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The Binghamton Rumble Ponies drew lots of fans, featured some exciting prospects in 2018

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Reviewing the 2018 Binghamton Rumble Ponies season.

Tim Tebow
Steve Sypa

Season Record

64-76 (Eastern League Eastern Division, 5th place)

For the second year in a row, when 2018 minor league season began, all eyes were on Binghamton. Unlike 2017, when the franchise received attention for donning the Rumble Ponies uniform for the first time, this time the media was focused on a player. After hitting a combined .226/.309/.347 in 126 games with the Columbia Fireflies and the St. Lucie Mets, Tim Tebow was promoted to Double-A to begin the season. Almost 5,240 brave souls braved the 35-degree temperature on Opening Day, an increase from 4,680 on Opening Day 2017. Tebow, to his credit, did not embarrass himself during his time in his 84 games in the Eastern League. He hit .273/.336/.399 before having his season end prematurely after breaking his right hamate bone on July 19.

Though no one man is a team, the Rumble Ponies seemed to fade shortly after their Heisman-Trophy-winner-turned-outfielder/DH broke his hamate. The team was nearly .500, at 46-50 before Tebow hurt himself. They went 3-9 to finish the month, and then posted a 14-15 record in August to end the year well below .500.

While the team itself was not performing well on the field, the fans came out to support the Rumble Ponies like never before. Over the course of the 2018 season, the team sold 220,279 tickets and attendance averaged roughly 3,500 per game, the highest since the franchise’s inaugural 1992 season. Three games ranked in their all-time 20 most attended, and the 7,488 games that came out to see their game against the Trenton Thunder on July 20 were a franchise record.

MONTH-BY-MONTH BREAKDOWN

  • April, 11-10
  • May, 17-14
  • June, 10-17
  • July, 11-18
  • August, 14-15
  • September, 1-1

TOP HITTER

Jeff McNeil

57 G, 214 AB, .327/.402/.626, 70 H, 16 2B, 3 3B, 14 HR, 22 BB, 23 K, 5 HBP, 3/3 SB, .316

After missing out on virtually the entire the 2016 season due to a double sports hernia and hip labrum tear, Jeff McNeil got on the field a bit more in 2017, but once again missed a considerable amount of time to injury, this time an apparent groin injury sustained after hitting a home run. Amazin’ Avenue ranked McNeil the Mets 21st top prospect, but by and large, he had been something of a forgotten man due to all of the injuries and concerns about future injuries. The middle infielder sustained no injuries in 2018 and was able to demonstrate the power gains that he made in the 2015 off-season that he only showed tantalizing glimpses of in 2016 and 2017. Already a patient hitter with good bat-to-ball skills, McNeil demolished previous highs in home runs and slugging percentage, eventually hitting his way to Triple-A, and the major league club.

One of the biggest differences between the Jeff McNeil of today and the Jeff McNeil of 2015- the last time he was healthy enough to play a full season- is his fly ball rate and how many of those fly balls are being hit out of the park. In 2015, he had a 22.1% line drive rate, 41.5 ground ball rate, 36.4% fly ball rate, 20.9% infield fly ball rate, and 0.7% home run to fly ball rate. In 2018, with the Rumble Ponies, he posted a 19.8% line drive rate, 30.5% ground ball rate, 49.7 fly ball rate, 12.9% infield fly ball rate, and a 15.1% home run to fly ball rate. Thanks to swing changes and launch angle increases, he is hitting far fewer ground balls and is instead hitting them into the air. Thanks to the strength increases and modified swing, more of the fly balls that he is hitting are being hit out of the park for home runs.

RUNNER UP

Peter Alonso

65 G, 220 AB, .314/.440/.573, 69 H, 12 2B, 0 3B, 15 HR, 43 BB, 50 K, 8 HBP, 0/2 SB, .344 BABIP

Peter Alonso hit a home run in his first at-bat of the 2018 season and the blast was a foreshadowing of things to come. He would go on to hit fourteen more with the Rumble Ponies, the most that any player on the team would hit for the entire season. In addition to hitting for power, Alonso also hit for a high average and drew a ton of walks, continuing a trend from the second half of the 2017, when he worked with coaches and made adjustments to his swing. His .314 average would end up second on the team in 2018, behind only fellow break-out star Jeff McNeil, while his .440 OBP would end up highest.

