Theo Fightmaster, General Manager
The Sonoma Stompers Professional Baseball Club was statistically the best defensive team in the Pacific Association during the 2015 regular season. And now the club has some the hardware to prove it after the league announced the Defensive Players of the Year for the 2015 season. Seven of the nine awards were given to Stompers players. The recipients of the Defensive Players of the Year awards were recognized and voted on by the managers, coaches and front offices of the league as the top defenders at each position.
Pitcher Sean Conroy, catcher Isaac Wenrich, first baseman Daniel Baptista, second baseman Yuki Yasuda, third baseman T.J. Gavlik, and outfielders Mark Hurley and Matt Hibbert were honored for their defensive talents.
The individual awards match the numbers, as Sonoma led the league in defense. As a team, the Stompers committed just 77 errors in 2,813 total chances, good enough for a team fielding percentage of .973. San Rafael was second with a .965 clip having committed 102 errors in 2,930 chances.
Conroy, 23, of Clifton Park, New York, pitched in 22 games for Sonoma, and made an impact with his quick reactions off the mound. Conroy was perfect with the leather, tallying five assists and recording 13 putouts without making an error. Conroy, a rookie, was outstanding in his first year of professional baseball, going 5-3 with a 2.70 ERA, including 10 saves, and a remarkable strikeout-to-walk ratio of 52-15. Opposing batters hit just .192 against him with a WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) of 0.950.
Wenrich appeared in 54 games with Sonoma before his promotion to the Florence Freedom of the Frontier League. He amassed a .990 fielding percentage, committing just four errors in 408 chances. In his third season in the Pacific Association, Wenrich had his best year yet, batting .296 with 10 homers, 33 RBIs and an OBP of .365.
Baptista, Yasuda and Gavlik were recognized as the league’s top first baseman, second baseman and third baseman, respectively.
Baptista, a 6-foot-5, Fairfield, Calif. Native proved nearly as valuable with the leather as he did with his bat. With a fielding percentage of .985, Baptista converted 317 putouts, and had 16 assists, committing only five errors in 338 chances in 42 games at first base. The left-handed-hitting rookie hit .321 with six homers, drove in 41 runs, reached base at a .386 clip and tallied an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of .811. Prior to the 2015 season, Baptista had only accumulated 30 at bats in the pro ranks.
In his freshman campaign with the Stompers, Yasuda willed his way into the lineup, then proved to be one of the best all-around players in the league in 2015. In 56 games, the native of Yokohama, Japan, was errorless in 176 chances at the keystone. Yasuda batted .307 (seventh best in the league) with a .448 OBP, and his 16 stolen bases (18 attempts) were fourth most in the league. He also drew 40 walks, the third most in the Pacific Association, and was hit by a league-high 12 pitches.
Gavlik, in his second year in Sonoma, was one of the most versatile players on the Stompers roster. But it was his play at the hot corner where he distinguished himself. In 92 chances, Gavlik made just six errors, and the Hong Kong native was even better around the rest of the field. While playing third, short stop, second base and both left and right field, Gavlik committed seven miscues in 133 chances, good for a .955 fielding percentage.
In 50 games, Gavlik hit .235 with a .444 slugging percentage, including three homers and 15 RBIs. The product of North Florida University drew 20 walks, and scored 24 runs.
Mark Hurley and Matt Hibbert (left field and right field) rounded out the winners, and were staples in the Stompers first-half championship run. Hurley, who played collegiately at Cal State Monterey Bay State, appeared in 74 games, and handled 106 of 109 chances. Primarily a left fielder, the Hollister, Calif. Native was perfect in right (20 putouts in 20 chances). Hurley also had a league best six outfield assists.
Hibbert, another Stompers returner, was sensational in every facet for Sonoma. Not the least of which was his defense. The Chandler, Ariz. native and Long Beach State product, was superlative in the outfield, making only one error in 139 chances, a .993 fielding percentage, and added four outfield assists. After starting the season as the right fielder, Hibbert moved to center and was just as good.
“I’m incredibly proud of these guys, and our organization as a whole,” said Stompers Vice President and General Manager, Theo Fightmaster. “They are deserving of this recognition, and every one of them was an integral part to the success we enjoyed this season.”
The San Rafael Pacifics Daniel Gonzalez, short stop, and Zack Pace, centerfield, rounded out the field of recipients.
The voting body was comprised of league front office personnel, managers, coaches and broadcasters. Voters selected the top two defensive players by position. The league will announce more awards over the coming weeks.