Positive strides: 2012 Fat Cats season in-review

Back row L to R: Cody Mombourquette, Jason Coker, Chris Latimer, Eitan Maoz, Matt Hummel, Josh Soffer, Tim Nelson (Manager). Middle row: Brett Sabourin, Kevin Dietrich, Wade Wilson, Brandon Huffman, James Amelotte, Matt McGovern. Front row: Joe Stone, LaDale Hayes, Kevin Miller, Mark Charrette. (photo courtesy Freedom Photography)

This was the 3rd season in Fat Cats history and the 2nd with Tim Nelson holding the reins. Nelson took the Fat Cats to the IBL final last year, making the pressure on him and his team substantially higher than it has been to perform as one of the best teams in the league.

Looking at the Fat Cats roster compared to last season, it seemed to be improved over the group of players that made it all the way to the Intercounty final. NCAA Div 1 shortstop Jason Coker was brought in, with Charrette moving a little to the right replacing Chris Latimer at 2nd. That double switch, if you will, was definitely for the better.

At catcher, Eitan Maoz was everything we could ask for in a replacement for Rick Howroyd.

Having added depth players such as Wade Wilson and Kevin Miller also helped out. Latimer moving deeper into the system leveled-up the depth, as he was capable of producing at the right time all of last year. Having Latimer back further on the chart is a lot more reassuring than having to turn to guys like Travis Murdock (no disrespect, Latimer is just a better ball player).

Every import ever signed by this team has been an essential piece in the lineup. Picking the best of the group is always a tough decision; however P Brandon Huffman made the choice a lot easier for me this time around. He had the league lead in Ks, was 2nd in ERA and was almost a .300 hitter at the dish. The guy was just an all-around force.

However, I was worried at the beginning of the season about his head.

As you all know, pitching is a huge mind game. If you aren’t 100% focused at the task at hand, you won’t be successful.

However, Huffman impressed me throughout the year. He managed to stay consistent in pressure situations and perform to the best of his ability for the most part, something that I wasn’t sure he’d be able to do at the beginning of the season.

Another import who deserves a tip of the cap for his heroics in centre field is Kevin Dietrich. There is not one player on this roster that I would trust more defensively than Dietrich. He just knows what he’s doing back there and routinely makes catches that many other guys in this league dream of making.

This year, he helped out in an unlikely category—power.

Dietrich’s slugging percentage remained about the same because of his decrease in hits, but he managed to pelt a team-leading 3 homers, which is something that I really didn’t expect out of him this year. Dietz was a valuable guy to have and I would guess that he plays a pretty big part in the locker room (older guy at 26, rarely misses games, never say die style of play).

If there is a next season, I don’t know if he’ll be back, which is too bad for us. He’s hinted in the past that he’s looking to move on and to be honest I’m expecting it to happen.

In fact, both LaDale Hayes and Huffman were also hesitant to say that they’d be back with the Fat Cats next season in an interview on CFRA. Hayes was talking about options for himself overseas and Huffman, who is at the ripe age of 20, will look to break into the pro ranks here in North America.

For Huff, I have no doubt that you’ve seen the last of him here, as sad as that is. It’ll be a tough loss, but the big man has loads of options and he’ll be headed to an MLB invitational camp (along with Eitan Maoz) this week. You’ll likely be seeing him in the minor leagues soon.

On the local side of things, our Ottawa-born MVPs in my opinion were James Amelotte, Josh Soffer and of course Eitan Maoz.

Amelotte and Soffer were key pieces on the Fat Cats pitching staff for the majority of the season. I say majority and not all of the year because Amelotte was only added to the lineup around the signing deadline, but in his short tenure with the Cats, did he ever shake up the Ottawa sports scene.

It was his complete game win over the star-powered Brantford team that stamped his footprint in Fat Cats history, but Amelotte wasn’t just a one-hit wonder (no pun intended).

He led the team in complete games with 2 of them and only trailed Brandon Huffman in ERA, while keeping solid stats all around—42 hits against in 41 innings pitched, 13 ERs and a 5-1 record to name a few. All this and he’s just 19 years old.

I’m hoping Amelotte sticks around here for another year or two before embarking on a pro career—if he chooses to do so—because there is loads of potential for him to learn and get better. If he elects to stick around in the IBL, we’re looking at a potential 2013 league MVP.

What can you say about Soffer? The guy has gotten the job done for 3 years here and continues to do so consistently. We saw him off to a bit of a rough start at the beginning of the season, posting an ERA of 9.64 through 3 appearances, but he managed to battle back.

Nobody really doubted that he would. Soffer is an intense guy who loves what he does and there’s no way that a couple bad starts would’ve gotten to him that badly. I stand by what I’ve said for the past 2 years, Soffer is one of the best closers in the league.

Eitan Maoz; who had the highest avg on the team, most RBIs and doubles, while sound defensively and crafty on the base pads; is a guy that you have to include in the MVP equation. Unfortunately, he’s another guy that I’m not so sure we’ll be seeing back here, because of his ability. Nevertheless, I salute the effort he put forward this year.

The team showed in the regular season that they were an improved ball club. While they didn’t achieve their set goal at the beginning of the season, which was to gain home field advantage for the first round of the playoffs, they still moved up 2 positions into the standings and finished higher than both the Panthers and the Maple Leafs—something they failed to do last season.

This was done while facing the adversity of their schedule. While the IBL schedulers have always been tough on the Fat Cats because other teams are very picky when scheduling games against Ottawa, this year was worse than it has been in the past.

A 6-game road trip in one week, two 4-game trips on weekends and the old 2 games in 2 different cities on the same day—on 3 different occasions. Granted, the 3rd 2-game day was rained out, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

I was very satisfied with how the team ended up finishing in the standings and while it is a little disappointing after seeing them in ahead of clubs like the Baycats at the beginning of the season, I think we can all agree that 5th is a reasonably good position for the Cats considering the schedule and where we were in 2011.

Looking back on the playoffs, I’ve already cited why I think the Fat Cats lost their series to the Royals. In short, it came down to the Royals just being the better team. I think I got a bit ahead of myself in the predictions for the series and forgot how good Guelph actually is and I don’t think I’m the only one who did so.

I had also said in the above (linked) post that the key to the Fat Cats’ success in the series was to continue to shut down Guelph’s stars; Reilly, Hare, Ware and Allen.  We were unable to do so.

There’s nothing we can do about it at this point unfortunately, as off-season is underway.

Unfortunately, the question remains, will it be our final off-season? No one knows what is going to happen to the Fat Cats in 2013. “We have every intention of being back for a fourth season but obviously, with a year-to-year lease, that is out of our control.” said GM Jonathan Trottier, who seemed fairly optimistic about the Fat Cats continuing to play ball for years to come when the Cats were circling around the local media wire for a day back on the 1st of August.

If the city elects to give the AA group the stadium lease—I would be very surprised if they don’t—hopefully the group sees the value in keeping Fat Cats ball around. They’ve become a main artery in not just this city’s sports community, but in Ottawa culture as well.

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