Every rose has its thorn, and for as good as Alonso was with the bat, the questions about his defense continued. First base is generally considered the least difficult fielding position to play, but at times, he looked lost. As a right-handed first baseman, there are some inherent hurtles for Alonso to have to jump, but he did himself no favors throughout the season, showing trouble fielding basic ground and fly balls and receiving basic throw from his teammates. Alonso has dedicated time to refining his defense, but even with improvements, he still is likely to be a well below average fielder and better suited to DH.

TOP PITCHER

Mickey Jannis

24 G (23 GS), 142.1 IP, 157 H, 65 R, 57 ER (3.60 ERA), 36 BB, 114 K, 5 HBP, 1 BLK, 8 WP, .329 BABIP

Mickey Jannis was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 44th round of the 2010 MLB Draft, but was released after the 2011 season and found himself a washout. Pitching in independent leagues and Australia, Jannis looked to rebound, but not as a conventional pitcher. Converting into a knuckleball pitcher, the right-hander posted solid results on various independent teams until he caught the attention of Mets officials in 2015, when he was playing with the Long Island Ducks- who just so happened to be managed by former Mets Hall of Famer Buddy Harrelson. Jannis was signed and was quite a hit in his first year back in professional baseball, posing a 3.55 ERA in 58.1 innings split between the St. Lucie and Binghamton Mets. He has since become a reliable workhorse for the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, leading the franchise in games started and innings pitched.

Unlike most knuckleball pitchers, Jannis actually has a halfway decent fastball, sitting in the high-80s, but his bread-and-butter is the knuckleball. The pitch has a large velocity range, as low as 70 MPH and as high as 80 MPH, and features mesmerizing, unpredictable movement as the knuckleball is wont to do. Also unlike many knuckleball pitchers, Jannis has demonstrated some ability to control it, posting a career 3.3 BB/9 rate in 398.2 career innings with the Rumble Ponies. Since becoming a mainstay in their rotation, he has actually improved his control of it, going from 4.9 BB/9 in 2016 to 2.8 BB/9 in 2017 to 2.3 BB/9 in 2018, all in a similar amount of innings. Likewise, his strikeouts have increased during that same time period, going from 5.3 K/9 in 2016 to 6.1 K/9 in 2017 to 7.2 in 2018.

RUNNER UP

Nabil Crismatt

18 G (18 GS), 105.1 IP, 95 H, 49 R, 42 ER (3.59 ERA), 37 BB, 105 K, 7 HBP, 1 BLK, 6 WP, .304 BABIP

Nabil Crismatt was signed as an international rookie out of Colombia in 2011 and made his stateside debut in 2014 after spending two years with the DSL Mets. Transitioned between the starting rotation and bullpen at virtually every stop up the minor league ladder, the right-hander quietly had success. Pitching exclusively as a starter in 2017, Crismatt put himself on the prospect watchlist when he posted a 3.95 ERA in 145.2 innings with the St. Lucie Mets, leading the Florida State League in strikeouts with 142 and being named the Mets 14th top prospect. Promoted to the Binghamton Rumble Ponies in 2018, the right-hander once again was solid. A minor league free agent at the end of the year, the Mets will have a decision to make regarding Crismatt, as his potential makes his worth re-signing, but his ability to pitch in the major leagues is questionable.

Crismatt isn’t an overpowering guy and relies more on moxie and guile. His fastball possesses only fringe-to-average velocity, sitting in the high-80s-to-low-90s, but because it has a bit of natural sink and run on it, he is able to get above-average ground ball rates and is able induce weak contact and limit home runs. His primary weapon is an above-average changeup, a pitch that sits around 80 MPH with slight, sudden fade. He complements it with a slider that almost acts like a cutter due to its late break, and a loopy, 12-6 curveball in the high-60s. He mixes all of his secondary pitches and is comfortable throwing each of them in any count. All of his pitches play up thanks to his impeccable control, and Crismatt has the confidence to throw anything in any count.