By Nathan Mayberg
Sun Sports Writer
The Stone Crabs were supposed to be taking on the Fort Myers Miracle tonight for Game 2 of a best-of-three series for the right to play in the Florida State League championship.
That isn’t happening after the season and playoffs were canceled due to concerns about Hurricane Dorian. The second-half champion Stone Crabs finished with the best record in the league (82-53), but without a title after the FSL declined to name a champion.
Here are five takeaways from the Stone Crabs’ remarkable season.
Charlotte’s collective ERA of 2.77 was the best in franchise history, with six starters pitching to sub-2.00 ERAs. FSL Pitcher of the Year Tommy Romero led the way as the rotation dominated hitters. Joe Ryan emerged as a strikeout machine, flame-throwing Shane McClanahan pitched to a 1.46 ERA on his second of three minor-league stops. Tobias Myers, Michael Plassmeyer, Cristopher Sanchez and Stephen Woods Jr. showed the promise of starters with big-league potential.
2. Wander Franco
Being named the top prospect in the minors is tough to live up to and the 18-year-old shortstop is still a work-in-progress, yet he put up All-Star numbers by batting .339 with a .408 on-base-percentage and a .872 OPS. His fielding was exceptional and figures to only get better. As his approach at the plate improves and he matures, Franco appears on his way to becoming a great player. His ability to make contact combined with his speed, fielding, arm and the power that he’ll surely develop are skills that should entertain Rays fans for years to come.
Good pitching can’t succeed without good fielding. The Stone Crabs were great at catching the ball. Infielder Jake Palomaki made just four errors in 70 games with Charlotte. The outfielders covered a lot of ground thanks to the likes of Carl Chester, Thomas Milone and Michael Smith.
The Rays have never been known for producing a lot of big-time bats. This Charlotte club had a few exceptions. In addition to Franco, there was outfielder Moises Gomez, a 21-year-old who broke the franchise mark for home runs with 16. Ronaldo Hernandez, the 21-year-old catcher, hit a respectable .265 with nine homers and 60 RBIs.
This was a confident bunch who enjoyed playing. It started with manager Jeff Smith, who brought gravitas after spending three seasons as the first base coach with the Minnesota Twins. His positive attitude and work ethic rubbed off, whether it was throwing batting practice, overseeing fielding drills or serving as the third base coach. Pitching coach Steve ‘Doc’ Watson got the best out of a diverse group of pitchers. The arrival of a sensation like Franco could have proven distracting, but the club embraced him and jelled around him.