The Lakewood BlueClaws became the ‘Low-A’ minor league affiliates of the Philadelphia Phillies beginning with their relocation to that New Jersey community for the 2000 season.
The BlueClaws play their home games at FirstEnergy Park. Built in 2001, the ballpark seats nearly 6,600 fans and has hosted outdoor concerts by big names, including the legendary Bob Dylan.
Lakewood, New Jersey is approximately 69 miles northeast of Philadelphia. It is about an hour-and-twenty-minute drive starting out either on I-95 or the New Jersey Turnpike, and finishing up along I-195.
In the 2018 season the BlueClaws finished in first place in the North Division of the South Atlantic League. In fact, their 87-51 mark was the best by far in the entire SAL.
Despite their fantastic regular season, Lakewood fell short of a championship. The BlueClaws swept Kannapolis by 2-0 in the playoff semi-finals, then edged Lexington by 6-5 in the opener of the finals. However, Lexington roared back to take three straight by scores of 5-2, 6-3, and 2-1 to capture the SAL championship.
This year’s BlueClaws Player of the Year is Zach Warren. The 6-5, 200lb reliever turned 22-years-old in early June. He was the Phillies 14th round choice in the 2017 MLB Amateur Draft out of the University of Tennessee.
The hard-throwing southpaw reliever registered 15 Saves this season, appearing in 39 games. Over that span the lefty dominated opposing hitters, allowing just 33 hits across 56.2 innings with a 100/28 K:BB ratio.
Warren fashioned a 3-2 record with a 1.91 ERA, a 1.076 WHIP, and was tagged for just two home runs this year. He became the closer for the BlueClaws in June after starting out the season in middle relief.
Patrick Mulranen for the Press of Atlantic City quoted Warren on the change in role back in the middle of July:
“It’s different. I had things to work out in the beginning of the year to get that consistency that I wanted. But now I feel like my mechanics, my plan and my pitches are all coming together at the right time, and it’s giving me the ability to execute pitches and get guys out.”
“Zach has been a privilege to work with this year,” Lakewood pitching coach Brad Bergesen said per Mulranen. “He is an extremely hard worker. He is very diligent with his preparation…He has found himself in that (closer) role and has done a tremendous job…Every single day, we really preach preparation here. That has been our big thing, and he has been a guy that really takes that seriously. He is very routine-oriented. … You can tell he does everything with an intent…I think he has a great feel for what he is doing. He’s got a great curveball and fastball mix. I’m very pleased with how he’s doing right now.”
A native of Vineland, New Jersey, Warren grew up as a huge Phillies fan during last decade’s fabulous winning era. As he told Mulranen, that has given him additional motivation to reach the big-leagues and eventual wear the red pinstripes:
As with Ben Pelletier, named yesterday as the short-season Williamsport Crosscutters Player of the Year, Warren has not yet shown up on any of the Phillies top prospect lists. However, there is always a place for a tough lefty reliever. Should he repeat his dominating performance when next season gets underway, Warren is sure to begin popping up on evaluator radar screens.
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