Lexington Legends

Lexington Legends close season on high note

Jacob Goebbert set the club record for RBI in a season with his 98th.
Jacob Goebbert set the club record for RBI in a season with his 98th.

On one hand, the 2010 season has been an unqualified success for the Lexington Legends.

On the other hand, the season that ended Monday night was merely lukewarm.

Despite battering the team record book, the Legends finished the season three games over .500.

Monday's 6-5 victory over the Rome Braves capped a 36-33 second half.

The 71-68 overall record might not sound exciting, but that's the Legends' best finish since going 75-63 in 2006.

The greatest success came in developing players, putting them on track to move up in the Houston Astros' system.

The Legends produced the South Atlantic League's Most Valuable Player in J.D. Martinez, who in mid-July jumped to Double-A Corpus Christi.

Still, Martinez finished with enough at-bats to win the league batting title (.362), also leading the league in slugging (.598) and on-base (.433) percentages.

Martinez, Jose Altuve, Kody Hinze and Kirk Clark all made the SAL mid-season All-Star team.

Martinez and Altuve, who finished the year with High-A Lancaster, also were named to the post-season All-Star squad.

Lexington finished among the league's top three teams in batting average, hits, runs, RBI, walks and on-base percentage, and had the fewest strikeouts. However, the Legends also led the league in runners left on base.

"There was just some timely hitting that we needed that we didn't get," hitting coach Stubby Clapp said.

Two who did provide timely hitting, though, were Jake Goebbert and Hinze. And Martinez.

Goebbert set a franchise record with 48 doubles, six more than Felix Escalona's total in the Legends' inaugural season, 2001.

"My biggest focus when I'm hitting is just driving balls in the gaps," said Goebbert, a 2009 13th-round draft pick out of Northwestern. "And every time I walk into the box, I try to open my eyes, see the open parts of the field, especially the gaps and the holes in the infield."

With an RBI apiece Monday, Goebbert (98) and Hinze (97) topped the club record. Jon Topolski had 96 in 2001.

"Everything turned out real well," said Hinze, who hit his 19th homer Monday. "I started off good and wound up going down a little bit but it still evened up good. I'm happy with everything that went on."

Said Goebbert: "We started slow but have improved every month, every day and that's been our goal from the beginning. We knew we had a team that could win ... I think we underachieved in wins and losses a little bit, but I feel like we've made progress."

Jimmy Paredes, acquired in an Astros-Yankees trade, finished among the league leaders in hits (157), triples (7) and steals (50).

Center fielder Grant Hogue had a strong finish, winding up with a .285 batting average and 29 stolen bases.

Clark, with his 29th save Monday, led the league and smashed the franchise record of 21 saves set by Daniel Freeman in 2003.

"Playing together last year, our records were pretty bad," Clark said. "Then playing together this year, everybody seemed to do real well. ... It's been a great year for the Legends."

Clark is correct. Most of the Legends played last year either for Tri-City (27-48) or Greeneville (27-40). The 2009 Legends finished 68-72.

Clark said his biggest improvement this season came in his mental approach.

"You screw up one day, you've got to be ready the next day," Clark said. "Just come out firing and never give up."

When Luis Cruz caught Rome's Kyle Rose looking at a third strike to lead off Monday's game, it marked the 1,000th strikeout by Legends pitchers this season. Cruz wound up fanning six of the first nine batters he faced Monday and finished with eight Ks over six-plus innings. Clark finished off the season with the Legends' 1,010th strikeout.

The Legends also used three managers this year. Clapp filled in a few games for Danny Sheaffer, who came on the scene when Rodney Linares attended to pressing personal matters in his native Dominican Republic. Linares missed 41 games but was on hand to observe the final five games of the season.

Linares noted that three of his starting pitchers — Cruz, Tanner Bushue and Juan Minaya — are under 20. Zach Grimmett is 20 and Jose Cisnero is 21.

"It's been a learning process and they did a great job," Linares said of his pitching staff. "They battled really hard and I'm happy for what they did this year."

Nothing lukewarm about that.