When describing the Erie SeaWolves' 2015 season, the mildest description would be to call it memorable. Less than three weeks into the year, the SeaWolves managed to string together a span of 13 consecutive losses. Things got a little better afterward, but not much. Behind second-year manager Lance Parrish, the SeaWolves concluded their 2015 season with a final record of 64-78, finishing at the tail end of the Eastern League's Western Division.
As one might imagine with a last-place finish, the SeaWolves finished near the bottom of the league in most statistical categories. They scored 568 runs, tied with Harrisburg for the fourth-lowest total in the 12-team Eastern League. However, like their parent club, the SeaWolves graded out well in batting average (fourth-highest), on-base percentage (fifth), and slugging percentage (fifth). They ranked third in the Eastern League in stolen bases, largely thanks to the efforts of speedster Wynton Bernard. Erie ranked in the middle of the pack with 86 home runs, led by slugger Dean Green, who had 15 homers on the year.
Also like their parent club, the SeaWolves had a hard time slowing opposing offenses. Erie finished the season with a 4.35 team ERA, worst in the Eastern League. They also allowed the most baserunners per inning, and the highest home run rate. Their 2.38 strikeout-to-walk ratio was just below league average, but they allowed more hits than any other team. Their defense did them no favors, committing an above average number of errors and finishing with the league's third-worst fielding percentage.
Despite some rough team statistics, there were plenty of top individual performers in Erie this season.
Player of the Year: Wynton Bernard
In just two short seasons, Bernard's name has become synonymous with success within the Tigers' minor league organization. A breakout season spent with Single-A West Michigan in 2014 catapulted Bernard into the spotlight, earning him a spot on the Tigers' 40-man roster last winter. In 2015, Bernard bypassed Advanced-A Lakeland and settled into the outfield with Double-A Erie.
Once again, Bernard found himself on pace for another milestone, as he tied the Erie franchise single-season hit streak record of 20 games, set by Ryan Raburn in 2004. To close the year at the Double-A level, Bernard did it as only he could by punching 161 hits, making him only the second SeaWolves player to tally 160 or more hits in a single season. Bernard fell two hits shy of tying the all-time record of 163, set by Omar Infante in 2001. Bernard concluded the year hitting .301/.352/.408 with a team-high in runs (78), hits (161), doubles (29), triples (8) and stolen bases (43).
Oh, did we mention he does alright for himself in the outfield?
Pitcher of the Year: Josh Turley
"Slow and steady" seems to have been the mantra adopted by left-handed pitcher Josh Turley and it appears to be working out for him just fine. The former Baylor Bear began to find his groove in 2013 with Single-A West Michigan, going 8-4 with 79 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings of work for the Whitecaps. In 2014, Turley spend a good portion of his season with Advanced-A Lakeland, posting a 7-1 record with a 1.85 ERA to earn a call to join the SeaWolves in July. The transition to the Double-A level was not quite as glamorous, as Turley closed the year at 3-4 with a 3.78 ERA.
Coming into 2015, Turley came to life, using his unique attack delivery to chip away at the opposition and rack up wins one by one. He got hot in the middle of the season, winning seven of 10 decisions with a 2.69 ERA from May 19 to July 10. In Turley's final outing, he secured his 13th victory on the year, which led the team. Turley finished the season with a 3.29 ERA and 103 strikeouts to 35 walks. He held opponents to batting .256/.300/.416 and slowed the running game, allowing just four stolen bases.
Breakout player: Dominic Ficociello
There weren't many opportunities to find a true breakout player amid the SeaWolves' roster, but Ficociello earns the nod over newcomers JaCoby Jones and Michael Fulmer because he arrived earlier. The 6'4" first baseman began the season in Advanced-A Lakeland, where he got off to a torrid start. Ficociello hit .292/.370/.431 in April, including just 13 strikeouts in 81 plate appearances. His power dipped a little bit in May, but he hit his stride in June, batting .333/.406/.483 with eight extra base hits in 101 plate appearances.
Midway through July, Ficociello was promoted to Double-A Erie, where he initially struggled. He hit just .219 with a .265 on-base percentage in his first week of action. However, things quickly picked up. From July 24 to the end of the year, Ficociello hit .308/.331/.500 with 15 extra base hits. He finished the year with eight home runs between Lakeland and Erie, but added 25 doubles and five triples. The switch-hitter showed promise from both sides of the plate, but mashed lefties in particular, batting .325/.367/.503 against southpaws on the year.
Biggest disappointment: Austin Kubitza
The Tigers challenged Kubitza after a standout season at Single-A West Michigan in 2014, but the 23-year-old Texan could not deliver. He was a workhorse, throwing 133 2/3 innings in 27 starts, but he allowed a 5.79 ERA and 1.79 WHIP along the way. Kubitza lost the strikeout touch he displayed with the Whitecaps, fanning only 96 batters on the season. Thankfully, there were not any major command issues along the way. Kubitza's walk rate actually lowered slightly from 2014 to a respectable 7.6 percent.
It's a bit puzzling that the Tigers left Kubitza to flounder in Double-A. He didn't get off to a great start and seemed to get worse as the season went on, including a 7.08 ERA after June 30. Opponents hit .371/.417/.509 off Kubitza in those 13 starts, and were it not for a very low home run rate, things could have gotten even worse. Kubitza's pedigree -- he was a fourth round pick out of Rice University in 2013 -- suggests that better things could be in store, but he will have to shake off a disastrous 2015 if he is going to progress towards the big leagues next season.