For those of you who check out our content daily, you’ll know that we do our best to drift down to the Dodgers‘ farm occasionally and provide coverage of one of the most elite systems in minor league baseball. A few weeks ago, we took a look at the historic starting pitching rotation of the 2017 Double-A Tulsa Drillers. Today, we dip down one more level and reflect on the high-powered, Single-A Rancho Cucamonga offense from this past season.
As a team, the Quakes made the Cal League playoffs for the third straight year, finishing the regular season at a combined 76-64 for both halves, just three full games behind Lancaster in the Cal League South division. However, the JetHawks handled Rancho in the first round of the postseason, and were sent home a bit early just a few games short of advancing to the league’s championship.
Nevertheless, the early playoff exit did not prevent the annual awards from flowing. In late September, the Quakes were voted as the California League Organization of the Year, an honor in which they were recognized for the third time in five seasons. The annual award commends a “complete” baseball franchise that has demonstrated organizational stability and significant contributions to its community, league and the baseball industry.
On the field, Rancho’s offense was certainly key to most of its success, as the club was first in the entire league in long balls with 160. In addition, the Quakes finished second only to Lancaster in runs scored, slugging percentage, and overall OPS.
First baseman Ibandel Isabel and outfielder DJ Peters were the headliners for Rancho Cucamonga’s offensive attack, as the tandem finished second and third respectively in the home run department for the entire Cal League. Isabel finished the year hitting .259/.327/.489 with 28 homers and 87 RBI in 122 games, while Peters posted an impressive .276/.372/.514 slash line with 27 long balls of his own, as well as 29 doubles and 82 RBI.
In his first full season as a professional, Peters claimed the top individual league honors when he was named the 2017 Cal League Player of the Year. Incredibly, the 21-year-old earned Cal League Player of the Week honors three times this season, in addition to being named as a mid-season All-Star. Yet, with all those accolades under his belt, perhaps his finest moment of the year was taking San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner deep two times in the same inning when the lefty was rehabbing in San Jose.
Peters was selected by the Dodgers in the fourth round of the 2016 draft out of Western Nevada College.
Isabel was signed by the Dodgers out of the Dominican Republic when he was just 17 years of age. He’s a feast or famine type of hitter, and is known for his raw power from the right side of the plate. In his first full year at High-A, he was named to both the Mid and Post-Season All-Star squads in the Cal League. There’s little question that Isabel and Peters were perhaps the most formidable one-two punch in the entire league.
“Whenever you have me and Isabel in the same lineup, the two best power hitters in the entire league, one and two in home runs, it’s hard to lose those close games,” Peters told Bobby Demuro of Baseball Census in late August. “Whether I’m on and he’s off, or he’s on and I’m off, we really like to pick up each other’s slack. When he’s relaxed, it’s scary. And when you have him the lineup with some of the other guys we have, like Keibert Ruiz, it’s really hard to beat us.”
Speaking of Ruiz, the 19-year-old prized catching prospect was named by the Dodgers as the organization’s 2017 Branch Rickey Minor League Player of the Year. He was signed out of Venezuela in 2014 and after a stellar 2016 campaign for rookie-level Ogden, combined to hit .325 with 56 runs, 22 doubles, two triples, eight home runs, and 50 RBI in 94 games for Low-A Great Lakes and Rancho this season.
Ruiz began 2017 by slashing .317/372/.423 in 63 games for the Loons and was promoted to the Quakes on July 9. With Rancho, Ruiz hit .315 with six homers, seven doubles, 27 RBI and 24 runs scored over 38 games. In 201 career minor-league games, the switch-hitting catcher has slashed .330 /.372/.461 with 11 homers, 53 doubles and 118 RBI. Offensive skills aside, he’s probably better known for his defense behind the dish, as he’s considered already to be an MLB-caliber receiver by most scouts within the organization.
Peters, Isabel and Ruiz weren’t the only regulars with impressive lumber for Rancho this year. Luke Raley, the team’s everyday left fielder, slashed .295/.375/.473 with 14 homers and 62 RBI. Omar Estevez, a 19-year-old shortstop signed out of Cuba in 2015, finished third on the squad with 117 base hits. Yusniel Diaz and Will Smith, a pair of Top 10 organizational prospects who were both hampered by injuries for a portion of the year, still had solid campaigns. Errol Robinson, a sure-handed 23-year-old infielder, flirted with the .300 mark in his short time with the Quakes before his final destination at Tulsa.
Needless to say, a very impressive group, indeed.
“Quite possibly the most talented minor-league team I’ve been associated with,” the Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said early last summer.
Undeniably, the Quakes as a team will be right in the mix when the Cal League playoffs roll around again next season. Of course, several members of this historic crew will begin their respective 2018 campaigns at Tulsa, but there’s little doubt that a handful of farmhands from the lower levels will filter in and fill the shoes of the superstars who stole the spotlight in 2017.
That’s just the way the organization is built these days.
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