The 2019 TinCaps season, the 11th since the team moved into Parkview Field and the 27th for the Fort Wayne franchise, came to a close Monday with a 3-1 loss to the Lansing Lugnuts. The defeat left the TinCaps with a 62-76 record, good for sixth place in the Midwest League's Eastern Division.
It's the second straight year and third in the last four in which the TinCaps have missed the Midwest League playoffs, after reaching the postseason in each of their first seven seasons at Parkview Field.
Despite the uneven performance in the win-loss column, the TinCaps made significant strides as the season progressed, according to manager Anthony Contreras.
“It's a learning process for everybody, including myself and I told the guys the things that we went through this year, I take them to heart. I cherish every single moment, every single talk,” Contreras said. “Because it grows me, it grows them, it grows our staff, our organization.
“I'm very grateful for the whole season regardless of what the win-loss record looks like. There's a bigger picture to all this and I want these guys to understand that from the start of the season to now they've got tremendously better and become closer to big-leaguers than they know.”
Contreras' presence by itself made it an unusual season in downtown Fort Wayne. The manager was leading the team for the fourth season in a row, a first in the history of the Fort Wayne franchise, which began in 1993. It's unclear if Contreras' time with the TinCaps is done, but if it is, he will leave as the all-time wins leader in Fort Wayne history, with 256.
Despite setting a record for victories with the TinCaps, Contreras was always focused on player development first and foremost.
“I think that's why I'm attracted to this level so much,” said the manager, who led Fort Wayne to the Midwest League Championship Series in 2017. “It's because of the influence I can have on first-year guys, guys that have never seen a full season of baseball and guys that don't know what the routine looks like and I take it to heart.”
The TinCaps had several players excel on an individual level, most notably infielder Xavier Edwards, left-handed pitcher Joey Cantillo and outfielder Dwanya Williams-Sutton.
Edwards hit .336 in 77 games, leading the batting race when he was promoted to High-A Lake Elsinore in early July, and added 20 stolen bases. Despite missing most of the second half of the season, he was named Midwest League Second Baseman of the Year.
Cantillo was voted Left-Handed Pitcher of the Year, the second straight TinCap to win the award after Osvaldo Hernandez in 2018. The 19-year-old Hawaiian was really the only choice for the honor after leading the league in ERA (1.93) and strikeouts (128) in his time with Fort Wayne.
His performance in June, when he went 3-0 with a 0.36 ERA, 30 strikeouts and one walk in four starts, was among the best in TinCaps history, on par with Chris Paddack's magical July in 2016.
Williams-Sutton led the league in OBP by a wide margin, finishing at .411, the only player in the league above .400. His on-base percentage was improved significantly by the 32 times he was hit by a pitch, a mark that led the league and shattered the previous Fort Wayne record of 23.
Other standouts included All-Stars Henry Henry and Ryan Weathers. Weathers, who seems to be on track for the big leagues, was the TinCaps' top pitching prospect all season. He didn't have the season he wanted, finishing 3-7 with a 3.84 ERA, but he learned plenty in Fort Wayne.
“It was a ton of fun,” Weathers said. “A lot of ups and downs this season, a lot more downs than ups. First (full pro season) had to figure out a lot about myself and what I need to do going forward to get to the big leagues and stay in the big leagues.”
A lot of fun. A lot of ups and downs. Those are fair summations of the 2019 TinCaps season. Just 221 days until opening day 2020.
Top 10 Moments
April 22: In his best start of the season, TinCaps left-hander Ryan Weathers goes six shutout innings, strikes out six and gives up just one hit and one walk while hitting 95 mph on his fastball.
May 1: Xavier Edwards goes 5 for 5 with a double and the TinCaps score nine runs in the fifth inning to beat Kane County at Parkview Field. Edwards led the league in batting average for most of the season before he was promoted to High-A Lake Elsinore.
May 20-23: The TinCaps sweep the in-state rival South Bend Cubs in a four-game series at Parkview Field. Fort Wayne finished 9-9 against South Bend.
June 18: The TinCaps send three players – Edwards, Weathers and reliever Henry Henry to the Midwest League All-Star Game in South Bend. Edwards starts at second base and singles, while Henry faces two batters in the ninth inning and strikes out one. The Eastern Division wins on a Home Run Derby after a 3-3 score through nine innings.
June 20: With a 6-0 victory over Great Lakes, manager Anthony Contreras wins his 228th game as TinCaps manager, passing Doug Dascenzo, who led the team from 2007 to 2009, as the all-time wins leader in Fort Wayne history.
July 4: The largest crowd ever to see a game at Parkview Field numbers 9,508, creating a raucous atmosphere for an Independence Day matchup against Lake County.
July 18: As Dan Le Batard Show producer Mike Ryan Ruiz looks on during his visit to Fort Wayne, the TinCaps complete the largest comeback in franchise history, storming back from nine runs down against the Peoria Chiefs to win 12-11. Jawuan Harris hits two home runs, including a game-tying grand slam in the eighth.
July 22: Dwanya Williams-Sutton gets hit by a pitch in four straight at-bats in a game against Cedar Rapids, setting a Fort Wayne single-game record. He was hit twice with the bases loaded and nearly got hit again in his final at-bat, hacking wildly at an inside pitch. The TinCaps win 10-2.
Aug. 4: Joey Cantillo pitches six hitless innings in his final start in Fort Wayne, striking out seven in an 8-0 win over West Michigan. The TinCaps take a combined no-hitter into the ninth before a single breaks it up.
Aug. 8: The TinCaps beat the Dayton Dragons 6-2 to pull within five games of the South Bend Cubs, leaders for the final Eastern Division playoff spot, in the standings. This was a high-water mark for Fort Wayne's second-half playoff hopes and made a postseason push seem possible.
Aug. 17: Fort Wayne reliever Mason Fox turns in the best performance of a brilliant, short-lived stay in Fort Wayne, going two perfect innings and striking out all six hitters he faces in a 3-2 win over first-place Bowling Green. He pitched eight shutout innings with the TinCaps, striking out 16 and walking none.