Contributed by Adrian Bowles Reno, NV
As sad as it is to say, the Reno Aces 2017 season has finally come to a close. The Aces finished the season with a record of 80-62 making them the Pacific Coast League, Northern Division Champions.
The Aces also won the division back in 2014 and in 2012 when they won the Pacific Coast League Championship. The Aces clinched their division on August 31 with a loss from the Fresno Grizzlies, minor league affiliate of the Houston Astros, who finished their season three games behind the Aces. Following their loss on the 31st, Reno went two-and-two in their final homestand against the Albuquerque Isotopes, minor league affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.
Next, the Aces were set to face th e winner of the Pacific Coast League’s, Pacific Southern Division Champions, the El Paso Chihuahuas, in the first round of the playoffs. The Chihuahua’s are the minor league affiliate of the San Diego Padres. They finished the 2017 season with a record of 73-69 on the season. In the regular season the Aces had a record of 7-8 against the Chihuahuas and still managed to outscore El Paso 91-86 with the electric offense that was apparent most of the year. Except, not much offense came to aid the Aces as they got swept in three games to El Paso.
The Aces only managed to get 21 hits in three games compared to the Chihuahua’s 36. The Chihuahua’s outscored the Aces 17-9. Despite having Reno’s lineup look like a triple-A All-Star team they weren’t able to play like one leaving 49 baserunners in scoring position across the three games. Even though they couldn’t play well enough as a team to move on in post season, each individual player still had a lot to fight for with their MLB affiliate, the Arizona Diamondbacks, leading the way for the NL Wild Card spot by three games over the Rockies.
One player who’s been fighting for his chance at the bigs all season would be the Pacific Coast League’s MVP (most valuable player) Christian Walker of the Reno Aces. Walker was a fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft to the Baltimore Orioles out of South Carolina. Walker played in three College World Series during his time at South Carolina, winning two championships in 2010 and 2011. In 206 games in college, Walker had a batting average of .336 with 30 home runs and 137 RBI and that talent was definitely on display this season. In 2017, Walker batted .309 with 32 home runs, 114 RBI, 159 hits, 34 doubles, with 104 runs scored. Walker now holds the Reno Aces Single season record for most home runs at 32 and total bases at 307.
Even though the Aces couldn’t spark much offense in their three games against El Paso, Walker made sure he didn’t go unnoticed batting 4-11 with three runs scored, four RBI, a walk, and a two-run home runs in the final game of the series. His efforts have finally paid off as the Arizona Diamondbacks have selected his contract and moved him up to the big leagues as of September 10. Lucky for Walker he won’t be the lone Ace on the current roster. The Diamondbacks utilized much of the minor league talent throughout the season moving many players up and down due to new injuries or new strategies they were implementing.
Three Aces Ketel Marte, Zach Godley, and Reymond Fuentes have been up with the Diamondbacks for a few months now. Now with the expansion of the 40-man roster the Diamondbacks have called up:
– OF Kris Negron – RHP Braden Shipley
– C John Ryan Murphy – RHP J.J. Hoover
– RHP Silvino Bracho – RHP Jimmie Sherfy
– LHP Anthony Banda – CF Jeremy Hazelbaker
– 2B Ildemaro Vargas – 1B Christian Walker
The Diamondbacks got a handful of great talent now to help on their road to postseason. Arizona has utilized the help of Reno’s pitching calling up Shipley, Banda, and Bracho throughout the season. This season Shipley went 7-6 with a 5.66 ERA in 19 games for the Aces, but still hasn’t found his first win of the season for D-backs with a 0-1 record and a 6.00 ERA in 18 games. Shipley has been giving up more runs this season but is still quite effective when needed. Much like Shipley, Bracho is in a similar situation with an 0-0 record in 16.1 innings pitched with a ERA of 5.57. Banda’s numbers are very close to Shipley’s at the triple-A level. Banda has a record of 8-7 with a 5.39 ERA in 22 games started. But Banda’s hasn’t been too phenomenal in his rookie campaign in the majors having a record of 1-3 with an ERA of 7.32 in four games started.
Despite already having a strong five-man rotation, calling up two starters in Banda and Shipley, the Diamondbacks could be looking for long-relief pitching going into playoffs. Banda and Shipley are both known to last up to six innings at the triple-A level while Bracho has always been a one inning type of pitcher. Now with Randall Delgado moving to the disabled list the D-backs will definitely need help handling the bridge from starters to closers. Bracho may seem like the best choice with his experience in the bigs, but Arizona also called up Reno Aces Closer Jimmie Sherfy who was on fire throughout the season. In 44 games Sherfy went 2-1 with a 3.12 ERA. He also converted 20 of his 23 save attempts. In five appearances in the majors Sherfy is 1-0 with one save in his 5.1 innings pitched striking out six batters while only giving up one hit.
Not only are the Diamondbacks getting a handful of pitchers and the PCL MVP, they are also giving Jeremy Hazelbaker a second chance to prove what he’s got. Hazelbaker didn’t have a bad season in the bigs or at triple-A. Due to injuries and other players coming off of the DL Hazelbaker found himself as the team floater sitting in between both leagues. Hazelbaker numbers in Reno were above average batting .280 with six home runs, 25 RBI, with an OBP of .344 in 193 at bats. In the Majors this season Hazelbaker has 14 hits in 44 at bats (.318) with one home run, six RBI, nine runs scored, with an OBP of .412. If he would’ve stayed with either team for the majority of the season his number might be jumping off the page rather than look divided into two. Hazelbaker will offer another great bat coming off of the bench with average defense in the field. Hopefully we’ll see his potential unravel as he gets his next opportunity.
The big questions are still in the air, how is Walker going to find playing time behind 5x All-Star Paul Goldschmidt? Are Banda and Shipley going to be able to work into long relief roles or will they need them to start? Are the D-backs going to trust Bracho with more experience or trust the rookie who has been nothing but lights out in Sherfy to fill the bridge before Bradley and Rodney? Do the Diamondbacks need more position players in Hazelbaker, Vargas, and Negron? The Aces who’ve been moved up, have huge shoes to fill. Putting Walker behind Goldschmidt for the remainder of the season might be exactly what Walker needs to find the maturity at the next level to stay there. Banda and Shipley can use this time as the experience they need to become the aces the organization wants them to be. Vargas may have time, but Hazelbaker and Negron may be at the peak of their career, maybe shining in postseason is exactly what they need to do to get the attention they deserve.
With three weeks remaining in the season it’s time to see what these players have to show, for some it may be their first chance at stardom, for others it may be their last chance before the majors is out of their grasp.