TODD AARON GOLDEN: Rex continue successful standard, but PL needs work

Tribune-Star/Austen Leake Beating the tag: Terre Haute Rex outfielder Mitchell Garrity slides into second safely during Wednesday's game against West Virginia at Bob Warn Field.

The Prospect League season has come to an end for the Terre Haute Rex. The Rex finished five games out of a playoff spot, but actually had the third-best record in the league with a .583 winning percentage. It was just their bad fortune to be moved over to the better East Division this season to share space with the league's best two teams — Danville and Chillicothe.

The Rex have been on a pretty remarkable run since they were founded in 2010. Terre Haute has still never had a losing season in the Prospect League, with its worst winning percentage being .527 in the team's inaugural 2010 season. That's 10 years of winning baseball in the Haute.

What makes it even more notable is how the Rex have won compared to their peers. Every other team currently in the Prospect League has had at least one losing campaign since 2010 except 2019 newbies Cape and DuPage. Even Danville and Chillicothe, two of the most stable clubs, have gone south of .500 at least once.

Eleven teams have moved out of the Prospect League or folded in that same time period — who could forget the DeKalb County Liners or Jamestown Jammers? — with DuPage having three different Prospect League iterations alone. So the Rex are a steady ship in what is sometimes a choppy Prospect League sea.

Terre Haute ought to be proud of that. However, it doesn't mean that all is well on the Prospect League front. The Rex put a good product on the field, but that can't always be said for their peers.

Last Wednesday, I covered my last Prospect League game of the season as West Virginia visited. The Rex were still in the hunt for a playoff spot. As for the Miners? Typically, it's a club that's decent, but 2019 has been an exception. West Virginia finished with a poor 18-42 record this year.

When the Miners visited Bob Warn Field, they had nothing to play for — and barely had anyone to play with. The Miners, who had played a doubleheader the night before at Lafayette, only had 13 players traveling with them, including eight position players. Given that they played a twinbill the previous night? They had no pitching left. 

You hear that phrase a lot in the context of college baseball postseason. In college, when a team has no pitching left? It generally means that it actually has some pitchers, but throwers who barely played during the season or were ineffective when they did pitch.

West Virginia truly had no pitching left. And with pitch count rules in place this season in the Prospect League? It means starters rarely go the distance. Once the Miners' starter was done? It was a parade of position players on the mound with the farcical results you would expect.

If it was a one-game thing? It would be unfortunate, but an isolated problem that could be filed under it being one of those days. Unfortunately, by the time you get towards the end of the Prospect League season? It's not that rare.

Wooden bat summer leagues depend on, exist actually, on the reality that players are not paid. They stay with host families, etc. It's really not a fair system, honestly, to the players who make nothing from these games, but it's considered to be beneficial anyway as players in the higher end wooden bat leagues get exposure to MLB scouts and players in the lower levels of the wooden bat leagues get playing time.

However, if a team is losing? Or if a team doesn't have an organized set-up in-place? You tend to see defections. Injuries become more common too as they do for any team in any sport that's going through a rough year.

Players sometimes head back to their colleges before the season ends. It creates situations like the one West Virginia was in last Wednesday.

The end result is junk baseball and something that really compromises the principle of it being a competitive enterprise at all. Oh sure, it was fun to watch a West Virginia player toss what amounted to batting practice fare to the Rex last Wednesday, but it wasn't baseball. It was a farce, a farce that featured one team in the midst of a playoff chase.

I'm not sure how the Prospect League fixes this, apart from maybe shortening the season a bit, but that takes away home dates and potential revenue for the clubs. I'm not sure there's a way to make players stay when they're not getting paid either. 

Then again, many fans who attend these games likely don't care. Like most baseball below the Major League level, attending a game is more of a night-out to have a beer or two than it is about the actual baseball or the pennant race. Maybe it doesn't matter that much?

Then again, if that were the case, why have a league at all? At some point, there has to be some competitive integrity. Last Wednesday's game crossed the line into a circus.

Another thing the Prospect League needs to fix is its schedule. The Rex schedule was, to put it mildly, a tad unbalanced this season.

If you thought the Rex seemingly played Chillicothe and Danville on an endless loop? You weren't wrong. The Rex played Danville 16 times and Chillicothe 15 times in a 60-game season, more than half of Terre Haute's overall schedule.

The Rex only played Champion City — a fellow East Division mate, mind you — four times. This despite the fact that Champion City, located in Springfield, Ohio, is closer than Chillicothe or West Virginia, who the Rex played nine times. Terre Haute played Lafayette, in the West Division, seven times, but never played Quincy or DuPage at all.

I know there are financial considerations that go into the schedule, but having that level of imbalance also tarnishes the integrity of the enterprise too. If the Rex had played Champion City four or five more times to replace the endless games against the Dans and Paints, maybe they make the playoffs again?

The Rex continue to be a rock of stability. For that? Terre Haute ought to be proud. I just wish the league and all of its clubs would pull itself up to the same standard.

 

Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or todd.golden@tribstar.com. Follow Golden on Twitter at @TribStarTodd.

Todd Aaron Golden has been Sports Editor and Indiana State beat writer since September 2004. Born in Milwaukee but an Indiana resident most of his adult life, he previously worked in Jeffersonville, Columbus and Eau Claire, Wis.