It was a disappointing season in Wilmington with each half pretty much being over one month in (54-84 overall and least amount of wins EVER). Every time the Blue Rocks had a good offensive player, he was promoted and yet they still finished last in the league in batting average (.244) and runs scored (520, 21 runs less than the second-worst team) and were second in the league in strikeouts (1129).
In consideration for Player of the Year was shortstop Humberto Arteaga and left fielder Alfredo Escalera. Arteaga was the Blue Rocks lone All-Star by raising his average above .280 in a little more than a month (he was down to .180 in the middle of May). He also only had seven errors, none with the Blue Rocks after May 14th (his next error came on July 15th). However, Arteaga was promoted to Double-A NW Arkansas after the first series of the season half (and really struggled with the Naturals). Escalera scuffled to start the season (.191 in April), but had his average up to .269 at the time of his promotion to NWA (though he was only hitting .171 in ten July games).
But I am going to go with outfielder Brandon Downes as the Blue Rocks POY, despite the fact that he ended the season as their all-time leader in strikeouts with 170. That ranked him second in the Carolina League. However, he struck out 20 less times in the second half and had 12 more RBIs.
He hit just .230 overall, but played in 130 games (fifth most in the CL). Downes ranked fifth in doubles (34), ninth in home runs (12), and ninth in RBIs (66) while regularly batting in the middle of the order.
Early in the season, Downes could not lay off the offspeed pitches down and away, but he got better during the summer. He also made pitchers pay when they threw him a fastball.
Pitching was not a strength for the Blue Rocks in 2016 after being spoiled last season (a 4.55 ERA with a league-worst 534 walks and 91 homers allowed, which was second-worst). However, Pitcher of the Year was an easy choice for me.
Despite going 2-15 (the losses were most in the Carolina League), right-hander Zach Lovvorn had the league’s sixth-best ERA (3.95).
Lovvorn was the Blue Rocks Opening Day starter and most consistent starter, regularly going at least five innings with three or less runs on the board (12 of his 23 starts). He was also hurt by the Blue Rocks shaky defense in the first half, allowing 11 unearned runs.
Over 127.2 innings, Lovvorn did give up 134 hits (eight homers) and walked 44. He struck out 107 (tenth in the CL).
Honestly, the way Lovvorn handled his winless situation into the second half (he won his first game of the season on July 8th) with his ERA hovering around 3.30, that should have earned him a promotion to Double-A.
*Tomorrow I will reveal my picks for Low-A Lexington Player and Pitcher of the Year.
**It was a tough morning typing this, as I heard the news of the passing of Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez. I truly enjoyed watching him pitch. His smile just made you want to smile and be happy.