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The Heat wish list second half
12/27/2017 8:22 PM ET
PERTH, AUSTRALIA - December 8 umpire
 in action during Game 1 between the Perth Heat and Adelaide Bite in the Australian Baseball League held at the Perth Harley Davidson Ballpark on December 8th, 2017 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by James Worsfold/ SMP Images)
PERTH, AUSTRALIA - December 8 umpire in action during Game 1 between the Perth Heat and Adelaide Bite in the Australian Baseball League held at the Perth Harley Davidson Ballpark on December 8th, 2017 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by James Worsfold/ SMP Images) (James Worsfold)

PERTH - As Jolly old Saint Nick was packing his sleigh for the long trip from the North Pole to WA, the Alcohol. Think Again Perth Heat were wrapping up a four-game split with the Canberra Cavalry and putting the wrapping paper on an impressive 12-7 first half of the Australian Baseball League season. Santa has come sliding down a chimney near you and taking care of those snacks that we all leave behind for him. Some time last week the Heat must have sent an urgent Christmas letter to Santa, heck, maybe even an email for the club's wish list for the second half of the ABL season. This list is what "Baseball's Best Mate" would imagine the list would look like.

The Heat have been very nice and not one trace naughty in the season's first half. The better word is good. In fact, there is little to complain about this 2017-2018 season. "I think we are playing an exciting brand of baseball, but we can improve. We need to improve to be a championship team," said Heat Manager Andy Kyle.

It almost feels like the club is like the kids who write Santa but already have more than they need. But the reality for this baseball discussion is that the ultimate goal is to win the Claxton Shield and wrestle the coveted trophy from Brisbane. The Bandits have also been impressive now for two seasons. In Santa's eyes they have been good-really good. The Bandits have a record of 56-39 during the last two seasons, winning the Claxton Shield in back-to-back years. Brisbane went 37-19 two years ago and went 21-18 last year. Toss in a 13-5 mark this season, and the Bandits are 69-44 the last two and half ABL seasons combined.

The Heat have gone a combined 37-59 over the same two seasons, missing the post season both times. Even with a 12-7 record this season, Perth is still only 49-66 during the same stretch. It is the Brisbane record that the Heat chase and have on their wish list. To get there this season, the Heat will need a couple of items on their wish list to be delivered to the west to make that happen.

"[We need] A solid run home," General Manger Lachlan Dale said. "I think our pitching has come back strong from a rough start, so with more innings under our rotation and pen I think we're looking to do even more damage in games. Bosh (Alex Boshers) and Simon (Kyle Simon) are horses at the front end and are going to give us quality starts and take us deep into games with leads, and our bats will continue to swing it and put up numbers."

The main issue the Heat have had hanging over their heads since spring training is the bullpen. It is not so much the arms but the type of arms. They are all very similar in makeup. The strength of the 16-17 import class was the bullpen. The Baltimore Orioles sent a pair of lefties in Will Dennis and Lex Rutledge to Perth. Both were very good last year and helped compliment the domestic talent. Rutledge went 2-1 with a 1.55 ERA in 14 games while Dennis was 1-1 with a pair of saves and a 3.12 ERA.

The bullpen has been better after lowering their team ERA last weekend in Canberra to a 5.15 from a 5.61. The Heat have used Cameron Lamb in the stopper role, and he continued a strong finish from last season by going 1-1 this year with a 3.00 ERA. After giving up two runs in his first 4.2 innings, Lamb tossed seven scoreless innings until he ran until trouble last round in game three. He retired one batter in a walk-off loss to Canberra-a game the Heat looked to have in the bag with a late ninth inning rally of their own.

Scott Mitchinson, who reinvented himself to one of the best bull pen pieces in the ABL several years ago, started strong again this year. Like Lamb, the side arm righty tossed seven scoreless innings until he ran into trouble two rounds ago. In his last three appearances he has given up eight earned runs in four innings. The Heat back end stoppers have been in a bit of a slump with a combined eight earned runs in four games.

The Heat relievers have a 4.26 ERA this season at the break. That number is trending down, thanks in part to some solid team work over in Canberra in the two extra-inning games and with the shutdown work of Dylan Thompson who worked 4 1/3 scoreless innings in the series.

At this point last season, the Heat bullpen had an ERA of 3.85, but owing to the club's record, only two saves in two chances. This season the strike outs are up, and they are just about even in walks and earned runs, but the huge differential is in home runs allowed.

