There are some baseball prospects who can really hit but are derailed by severe defensive deficiencies. Most of the time, though, it is the opposite. There are plenty of catchers, shortstops, and centerfielders out there who are excellent defenders, but unless you are the best defender anyone has ever seen, defense will not be enough to make you a starting players in the major leagues unless you can hit as well. Kevin Kiermaier entered 2014 with everyone wondering what would happen for him at the plate. So far, it looks like his bat may be giving his defense a run for its money.
Triple-A International League: Gwinnett Braves 12, Durham Bulls 7
The final score in this game was not good for the Bulls. For the second straight game, Durham’s starter had a disastrous outing as Enny Romero allowed 6 runs (4 earned) in 4 innings of work. The bullpen only made matters worse. Juan Carlos Oviedo allowed 2 runs on 3 hits in his first rehab appearance, Steve Geltz allowed a solo homer in his 2 innings of work, and poor defense led Juan Sandoval to allow a trio of unearned runs. Oviedo looked far from ready to join the Rays. But let’s move past the tough day for the pitchers and get to the offense.
Kevin Kiermaier slammed a long home run in spring training and it looked like a fluke. A 3-run homer on Opening Day for the Bulls can be dismissed as another outlier. But then Kiermaier slammed another home run on Friday as part of a 3 for 5 day with 3 runs scored, and we have to wonder how much of his newfound power is real. Kiermaier told me back in February that a return to a slight leg kick in his swing has helped him harness his power. After two games, that appears like an understatement. Kiermaier has not suddenly emerged as a 30-home run threat and perennial All-Star centerfielder, but he is starting to convince us that his bat is for real. Aside from Kiermaier, Cole Figueroa went 2 for 2 with 3 walks, Roman Ali Solis went 2 for 3 with 3 RBI, and 2 runs scored, and Justin Christian went 2 for 6 with a triple, 2 RBI, and a run scored. Unfortunately, that last trio also each made an error in the game to lead to 5 unearned runs that proved to be the difference.
Double-A Southern League: Montgomery Biscuits 5, Birmingham Barons (CHW) 4
The Rays are challenging Dylan Floro this season, starting him at Montgomery to begin the year after just 4 High-A starts. His first outing did not go as planned, but his bullpen and offense picked him up as the Biscuits came back to win 5-4. Floro went 5 innings allowing 4 runs on 7 hits, good for a 7.20 ERA. Nevertheless, there were several good signs. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was 4-1, his groundout-to-flyout ratio was 8-2, he tossed just 70 pitches in his 5 frames, and he finished with 2 scoreless innings. Floro made a few bad pitches and paid for them, but there is every reason to think that Double-A is a challenge he can handle.
After going behind 4-0, the Biscuits came back with 2 runs in the third inning, scoring on a wild pitch and a Willie Argo RBI triple. Montgomery was down just 2 runs, and that was a deficit they were capable of overcoming as Floro, Jimmy Patterson (1.2 IP), Matt Lollis (1.1 IP), and Santiago Garrido (1.0 IP) shut out the Barons for the final 6 innings of the game. In the 7th inning, Richie Shaffer made it a one-run game with his first hit of the season, a solo home run, before Taylor Motter‘s 2-run double give the Biscuits a 5-4 lead they would not relinquish. Motter had a big game, going 2 for 3 with that double, a run scored, and a stolen base. Shaffer is the better-known prospect, but Motter has quietly impressed as a professional and the Rays look forward to seeing how he handles Double-A.
High-A Florida State League: Bradenton Marauders (PIT) 9, Charlotte Stone Crabs 1
What is with all the starting pitcher blowups? Reinaldo Lopez may have had the toughest time of anyone so far, allowing 7 runs, 6 earned, on 10 hits in 1.1 innings pitched. Bizarrely, his groundout to flyout ratio was a perfect 5-0, but this simply was not his game. The Stone Crabs’ bullpen did do a nice job to cover the rest of the innings, with Bruedlin Suero (3.0 IP) and Jose Molina (2.1 IP) allowing just a run each to go along with a pair of strikeouts before Parker Markel tossed a perfect 9th with a strikeout. Interesting to see Markel pitch out of the bullpen, and hopefully he can recapture the level of play that made him an interesting prospect in the system. There was not much going on at the plate for Charlotte, but Josh Sale did go 1 for 3 with the Stone Crabs’ only RBI.
Low-A Midwest League: Bowling Green Hot Rods 5, South Bend Silver Hawks 4
The way baseball works is that leads get blown. The question is how you respond when it happens. Everyone wishes that they can come back as well as the Hot Rods did in this game. Jordan Harrison had a nice start for Bowling Green, allowing just 1 run on 2 hits in 5 innings, before Andrew Hanse allowed just 1 hit in the subsequent 3 frames, striking out 4 while walking none. Thanks to an RBI triple by Granden Goetzman and a pair of RBI groundouts by Darryl George, the Hot Rods had a 3-1 lead entering the 9th. But before we knew it, that lead was gone. Brad Schreiber retired just one batter while allowing 3 runs, and only a clutch performance by Ian Kendall to finish the inning prevented the Hot Rods from being down more than just 4-3. But in the bottom of the 9th, Goetzman tripled again to tie the game before a wild pitch brought him in for a walk-off as Bowling Green emerged victorious 5-4. Goetzman entered this season as a player who had plenty of talent but had not yet shown it in games. He certainly did in this contest, going 2 for 3 with 2 triples, 2 RBI, and 2 runs scored. Also having a great game for the Hot Rods were Johnny Field, who went 2 for 4 with a triple, a walk, and the runs scored on both of Goetzman’s triples. Then there were Kean Wong and Armando Araiza, with Wong going 2 for 4 with a stolen base and a run scored while Araiza went 2 for 3 with a walk. Great to see the Hot Rods continue to battle and several prospects hoping to establish themselves come through with great games.