SALT LAKE CITY — The 2011 season was not a kind one for the Bees — inconsistent play, adverse weather and low attendance contributed to the franchise's worst season since 2004.
Still, there is a silver lining — three, actually — as the season dwindles to a close: Andrew Romine, Jeremy Moore and Efren Navarro.
Through the ups and downs, Salt Lake manager Keith Johnson has consistently preached the principle of player development. Getting wins is fine, but the true direction of minor league management is founded in preparing individual players to make a significant contribution at the major-league level.
And with the Thursday call-ups of the three aforementioned players, it seems this season, regardless of the disappointing 61-79 record, will go down as a success.
"That's what we're here for — to provide a place where the players can get better and help the big club," Salt Lake general manager Marc Amicone said. "It's obviously a lot more fun when you're winning, and we want to win. But at this level, more than any other level, our job is to get the guys ready to help right now."
Each player improved as the season wore on. Moore became only the second player in PCL history to register at least 15 home runs, triples, doubles and steals in one season.
Navarro led all qualifying Triple-A first basemen with a .998 fielding percentage and has saw his bat ignite in the past two months. After hitting zero home runs the first three months of the season, he had 12 after July 1.
And Romine provided stellar defense at shortstop (his natural position), third base and second base. He had already seen action in nine games with the Angels, and is now positioned — like Moore and Navarro — to make an impact down the stretch.
"Telling them about the call-ups was awesome," Johnson said. "I've been with those guys since low-A ball, so it was a pleasure letting them know they've finally realized their dream of getting to the big leagues. Now the hard part comes in them trying to find a way to stick."
Alexi Amarista, who spent most of May with the Angels, also provided a spark in his first season with the Bees. Meanwhile, Paul McAnulty — who hit two home runs in the Salt Lake's final home game of the season, a 17-7 loss to Colorado Springs — and Jeff Baisley provided pop and a veteran presence to an otherwise young lineup.
And journeyman infielder Gil Velazquez, he of the current .333 batting average, had his best professional season, helping his cause to have a job next season.
"I can't say enough about the free agents we've had," Johnson said. "They have a stake in how successful the younger guys have been. They've been great all year, and I expect nothing less than that for them going forward."
The Bees will now hit the road for their final series of the season, a four-game set against Las Vegas that starts tonight.