 

                                       HEAT RELIEVERS MIDPOINT LAST TWO YEARS

 

 

 

W-L

ERA

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

HR

 

16-17

3-3

3.85

63.1

56

30

27

36

49

2

17-18

7-3

4.56

73.0

 70

52

37

37

71

12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                               

In the 2013-2014 season, the Heat, by comparison, had a 2.10 ERA at the midpoint in 47 2/3 innings. Brenden Wise had notched four saves in five chances.

In 2014-2015 Jorge Maraban was the lock down late inning guy the club counted on to shut the door, a hard thrower who was there in the end to be the stopper. That pen had a 2.81 ERA at the midpoint in an 8-11.

Where do the Heat find a Wise or Maraban? They will need for Lamb and Mitchinson to be the pre-slump versions of themselves for starters. But, don't rule out the Heat going with an arm from outside of the organization to pair with some moves inside. In the last two Claxton Shield winning seasons in Perth, both clubs made the big internal move to strengthen the club. That move that all fans look forward to is the annual post-Christmas arrival of favorite son Warwick Saupold.

"Wazza" is slated for an arrival after the New Year, and he will be a big part of things in the bull pen in the late run. There are still, at a minimum, two rounds until the right hander is available, and it may be another one or two before he is ready for more than an inning or two a series. His help in the last round and any post season games will be a huge bonus down the road.

The potential debut of Jake Baker is another of the internal moves. Baker is coming off a rookie season with the Detroit Tigers in the Gulf Coast League, and he spent time in fall instructional ball with the organsation before he returned home and before the Heat season started. Maybe it is the pair of Tigers the Big Leaguer Saupold and the rookie Tiger Baker that fill out the arsenal of arms in the Heat pen.

"Warwick is scheduled to return for the Adelaide series, according to his off-season programs, and Jake will not be far behind. You know what you get with Warwick as he has years of experience under his belt," said Dale. "With a young arm in Jake, sometimes it takes the body an extra week or two before it's hot. We want to make sure they are ready for their pro seasons, which is key in the planning, and any way they help the Heat on the field is a bonus."

The other internal moves would be the return of a healthy Benn Grice. The veteran right hander was as good of a reliever as there was in the ABL last season. In what was a turn back the clock season, Grice allowed just two earned runs in 19.1 innings and was on that same type of pace this year with no earned in 3.1 innings pitched until his back forced him to the injured list.

The Heat also said good bye to import catcher Zac Law as he returned to Texas to get married. That is also part of the Heat wish list. On their list is the answer to the question how does the club make the right moves to keep on ticking behind the plate? Alex Hall may not bring the bat of Law to the table at this point in his career, but he is not being asked to carry the team at the plate. Something around .225 to .230 with the ability to handle the pitching staff would be all the team needs. Law has grown into a solid receiver and has shown he can handle the vets and the rookie pitchers during the game. With his high ceiling and the fact the offence seems to be clicking, the Heat staying put with Hall as the number one option seems to be a solid choice.

If the club goes to find a catcher who can replace Law's plate numbers, then you might suddenly become short with your young bats and their contributions to the club. Sitting Hall and letting him DH here and there would cost at bats for someone. Adding a big catching bat will cost at least two Heat youngsters at bats as the trickle down of role changes makes its way down the roster. Whitley is hitting .282 with two doubles, two triples and two home runs to go with his 12 RBI. Williams in one more at bat (71) has two doubles and a triple, but he has yet to go deep. Williams has scored 15 runs to Whitley's 12.

Robbie Glendining should also be ready to go in the next two rounds as well. That will give the Heat some versatility with the lineup for Andy Kyle. That may mean some mixing and matching of the card. Jake Turnbull was available to catch last weekend but was never put into the lineup.

"Robbie will come in to the infield, whether that's split time with Jess at SS where he played at college or a slide to 3B, we'll wait and see. Jess has been impressive at SS throughout the year, so he provides us with options," according to Dale.

The wish list will also have the names of the young core of domestic talent on it with the hope that they continue to improve as a group. Alex Hall, Jake Turnbull, Ulrich Bojarski, Jesse Williams and Ryan Kift have all had contributing moments this season. You have to look no further than the last home round to see just how good they are capable of becoming. In one sequence while beating Adelaide in game three, the team got three straight singles from Jake Turnbull, Ulrich Bojarski and Jesse Williams. The final hit was an RBI single that set up the top of the lineup for Jake Fraley, and the Heat would go on to post a six-run inning.

