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Snappers solid on the field in 2017, but future uncertain

After back-to-back rough seasons in 2015 and 2016, the Beloit Snappers rebounded in 2017. The Class A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics finished with a sub-.500 record of 65-73, but they were in contention for a playoff spot in the Midwest League Western Division for the entirety of the season, which is progress compared to their previous two seasons. Unfortunately, their performance on the field isn’t enough to distract from the decisions they’ll need to make within the next few years regarding the future of the Snappers and Minor League Baseball in Beloit.

The Snappers’ offense wasn’t spectacular in 2017, but it was a vast improvement over the nearly non-existent bats in their lineup in 2016. As a team, Beloit hit .247 in 2017, a much better result than their meager team batting average of .232 in 2016. Standout performers included second baseman Nate Mondou, who hit .296 with a .371 on-base percentage before a midseason call-up to the Athletics’ Class A-Advanced affiliate in Stockton, Cal. Speedy outfielder Luis Barrera was also a force atop the Snappers’ lineup before he was summoned to Stockton, as he hit .277 with 13 stolen bases during his time in Beloit. Slugging first baseman Miguel Mercedes led the team with 16 home runs while designated hitter Kyle Nowlin paced Beloit with 66 RBIs.

One constant for the Snappers over the past few years has been their spectacular pitching staff, and that continued in 2017. Beloit’s team ERA of 3.55 was good for fourth in the Midwest League, and that was in part because of their fantastic starting pitching, especially early in the season. Right-handers Brendan Butler and Brandon Bailey and lefty Dalton Sawyer posted ERAs of 2.32, 2.68 and 2.25, respectively, before each received midseason call-ups to Stockton; they also all struck out more batters than innings pitched. Left-hander Zack Erwin was arguably the Snappers’ most consistent starter all year, as his 2.08 ERA led all Beloit starters. Erwin also made headlines when he combined with reliever Joseph Camacho for the fifth no-hitter in Snappers history. Righties Xavier Altamirano (3.59 ERA) and Seth Martinez (3.49 ERA) both started the year in the bullpen and ended being nice surprises in the rotation. Right-hander Matt Milburn’s 141 innings pitched and 136 strikeouts led all Snappers pitchers by a large margin.

Beloit’s bullpen also quietly dominated in 2017. Righty Sam Sheehan led the Snappers in saves with six and his 2.21 ERA was among the best of Snappers’ relievers. Right-hander John Gorman threw just 19 1/3 innings in a Snappers uniform, but his miniscule ERA of 0.93 earned him a quick promotion to Stockton. While he struggled with walks and too many baserunners in general at times, righty Heath Bowers earned an All-Star nod thanks to his 2.22 ERA; Bowers also led all Beloit relievers with 81 innings pitched.

Mondou, Sawyer and outfielder Luke Persico joined Bowers as the four Snappers to receive All-Star selections in 2017. Only Bowers and Mondou ended up getting to play in the Midwest League All-Star Game, however, as Persico was dealing with injuries at the time and Sawyer was promoted immediately after his selection.

While the Snappers made progress on the field this year, the future of professional baseball in Beloit remains uncertain. The Snappers’ home venue, Pohlman Field, has long been considered one of the worst stadiums in Minor League Baseball. The Milwaukee Brewers dropped the Snappers as their Class A affiliate in 2005 because they felt Beloit was making no progress towards a new stadium, and, 12 years later, the Snappers have finally been forced to move in that direction. Minor League Baseball President Pat O’Conner visited Beloit back in March and emphasized the urgency for the Snappers to, at the very least, begin construction of a new stadium by 2020, as Pohlman Field will likely no longer meet Minor League Baseball’s standards when a new Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) comes into play.

After a strong draft for the Athletics in 2017, it’s likely that even more talent will pass through Beloit next year and that the Snappers will have a strong product on the field. But as 2020 inches closer, there are crucial off-the-field decisions looming for the Snappers.

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