Photo: Hector Yan leads the Midwest League with 132 strikeouts. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)
By John Bohnenkamp
The workload this season hasn’t bothered Burlington Bees pitcher Hector Yan.
The weather? Well, that’s different.
Yan, a 20-year-old left-hander ranked as one of the best pitching prospects in the Los Angeles Angels’ organization, leads the Midwest League with 132 strikeouts heading into the final days of the season.
Yan, 4-4 with a 3.24 earned run average, has posted impressive numbers in his first full season in the minor leagues. Opponents are hitting .189 against him, and he has allowed just 64 hits in 94 ⅓ innings.
“I’ve learned a lot of things, especially how to compete,” Yan said through a translator. “Also, with the innings I’ve been able to throw, it helps me get comfortable with the game, and to learn more.”
Yan has thrown 18 more innings this season than the three previous seasons combined. But he said he was prepared for that workload.
“I feel good, mentally strong,” he said.
“For the most part, when you look over the season, he’s had a good season,” Bees manager Jack Howell said. “There were a couple of games there where he had a little bit of a struggle. But he’s learning to be more efficient. He’s had a good year.”
Yan’s longest outing for the season was on June 20 against Kane County, when he threw 6 ⅓ no-hit innings. That was the second of two games in which he didn’t allow a hit.
Yan has a four-pitch combination of a fastball, a split-fingered fastball, a slider and a curveball. Howell said the plan this season has been for him to use all four pitches.
“He still needs to be more efficient, get longer into games,” Howell said. “But that’s a strong arm. You’re talking a split, a changeup, a slider, and then a fastball with some pretty good velo. He’s got a lot of ammunition, and we’re forcing him to use those pitches in different counts.
“At this level, we could turn him loose with 80-90 percent fastballs, and he would probably be unhittable. But you move up to the next level, and guys will be sitting fastball on you, and then you would be in trouble. He’s learning great lessons.”
“Just throwing them,” Yan said. “Just going out there and trusting the work I’ve put in before. Just keep working, and if they don’t go like I want them to, I keep trying.
“I’ve learned that hitters in this league are more consistent, they’re smarter. They don’t go after every pitch. So it makes me work a little more intelligently toward the hitters. I learned that right away.”
Yan also learned about the Midwest weather right away. In the spring chill, he was 0-1 with a 4.82 ERA in April and 0-1 with a 4.41 ERA in May.
Yan was 2-0 in June with a 2.19 ERA and 2-1 with a 3.04 ERA in July. He is 0-1 with a 1.64 ERA in August.
“It was kind of tough in the beginning, because I’ve never been in weather this cold,” Yan said. “So it was kind of hard the first couple of months getting used to it. With the cold, everything feels a little bit worse. Now that it’s warmer, I’m getting more comfortable.”
Yan is ranked No. 18 on Baseball America’s top-30 prospects list for the Angels, No. 7 among pitchers. He is ranked 19th on MLB.com’s Angels prospects list, No. 8 among pitchers.
Right-handed hitters are batting .168 with a .524 OPS against Yan, while left-handed hitters bat .253 with a .687 OPS.
Yan had an 89-pitch night, 62 for strikes, in Thursday’s 1-0 loss to Wisconsin. He got into the sixth inning, but gave up a single and hit a batter before being lifted.
“We’re just kind of being smart with him,” Howell said. “That was more about getting him up for the sixth inning. He’s learning about being more efficient.”
Yan, under the current rotation, should get 3-4 more starts before the end of the season. He already has a plan for the offseason.
“I need to work on my physique, and rest my arm,” he said. “Try to be more intelligent coming into next season.”
Photo: Nonie Williams hits a triple to drive in the first run in Sunday’s 3-0 win over the Kane County Cougars. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)
A CROWDED WEEKEND
Howell appreciated the turnout at Community Field for the weekend games against Kane County.
Attendance for Saturday’s game was 2,202, while Sunday’s game on Community Basket Day was 2,188. The Bees won both games.
“It was good to see,” Howell said.
On Saturday night, the Bees honored the host families for the players and coaching staff.
“We talk about it a little bit,” Howell said. “Obviously the host family thing was big. It’s a special day. And they knew (Sunday) was a big day, where people could win money (in the Community Basket contest) and it was an important day for (Bees general manager) Kim (Parker). I think, when you notice it, you want to have a good game and play well.
“I think they knew it was a big weekend.”
A season-high 2,555 fans attended the July 3 game against Cedar Rapids. The Bees have had 16 games of 1,000 or more fans this season, with seven of those having crowds of 2,000 or more.
The Bees’ attendance this season is at 57,119, an average of 1,020 per game. After Monday’s home game against Kane County, seven home games remain.
THE WEEK THAT WAS
Batting average: .192
Opponents’ batting average: .215
Opponents’ ERA: 2.10
Notes: Bees’ pitchers allowed just one run over the final 21 innings. … Justin Jones drove in seven runs.
THE WEEK AHEAD
• At Clinton (6:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday) — After Tuesday’s off day, the Bees play at Clinton for the final time this season. Burlington is 5-6 against the LumberKings this season.
• At Beloit (6:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 6:30 p.m. next Monday-Tuesday) — It’s also the final trip of the season for the Bees to Beloit. The Bees are 6-4 in the season series.
Nonie Williams is seventh in the Midwest League with 54 walks. … Francisco Del Valle is tied for eighth with 35 extra-base hits. … Kyle Tyler is second with a 2.64 ERA. Opposing hitters are batting .196 against him. Tyler is fourth in the league with a 1.05 WHIP, and leads the league with an .880 winning percentage. … Robinson Pina is fifth with 118 strikeouts.