The Reno Aces were dealing last year.
After going 81-63 during the regular season, Reno beat nemesis Sacramento three games to two and then topped Omaha three games to one to claim its first Pacific Coast League championship.
The Aces did not stop there, rolling into Durham, N.C., and rolling out with a 10-3 victory over the Pawtucket Red Sox in the Triple-A Championship game.
Glory at the minor-league level, however, tends to be even more fleeting than in the big leagues. The 2013 version of the Aces can attest to that as they limp into Albuquerque for a four-game series with a dismal 14-26 record.
Pitching has been a headache for Reno, which sports an ugly 5.96 team ERA.
Despite the team struggles, the Aces do sport six of the Diamondbacks’ top 30 prospects, as ranked by Baseball America, including three players in the top 10.
The series opens tonight at 6:35 p.m. at Isotopes Park.
Reno Aces rotation
Rotation: The Aces’ starting five has by and large failed to live up to expectations. Right-hander Charles Brewer (2-3, 4.24) has the best ERA of the quintet and will start tonight’s game. The former UCLA Bruin is not considered more than a fringe prospect.
Lefty Tyler Skaggs entered the year as the Diamondbacks’ No. 1 prospect, but has hardly pitched like a No. 1 (2-5, 6.21); he starts Friday. Skaggs has a highly regarded curveball, while his fastball runs 89-94 mph. His changeup remains a work in progress.
Right-hander Randall Delgado (0-3, 9.09), pictured, was part of the offseason haul from Atlanta in the Justin Upton trade, but he has struggled mightily. Delgado, who starts Saturday, has allowed 43 hits and 24 walks in 34.2 innings.
Sunday’s starter has not been announced but it will likely be right-hander Zeke Spruill (1-1, 4.08), who will be making his fourth appearance since being recalled from Double-A Mobile.
Reno Aces bullpen
Bullpen: As rough as things have been for the starters, the relievers have not been much better. Reno has just four saves on the year, two by the struggling Evan Marshall (1-2, 8.56) and two by Will Harris, who is now in the big leagues.
The best reliever so far has been veteran right-hander Warner Madrigal (1-0, 1.85), who has struck out 33 batters in 24.1 innings.
Lefties Joe Paterson (1-1, 3.44), pictured, and Eury de la Rosa (0-1, 3.50) have held their own. Right-handers Matt Gorgen (1-0, 7.63) and Bo Schultz (0-1, 7.59) have not.
Reno Aces catching
Catching: Tuffy Gosewisch, pictured, and Ed Easley have split the duties almost 50-50 so far this season. Neither is considered a prospect.
Gosewisch (.284, 3 HR, 9 RBI) is a former Phillies farmhand who played at Arizona State. The 29-year-old has a reputation as a strong defender.
Easley (.343, 2 HR, 10 RBI) was the Diamondbacks’ supplemental first-round pick out of Mississippi State back in 2007. He is a career .253 hitter who seems to be enjoying his first extended stay in the Pacific Coast League.
Reno Aces infield
Infield: PCL veteran Kila Ka’aihue (.341, 9 HR, 34 RBI), pictured, has manned first base for most of the season for the Aces. As always, he has been patient at the plate, drawing 28 walks and sporting a hefty .455 on-base percentage.
Across the diamond, prospect Matt Davidson (.290, 4 HR, 24 RBI) starts at third base. He is considered one of the Diamondbacks’ top young hitters.
Shortstop Chris Owings (.343, 2 HR, 25 RBI) is basically the opposite of Ka’aihue, with just five walks in 180 plate appearances. Owings entered the season with 51 walks in 335 career games.
While those three positions have regular starters, second base has been a revolving door. In addition to Owings occasionally seeing time there, both Tyler Bortnick (.262, HR, 12 RBI) and Taylor Harbin (.255, 3 HR, 17 RBI) have played 10-plus games at the position. Neither is considered a prospect like Owings or Davidson. Bortnick was recently placed on the disabled list.
Reno Aces outfield
Outfield: Much like second base, left field has been manned by a mix of players. Six different Aces have played six or more games there. Former Dodger Juan Rivera (.321, 6 RBI) has recently joined Reno and seen time in left.
Center field has been split by speedy ex-Chicago Cub Tony Campana (.264, 11 stolen bases) and fringe prospect Evan Frey (.279, 7 RBI).
Another PCL veteran, former Iowa and Oklahoma City slugger Brad Snyder (.278, 4 HR, 28 RBI), pictured, has started the bulk of the games in right field and also some in center.
Prospect Alfredo Marte (.257, HR, 2 RBI) was recently sent down by the Diamondbacks and is also seeing time in right.
Reno Aces prospects
Prospects to watch: Davidson, pictured, and Owings are ranked as the Nos. 5 and 7 prospects in the Diamondbacks organization by Baseball America. Both find themselves in the same boat as they are blocked at the big-league level.
Arizona traded for Martin Prado and then signed him to a four-year extension, leaving Davidson in limbo.
Similarly, the Diamondbacks traded for slick-fielding shortstop Didi Gregorius, making Owings’ future less than clear.
In many ways, both players may now be treating this season like auditions for the other 29 teams in baseball. The Diamondbacks are in contention in the National League West and could dangle one or both prospects as trade bait.
Reno Aces outlook
Outlook: These are clearly not the same Aces who stormed to the Triple-A championship last season.
Their struggles are certainly not due to a lack of prospects on the squad. In the end the pitching has simply failed to live up to expectations this year. Reno might be quite interested in Albuquerque’s new humidor.
While the Isotopes are hardly a dominant team at the present, they should be able to capture this series from the Aces and remain above .500. That mission will start tonight against Brewer, pictured, at 6:35 p.m.