By Doug Maurer of the Asheville Tourists
ASHEVILLE - The 2019 season of Asheville Tourists baseball is officially in the books but the memories created by this year's team will certainly be remembered. Asheville finished the season 68-72 and missed out on the post-season by only two games after a 39-31 stretch in the second half.
The Tourists led the South Atlantic League in team batting average (.253), doubles (275), stolen bases (157), on-base percentage (.334), and holds (55). They finished in the upper echelon in several additional hitting and pitching categories.
Asheville recorded nine walk-off wins in 2019 including three separate walk-off Home Runs. The Tourists matched a South Atlantic League record by blasting eight Grand Slams throughout the season; one of only three teams to accomplish that feat in the history of the league.
Despite a rocky first half overall record in 2019, Asheville still sent four players to the South Atlantic League All-Star Game:
Terrin Vavra was the starting shortstop for the Southern division squad. Vavra was also named the SAL Most Valuable Player at season's end and the league's top shortstop. Terrin hit .318, the second-best batting average in the league, scored 79 runs which ranked third, had an on-base percentage of .409 which topped the circuit, and finished in the top 15 of numerous other offensive categories. Terrin accomplished all of this even though he missed the final four weeks of the season.
Willie MacIver was voted into the All-Star game as a catcher and was also named the SAL top catcher on the End of the Year All-Star Team. Willie was the only catcher in the league to finish top 20 in RBI (60), doubles (27), extra-base hits (43), total bases (179), and slugging percentage (.421). MacIver was also the top defensive catcher in the SAL.
Alexander Martinez made the mid-season All-Star team thanks in large part to his 14 first half saves which finished second in the league. After turning over the closer's role in the second half, Martinez was even more effective. The right-handed reliever finished the second half with 4-0 with a 1.53 ERA.
Jake Bird was the fourth mid-season All-Star for Asheville. All of his first half appearances came in a relief capacity but the right-hander joined the starting rotation during the second half. Bird threw 97 innings on the year and surrendered a total of only two Home Runs. Jake had the best groundball rate among any pitcher in the league.
Several other Tourists players put together outstanding seasons and led the South Atlantic League in different categories:
Coco Montes became only the second middle infielder in the history of the SAL to lead the league in RBI. Montes drove in 89; 56 came in the second half. Coco finished tied for fifth in the league in hits (129), was fifth in total bases (203), tied for sixth in extra-base hits (45) and finished ninth in doubles (29). Coco's .978 fielding percentage in 75 games at Shortstop was number one in the league and Montes did not commit a single error all season in his 40 games played at second base.
Kyle Datres had maybe the biggest breakout campaign of any Tourist this season. Datres exploded in the second half to lead the league by a mile in slugging percentage (.540) and OPS (.937). In addition, Kyle finished top 15 in the league in Home Runs (15), runs (70), stolen bases (21), batting average (.286), on-base percentage (.397), extra-base hits (46), and doubles (27). His defense at third base was just as exceptional as his offensive numbers.
The Tourists also received serious contributions from Grant Lavigne , Will Golsan , and Daniel Montano . Lavigne and Golsan each finished the season with over 100 hits while Montano finished with 99. John Cresto , Danny Edgeworth and Cade Harris were major contributors to Asheville's top offensive unit as the three combined to hit 22 Home Runs and drive in over 100 runs. Niko Decolati provided a huge spark for the team when he arrived towards the end of the first half. Niko made some of the best defensive plays of the season for Asheville while patrolling centerfield and added a .265 average, six Home Runs, and a team-high four triples.
Asheville's pitching staff was led by Colten Schmidt . The left-hander came up a few innings shy of qualifying for the league-leaders but his 2.18 ERA would've been good enough for second best in the league. Schmidt threw one of only two nine-inning complete game shutouts in the SAL this season and completed at least five innings in all 17 of his starts. Colten is only the second Tourists pitcher in the last 24 years to throw over 100 innings and maintain an ERA under 2.20.
Nick Bush and Ryan Feltner each led the team with nine wins apiece. Bush finished fifth in the league in strikeouts (132) and innings pitched (132.0). Bush also recorded a complete-game shutout in a seven-inning contest, one of only four in the SAL. Feltner won three straight decisions on two separate occasions during the season. Ryan was one of only two Tourists pitchers this year to strikeout double-digit hitters in a game.
PJ Poulin took over the closer's role in the second half and went 13-for-13 in save opportunities. Poulin had help in the bullpen in the form of Derrik Watson , Jacob Bosiokovic , and Raymells Rosa . The trio combined to throw 160 innings in relief and allowed a grand total of only six Home Runs. Reagan Todd , Will Tribucher , Trent Fennell , Riley Pint , Mike Nikorak , Colton Harlow , and Boby Johnson all made significant contributions to Asheville's bullpen throughout the season.
On July 1st, the season took a dramatic turn. The Tourists were 33-48 at the end of June. The turnaround came in a home game against the Lexington Legends. The Tourists trailed the Legends by three runs entering the bottom of the ninth inning. Asheville loaded the bases and Greg Jones came to the plate. Jones hit a walk-off Grand Slam in what turned out to be his lone hit of the season. The moment turned McCormick Field into a madhouse and did it ever spark the team. Following Greg's inspirational walk-off winner on July 1st, the Tourists went 35-24 the rest of the season - the best record of any team in the league.