Leading the team to a record-setting regular season and a fifth consecutive league championship, the 2021 Big Train featured talented players up and down the roster. But five players specifically stood out in manager Sal Colangelo's mind – five stars whose performances throughout the summer were key in the Big Train's success. Colangelo's selections for the 2021 Big Train Manager's Awards are listed below.
Most Valuable Player: Matt Thomas (William & Mary)
The 2019 League Championship MOP, Matt Thomas returned to Bethesda for a second summer and made an impact in nearly every facet of the game. He appeared in a team-best 31 of 35 games during the regular season, leading the team with 33 walks and finishing second in batting average (.350), homers (7), RBIs (32), stolen bases (7) and OPS (1.115).
While among the league's best hitters all season long, Thomas provided just as much value with the glove as he did with the bat. Listed as an outfielder, the William & Mary product made starts at seven of the nine positions this summer – everywhere except shortstop and pitcher. His versatility and ability to play plus defense nearly anywhere on the field while producing in the batter's box all season long helped him stand out among a talented group of Big Train hitters.
Thomas had three hits and a career-best seven RBIs – four coming on a grand slam – in a 16-3 win over the D.C. Grays on July 10.
"Matt is the mayor of Bethesda. Not only does he produce on the field, but off the field he exemplifies what our organization's beliefs are," Colangelo said. "Without his leadership characteristics and performance and flexibility we wouldn't be where we are winning championships."
Most Outstanding Hitter: Rocco Peppi (Long Beach State)
One of several talented hitters in the middle of the Big Train lineup, Rocco Peppi paired an advanced and disciplined approach at the plate with great contact and power skills all season long. The California native led the team in batting average (.357) and ranked second in on-base percentage (.518) and slugging (.607). An on-base machine, he collected 30 hits, 15 walks and 14 hit by pitches against just eight strikeouts in 27 games this season. He opened the season with a ten-game hitting streak, and later tallied four consecutive multi-hit games.
He especially thrived in the batters box at the D.C. Grays' field, where he went deep four times this summer. He recorded his only multi-homer game of the season there on June 23, when he went 2-for-5 with two home runs and five RBIs.
"Rocco's mental approach at the plate is beyond the years of a big leaguer and it shows in his results," Colangelo said. "I would compare him to Ty France, ex-Big Train player on the Mariners."
Most Outstanding Starting Pitcher: Grayson Hitt (Alabama)
From start to finish, left-hander Grayson Hitt dominated the Cal Ripken League this summer. He allowed more than one earned run just twice in six starts across the regular season and postseason, and struck out at least seven hitters four times.
In total, Hitt made six regular season appearances (five starts), pitching to a 1.63 ERA and 0.82 WHIP while striking out 39 batters in 22 innings of work. The southpaw held opponents to a measly .117 batting average and .208 slugging percentage.
His two most dominant starts came back-to-back against the Aces on June 19 and 25. He went four innings in each, striking out eight and 10 hitters respectively while allowing just a single run across the two outings.
"Grayson was the ace of our staff this summer," Colangelo said. "When you needed a quality start, he would give it to you every time and that in turn gave us the opportunity to win each night."
Most Outstanding Relief Pitcher: Ryan Metz (Virginia Tech)
A third-year Big Train player, Ryan Metz returned to his role as one of Colangelo's most trusted bullpen arms. He surrendered just two earned runs across 10 bullpen appearances in the regular season. He finished the season with a 1.50 ERA, 0.70 WHIP and 19 strikeouts in 14.1 innings of work. He demonstrated his pinpoint accuracy all season long, walking just two hitters.
His best outing came on June 27 against the Grays when he struck out the side in both innings he worked.
"He's Mr. July, Mr. Consistency over the years," Colangelo said. "He steps up when you need him to. This summer he continued his legacy as one of the best relief pitchers to put on a Big Train uniform."
Most Outstanding Defender: Keith Torres (Sacramento State)
A mainstay up the middle for two seasons now, Keith Torres played 95 innings at shortstop across 23 games this season. He committed just two errors while showing off impressive range on a nightly basis.
"Magic man, the college Ozzie Smith," Colangelo said. "He's a little guy but he brings the thunder at the plate and the leather in the field."
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