The Tampa Bay Rays departed from their usual draft strategy when they selected Richie Shaffer in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft. It looked like that deviation would cost them when Shaffer had a disastrous 2013. But right now, Shaffer is looking exactly like the player the Rays thought they drafted, and he continued that with a homer on Thursday night.
Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 3, Norfolk Tides (BAL) 2
Injuries and suspensions gave Merrill Kelly the chance to start for the Durham Bulls, and he is most certainly taking advantage. In this game, he went 6 innings allowing just 2 runs on 2 hits, striking out 6 while walking 2. In 18 innings pitched so far this season, Kelly has a 1.50 ERA, striking out 17 while walking just 6. Prospects are supposed to find the going tougher as they proceed through the ranks, but Kelly has increased his strikeout rate the last four years and is starting to establish himself as a big league option for the Rays for the near future. Behind Kelly, Juan Carlos Oviedo went a perfect inning with a strikeout. We have to think his time to arrive in the major leagues will be awfully soon. Kirby Yates tossed two hitless innings for the save. On the offensive side, Mikie Mahtook continues to impress, going 1 for 3 with a double, a walk, and a stolen base. He has a .386/.435/.526 line to begin the year. Jerry Sands went 1 for 3 with a walk, 2 RBI, and a run scored. He is doing everything he can to earn a spot on the Rays’ roster, managing a .320/.452/.700 line with 7 doubles, 4 homers, and an 11-12 strikeout to walk ratio.
Double-A Southern League: Montgomery Biscuits 3, Pensacola Blue Wahoos (CIN) 2 (ended after top of the 9th–rain)
The Biscuits managed just 5 hits in this game, but thanks to great pitching and the timing of those hits, they managed to walk away with a win. Mike Colla took the ball and went 7 innings allowing 2 runs on 7 hits, striking out 8 while walking 1. Jim Patterson and Matt Lollis combined to work around a hit in the 8th before the game ended. In terms of the run support, Richie Shaffer drilled his third home run in 4 trips, raising his line to .256/.360/.581 on the season. Shaffer’s reputation was as a hitter with plenty of power who would strike out and not hit for a high average, but also draw his fair share of walks. That is exactly what he has been so far, and the Rays have to hope for more of the same. Luke Maile went 1 for 3 with a walk and the other 2 RBI while Jeff Malm went 2 for 3 with a double.
High-A Florida State League: Charlotte Stone Crabs 5, Palm Beach Cardinals 3
Patrick Leonard is the forgotten piece of the Wil Myers–James Shields trade, but you may want to remember him now. Leonard went 2 for 4 with an RBI and 2 runs scored in this game to raise his line to .283/.340/.565 on the season. Leonardo Reginatto also went 3 for 5 with a double and an RBI while Kes Carter went 2 for 4 with a double, an RBI, and a run scored. Carter still can’t hit lefties but is playing out of his mind against righties, managing a .407/.515/.704 line in 27 at-bats against them to begin the year. On the mound, the Stone Crabs did not impress too much but did enough to get by. Bruedlin Suero allowed 3 runs in the 4th but none in his other 4 frames, Kevin Brandt worked around 3 hits and 2 walks to toss 3 shutout innings, and Parker Markel recorded the save by working around a hit in the 9th. Markel has looked very good in 5 of his 6 appearances this season, managing a 6-1 strikeout to walk ratio in 8 innings pitched.
Low-A Midwest League: Clinton LumberKings (SEA) 7, Bowling Green Hot Rods 4
A 5-run 6th let this game get away from Bowling Green. Jordan Harrison, Stone Speer, and Ian Kendall all had issues with control, combining for 10 walks, and by the time Speer got out of Harrison’s jam in the 6th, the Hot Rods’ 2-1 lead turned into a 6-2 deficit. Johnny Field did go 3 for 5 with 2 doubles and a run scored for the Hot Rods while Granden Goetzman drilled a home run, and Juniel Querecuto and James Harris both had 2 hits. Field just keeps hitting, managing a .310/.412/.619 line in his first 51 plate appearances of 2014.