Early-season performances drive us insane. When an inconsistent player starts living up to this potential for a few games, does it really mean anything? If an established player suddenly hits a wall, could he truly be finished? Most of the time not, but nevertheless we have to wonder. Mike Montgomery began his second season with the Durham Bulls with an excellent outing. Could this be the year he finally puts it together and cracks the major leagues?
Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 8, Gwinnett Braves 1
Where has this Mike Montgomery been the past three years? Montgomery started for the Bulls in this game, and the one complaint has to be his pitch count. He was out after just 5 innings after getting up to 90 pitches. But during those 5 innings, he was excellent, tossing shutout ball on just 3 hits and 3 walks while striking out 7. Montgomery struck out 7 just once in all of 2013. It is unrealistic to think that Montgomery can be a top prospect again, but is there any chance he dominates for a couple of months at Durham before ascending to the Rays in a relief role? Montgomery still has much to prove, but that is within the realm of possibility.
After Montgomery, Brad Boxberger was also excellent, allowing just a walk in 2 hitless innings, striking out 4. But enough with the pitching–let’s get to the offense! Wilson Betemit had a huge game for Durham, drilling a 2-run homer in the first inning then walking 3 times after that as the Braves wanted no part of him. Vince Belnome, Mikie Mahtook, and Mike Fontenot all went 2 for 4 with a run scored, with Belnome doubling and driving in 2, Mahtook driving in 1, and Fontenot also doubling. Kevin Kiermaier‘s first game in the Bulls’ leadoff spot did not go particularly well as he went 0 for 3, but he had a walk, a sac fly, a run scored, and an outfield assist. Finally there was Jerry Sands, who went 1 for 3 with a double, a walk, an RBI, and a run scored. Sands has a tidy .357/.471/.786 line to begin the year for Durham as he hopes to enter the Rays’ outfield picture.
High-A Florida State League: Bradenton Marauders (PIT) 11, Charlotte Stone Crabs 3
You don’t need to look beyond the score to see how badly the Stone Crabs’ pitchers struggled in this game. Austin Pruitt allowed 5 runs in 3 innings to begin the game, and after Marcus Jensen rebounded with 3 shutout innings, two talented but enigmatic Charlotte pitchers were at their worst. Nick Sawyer walked 3 batters while recording just 1 out and 2 of them came around to score before Parker Markel allowed 4 more runs in the 8th. The Rays have to hope those two can find a way to turn themselves around. One more negative: Justin O’Conner went 0 for 4 with 4 strikeouts as he has started the year just 1 for 12 with 6 K’s. But now let’s get to the positives. Charlotte’s 3 runs came from a Patrick Leonard solo homer and a 2-run triple. Maxx Tissenbaum, meanwhile, went 1 for 4 with a run scored at the plate, and if dealing with the wildness of his pitchers was not enough, he also threw out 2 runners attempting to steal.
Low-A Midwest League: South Bend Silver Hawks 7, Bowling Green Hot Rods 5 (10 innings)
This certainly goes down as a game of mixed emotions for the Hot Rods, but there were plenty of impressive performances that bode well for them in the long term. Hunter Wood struggled early on in his first full-season ball start, allowing 3 runs in the first inning, but he rebounded to allow just 1 run over his final 3.2 innings as the Hot Rods offense rallied for 5 runs. German Marquez then dominated after Wood, allowing just 1 run on 2 hits in 4.1 innings, striking out 3 while walking 1. He also had a nice 5-2 groundout to flyout ratio. Unfortunately, that 1 run tied the game and the Silver Hawks and Hot Rods went to extra innings. In the 10th, Aaron Griffin allowed a 2-run home run to Stryker Trahan that proved the difference.
It was encouraging to see Wood rebound, but a player to watch this season for the Hot Rods is going to be Marquez. The 19 year old touches 95 MPH with his fastball to go along with a promising breaking ball, and more pitching like this will have him among the Rays’ top prospects. Then we can talk about the Hot Rods’ bats. Granden Goetzman had another huge game, going 4 for 5 with 2 doubles, a stolen base, and a run scored. He is 8 for 18 (.444) on the young season, slamming half of his hits for extra bases. Armando Araiza also went 2 for 4 with a walk and an RBI while Pat Blair went 1 for 3 with a double, a walk, and 2 runs scored. It is always disappointing to lose, but Hot Rods fans can certainly take solace in the performances of Marquez, Goetzman, and several other players.