Normally, the lower levels on the minor leagues serve the purpose of developing young players fresh out of the June MLB draft and to get them accustomed to life in professional baseball.
But for the Brooklyn Cyclones, making the playoffs has basically been a perennial feat.
However, the 2013 summer short season ended without a postseason berth for the Cyclones for just the fourth time in the team’s 13-year existence.
It is important to note though that the team has now finished at or above .500 (38-37) in all 13 of its seasons, making the Cyclones one of only four teams in affiliated baseball – the Arizona League Giants, the Elizabethton Twins and the New York Yankees – to never finish below .500 since 2001.
Right from the start of the summer, it seemed the Cyclones just couldn’t find their rhythm. Though it’s by no means an excuse, the weather certainly didn’t cooperate at MCU Park in Coney Island the first few weeks.
Almost every home game, the Cyclones were forced to wait out one or even two rain delays. And in games where there were no weather delays, Brooklyn wound up playing a number of extra-inning games, including a marathon 16-inning game.
Manager Rich Donnelly continuously said, “That’s baseball, there is no clock,” in response to questions about how to deal with the delays and extra-inning games. But he did say that the start of this season was the strangest given the circumstances in all his years in professional baseball.
Despite not getting off to a great start, the Cyclones began picking up their game and were in the playoff hunt right until the end of the season. That’s all you can ask of a young team finding their way.
Mets’ great Lee Mazzilli’s son, second baseman L.J. Mazzilli, led the Cyclones with a .278 batting average. He sat above .300 for most of the summer, but a hand injury late in the season caused him to cool off down the stretch. He also led the team in RBI with 34.
Mets’ 2012 first-round draft pick, shortstop Gavin Cecchini, had a solid all-around season. His bat was a bit cool to start the year, but once he returned from a high ankle sprain, he was red hot offensively. He rattled off a 16-game hitting streak and began spraying line drives all over the field. He finished the year hitting .273.
But for Cecchini, his strength is his defense, and he showed that this summer. He has a great arm and gets to a lot of balls with his range. His glove can carry him to the next level, but he’ll have to maintain a steady bat.
After an extremely cold start, right fielder James Roche rebounded to take some strides offensively. He led the team with five home runs and displayed good power to the gaps. But he must cut down on his strikeouts to be considered a legitimate prospect.
While the Cyclones’ offense was streaky, the pitching really held its own this summer. Starting pitchers Miller Diaz (2.03), Rob Gsellman (2.06), Carlos Valdez (2.58) and John Gant (2.89) all recorded an ERA under 3.00. Diaz, Gsellman and Gant were each named to the All-Star team.
Diaz led the staff with seven wins and 87 strikeouts. He sometimes had trouble putting batters away, which led to some high pitch counts, but the talent is there.
Gsellman seemed to be the hard luck pitcher on the staff, as he barely received any run support. But he still pitched well enough to be able to make an impact at the next level next season.
Akeel Morris, who struggled in extended spring training, really impressed the Mets’ brass, so much so that Jeff Wilpon ventured to MCU Park to check him out. With a fastball sitting in the low-to-mid 90s, Morris could have a future as a big-league reliever.
It seems he still considers himself as a starter, but he thrived in a long-relief role this summer. He finished 4-1 with a 1.00 ERA.
Other relievers John Mincone and Johnny Magliozzi found success in the closer’s role. Mincone was named an All-Star after posting a 1.47 ERA and six saves, but a lower back injury ended his season early. Magliozzi stepped right in and saved nine games with a 1.17 ERA.
Though the Cyclones’ season did not continue deeper into September, the team still accomplished what it set out to do at the beginning of the season: provide an entertaining quality of baseball to an area of Brooklyn that was hit hard last fall during Hurricane Sandy.
The “Meaningful Mondays,” in which a portion of each ticket sold went to local charities aiding in Sandy recovery, were a nice touch to help the surrounding communities still in need from the superstorm.
For the 13th consecutive season, the Cyclones led the New York-Penn League in attendance.
It was a fun summer at Coney Island, and we’ll hopefully be seeing some of these faces at Citi Field in the near future – especially some of the talented young pitchers to go along with the already-talented crop of pitchers the Mets are developing.
(Photos: Brooklyn Eagle, MiLB)