Lexington Legends

Youthful Legends made huge strides in 2009

On the surface, a 68-72 baseball season might not seem like much.

Dig deeper, though, and there is cause to celebrate what the Lexington Legends accomplished in 2009.

■ Six position players and four pitchers earned call-ups, all to the Lancaster JetHawks of the High-A California League except Daniel Meszaros, who jumped to Double-A Corpus Christi.

■ This team won 23 more games than the dismal 2008 Legends (45-93).

■ Although hitting was again woeful — .237 is a point worse than a year ago — pitching was much improved. The staff ERA fell from 4.40 last year to 3.59 this season.

■ In one year, the Legends went from being awful and old to promising and young.

Primary starters Robert Bono, Brad Dydalewicz, Kyle Greenwalt, Jordan Lyles and Ross Seaton, all 20 or younger, combined to start 122 of 140 games. All pitched 110 or more innings. Lyles struck out a club-record 167.

"We did a really good job based on the age of our team," Manager Tom Lawless said. "We were probably one of the younger clubs in the league and, to play almost .500 for the year, it's a credit to the kids. They battled hard.

"The pitching was probably the highlight of our season. The young kids did a great job of going out there and throwing strikes. Offensively, we were at the bottom of the league most of the year, but we seemed to get hits when we needed them to win some ball games."

The offensive star, without question, was first baseman and occasional left fielder Brian Pellegrini.

After beginning the season with Lancaster, Pellegrini joined the Legends on May 16. He played in 103 games, batting cleanup in 95 of those. He led the South Atlantic League with 27 homers (and hit seven for Lancaster), ranked second in slugging (.578), third in on-base percentage (.396), seventh in walks (58), tied for seventh in RBI (74) and was tied for 10th in batting average (.291).

Along the way, he broke the franchise season record for homers (25), which had been shared by Beau Hearod and Hunter Pence. Pellegrini, who played 87 games for the 2008 Legends, also established franchise career records for homers (48) and RBI (143).

Before the season began, Lawless said he wanted to be aggressive on the bases. The Legends stole 114 bags in 191 tries. Jay Austin and Albert Cartwright had 23 each.

"They've still got work to do to be good base-stealers — getting good jumps and reading pitchers, knowing when to run and when not to run," Lawless said. "The importance of baserunning is key. We won some games because of our baserunning.

"It's a facet of the game that we try to get the kids to understand. That, to get to the big leagues, you don't have to be great, but you've got to be a good base runner, a good defender and a good hitter. That's all — just be good; you don't have to be great."

Austin, for one, got the message. A second-round draft pick who turned 19 last month, the center fielder was batting .186 in mid-May. He recovered to finish at .267.

Second baseman Cartwright, 21, finished at .236. However, he was hitting .316 when he suffered a broken bone in his lower arm on May 3. When he returned in mid-June, he went hitless in his first six games and eight of his first nine. He finished the season on a five-game hitting streak (11-for-23).

One 2009 draft pick joined the Legends, shortstop Brandon Wikoff, 21. A fifth-round pick out of Illinois, he hit .276 in 39 games with the Legends and showed outstanding instincts in the field.

"I think he's done enough to warrant that he gets a chance to go to the next level and continue to do what he's doing," Lawless said of the 5-foot-9 170-pounder. "He's a good defender, and he knows what kind of hitter he is. He's not trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark, he's trying to put the ball in play. And he can bunt."

The Legends finished 36-34 in the first half, four games back of Southern Division winner Greenville.

An 11-game losing streak in August spoiled the second half. Lexington finished 32-38 and 101/2 games behind first-place Asheville.

But the Legends won seven of their last nine games and wound up the season with a four-game sweep at Bowling Green.

"They're a great bunch," Lawless said. "We've had a good time with them all."

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