The Undercards: Alex Torres Has Letdown in First Game Back at Triple-A
By Robbie Knopf
The job of a major league franchise’s minor league organization is to help its prospect develop as much as possible on the field and off on their way to becoming the best major league players they can be. But while the Rays’ system features as much talent as any in baseball, something is going horribly wrong. Venezuelan Summer League outfielder Angel Yepez received a 50-game suspension on Wednesday for testing positive for the performance-enhancing drug Nandrolone, an anabolic steroid. Yepez was lightyears away from the major leagues and this suspension all but assures that he will never make it to organized ball in America, let alone the majors. Nevertheless, his suspension is significant because it’s the ninth time that a Rays minor leaguer has been suspended 50 games for a drug-related issue, most in baseball over that span. Whatever is happening, that has to be stopped immediately. The Rays have created a competitive organization where one bad season may cost a player his job at any level, but they have to find a way to teach their players that drugs, whether performance-enhancing or recreational, are never the answer. Hopefully they can do that successfully and this run of suspensions will be forgotten in the coming years.
Now back to your regularly scheduled minor league recap.
Triple-A International League: Norfolk Tides (BAL) 4, Durham Bulls 3
The last time Alex Torres made the major leagues before this year, September of 2011, he followed it up with a disastrous performance when he returned to the minor leagues in 2011, completely losing the strike zone on his way to a horrific season. The Rays have to hope that Torres’ latest time in the major leagues and subsequent demotion will have vastly divergent results. With that in mind, Torres’ first inning back at Triple-A Durham had to be the Rays’ worst nightmare. Torres looked exactly like the pitcher who walked nearly a batter per inning last year and not the pitcher who has broken through, throwing just 14 of his 34 pitches in the inning for strikes as he allowed 2 hits, 2 walks, and 3 runs. From there, though, Torres was able to recompose himself, throwing 22 of 36 pitches for strikes the next three innings to finish with reasonable numbers. Torres went 4 innings allowing 3 runs on 2 hits, striking out 4 while walking 2. His groundout to flyout ratio was 6-2. Rays fans watching certainly got a scare, but it seems like it was just a temporary thing and Torres will be just fine moving forward. With the Rays’ bullpen still looking as weak as ever, a big league return could soon be in the wings for Torres, but he will have to keep pitching well for that to be a possibility. Speaking of potential big league options, Jeff Beliveau, who was also briefly in the big leagues for the Rays, had a great game himself, going 2 innings allowing just a hit while striking out 3, and Cory Wade tossed a perfect 8th. On the offensive side, Vince Belnome raised his average to .331 on the year, going 2 for 4 with a double, a walk, and 2 RBI, Jason Bourgeois went 2 for 4 with a walk, a stolen base, and a run scored, and Brandon Guyer had a triple and a run scored. Solid game for the Bulls after Torres’ early frustration, but it was not enough for them to come away with a win.
High-A Florida State League: Clearwater Threshers (PHI) 3, Charlotte Stone Crabs 2
The worst feeling as a pitcher is when you pitch great and yet your team simply cannot get you a win. That line best described Jeremy Hellickson in the Rays organization on Tuesday, but Roberto Gomez actually took the loss for Charlotte despite one of his best outings of the season. Gomez went a season-high 7 innings allowing 3 runs on 6 hits, striking out 1 while walking none, and Lenny Linsky even followed him with a pair of shutout innings in relief so no bullpen collapse was to blame here. The issue was that Charlotte just could not push runs across, going just 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position. Drew Vettleson plated both Stone Crabs runs in the game despite going 0 for 4, driving in both runs on groundouts. He also had an outfield assist in the game. In terms of the real strong performers on offense and not the curious ones, Jake Hager went 3 for 4 with a double and a stolen base (yet embarrassingly was not part of the scoring), Kes Carter went 2 for 4 with a double and 2 runs scored, and Jeff Malm went 2 for 4 as well. Tough loss for Stone Crabs, and they need to figure out some way to push runs across and take advantage of the strong pitching they get so often.