You never know when your luck is going to turn around. In one foul swoop, Ryan Brett and Richie Shaffer showed signs of finally breaking out and the Salt River Rafters went from sluggish to spectacular.
Arizona Fall League: Salt River Rafters 8, Mesa Solar Sox 2
No matter what he did, Ryan Brett just could not find a hit. After lining out in the first inning, Brett drilled a bullet groundball, but it was right at Addison Russell to start a 6-4-3 double play. A weaker grounder in the 6th took Brett’s struggles to a new level–he was just 1 for 21 to begin the Arizona Fall League season. But then in the 8th, Brett finally got the hit he had been needing for a long time, drilling a triple. He followed it up with an RBI single as a part of the Rafters’ seven-run 9th and suddenly he’s 2 for his last 2. Brett has been hitting the ball much better than his results would indicate and hopefully now he will finally start putting up the numbers the Rays were hoping to see from him. But Brett wasn’t the only Rays prospect who had a breakout game. Richie Shaffer led off the 9th for Salt River with the Rafters down by just a run, but he seemed like the worst possible player to be coming to the plate. He was just 1 for his last 13 including 2 strikeouts in his first 3 at-bats. But Shaffer finally made something happen, albeit something small as he drew a walk. And that got the ball rolling for the Rafters as they had 5 straight batters reach base against Alvarez as they turned this game for a likely loss into a blowout. Hopefully the turnaround for Shaffer can be significant as the one for his team.
Dominican Winter League: Estrellas de Oriente 4, Leones del Escogido 2
The Dominican Winter League is in its second day of action now, giving us yet another league to cover and several more current and former Rays to add to the mix. This game saw four Rays-related players see action. For Oriente, Vince Belnome went 0 for 2 with 2 walks and a sac fly, Adam Liberatore retired the only batter he faced. Both Belnome and Liberatore had strong seasons at Triple-A Durham this season and could be a stroke of luck away from earning a role with the Rays. There was also Russell Branyan, who was with the Devil Rays back in 2006, but he went 0 fo 4 with 2 strikeouts. Meanwhile for Oriente, Freddy Guzman, who appeared in a game for the Rays in September, pinch-ran for Escogido. Guzman’s only game for the Rays was the 12-inning afaiar against the Rangers where he pinch-ran, stole a base, and scored the tying run in the 11th on a David DeJesus single. Why didn’t he appear any other time?
Tigres del Licey 2, Gigantes del Cibao 1
Ramon Ramirez and Jhonny Nunez were both Triple-A relievers for the Rays who appeared in the major leagues for other teams. Now they have another thing in common as teammates for the Gigantes del Cibao. Neither of their seasons debuts went too well for the Gigantes, though. Ramirez retired the first batter he faced but left after giving up a leadoff double to begin the 8th. Then in the 9th, Nunez came in with 1 out and the bases loaded and allowed a game-ending walk. No offense to Nunez, but he doesn’t exactly have pinpoint command–he walked 6.3 batters per 9 in his 37 innings in the Rays system–and that was not a spot where he was going to have much of a chance to succeed.
Mexican Pacific League: Venados de Mazatlán 10, Aguilas de Mexicali 3
Henry Mateo was the catalyst in Mazatlán’s offensive outburst, going 3 for 5 with an RBI triple out of the leadoff spot. He has gotten off to a solid start to the year, going 8 for 28 (.286) including hits in his last four games. The Venados also featured former Rays draft pick Ryan Mulhern, who went 1 for 5. For Mexicali, they had a rough game but their two most well-known players both excelled as Kevin Kouzmanoff went 4 for 4 with 2 doubles and a run scored and former Rays pick Mike Jacobs went 2 for 4 with a double and a walk. Kouzmanoff hasn’t appeared in the big leagues since 2011 but is making his best effort for another chance, starting the season 13 for 24 (.464) with 4 doubles, 2 homers, and 7 RBI.
Algodoneros de Guasave 5, Tomateros de Culiacán 4
Humberto Cota had a strong game for Culiacán in this one, slamming a two-run homer in the 6th inning. But in the 9th, Cota was faced with the task of doing it again. Cota’s blast had tied the game at 3, but Zelous Wheeler‘s two-run single gave Guasave a 5-3 lead. Down to their final at-bat, though, the Tomateros were not going to go down quietly. Maxwell Leon on Ronnier Mustelier strung together one-out singles before Alex Liddi drilled a 2-out double to make it a 5-4 game. Up came Cota to the plate, and he hit the ball hard but right to second baseman Jose Rodriguez to start a 6-4-3 double play as Culiacán lost 5-4. Cota’s homer was just his second hit in 13 at-bats on the season, but hopefully he can take the positives from this one to starting getting on track.
Naranjeros de Hermosillo 7, Yaquis de Obregón 1
Armando Araiza is a 20 year old catcher who spent 2013 at Rookie-level Princeton in the Rays system. In the Mexican League, he’s facing off against players significantly older. But on Saturday, it was the 20 year old Araiza that was one of the few bright spots for Obregón as the Naranjeros beat them handily. Araiza went 2 for 4 with the Yaquis’ only RBI and they weren’t lucky hits either as both were line drives. Araiza also threw out the only runner who tried to seteal against him. It’s just one game, but what a game it was. A few more games like this and Araiza may be a prospect to look at a little more closely.
Venezuelan Winter League: Aguilas del Zulia 6, Caribes de Anzoátegui 1
Somebody missed a sign and Juan Apodaca threw out his former Durham teammate Leslie Anderson by about a mile as he tried to steal second base. Sorry, Leslie. Anderson did have the Caribes’ only RBI in their loss while Apodaca went 1 for 3 with a run scored. Apodaca did not play very well for the Bulls, but he has looked very good so far for Zulia, going 5 for 19 (.263) with just one extra-base hit, but he has registered five walks against five strikeouts to lead to a .481 OBP.
Tigres de Aragua 5, Navegantes del Magallanes 4 (10 innings)
And to finish off the story of Rays catchers, you have Jesus Flores and Hector Gimenez in this game. Flores had a 2-run homer and a walk while Gimenez went 1 for 4 with a walk. Flores especially is hitting out of his mind now, homering in 3 of his last 4 games. He’s hitting just .240 (6 for 25) to begin the Venezuelan Winter League season, but thanks to the 3 homers and a 5-4 strikeout to walk ratio, he has a .345 OBP and a .600 SLG. Flores is showing off the raw power that once made him an interesting prospect in the Mets system before being a Rule 5 Draft pick for the Nationals messed him up, but he’s still just 28 years old and could get a chance to turn it around with another big league organization next season.