If minor-league success was measured solely by victories, the 2004 Salt Lake Stingers would have to be considered an abject failure.
The Stingers posted the worst record in franchise history, 56-88, and along the way broke or tied franchise records in numerous dubious categories.
But while the Stingers clearly were a statistical flop, they accomplished something that manager Mike Brumley — and, apparently, the rest of the Anaheim Angels organization —deems much more important. When the parent club needed players, it was able to turn to Salt Lake and get some help.
"In wins and losses we were miserable, but in development we were solid," Brumley said. "Our guys who went to Anaheim did a nice job for them. They fit in the system and they were ready to play."
Those guys included Robb Quinlan, the former PCL MVP who hit .344 while playing some first base, third base and DH; and Alfredo Amezaga, who hasn't hit much but has provided strong defense at three infield positions.
Brumley pointed out that a recent Angels' box score included six players who had played in Salt Lake sometime during the past two seasons.
That's not to say Brumley isn't disappointed with the way his team performed on the field. It's just that he realizes there were reasons for their struggles.
"Injuries and circumstances played a huge role, as far as wins and losses go," he said. "There were some abnormal, difficult numbers to deal with."
One difficult thing was the plethora of injuries suffered by the Angels and Stingers, which created a revolving-door situation in Salt Lake. The Stingers set a franchise record with 53 different players in uniform over the course of the season.
Another obstacle to a strong season was the fact Anaheim's organizational philosophy is to care a lot less about minor-league wins than about player development.
"Our whole philosophy is we're not spending money just to put a good team at triple-A," Brumley said.
That makes sense, but it can also make for a lopsided team, which is what the Stingers were. While strong in some areas, they were shaky on pitching and even shakier on defense, which made the pitchers look that much worse.
"The defensive shortcomings played a huge role," Brumley said. "I think it's worth 30 or 40 percentage points on your ERA just to have a centerfielder who can go and catch fly balls."
The Stingers didn't have one of those, nor did they have much speed at the outfield corners. And the infield seemed to be different almost every night.
"We were slow in the infield, too," Brumley said. "There were balls that were getting through, there were balls we just didn't field. It wasn't just our (pitchers') arms."
Philosophical considerations aside, however, Brumley said the organization is interested in fielding a better Stingers team next season. Because of that, don't expect to see many of the names from this season's final roster back in Salt Lake uniforms in the spring.
"I think there will be a huge turnover," Brumley said. "There's some huge decisions that have to be made."
Among the biggest will be whether young hitting phenoms Dallas McPherson and Casey Kotchman return to Salt Lake or stick with the Angels. Brumley thinks they'll be back.
"I think they're both a year away from being impact players at the major-league level," he said. And with players of their caliber, it's better for them to play every day in Salt Lake than to sit on the bench in Anaheim.
Starting pitchers Chris Bootcheck and Jake Woods also likely will return, along with Scott Dunn, who started out as a reliever but by season's end had proven to be a reliable starter.
And Brumley promises a better pitching staff in 2005.
"It can't be worse," he said. "It's an absolute must for us to upgrade."