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A look back at the Rochester Red Wings' 2016 season

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 season was a very good one for the Rochester Red Wings, the Twins' AAA affiliate. After three consecutive 77-67 seasons, the Wings went 81-63, their best record since the 1997 team went 83-58 and won the International League championship. Unfortunately, this year's outstanding record wasn't enough to even take them to the playoffs, as they finished in third place behind Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Lehigh Valley in the stacked North Division. Their record would have been good enough to win the South or West divisions but, as Portland Mavericks owner Bing Russell once said, "that's the way the pickle squirts".

Offensively, Rochester was a bit better than middle of the pack. They finished eleventh out of 14 teams in hits, and twelfth in batting average, but they made the hits they got count. They tied for first in home runs with Colorado Springs, and finished second in triples. This helped give them the fourth-best SLG, which combined with their tenth place OBP to rank them fifth in the league in OPS.

Nobody exemplified this all-or-nothing approach more than left fielder Adam Brett Walker II, who spent the full season in Rochester. In fact, since being selected in the third round of the 2012 draft, he has been bumped up one level each year with no split seasons. As has been his calling card all along, Walker hit for low average and OBP while offsetting that with power. His 27 home runs were good for second in the league, and his 75 RBI were third. Like the team, he doubled less frequently; they collectively ranked next-to-last while he finished tied for thirty-third with 22.

Infielders James Beresford and Wilfredo Tovar were the other two offensive players who were there for the Red Wings' entire season. Beresford's .269 BA and .330 OBP were better than the league averages, and he earned his first major league cup of coffee once the International League regular season came to a close. However, his SLG of .319 on the back of 14 doubles, three triples, and no home runs was well below the IL average of .378. Tovar outslugged Beresford, but his 24 doubles, four triples, and lone homer only put him up to .329, which went along with a comparably feeble .249 BA and .301 OBP. His 29 steals were good for third, however. As he was not on the 40-man roster, Tovar did not join Beresford in Minnesota; his major league experience remains the nine games he spent with the Mets in 2013 and '14.

Along with Walker, five other players hit a double-digit number of homers for Rochester in 2016. Kennys Vargas, Byron Buxton, and Byung Ho Park also surpassed double digits with the Twins. The other two were Thomas Field, who hit 11 after being picked up off waivers from the Tigers after struggling at Toledo, and Daniel Palka, whose 13 in his first trip to AAA combined with the 21 he hit in AA Chattanooga.

Other 2016 Twins who also spent had at least 100 at-bats for Rochester this year were catcher John Ryan Murphy, infielder Jorge Polanco, and outfielders Logan Shafer, Darin Mastroianni, Eddie Rosario, and Max Kepler. The switch-hitting Polanco put up a respectable .276/ .335/ .457 line in his 75 games, while lefty-swinger Rosario was even more impressive at .319/ .343/ .538 in 169 trips to the plate in 41 games. Kepler earned his call with a .282/ .367/ .455 mark in 128 plate appearances.

A quartet of nine-year minor league veterans padded the Red Wings' roster while putting up offensive numbers that all but ensured their options will be a tenth season on the farm or a job that doesn't involve wearing spikes. Buck Britton hit .194/ .240/ .289 in a whopping 271 trips to the plate while making appearances at both corners of the infield and outfield. Reynaldo Rodriguez also split time between first base and the outfield corners; his .220/ .304/ .329 line in 194 plate appearances was downright Ruthian in comparison, but considerably worse than the numbers he put up as a Red Wings starter in 2015, which still weren't anything to write home about. Similarly, backup catcher Carlos Paulino also declined with the bat while once again getting into 34 games in red and black. Infielder Heiker Meneses had a much smaller sample size in his third AAA stint, but his microscopic slash of .103/ .209/ .155 in 68 plate appearances truly does appear to be a fairly accurate reflection of his talent level.

One player who spent minimal time in Rochester but lived up to the buzz around his name was catcher Mitch Garver. After a solid 95 games at AA, he raked in his 22-games with the Wings, his first AAA action. He went to the plate 84 times, and when all was said and done he had a .329/ .381/ .434 line. His history indicates he won't maintain those lofty levels, but it's an encouraging sign that he won't be overmatched when he likely opens the 2017 season with the Red Wings.

On the pitching side of things, the Red Wings were once again collectively quite better than average. Their pitchers combined for the fifth-best ERA, while allowing the fewest walks and third-fewest home runs. They were, however, twelfth out of fourteen in strikeouts, but this economy allowed them to tie Charlotte for the lead with eight complete games by their starters.

2011 eighth-rounder Jason Wheeler split time between AA and the Flower City for the third straight season. This time the left-hander led the Wings in starts and innings pitched, going 11-6 with a 3.53 ERA in his 24 games. That's a tick better than the collective International League ERA of 3.64, and a far cry better than the 6.58 mark he put up in 15 AAA starts in 2015. He also bumped his strikeouts per nine innings up from a paltry 4.6 to a respectable 7.0 while considerably shaving his hit, walk, and home run rates in nearly twice as many batters faced.

Fellow lefties Andrew Albers and Logan Darnell also spent most of 2016 in Rochester's rotation. Back in the Twins' organization after two years elsewhere, the 30-year-old Albers produced a 3.69 ERA in 21 starts. That, along with his other numbers, paled in comparison to his stellar statistics of 2013, his last time with the Wings. Darnell was on that 2013 team with Albers, and has been around every season since. This year, like last, he spent the whole season in the Empire State. He made 18 starts and matched Wheeler's 3.53 earnie, all while lowering his career AAA rates in walks, hits, and home runs per nine. He also lowered his K-rate with a scant 4.3. Neither of the University of Kentucky alumni figures in the Twins' future.

