It started with a bang in April and ended with a whimper in September, but those most closely involved with the 2008 version of the Salt Lake Bees deem the recently completed campaign a success.
"This was a great season, really," said Bees outfielder/infielder Adam Pavkovich, who has played in Salt Lake the past three summers.
"I'm really happy with the way things went this season, not just for me personally, but for the team," said infielder Freddy Sandoval. "The team battled all year long."
For the third consecutive season the Bees won their division title only to lose in the first round of the playoffs, the past two years to the Sacramento River Cats. Salt Lake's most recent campaign came to an end Saturday night at Franklin Covey Field when Sacramento finished off its third straight win with another impressive power display.
"They earned it," said Bees infielder Matt Brown of the River Cats. "They basically beat us to a pulp."
Bobby Mitchell had never managed a baseball team at the triple-A level entering the 2008 season, so he was naturally excited and a bit anxious about the prospect.
Then the season started and Mitchell's club could almost do no wrong. The Bees opened by winning 21 of the team's first 22 games, the best-ever start for a minor league baseball team.
Yet Mitchell, who has spent his entire adult life associated with professional baseball, knew that having a 95 percent win rate wasn't going to last especially at the triple-A level when success means that roster movements are inevitable.
Call-ups to the parent Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim along with injuries to key players like outfielders Terry Evans and Brad Coon and first baseman Kendry Morales meant the Bees would not stay nearly as hot after their start.
That brilliant month of April was followed by two months in a row of sub-.500 ball. The Bees went a combined 27-31 in May and June. Fortunately for the Bees, that opening month was so good that they continued to lead their division by a comfortable margin. Salt Lake got back to its winning ways in July and August going a combined 33-26 to ward off a challenge by the surging Tacoma Rainiers and win its third straight PCL Pacific North Division title by four games.
Salt Lake's 84-60 final record was the second best in franchise history.
"It was a good season. It was a real good season," said Mitchell. "It's a credit to the players and what they did. Guys would move up or get injured and others would step up."
The Bees had to deal with far more transactions this season than they'd had in previous years. A total of 161 players were either called up, sent down, placed on or taken off the disabled list this season. By comparison, the 2007 Bees had 106 transactions with 116 in 2006 and 123 in 2005.
"We were missing some guys that were a big part of our fast start," said Mitchell. "But that's part of the deal at this level. It's a good thing because it meant they are in the big leagues and are helping that team win games and that's the main thing we are all here for anyway."
Shortstop Brandon Wood played in 101 games for the Bees, hitting 31 homers which is one short of the franchise record. But by playoff time, he was with the Angels. Same with second baseman Sean Rodriguez, first baseman Kendry Morales and closer Jose Arredondo.
That gave players like Sandoval and Pavkovich a chance to shine. Sandoval, who went into spring training hoping to be in double-A, was a mainstay for the Bees all season long. He finished with a .335 batting average with 45 doubles, tops in the PCL. Pavkovich had been a utility player for the Bees the previous two seasons, but he had his best year yet in 2008, batting .280 with 22 homers and 80 RBIs in 121 games.
Brown, meanwhile, had another solid season for the Bees as well as a solid Olympic tournament for the United States. He and Bees pitcher Kevin Jepsen were part of Team USA's bronze medal winning team.
"It was my best season yet and I feel like I can keep improving, so I'm going to go home, keep improving and come back next year and put together another great season," said Brown, who was named a PCL All-Star at midseason. Brown hit .320 with 21 homers and 67 RBIs in 97 games for the Bees.
A pair of young prospects named Nick Green and Adenhart were supposed to be Salt Lake's top starting pitchers this season. Instead, both had some struggles in their first seasons at the triple-A level.
The Bees' best pitcher was Shane Loux, a journeyman who was out of professional baseball in 2007. He not only was the Bees' top pitcher, with a 12-6 record, but Loux won the PCL's pitcher of the year award. He earned a trip to the majors near the end of the Bees season.
The Bees had a solid bullpen all year, led early by Arredondo, who had 10 saves before being called up to the Angels in May, and Jason Bulger, who finished with 16 saves and a miniscule 0.63 ERA.Mitchell, meanwhile, called his first year with the team "a learning process." He expects to be back for the 2009 season when the Bees will be gunning for their fourth straight division crown.
Bees season in review
2008 SALT LAKE BEES
PCL Pacific North Division Champion
Regular season record: 84-60
Playoffs: 1-3, lost in the first round
Top starting pitcher: Shane Loux (12-6, 3.98 ERA)
Top reliever: Jason Bulger (4-0, 0.63 ERA, 16 saves)
Top hitter: Freddy Sandoval (.335, 15 homers, 45 doubles, 88 RBIs)
Top power hitter: Brandon Wood (31 homers)
Top utility player: Adam Pavkovich
USA Olympians: infielder Matt Brown, pitcher Kevin JepsenTriple-A All-Stars: Brown, Loux
E-mail: [email protected]