By Geoff Safford, Broadcast & Operations Assistant
Every team needs a heartbeat. A player whose importance to the team extends from the field to the clubhouse. Joel Carranza embraced that role for the Sonoma Stompers Professional Baseball Club in 2016, and then some.
Since joining the Stompers, Carranza has been one of the most consistent hitters in the Pacific Association. In 2014, he set the Pacific Association single season home run record with 19. The following year he belted 10 homers, batted .358 before being promoted to the Trios Rivieres Angels of the Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball. In 2016, he returned as did his steady dominance as Carranza was named the League’s Most Valuable Player.
The Pembroke Pines, Florida native returned to Sonoma on June 7 in a player-coach role, routinely hit cleanup in the lineup, and helped manager Takashi Miyoshi as a hitting coach. Carranza took his game to a new level in 2016 on the strongest offensive team in the Pacific Association. The Stompers offense powered its way to a Pacific Association championship.
Carranza becomes the second player in the three-year history of the Stompers to receive the MVP award, joining 2014 winner Jayce Ray.
“Joel had a remarkable season for us again. He's been so consistent, each and every year he's great,” said Vice President and General Manager Theo Fightmaster. “When he came back in June, our team grew up. Everyone realized then that we were good enough to win, and that's certainly thanks in part to Joel's confidence, and the confidence he infused into our clubhouse. This is a long time coming.”
Carranza had a league best .316 batting average, was second to only San Rafael’s Jake Taylor with 15 home runs, and was third in the league with 60 RBIs. He also had a .406 on base percentage, and .982 OPS (on base plus slugging percentage). But Carranza’s importance to the team extended bar beyond the box score.
Sonoma broke barriers in 2016 by signing Kelsie Whitmore and Stacy Piagno to the club on July 1. Having women in a clubhouse is not a situation that most – if not all of the – Stompers players had ever experienced. Carranza took it upon himself to work with Whitmore to improve her offensive game. Whitmore faced a huge challenge being the youngest member of the team. The mentorship from Carranza helped Whitmore earn her spot in the Stompers clubhouse.
“I'm proud of him. He took on a bigger role this year serving as a hitting coach too. And it shouldn't go unnoticed that he was integral in helping Kelsie (Whitmore) feel more comfortable earning her spot in this organization,” Fightmaster said.
Whitmore agreed, saying “As a teammate and (someone who feels like a) little sister to Joel, I'm honored to say how proud I am of his accomplishments. He deserves every bit of this award and earned it through his hard work and dedication. He's a great teammate and ‘big brother’ that I would never trade.”
Although the Stompers enjoyed a fantastic season overall in 2016, they fell on hard times at the beginning of the second half. They struggled offensively and dug a hole for themselves in the standings. Carranza, who was a 32nd round pick of the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2007 MLB Amateur Draft, took this slow start as hard as anyone in the clubhouse. Carranza truly wanted to bring a championship to Sonoma, and it showed with his performance down the stretch. Carranza hit nine of his 15 home runs in the second half of the season, and added 13 multi-hit games in the after the break.
“Joel is a true professional baseball player. He was an excellent leader for all of the players in the clubhouse,” said Stompers Manager Takashi Miyoshi. “I am extremely happy that he was named MVP because of all that he has done for the Stompers organization.”
Carranza joined Mason Morioka, Mark Hurly, and Miyoshi as the members of the Stompers organization that won post season honors for their work in the Pacific Association. Carranza was not alone on the ballot for MVP as first baseman Daniel Baptista finished 3rd in the voting. Baptista overcame a slow offensive start to the season and finished second on the team in batting average at .304, and had a team leading 61 RBIs.
The winners of the awards from the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs are selected by managers, general managers, and broadcasters from around the league.