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Disappointing season, but Reds pleased with Dragons’ player development

No baseball season is a complete success or a complete failure, no matter where the team in question finishes.

With a little more than a week to go in the regular season, only an incredible run would vault the current Dayton Dragons into the playoffs, where they made a run to the doorstep of the championship round for the first time last season. Now, in manager Luis Bolivar’s second year, the team may finish the regular season at Bowling Green on Sept. 1-3 and out of the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years.

Still, Bolivar and outgoing farm director Jeff Graupe (who is taking another job in the organization) found the team’s bright spots, especially among the team’s highest-considered prospects. At least three of them – pitcher Hunter Greene, shortstop/second baseman Jose Garcia and second baseman/shortstop Jeter Downs – made major strides.

Both Bolivar and Graupe also have been happy with the progress made by outfielder Andy Sugilio and Graupe gave special shoutouts to infielder Alejo Lopez and relief pitcher Cory Thompson.

Greene is finishing the year on the disabled list with a strained right (throwing) elbow), which means he has a slight tear, but his progress was considerable considering he was only 18 and dropped his ERA from a high of 14.63 in April to the 4.48 he finished with after throwing two scoreless innings on July 26.

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Garcia and Downs, both heralded shortstops entering the season, could have fought each other to play the position exclusively, but the parent Reds decided they could add value to each player by alternating them between short and second.

Garcia eventually ended up at short more as his batting average picked up late in the season, but Downs also produced a strong season.

“Jeter got better,” Bolivar said. “He made the transition to second base. It was his first full season. He got to play more than 100 games. He’s a guy who can hit, and make a transition to second base.

“Garcia had a big improvement. He went a year without playing (as his contract was being written). He came into a first full season in cold weather. He made the adjustment defensively and offensively. It was a good thing to see. It was a good year developing guys.”

As for Greene, the program always called to bring him along slowly to protect his arm. However, throwing several pitches at 100 mph or better (he topped out at 102), did do some damage. He’s ending the season in rehab.

“He made big strides from the middle of the season,” Bolivar said. “That was nice to see.”

Graupe was especially effusive about Garcia and Greene.

“If you were to simply graph the shape of his year by simple statistics, you’d see an upward trend,” Graupe said of Garcia. “I think he showed his raw ability. I think he got more comfortable. I think he battled adversity. To me, he’s had one of the better seasons from a development standpoint of anyone in the system.”

As for Greene, who struck out 89 batters in 66 1/3 innings, “What he accomplished, I don’t know that I’ve seen anything like that,” Graupe said. “It’s certainly historic in terms of the Dayton Dragons. He had one of the best runs in pro ball.”

Sigulio’s season was hampered from the start when he injured a hamstring in the first game.

“He’s got the tools to be a big league starter,” Bolivar said. In addition to being one of the fastest runners in the Reds’ system, Sugilio began to hit late in the year, moving his batting average above .270. Lopez, who came to the team at mid-season, hit .355 over a 34-game stretch and bumped his season’s average to .313. Thompson, originally signed as a shortstop, was moved to the mound after it was decided injuries were holding him back as a pitcher.

Thompson’s ERA has been under 3.00 all season and he has recorded five victories and five saves.

And those are just the players who have remained with the team. Others, such as outfielder Stuart Fairchild, have already been promoted.

As much as the individual accomplishments of the players means to Bolivar, he still wants to win, too.

“The main goal is to finish strong,” Bolivar said. “We’re going to try to win games, to keep getting better. We’re trying to finish healthy and stay strong.

“Overall, we developed the guys. I think it was a good year. I’m happy.”

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