As the Los Angeles Dodgers prepare for their sixth consecutive Divisional Series appearance, it’s time to shine a light on the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes championship season.
For the third time in franchise history, and the second since affiliated with the Dodgers, the Quakes are California League champions.
It took three games against the Visalia Rawhide, the Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate, for the Quakes to take home the California trophy.
Throughout the minor league season, the Dodgers’ forthcoming players shined bright in double-digit leads and a 15-game win streak.
From rehabbing major leaguers to players fresh out of the draft, general manager Drew Saylor juggled more than 40 players throughout the Quakes historic season.
While some key players – like Rylan Bannon and Zach Pop – were traded away in the Manny Machado deal, the Quakes dominated opponents with top prospects and hidden treasures.
Gavin Lux, the sixth top prospect for the Dodgers, bounced back strongly after a down-year the previous season. Hitting a .324 batting average in 88 games, while slugging .520, Lux earned himself a promotion to the double-A Tulsa Drillers.
Defensively, Lux logged over 400 more innings at shortstop than he did at second base. Considering Corey Seager’s injury history, Lux may soon be taking the field as shortstop for the Dodgers. It’s remarkable the Dodgers hung on to their prospect in the Machado deal with the Baltimore Orioles.
Awaiting Lux in Tulsa was another pitching phenom in the making.
Tony Gonsolin started 17 games for Rancho Cucamonga and held opposing teams to a combined 25 earned runs. With 106 strikeouts and a 2.69 earned-run-average, Gonsolin quickly joined the Drillers where he continued his dominance, winning six of his nine starts.
Dustin May will soon join a Dodger rotation involving Walker Buehler and Gonsolin. In his second stint with the Quakes, May started nearly a month after the season began due to injury. In his first three starts, May allowed nine runs in nine and one-third innings pitched.
By June, May found his rhythm on the mound. If he wasn’t putting up zeroes against opponents, he wasn’t giving up more than three or four runs. But just like Lux and Gonsolin, May is one step closer to his call-up after his promotion to Tulsa.
The Quakes’ season heroes weren’t limited to future Drillers, however.
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First baseman Cristian Santana was one of the Quakes’ most clutch hitters in the season. Honored as California League Offensive Player of the Week in August, Santana was the first player throughout the minor leagues to reach 100 runs-batted-in.
However, consistency may be the biggest struggle for the international prospect. Santana tallied nine RBI in the last month of the season compared to averaging 25 per month in the first four. Santana racked up over 140 strikeouts in 580 plate appearances with a batting average in the .270 mark.
Cody Thomas was the hidden treasure for the Quakes. In his first full season with Rancho Cucamonga, Thomas hit 19 home runs, slugged .497 and averaged .285. He ignited in the second half of the season and carried the offense in numerous games.
Accompanying Thomas in slugging was Omar Estevez.
In his second full season with the Quakes, Estevez fared just as well in the second go-around. Estevez has 20 home runs as a Quake, with 15 logged this season. But more home runs equaled more strikeouts. In 58 more at-bats compared to last season, Estevez struck out 41 more times.
The minor leagues are designed to prepare MLB’s future starts. Considering these players are still a couple years away from joining the major league club, what they achieved during the 2018 season is remarkable. Perhaps the Dodgers can learn a thing or two from the champions located on Rochester Ave. and Historic Route 66.