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The Full Count is five weekly observations and analysis about the Chatham Anglers, published each Monday.
1. Last season, Chatham led the Cape in home runs (42) and was second in slugging (.391). Through seven games in 2019, this version of the A’s is slugging just .335, a drop of 56 points. The sample size is small, but the new A’s don’t have the same power from 2018. The power numbers are down, with Chatham hitting just one triple and two home runs in the opening week. All of this sounds worrying.
Don’t be concerned, though. Not only are players continuously adjusting to playing with wooden bats, but two of Chatham’s expected best sluggers, Spencer Torkelson (Arizona State) and Alex Toral (Miami), have arrived on the Cape and been activated. Torkelson knocked 22 home runs for the Sun Devils in the spring, and slugged .702. In the Atlantic Coast Conference, Toral slugged .656 and hit 24 home runs.
Jorge Arenas and Jamal O’Guinn are the team’s leading sluggers, aiding the A’s to a league-high 12 doubles in 2019. But with the injection of Torkelson and Toral this week, Chatham’s lineup is expected to get deeper in the power department.
2. In lieu of the power, manager Tom Holliday knows that the A’s will need to take more walks in 2019.
“Walks are how you score a lot of runs against wooden bats,” Holliday said after Tuesday’s win against Cotuit. “It's hard to score a lot of base hits. We don't have that home run power we had last year, so we're going to have to take our walks and run the bases better.”
One week in, and Chatham hitters have drawn 39 walks — seven more than any other team in the league. Charlie Welch (Pepperdine), Kaden Polcovich (Northwest Florida State) and O’Guinn have been the biggest benefactors from their continued patience in the batters box. Welch is just 1-for-12 in 16 at-bats, but because he’s laid off bad pitches, his six walks bump up his on-base percentage to .350.
Chatham’s last inning against Cotuit demonstrated the importance of taking walks with wooden bats. In the top of the eighth on Tuesday, Drenis Ozuna (Oklahoma Wesleyan) fought off a two-strike count to earn a leadoff walk. After a Zach Miller (Delaware) single, both Polcovich and O’Guinn ran deep counts and walked to bring in the game-winning run.
If the A’s aren’t going to hit for power, taking one free base is certainly better than making outs. Through seven games, the free passes have gotten the job done.
3. From the moment the 2019 A’s came on the Cape, their pitching has impressed Holliday and pitching coach Dennis Cook.
Daniel Federman (Miami) and Haydn King (UNLV) didn’t have their best outing on Sunday in two defeats to Wareham, but the A’s entered Sunday with the best team ERA in the league.
Some of the Chatham pitchers will get hit. They’ll miss spots. They’ll allow runs. But so far, it’s happened few and far between. From opening night’s dominant three innings each from Kolby Kubichek (Texas) and Mason Hazelwood (Kentucky), to Luke Bartnicki’s (Georgia Tech) three-pitch relief save Tuesday and a scoreless performance Friday, Chatham’s pitching has showed it can be one of the best staffs in the league.
The success has breeded more success through competition.
“We definitely feed off each other,” Friday’s starter RJ Dabovich said after throwing three scoreless innings. “We’ve only known each other for a few days but everyone is pretty close in the bullpen and we constantly try to one up each other.”
How have they done it' The A’s have allowed plenty of baserunners — the staff is just seventh in WHIP, giving out 28 free passes, second highest on the Cape — but the A’s have kept the ball in the ballpark, and avoided solid contact consistently. Chatham’s staff leads in two important statistics. Opponents are slugging just a league-low .265 against the Anglers, and no team has more strikeouts than the A’s with 67. When runners have been on base, the A’s have recorded strikeouts and prevented big hits.
Zarion Sharpe (UNC Wilmington) will take the ball first Tuesday, followed by Cole Ayers (Kentucky) and Jeremy Wu-Yelland (Hawaii). The last time they took the mound' Nine combined innings, just one unearned run allowed.
4. Tom Holliday said he loves his players to steal bases, but thus far this season, the A’s have been caught stealing more than they have safely stolen. The A’s have six stolen bases and have been caught running seven, the lowest success rate in the Cape League.
“I have to find out if we have anyone who can steal a base,” Holliday said Saturday. “We’re getting counts to run, and we’re not running. I need to know if we have guys that can run. We can’t do hit and run if guys are afraid to steal.”
Wareham used the hit-and-run approach multiple times, including one that directly produced a hit. When shortstop Ben Ramirez (USC) went to cover second base and receive a potential throw from home plate, the Gatemen hit the ball directly where Ramirez would have been. There was nothing Ramirez could’ve done differently, but instead of a double play, Wareham had first and third.
Sunday, against Wareham lefty Brendan Cellucci, two Chatham base runners were picked off first. Holliday called his pickoff move “special.”
Look for the A’s to try to steal more bases this week, especially from Tyler Doanes (West Virginia) and Arenas, who have combined for three already.
5. Sometimes, the game’s most important plays go unnoticed. Drenis Ozuna’s two-out, 10-pitch walk in the fifth inning of Saturday’s game against Yarmouth-Dennis didn’t score a run. The A’s five-run inning wouldn’t have been possible without the base on balls, though.
Ozuna took the first pitch, a fastball outside. The second, he waved a big swing and a miss to level the count at 1-1. The third pitch, Ozuna laid off another fastball outside. 2-1. Then he fouled one back. 2-2. Yarmouth-Dennis was one strike away from ending the inning and allowing just two runs. Ozuna stared down another fastball, this time well outside to run the count full.
He roped the sixth pitch down the third base line, foul. With Paxton Wallace (Wichita State) taking off for second on the delivery, Ozuna fouled off another fastball behind the bleachers at Veterans Field.
The eighth pitch, Ozuna, expecting fastball, didn’t get one. He fought off the off-speed pitch, dribbling one back behind home plate. On the 10th pitch, Ozuna watched the ball sail by him, high. Ball four.
“I think about passing it along, staying short, expand the inning,” Ozuna said. “We’re a late inning ball club. I know sometime within the game, we’re going to get ours.”
The next batter, Keaton Rice (Bradley), hit a three-run triple. Sometimes, one of the game’s most important plays is a 10-pitch free pass.