As a Rays fans, it is quite difficult to be a fan of slugfests. The Rays win most of their games with excellent pitching, with their 2-1 and 1-0 wins over the Cincinnati Reds the last two days being perfect examples. By definition, a slugfest features terrible pitching, and the Rays’ hurlers do not live up to expectations, usually they lose. But things are a little bit different from a prospect watching standpoint. Though seeing a pitching prospect struggle is never fun, we can take the positives for the hitters and look for a breakthrough that just might last. The Bowling Green Hot Rods pitchers were a disaster on Saturday, but Johnny Field and the offense had a night to remember.
Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 4, Gwinnett Braves 3
The pitcher taking the most advantage of the Matt Moore injury is clearly the pitcher that will take his place, Cesar Ramos. Right behind, though, you can put Merrill Kelly. Kelly pitched extremely well as a starting pitcher in Durham last year, but a loaded Bulls rotation had him starting the year in relief. But on Saturday, with Erik Bedard about to come up to the major leagues, he finally started for the first time all year and tossed a very good game. Kelly went 6 innings allowing 1 run on 5 hits, striking out 3 while walking 2. He threw just 80 pitches, 52 starts, and if he was more stretched out, he could have gone at least 7 innings. Kelly continues to show that he is worth a further look, and he finally appears to be getting it.
Behind Kelly, the Bulls’ bullpen was sketchy as Juan Carlos Oviedo and Brad Boxberger allowed a run each before Kirby Yates closed out the game. Oviedo has 5 strikeout against no walks in his 4 innings of work, but his 3 runs allowed (6.75 ERA) does not exactly inspire confidence. Expect the Rays to give him at least a couple more rehab appearances. The bullpen did make it interesting at the end, but Durham was in control from the start, scoring twice in the second inning and twice more two innings later. Cole Figueroa went 2 for 5 with a double and a run scored, and Jerry Sands, Mikie Mahtook, and Robby Price had an RBI each. Sands wound up going 1 for 2 with a run scored in addition to that RBI. He has been incredible to begin the year, hitting to a .324/.452/.676 line in 42 plate appearances, slamming 8 extra base hits and drawing 8 walks in just 10 games. After a rough 2013, Sands has gotten back on track this year and could get a big league look at some point. Overall, plenty of encouraging signs from the Bulls and hopefully Oviedo can keep getting stronger in his coming outings.
Double-A Southern League: Mobile BayBears 5, Montgomery Biscuits 3
2013 marked the fifth straight season in which Mike Colla has spent time with a Double-A affiliate. He still hasn’t cracked Triple-A, and the 27 year old has given the Rays no reason to give him that chance. In this game, Colla went 5.2 innings allowing 4 runs on 5 hits, striking out 6 while walking none. Colla has always thrown strikes and gotten a decent amount of swings-and-misses, but poor command continues to drag him down. A pitcher in a similar predicament, Jacob Thompson, then finished the game with 2.1 innings of one-run ball. Things were a little more promising for the bats as Luke Maile drilled a solo home run, Taylor Motter went 2 for 4 with a run scored, and Cameron Seitzer and Alejandro Segovia each went 1 for 4 with an RBI. Jake Hager also went 1 for 4 with a double–he now has 4 extra base hits in 26 plate appearances after just 18 in 498 PA’s last year. Is Hager’s power finally coming along?
High-A Florida State League: Palm Beach Cardinals 6, Charlotte Stone Crabs 2
The highlights in the game for Charlotte were a 3 for 4 day from Hector Guevara and a 2 for 4 day from Leonardo Reginatto. Neither factored in the scoring, and that tells you everything you need to know. Jeff Ames started for the Stone Crabs and struggled, allowing 5 runs on 4 hits in 4+ innings, although he did strike out 5 while walking 2. Nick Sawyer allowed a pair of runners he inherited to score although his line credits him with 2 shutout innings, and Bruedlin Suero finished the game with 3 innings of 1-run ball, getting 5 groundout and 2 strikeouts. At the plate, meanwhile, there were Guevara and Reginatto and then Kes Carter, who went 1 for 3 with a walk, a double, and an RBI. Carter’s .227 average to begin the year belies a strong start–he has a .370 OBP and a .409 SLG thanks to 3 extra-base hits and a 4-5 strikeout to walk ratio. At this point, Carter may never hit lefties, but an upside as a solid platoon outfielder is not so bad and let’s see if he can get there.
Low-A Midwest League: Peoria Chiefs 11, Bowling Green Hot Rods 8
This game was not pretty for Bowling Green pitching. Hunter Wood struggled for the second straight start to begin the season, allowing 3 runs on 5 hits in 3.2 innings, but he fared much better than Stone Speer, who allowed 5 runs in just 1.1 frames. Luis Cabrera finished the game with more of the same, allowing 3 runs in his 3 innings. In any event, let’s talk about the bats. Johnny Field had quite the game, going 2 for 3 with 2 homers, 2 walks, a stolen base, 4 RBI, and 3 runs scored. Field has an impressive .345/.472/.724 line to begin the year, slamming 3 homers and a triple but bizarrely not a single double. In any event, solid power made Field stand out from other gritty college players selected by the Rays, and he is showing it in his full-season debut. Aside from Field, Daryl George went 3 for 5 while Granden Goetzman and Pat Blair both had 2 hits. Goetzman is off to a fluky start–he has a .375/.429/.719 line with 7 extra-base hits, but he also has 12 strikeouts against just 2 walks in 35 plate appearances. Can Goetzman continue improving his patience and pitch recognition to the point where this hot streak doesn’t give way to more struggles? In any event, the Hot Rods will take the 8 runs and hope for betting pitching next time around.