: Renda enjoyed the good fortune of batting directly in front of Pleffner and used that perch to lead the league with a .307 batting average. He was on a tear to close out the season, batting .387 over his final 10 games.

3B – Oscar Tejada, Potomac: Tejada earns this nod in possibly the narrowest position competition. Lynchburg’s Kevin Ahrens led the league with 41 doubles and matched Tejada in batting average, but Tejada’s overall power numbers (third in the league with 16 home runs) hint at someone who would have overtaken Gallo had he not been promoted to Double-A at the end of July. A week earlier and Tejada would not have had the at-bats to qualify.

SS – Raul Mondesi, Wilmington: Wilmington is a black hole for hitters, so to assess Mondesi’s value requires one to look past his .211 batting average. Mondesi has been heralded as one of the Royals’ top position prospects in large part to a power-speed combination that is rare for his position. He is a future league leader in Web Gems, but needs to work more on knocking down the routine play. His six home runs in August hint at a huge breakout year awaiting him in 2015 at the Royals’ Double-A hitting paradise in Northwest Arkansas.

OF – Jason Coats, Winston-Salem: You will find Coats’ name among the top 10 in most hitting categories this season. He did the same thing last year in the South Atlantic and will probably do the same next year in the Southern League.

OF – Chris Garia, Myrtle Beach: All postseason All-League teams have a need for speed. Garia fulfills that niche on this crew. This speed merchant batting .284 and led the league with 45 steals while finishing second with 11 triples.

OF – Nick Williams, Myrtle Beach: The Pelicans really were an embarrassment of riches on the offensive side this season. Williams batted .292 with 28 doubles and 13 home runs before his promotion to Frisco in mid-August.

DH/UT – Reed Gragnani, Salem: The Red Sox had to get creative this season when it came to positioning, leading Gragnani to bounce around the field a bit. He primarily played second base and left field, but that never seemed to affect his bat. He finished second in the league behind Renda with a .300 batting average. Only an injury-marred July stopped him from leading the league in that category.

P – Glenn Sparkman, Wilmington: Sparkman will not top any of the organizational charts for his stuff, but his control is breathtaking. He walked just 25 batters this season, leading the league with a 0.98 WHIP.

P – Ryan Merritt, Carolina: Like Sparkman, Merritt’s tools don’t jump off the video, which is likely why Cleveland is advancing him up the ladder one season at a time. Still, his 13-3 record, 2.58 ERA and 1.17 WHIP hints at superior control. He permitted just 128 hits in 160 innings pitched.

P – Sean Manaea, Wilmington: It took about a half-season for this high-dollar draft pick to shake off last season’s injury woes and make the necessary tweaks to his delivery to boost control. Once that happened … wow. Manaea fanned 146 batters in 121 innings while permitting just 102 hits. His final outing hinted at the potential for him to be in Kansas City sometime next season – seven innings, three hits, no walks, no runs, 12 strikeouts.

PLAYOFF PREVIEW

Lynchburg (68-71) at Potomac (78-58) – After getting swept in back-to-back doubleheaders by Salem in mid-August, Potomac closed out the season by returning to form, easily outdistancing the rest of the Carolina Northern Division to sweep the first- and second-half titles. Lynchburg essentially lost the least among Potomac’s Northern neighbors and backed into the wild card berth despite a ransacked roster and 34-35 second-half mark. All three games will be in Potomac, if this series should last that long. Potomac won 13 of 20 meetings, including seven in a row at one point, and swept their final series in mid-August.

Salem (68-68) at Myrtle Beach (82-56) – This series promises to be a lot more unpredictable. The Pelicans have lost a huge amount of talent to Double-A while Salem has received an influx of top talent from the South Atlantic League. Also, the Red Sox are the defending league champions and come into Myrtle Beach with the knowledge it swept the Pelicans to open the season in April. Overall, Salem went 11-8 against the Pelicans.

Tags: Carolina League Chicago White Sox Glenn Sparkman Jason Coats Kansas City Royals

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