It is never easy being a minor league baseball team. Particularly in AAA, where you have either players who are on the fast track to leave your team and debut in the major leagues or players who aren’t quite good enough for the majors but not bad enough that the organization would want to lose them. Such was the case for AAA El Paso in 2015, but that didn’t stop them from making it all the way to the Pacific Coast League Playoffs.
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The 2015 Chihuahuas started out with Pat Murphy as their manager, and with notorious Cody Decker on the team as well the team had plenty of good chemistry and laughs to boot. Team catalysts included Rymer Liriano, Alex Dickerson, Decker, and outfielders Travis Jankowski and Hunter Renfroe who both started the season in AA. Jankowski of course ended in the majors and there is a reason to believe it won’t be long before Renfroe joins him.
In just 24 games with El Paso, Jankowski hit .392 with 9 stolen bases. He is an exciting talent and many are curious to see how he performs next season in the majors after getting a good amount of time in 2015 to adjust to major league pitching.
Cody Decker led the team with 21 home runs and 75, with Dickerson right behind him in the RBI race with 71 and Rymer Liriano with 14 HR and 64 RBI. Liriano also led the team in stolen bases over the whole season with 18 after 20 last season.
On the pitching side of things, Jason Lane led the team in innings in 28 starts, with prospect Daniel McCutchen, Chris Smith, Robbie Erlin, and James Needy rounding out the rest of the rotation through most of the year. Colin Rea made 6 starts as well in between AA and the major league club going 2-2 with a 4.39 ERA.
The team is in its second season in El Paso and the city is passionate for their minor league team as reported by Ben Davey at MadFriars.com. This year that passion even turned into a pennant run for the Chihuahuas, who were 9.5 games out of first in mid-July and did not clinch a playoff spot until the final day of the season before being eliminated by the Houston Astros new AAA affiliate the Fresno Grizzlies.
After Murphy was promoted, the team was taken over by long-time coach Jamie Quirk who helped finish out a successful playoff run. There is debate whether Murphy’s familiarity with a lot of the AAA prospects helped or hurt him as he took over a major league club full of veterans who had never worked with Murphy before not coming up in the Padres organization.
It was an exciting year in 2015, and a positive sign that Padres minor league affiliates can be the best in their own respective divisions. How that winning translates to the major league level we will see in 2016.