2019 saw the High Point Rockers claim the league’s only wild card spot to make the playoffs in only their 1st season as an organization. The Rockers enjoyed the 3rd best finish (by both win % and final place in the standings) of any new ALPB team since the league began adding new teams in 2000. Despite having a league-average offense and 7 of their top player’s contracts being purchased between early April and August 1st, the Rockers were led to the playoffs by impressive pitching (league-best ERA and WHIP) and a coaching staff highlighted by Jamie Keefe and Frank Viola.
The High Point pitching staff was led by Joe Van Meter who took on his 1st full season as a starter since transitioning from his long-time bullpen role. Van Meter showed no hesitancy, leading the Rockers staff in innings pitched (his 144 and 2/3 IP led the team by 50 and 2/3) while posting a 0.961 WHIP and only surrendering 2.0 BB/9. Brian Clark and Ashur Toliver both made valuable contributions in relief. Clark finished his 2019 campaign with a 3.02 ERA in 47 and 2/3 innings while Tolliver posted a 2.94 ERA in 49 innings of his own.
Offensively, Dante Bichette crushed opposing pitching, slashing (.386/.412/.514) during his 36 games in a Rockers uniform before getting signed by the Nationals in early June. Tyler Ladendorf hit a career-high 13 home runs, despite missing about 3 weeks of ALPB ball to play in the Rays’ organization. Stephen Cardullo stayed with High Point for the entirety of his 1st ALPB season, playing in all 138 of the team’s regular season games while posting a .266/.375/.477 slash line.
Looking toward 2020, the question needing to be answered is a big one: Can the Rockers follow-up the success of their 1st season with an even stronger title-pursuit in year 2? As the chart above shows, out of the 7 ALPB expansion teams who have enjoyed a 2nd season in the league, only 2 have improved upon their 1st season’s result. It will take a stronger showing from the Rockers’ offense and continued pitching success to reach new heights in 2020. The Rockers showed tremendous resiliency to make the playoffs in a season where they finished both halves no better than 3rd in the division. It’s safe to expect that continued determination from High Point as they work to avoid a sophomore slump in 2020.