The GCL Rays–where minor leaguers rehab and quite a few high school draftees make their professional debuts. Wednesday saw Tim Beckham, Brock Burke, Spencer Moran, and Blake Bivens all take the field, and it was fun to watch.
Triple-A International League: Rochester Red Wings (MIN) 6, Durham Bulls 5 (11 innings)
This was a pretty crazy game. Nate Karns was awesome for Durham, going 7 innings allowing just 2 unearned runs on 5 hits, striking out 9 while walking none. He was out-dueled by Twins top prospect Alex Meyer, who went 6 shutout innings allowing just 5 hits and no walks while striking out 8, but Hak-Ju Lee came through against reliever A.J. Achter in the 7th, drilling a two-out, two-run single to give the Bulls the lead. A bases-loaded walk by Mike Fontenot followed in the 8th inning to give the Bulls the lead. However, Josh Lueke blew the save in the 9th, allowing an RBI single to Pedro Florimon to take the game to extra innings, and Josmil Pinto‘s RBI single off Lueke in the 10th gave Rochester a 4-3 advantage. Luckily for the Bulls, they were not done as Wilson Betemit drilled a game-tying solo home run to take the game to the 11th. In that inning, though, C.J. Riefenhauser allowed a two-run double to Doug Bernier and the Bulls could only get one run back in the bottom of the frame on a Jeremy Moore single as Rochester won 6-5.
By all accounts, the Bulls should have won this game. They made five errors, and NONE OF THE RUNS THEY ALLOWED WERE EARNED! In any event, Betemit went 2 for 4 with his big blast, a walk, and 2 runs scored, Vince Belnome and Mikie Mahtook also had multi-hit performances, and Lee had an encouraging game, going 1 for 2 with 2 walks and 2 RBI. Lee has a three-game hitting streak going where he has a double, 3 RBI, and 2 walks, and the Rays have to hope that he’s finally starting to come around.
Double-A Southern League: Chattanooga Lookouts (LAD) 6, Montgomery Biscuits 5
Another 6-5 loss in this game, and another heartbreaker at that. Albert Suarez was decent for the Biscuits, allowing 3 runs, 2 earned, on 6 hits in 5 innings, striking out 4 while walking 3. He departed with a 4-3 lead after an RBI double by Jake Hager in the third inning followed by a bases-loaded walk by Alejandro Segovia and a two-run single by Willie Argo in the fifth. Braulio Lara and Parker Markel followed with a scoreless inning each, combing for 3 strikeouts while allowing just 1 hit and no walks, and the Biscuits actually made it a 5-3 game after Taylor Motter‘s eighth inning sac fly. Unfortunately, Santiago Garrido game apart in the bottom of the frame, allowing a three-run double to Alex Liddi as the Lookouts won 6-5.
The Montgomery double play combination of Hager and Ryan Brett had a huge game, with Hager going 2 for 3 with a double, 2 walks, an RBI, and a run scored while Brett went 2 for 4 with a double, a walk, a stolen base, and 2 runs scored. Brett is hitting .412 (21 for 51) on his 11-game hitting streak to raise his average to .301 on the year. We should also talk for a moment about Parker Markel. The right-hander wasn’t that good at Charlotte, managing just a 5.18 ERA, but the Rays promoted him to Double-A nonetheless, and that may have done wonders for his confidence. So far as a member of the Biscuits, Markel has gone 4 shutout innings allowing just a hit and a walk while striking out 7.
High-A Florida State League: Charlotte Stone Crabs 10, Clearwater Threshers (PHI) 6
A third game where a Rays affiliate allowed 6 runs, but this time, the Charlotte offense was good enough to overcome it. Blake Snell had a rough start, allowing 4 runs in 3.1 innings pitched, and the Stone Crabs found themselves down 4-0. However, they scored the next 8 runs in the game and 10 of the next 12, and that was enough to come away with the victory. Colton Reavis tossed the final 2 innings for the save, giving him three shutout appearances since joining the Stone Crabs. But, in any event, let’s talk about the offense.
In this game, Jonathan Quinonez went 3 for 4 with a 2-run homer, a double, and 2 runs scored, Justin O’Conner went 2 for 5 with a 3-run homer and a double, Granden Goetzman and Josh Sale both went 2 for 4 with an RBI, and Patrick Leonard also went 2 for 5. A lot to keep track of there, but Quinonez is really heating up, hitting .474 with four extra-base hits in his last six games after just three in his previous 35. O’Conner, meanwhile, has an 11-game hitting streak where he’s hitting .349 with 5 doubles, 3 homers, 10 RBI, and a 6-4 strikeout to walk ratio. The walks are especially encouraging–O’Conner has just 13 against 71 strikeouts on the year, and he finally has his OBP over .300 at .307. O’Conner still has a lot of work to do at the plate, but he is making progress, and his odds of being a big league catcher are certainly much higher than they were last year.
