The Skeeters fell a game short of their 2nd consecutive Atlantic League Championship. It would have been the 3rd championship in 4 years for the organization, whose 2019 campaign was led by 2nd-year manager Pete Incaviglia. The 2018 ALPB Manager of the Year had a tough task in 2019. Following a 28-18 start to the season, the loss of 6 key players to contract purchases in 3 weeks contributed to a 16-game backslide. After losing 13 of those 16 contests, the Skeeters reestablished themselves in time to salvage a .500 first-half record. More importantly, they claimed the first-half Freedom Division title by 1 game over the York Revolution. Sugar Land would post a 37-31 2nd half record before eventually meeting and beating York in the 1st round of the ALPB playoffs.
A fluctuating roster was not limited to the days preceding Sugar Land’s June struggles. The Skeeters saw a league-high 15 player contracts purchased during 2019. To remain in contention, Sugar Land deftly added to the roster throughout the season:
- Carlos Pimentel (signed on June 11th) pitched so impressively in his first few weeks with the Skeeters (20 2/3 innings, 82 batters faced, 2.18 ERA, .871 WHIP, 27 Ks), that he made the All-star roster after less than a month in the league. Carlos finished the season with an ERA that rose to just under 4.00 but shined in relief, allowing only 1 earned run in 10 innings.
- Ricardo Gomez (signed on June 16th) pitched 43 strong innings out of the bullpen during his age 41 season. His 2.72 ERA was a marked improvement over last year’s 3.77 ERA (also over 43 innings). Ricardo’s WHIP improved from last season’s 1.326 to 0.977 in 2019 and his 10.0 K/9 was only hampered by his 1.3 HR/9.
- Reliever Nick Rumbelow (signed June 26th) started his season in the Mariners organization and ended the year as cherished property of the Mets. In between, he pitched 22 1/3 innings allowing only 2 earned runs. Nick struck out 31 and walked only 3, posting a .851 WHIP during his stint with Sugar Land.
- Outfielder Rico Noel (signed on July 12th) stole 45 bases on 51 attempts. That pace spread over a 140 game-season would have taken Rico close to 120 steals. This fit Sugar Land’s style well, as the team led the Atlantic League in 2019 with 211 steals.
- Outfielder Wynton Bernard (signed on July 16th) had the best batting average among qualified Skeeters batters (min. 81 at-bats). Bernard went 32 for 33 on steal attempts (96.9%) and won ALPB’s September Player of the Month (.375/.425/.588 in 87 PAs).
Of course, not every big contributor to the Skeeters’ cause was a mid-season addition. Infielder Juan Silverio contributed solid numbers in his 2nd season with Sugar Land (.290/.355/.446) and capped 2019 with an impact month of September (.372/.453/.512). Denis Phipps lead all qualified Skeeters batters with 24 home runs, 81 RBI, and a .807 OPS in his 1st full season with the club. Matt West, also in his first full season with Sugar Land, set a career-high in appearances (50) and, despite some occasional control issues (4.5 W/9), battled his way to a 3.00 ERA.
If the Skeeters hope to avenge last season’s championship loss by reaching their 3rd consecutive championship series, they will need to continue finding ways to creatively assemble available talent. As the organization learned in 2019, having top-talent on your roster is a blessing up until that talent draws contract purchases from outside leagues. However, there is a chance that the frequency of that focused attention on Sugar Land will keep a steady stream of fresh talent lining up to play for the Atlantic League’s Texan representative.
Correction: In the article above, it is indicated that the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs had 2 player contracts get purchased during 2019. However, according to the Blue Crabs’ media, a third player (Craig Stem) also had his contract purchased. The contract purchase is not shown in the ALPB site’s record.