On Friday evening, the Generals collected their 28th win in 2018, staying right in the hunt for the North Division’s First Half title with a 5-2 victory over Birmingham. It was a strong example of the formula they’ve used of late to win games: strong starting pitching, veteran hitting, and clean defense. Even while missing six of their position players, the Generals have soldiered their way to the third-best record in the league, bouncing back from a 6-16 mark in late April and early May to 7-3 over their past ten games. It’s not easy to do that when:
*Both of your Opening Day catchers are hurt.
*Your second baseman–the league leader in hits and doubles–is hurt.
*You’re missing your RBI-happy third baseman.
*Two of your Opening Day outfielders–who each led the league in steals–are down.
Not only have the Generals found ways to accomplish their nightly missions–they’ve done it with a variety of personnel that might make a Cirque de Soleil crew gasp. Here are a few of their super heroes:
*JUNIEL QUERECUTO: A former Montgomery Biscuit (2015/2016), he’s had a tremendous start to the year and has become a stabilizing force at third base in Marty Herum’s absence. He’s the Southern League leader in batting average, and he’s the top General in OPS and stolen bases as well. Beyond his ability to play three different infield positions at an above-average level, Querecuto also sports the best line-drive rate in the league according to FanGraphs.com, stroking 28.5% of his hits on frozen ropes. Querecuto has as good a case for a spot in June 19’s Southern League All-Star Game as any other third baseman in the league.
*TAYLOR WIDENER: Arriving in Arizona in February after being traded from the New York Yankees, Widener has done nothing but make opponents eat strikes. According to FanGraphs.com, Widener’s got the highest difference between strikeout percentage (36%) and walk percentage (8%) in the league, at 28%. What’s that mean? He the guy who’s most likely to ring you up, and you’ve got the smallest chance of getting on base for free. Widener’s fastball-slider-changeup mix has been toxic for hits, too–Widener is one of only three pitchers holding opposing hitters to a batting average beneath .200. If he keeps this up, there’s a chance he’ll see Triple-A Reno competition before the year is out.
*GABE SPEIER: Quietly earning the Diamondbacks’ Double-A Pitcher of the Month in April, Speier has continued to prove a reliable left-handed option for the Generals. What Speier does well sometimes is difficult to see, but consider this: Speier keeps the ball on the ground, and he’s rarely allowed hard contact. Speier has allowed fewer than 10% of hits against him to be line drives, and his 64% ground ball rate is among the league’s best. Speier may be a long shot to earn a spot in the Southern League’s All-Star Game because of a lack of stand-out statistics and a few rough outings in late May. That being said, he’s a guy who can be an important piece on a Southern League Championship team–the Generals will likely feature a sure-handed Speier if they get that far.