On the other hand, Jose Berrios is part of Minnesota's plans. On the other hand is also where Berrios wears his glove; his 17 starts for the Red Wings were the most by any right-hander despite spending 14 starts getting torched with the big club. Like Wheeler, he made one start for Rochester in 2014, then split the next season between there and Chattanooga. Unlike Wheeler, the much-heralded Berrios put up outstanding numbers for the Red Wings in 2015 and '16. The Twins' second choice in the first round of 2012's draft, his 2.51 ERA with Rochester in '16 edged out his 2015 mark of 2.62, while he once again kept his WHIP under 1.000 and boosted his K/9 from 9.9 to 10.1. His walk rate did jump by over one per nine innings, but this was offset by him trimming off one hit per nine, from seven down to six.

The other pitchers who started games for Rochester were a mix of organizational place-fillers with a few arms who have marginal big league potential sprinkled in for flavor. A number of them spent a fair amount of time in the majors, helping the Twins get the top pick in next year's draft. Young righty Tyler Duffey was exceptional in his five starts on the farm, while his time in Minnesota could be described charitably as "Umm, not so much". The same applies to perennial Quadruple-A arm Tommy Milone as well as the since-departed Alex Meyer. Legenday spoonerism Pat Dean got knocked around as hard in his 16 AAA starts as he did in his nine in the majors. David Martinez, who had cups of coffee with the Astros in 2013 and '14, was equally ineffective in six starts and 13 appearances out of the pen, while Omar Bencomo, Adalberto Mejia, and the delightfully named David Hurlbut were all acceptable but not remarkable in a handful of starts apiece. Marginal swingman Nick Greenwood actually put up his best AAA numbers to date in 2016, his fifth year at the level and his first since 2013 without wearing a major league uniform.

The real strength of the Red Wings was their bullpen. 2010 first-round pick Alex Wimmers led Rochester in appearances, relief innings, and saves despite the dual handicaps of spending time in the majors and putting up league-average numbers. Fellow 27-year-old right-hander Marcus Walden, in his ninth minor league season without as much as a weekend shuttle to the majors, nearly matched Wimmers' usage with 46 innings over 36 games, just three shy in each. His ERA was over a run better - 2.54 to 3.62 - with a notably better WHIP and walk rate.

On paper, J.T. Chargois and D.J. Baxendale are virtually indistinguishable. Both selected by the Twins in the 2012 draft, the 25-year-old right-handers born five days apart in December, 1990, each went 2-1 in 35 innings with a 1.29 ERA, eight walks, and one home run allowed while facing 141 batters. Chargois did edge out Baxendale by the slimmest margin in two categories; he allowed just 27 hits to Baxendale's 28, and recorded one more strikeout, 41 to 40.

Ryan O'Rourke, Sean Burnett, and Buddy Boshers weren't as eerily similar as Chargois and Baxendale, but the trio of lefties were all lights-out for the Wings when they weren't at the highest level. O'Rourke made the most appearances of the three, with 33, but had far fewer innings - 28 - so that lends some insight into the role he held during his three months with the club sandwiched between stints with the Twins. His 1.93 ERA and 9.3 strikeout rate were outstanding, but paled in comparison to Bosher's 1.04 and 10.0 he put up in 26 innings over 22 games in three separate trips down over the span of the season. Burnett doesn't fit the same hard-throwing profile as the other two, but the nine-year major league veteran did compile a 2.15 ERA during his 29 games in four months between playing for the Dodgers' AAA affiliate and finishing the season in the Nationals' bullpen.

Another lefty who came out of the Red Wings' pen 20 times was former Giants reliever Dan Runzler, who earned rings in 2010 and '12. He did not earn a place in the same paragraph with the aforementioned trio, as he got torched to the tune of a 5.82 ERA in his 21.2 innings. This earned him his release in late June. He lasted longer than J.R. Graham, who spent all of 2015 plus one game in 2016 with the Twins; he had a 10.80 ERA in eight appearances before getting sent to the Yankees organization in mid-May. Coincidentally, his major league ERA in 2016 was also 10.80.

The rest of the bullpen was an ever-changing patchwork, as minor league relief corps tend to be. Neil Ramirez pitched ably in his 16 games aside from the 18 he appeared in with three big league teams. The same could be said for former Brewers mainstay Brandon Kintzler, who went 4-1 with a 3.52 ERA in 15.1 innings spread over 10 games before doing even better in 54 games with Minnesota. Pat Light and Edward Mujica also did very well in six games apiece, but Light was thoroughly rocked in his brief action with the Red Sox and Twins in 2016, his first taste of major league action. Mujica, on the other hand, failed to appear in a major league game for the first season since 2005. The 2013 National League All-Star spent the whole season in AAA, also pitching for the Phillies' and Royals' top affiliates.

Other big leaguers who made brief cameos in the city George Eastman put on the map include Taylor Rogers, Trevor May, and Kyle Gibson. Up-and-comers Alan Busenitz and Jake Reed made it up to AAA for the first time in 2016. Busenitz showed potential after being acquired midseason from the Angels, but Reed seems to have more upside. After posting a 1.69 ERA with an uncharacteristically low 6.8 K-rate in the very small sample size of 10.2 innings in nine games, he'll likely be a familiar presence at Frontier Field in 2017, and could very well get Target Field's dirt on his spikes before the season is said and done.

While it was disappointing that they missed the postseason despite their remarkable record, the Red Wings' 2016 was a fun and promising season for Rochester residents and Twins fans alike. It's looking like 2017 could be another step forward, but that's a topic for another day.