Young Snappers club starts over after first-half championship
BELOIT The Beloit Snappers were stuck in neutral early in the first half of the Midwest League season.
The Oakland Athletics’ Class A affiliate hovered around the .500 mark as the pitching staff flourished while the defense floundered. The Snappers showed no signs of a team that would play .700 ball the last month and a half and win the first-half Western Division title.
First-year manager Ryan Christenson said the wakeup call came in late April.
“We got off to a little shaky start, but we started turning it around when the guys came off the field following a win and there was no sense of satisfaction,” Christenson said. “We didn’t play our best game and still won, so I knew that this team was starting to get it and expecting to win. They were disappointed in how they played, even though they won.
“Ever since then they started playing better baseball. We challenged them as a coaching staff, and they responded.”
Beloit responded with seven- and nine-game winning streaks that catapulted the team to the top of the Western Division standings. The Snappers won the first half for the first time since 2007 and will play in the postseason regardless of what happens the second half.
Pitching was the key to the Snappers’ surge, but the team took a big hit with Thursday’s promotions of a starter and two relievers. Starter Raul Alcantara went 7-1 in the first half but was sent to High-A Stockton on Thursday. Joining Alcantara at Stockton will be closer Ryan Dull and reliever Tucker Healy. Dull finished with 12 saves and a 2.10 ERA, while Healy had an ERA of 0.94.
“Alcantara was an All-Star a year ago and has enough experience to make the jump,” Christenson said. “And Healy and Dull are both college guys, so getting called up isn’t that big of a deal.
“Hopefully, (Chris) Lamb and (Kris) Hall can pick up the slack as they come off the disabled list. And I’m sure the organization is going to send us one more pitcher, too.”
Despite wrapping up a postseason berth, Christenson said the coaching staff would change little in the second half. Teaching and working on fundamentals would be priorities No. 1 and No. 2.
“Winning is a small part of our development program and not our main focus,” Christenson said. “We’re never going to jeopardize someone’s career for a win, but we’re going to continue to teach them to play good baseball.”
Beloit hit only .256 as a team the first half but easily led the league with 64 home runs and was second in runs scored with 345.
The Snappers’ Renato Nunez tied for the most home runs in the first half with 13, while Christopher Bostick is coming off a week in which he hit .458 with four home runs and 14 RBI in being named Midwest League Player of the Week.
“The bats exceeded my expectations probably more than anything because there are so many young players in our lineup,” Christenson said. “Hopefully, we don’t get caught up in a hangover to start the second half after what happened to end the first half.”
The biggest hurdle facing the Snappers in the second half is the grind of a 140-game season. None of the players on the current roster have experienced a full minor-league season.
Although the longest trip to any opponent in the Western Division is 3˝ hours, there will be some long bus rides to teams in the Eastern Division.
Christenson said that’s part of life in the minor leagues.
“The learning curve begins now,” Christenson. “It’s a portion of a season none of them have ever experienced.
“You can ruin a great start or you can rescue a poor start. It’s a grind and a ride that none of these kids have ever been on.”
If the ride resembles the first half, it should be a smooth one.