The Great Lakes Loons are the Dodgers Low Single-A affiliate in the Midwest League. The team moved to Midland, Michigan in 2007 after completing the 2006 season at the historic Dodgertown complex in Vero Beach, Florida. At that time the move was very troubling for me, having visited Dodgertown twice in the mid-eighties. However, that pain has long passed and the Loons are the minor league team that I now follow more closely during the baseball season than any other Dodger affiliate team – thanks to MiLB.com.
The Midwest League has two eight-team divisions with the Loons assigned to the Eastern Division. The first half of the 2013 season was pretty much a write-off for the Great Lakes team. They stumbled to a seventh place finish with a 27-43 record. The second half showed marked improvement with a 40-29 record which earned the Loons a wildcard play-off berth. Unfortunately they were eliminated with two straight play-off losses to the South Bend Silver Hawks.
The Loons play their home games at Dow Diamond located in downtown Midland. Paul Swaney of Stadium Journey had this to say about the home of the Loons: “This is one of the best, if not THE best minor league ballpark in baseball. I can’t believe it took me so long to make it to a game in Midland. Don’t make the same mistake I did, plan a trip today. If you live in the area, then go buy season tickets, and don’t take it for granted that you have such a fine ballpark to spend leisure time in the spring and summer.”
The Loons were managed by former Montreal Expo Razor Shines who had replaced the legendary John Shoemaker. An affable manager, Shines had the pleasure of managing his son Devin for 30 games during the 2013 season. He will manage the Chattanooga Lookouts in 2014. His replacement with the Loons is Bill Hasleman who managed Single A Inland Empire for the Los Angeles Angels the past two seasons. Bill Simas returns for another season as the Great Lakes pitching coach while Johnny Washington, who was the hitting coach for Single A Rancho Cucamonga in 2012 and 2013, joins the Loons coaching staff.
The Loons didn’t win a championship in 2013 but they had one of the most talent laden pitching staffs in the Dodgers farm system, perhaps the most talented. The pitching staff, very young even for a Class A level team, led the league in strikeouts and also had the fewest hit batters in the league. Offensively the team did struggle with a team batting average of .238, lowest in the league.
Players of note:
Anderson was the first round selection (18th overall) by the Dodgers in the 2013 First Year Player Draft. The 6-4 / 215-pound right-hander had a very successful inaugural season compiling a 3-0 record with a 1.96 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 46 innings. He pitched the entire season as a 21-year-old and very quickly showed up on the Dodgers top 10 prospects lists including a fifth best prospect ranking by Baseball America. He may soon be joining Zach Lee, Ross Stripling,Chris Reed and Matt Magill in the close-to-major-league-ready category. To that end I wouldn’t be surprised to see Chris start the 2014 season with the AA Chattanooga Lookouts, although a more likely scenario is a stop with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes to begin the season.
Windle was the Dodgers second round pick in the 2013 draft. His 6-4 / 215-pound frame is almost identical to Chris Anderson’s but he is a left-hander. A year older than Anderson, Windle also experienced immediate success in the Midwest League. In 12 starts he had a 5-1 record with a 2.68 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 53 innings. Baseball America ranks his slider as the best in the Dodgers minor league system. I expect him to start with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in 2014 and perhaps make a late season appearance with the Chattanooga Lookouts.
Urias pitched most of the season as a 16-year-old, turning 17 on August 12th. His innings naturally were limited but he did appear in 18 games pitching 54 innings. He posted an ERA of 2.48 to go along with 67 strikeouts and 16 walks. The 5-11 left-hander finished the season strongly. In 15 innings in August he allowed two earned runs, struck out 21 and walked one. As a 17-year-old, Baseball America ranks his control as the best on the Dodgers farm. MLBPipeline.com has just ranked Urias as the fifth best left-handed prospect in minor league baseball. To increase his innings in 2014 Urias may well again report to the Loons. The Rookie League Ogden Raptors would be a more age-appropriate fit for the Culiacán, Mexico native but at this point does not seem to be an option.
Bird, another big right-hander at 6-4 / 205 pounds, turned 19 on July 14, 2013. He was selected by the Dodgers in the ninth round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. John Sickels issued a sleeper alert when Bird was drafted. His 2013 stats were perhaps not what the Dodgers had hoped for but the issue was primarily one of control plus a stint on the DL during the season. In 103 innings he struck out 94 and walked 64. Bird started the season with the Ogden Raptors and posted a 9.22 ERA in April. In mid-season he was assigned to the Loons. He, too, finished strongly in August posting a 1.93 ERA in 14 innings while holding opponents to a .189 BA. As a 19-year-old, he will most likely return to the Loons to continue his development under the watchful eye of pitching coach Bill Simas.
Jonathan Martinez also pitched the 2013 season as a 19-year-old. Although he does not project as highly as some of his pitching teammates, he had a season worthy of note with a 3.99 ERA between the Ogden Raptors and Great Lakes Loons. He will return to the Loons in 2014.
Yet another 19-year-old Loon who had an impressive season with the Loons was Miguel Sulbaran, posting a 2.98 ERA in 112 innings – fifth best in the Midwest league. Unfortunately, Sulbaran was traded to the Cedar Rapids Kernels (Twins), also of the Midwest League, for 30-year-old back-up catcher Drew Butera on August 13, 2013. Sulbaran went 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA with his new team while Butera went 1 for 7 (.181) with the Dodgers as a September call-up.
Finally, my wish and hope for guy is Geoff Brown. He will be 25 in January and has not progressed beyond Class A ball. However, I expect he will begin the 2014 season with the Chattanooga Lookouts and being a lefty, with any success, may see Albuquerque before the season ends. He is a workhorse with the ability to be a long reliever.