Low-A Midwest League: Cedar Rapids Kernels (MIN) 7, Bowling Green Hot Rods 2
This was not a fun game for the Hot Rods. Ben Griset fell to 0-6 on the season as he allowed 6 runs, 5 earned, in 4 innings, and while Isaac Gil did throw 3 shutout frames behind him, it was not nearly enough. The Hot Rods were held to just five hits, two from Julian Ridings, who went 2 for 4. Ridings was demoted from Charlotte to Bowling Green despite a solid .756 OPS, probably because of his approach–he had 22 strikeouts against 3 walks during his time with the Stone Crabs. Ridings will hope to work on that with the Hot Rods and return to Charlotte before the season ends. Oscar Hernandez had the only Bowling Green RBI–the other run scored on an error–while Ty Young and James Harris had the two runs scored.
Short Season-A New York-Penn League: Staten Island Yankees 3, Hudson Valley Renegades 0
The Renegades have been incredible this year, going 28-11, but they were flat-out beaten in this one. Edgar Gomez allowed 3 runs in 3 innings of work as the Hudson Valley starter, and the 5 shutout innings by Eli Echarry and Trevor Dunlap were meaningless because the Yankees combined for a 3-hit shutout. Of course, Grant Kay still found his way to positive results, going 1 for 3 with a stolen base. Kay has a .516/.583/.968 line through 8 games, and he has done so while playing errorless ball at left field, third base, and second base. He is most certainly a prospect to watch.
Advanced Rookie Appalachian League: Princeton Rays 7, Johnson City Cardinals 3
This was a great win for the P-Rays, and we actually have a special bonus as prospect guru Nathaniel Stoltz was at the game providing a few scouting reports. Greg Maisto started and experienced inconsistent results, going 4.2 innings allowing 3 runs, 1 earned, on 4 hits, striking out 3 and walking 3 as well. He did force a strong 6-2 groundout to flyout ratio. Stoltz saw Maisto touch 91 MPH with his fastball to go along with a mostly high-70’s slider and a low-80’s changeup. It’s nice to see a young pitcher with a usable changeup, but sometimes changing speeds forcing groundballs does not work as well at Rookie ball thanks to the inconsistent infield defenses. Yonny Chirinos followed with 3.1 shutout innings allowing just a hit and a walk while striking out 2. He touched as high as 93 MPH with his fastball, using a low-80’s changeup as his primary secondary pitch plus the occasional low-80’s slurve. Tomas Michelson struck out 2 in the ninth inning to finish the game.
On the offensive side, only four different P-Rays had a hit, and it seemed like every single one of them needed it. Nic Wilson had a huge performance, going 2 for 4 with a long homer, a double, and 2 runs scored. Wilson does have huge power, but he will have to improve his 44 strikeouts against 10 walks if he’s going to start harnessing it more in games. Manny Sanchez, meanwhile, went 2 for 3 with a double, a walk, an RBI, and a run scored, Cristian Toribio went 1 for 3 with a walk and 2 RBI, and Nick Ciuffo had a nice game, going 1 for 3 with a walk and 2 runs scored. Ciuffo is slowly getting hot, hitting .250 with 5 walks against 7 strikeouts in his last 10 games, and his strong approach is eventually going to start turning into results.
Rookie Gulf Coast League: Game 1: GCL Rays 8, GCL Red Sox 3 (7 innings)
Game 2: Grays 6, Red Sox 5 (10 innings)
In the first game, Jose Alvarado started and was excellent for the GCL Rays, going 4 innings allowing just an unearned run on 2 hits, striking out 7 while walking 1. That’s the type of performance that can attract attention, especially when you’re a 19 year old lefty in your first year in America after two in Venezuela. Following Alvarado, though, was the most interesting pick from the Rays’ 2014 Draft, 11th rounder Spencer Moran. Moran, a projectable 6’6″, 180 right-hander who has shown promise with a fastball touching 93 MPH and an 11-to-5 curveball, slipped that far because of signability concerns before the Rays ponied up $390,000 to sign him. Wednesday was his pro debut and it went quite well as he went 2 shutout innings allowing just 2 hits and no walks while striking out 2 to earn his first professional victory. In terms of the run support, the Grays got three-hit performances from the rehabbing Tim Beckham (3 for 4 with a stolen base and 2 runs scored), Christian Knott (3 for 4 with a double and an RBI), and Matt Reida (3 for 3 with a triple, a stolen base, an RBI, and 3 runs scored) on their way to 8 runs, and that was plenty given the quality of their pitching.
Before we even discuss the second game, two things stand out. 1) It’s a 6-5 win after the two nail-biting losses to begin this minor league recap and 2) This game was supposed to be seven innings and instead went 10!
In that game, the start was split by the Rays’ fourth round pick and third round pick from this year’s draft, Blake Bivens and Brock Burke. Both pitched well, with Bivens allowing 1 run on 3 hits in 3 innings, striking out 1 while walking none, and Burke going 2 hitless innings allowing just a walk while striking out 2. After five innings, the GCL Rays held a comfortable 5-1 lead with the help of 3 RBI from Isias Alcantar. Unfortunately, Alberto Casanas allowed 2 runs each in the sixth and seventh innings to take this game to extras. Finally in the 10th, the game ended in anticlimactic fashion on a Matt Reida walk-off walk. Reida did also have 3 hits in the game, so he did deserve the game-winner. Reida is the third-leading hitter on the team, with the first being Oscar Sanay, the 5’7″ second baseman who went 2 for 5 with a walk and 2 runs scored in the game to raise his average to .364 on the season.