"It's been exciting to see 4 young pro players under 20 playing consistently well, which bodes well for the future of the Heat. It's a different type of long season, but as there are critical series including playoffs in front of them, delivering when it counts is key," said Lachlan Dale.

Jesse Williams leads the next wave of future Heat stars. The Milwaukee Brewers signee is hitting .300 on the nose with 12 RBI. He is holding his own in his fist time starting at the ABL level. He has put up nearly the exact same stat line as Garrett Whitely the Heat's young import from the Rays system. If you can get a steady contribution from your lower part of the lineup, Fraley and Tim Kennelly at the top of the card become that much more dangerous.

Another item that has gone right for the club and that the club will need to continue to use is the relationship of the imports from the Tampa Bay Rays and their mixing with the ball club in particular and how they can have a positive influence on the younger players. That also includes third base coach Craig Albernaz, who led the World All-Stars to the win over Team Australia last week in Melbourne in the ABL All-Star game.

"They have been a great addition to the roster. Their professionalism on and off the field is perfect for our young pros. For Jess, Alex, Ulrich, Jake and soon to be Robbie and Jake, they can witness the work ethic and day in day out focus on their craft," said Lachlan Dale. "It's slightly different with our veterans as they have done the hard yards for 10-15 years and maintain, but to improve and get better as a 17-19 year old, the Rays players have been terrific role models. "Alby" is a fantastic asset to the staff as well, providing guidance and support to Andy, Luke and Steve in the dugout; his knowledge and personality is a perfect fit," continued Dale.

Luke Hughes and Tim Kennelly are showing no signs of slowing down: add that to the Heat list of must-have items. While Jake Fraley, Mike Brosseau and Garrett Whitley are providing top 10 offensive numbers across the board, it is the Heat veterans that will be counted on to help push the club over the top. Hughes leads the league in homers and walks and is second in runs scored. "TK" and his .390 clip are good for fourth in the league at the plate and his 18 runs is also good for fourth.

"I've been very fortunate to watch just about every game Luke and Tim have played for the Heat and WA over the past 17 years, and in my mind they are the best to have ever represented WA. What they have achieved in the game is outstanding, and their ability to consistently perform at any level is what separates them from the rest," said Lachlan Dale.

It does take a mix of young, veteran and import players to make it all go in the ABL. The off-season addition of the Rays and their farmhands may have pushed the time table to getting back in the hunt up a season for Perth. The last few years the import contributions over all have been one sided and mostly in pitching. With every Heat import contributing at the plate, this class has a chance to go down as the best ever in franchise history.

"We spent a lot of time planning the next three to five years for the success of the Heat and in particular consideration for the retirements, family and work commitments of our stalwarts," said Lachlan Dale. "This meant more at bats and more time on the hill for our younger and more inexperienced players last year, which has expedited the process of their development. The players who took that opportunity have definitely made an improvement, and, I think, led by our Aussie veterans and fresh Rays prospects, it's been a great mix."

The team took the holiday break but also got plenty of work in at Perth Harley-Davidson Ballpark before the holiday cheer. "This week we have just been doing some maintenance: some throwing, BP and conditioning Wednesday, followed by a scrimmage with the State U18's," said Andy Kyle. "This has allowed the pitchers to keep on track and face some live hitters in preparation for the next series." 

To round out the wish list, the Heat will need to see overall improvements as a pitching staff and on the defensive side of the game.The pitching we have already mentioned, but the defence also needs to be addressed. The club has made 20 errors, tied with Brisbane, who has the second fewest, but to pass the Bandits, being better in the field has to be a priority. "At the break I think it's no surprise that pitching and defence are key to a title race!" exclaimed Andy Kyle. "I'm comfortable that we have a lineup that will continue to put pressure on the opposition over the course of 9 innings or over a series. Our goal is to put together games where we are relentless on the defensive side of the game."

The Heat have certainly been nice and have sent their list on to Santa. The opportunity to make a run at the Claxton Shield, perhaps even a year ahead of schedule, begins this weekend in the re-match with Canberra in round six of the Australian Baseball League.

This story appeared first on Talking Baseball Australia.

 

 

Dan Vaughan teams up with Paul Morgan as the Heat media team and will join Morgan on air as the Heat play-by-play broadcast due for all home and away games in 17-18. Follow him on twitter @DanVaughanJr. This story was not subject to the approval of the Australian Baseball League or its clubs.