Since winning back-to-back Bull Cups in 2012 and 2013, the Tidals have been in a tailspin that has had them relegated to a below-.500 finish for three out of the four seasons since.
Their first-round picks over the past several drafts just haven’t panned out, and although they’ve had an early selection in the 2016 (4th) and 2017 (6th) drafts, those players are still too new to know whether they can help a team that was frighteningly bad at run production last year (3.7 runs/game for 3rd worst in AEL).
The Tidals have been in a classic rebuild scenario for a couple of seasons now, suffering from poor attendance (16th in league last year) despite having one of the largest markets. Last year, despite having the 3rd largest stadium capacity in the league at 49,720 seats, they barely managed to fill just over 28,000 of them on average, ranking them 16th out of 20 teams in attendance.
Adding to their woes, they have the 13th ranked minor league system in the league, with really just one decent prospect, Raul Vasquez, an 18-year-old international prospect right fielder from the Dominican Republic, who was only placed on the rookie team roster last summer.
Vasquez has potential to be both a key bat and glove for the team, with some OSA scouts projecting him in a clean-up role someday. His lack of speed may keep him confined to right field, or eventually first base. But he could still be years away from moving into the major level as he has not yet been given a chance to play in a competitive league yet.
We may see his first glimpse this April when rookie league gets under way.
If there are no complications, Vasquez is an elite level batter with a decent glove who will help turn things around for the Tidals, maybe even while the team has top first baseman Jim Lahey gracing their lineup, should the team lure him with an extension. If things go poorly, Vasquez takes years to develop – or worse, never does – and Lahey leaves and the team rebuild continues for another 4+ years.
Another area where the Tidals are hurting is on the mound. They had some of the worst starter’s ERAs in baseball last year, with a team average of 4.43, well above their average run production. Their top pitching prospect in their system is 2017 first-round draft pick Kyoshi Shintani, who had a decent year with the PRCL’s Melbourne University last season, and is currently gaining some experience playing in the Bull Oceanic Winter League for the Gold Coast Stars.
In his last start against Wellington, he went 8.0 innings allowing just 1 earned run on 8 hits and 2 walks, a great outing that earned him a second win and bumped his ERA down to 4.15. He starts again today against Cape Town.
Shintani could see AAA level this season if he is able to keep showing signs of steady improvement, although it’s likely that AA is as high as he will get in 2018.
All of this means that the rebuilding Tidals will have to focus on making good trades, and picking the time to sign free agents, while building up their farm system during their high draft pick years. Don’t expect to see the Tidals looking competitive again for at least 3 season.