The Undercards: Grant Kay Hits for the Cycle in 1st Pro Game
Obviously there was no major league game, but what a day it was in the Rays organization on Monday. There were four games, all of which ended in wins, and the individual performances were even more impressive. No starting pitcher allowed more than two earned runs, and three different players had at least four hits. Topping them all, though, was how Grant Kay did in his professional debut.
Double-A Southern League: Montgomery Biscuits 4, Pensacola Blue Wahoos (CIN) 3
At least one major league player for the Rays was in action on Tuesday. After the Rays optioned him to Double-A so he could stay on regular rest, Hellickson took the mound for Montgomery and pitched exactly like a major leaguer appearing there should. Hellickson went 6 innings allowing 1 run on 5 hits, striking out 11 while walking none. Hellickson was solid if not spectacular in his 2014 Rays debut, and a start like this inspires confidence that he will only get better. Matt Lollis did allow a pair of homers after Hellickson departed to prevent him from getting an entirely irrelevant Double-A win, but Bryce Stowell and Cory Burns each tossed a scoreless inning with 2 strikeouts to finish off the win.
The game-tying run in this game came on a seventh inning RBI double by Richie Shaffer before Luke Maile brought home the go-ahead tally on a groundout. The offensive star of the game, though, was the surprising Kes Carter. The former supplemental first rounder continued his strong play since coming up to Double-A by going 2 for 4 with a double, a stolen base, and an RBI. He now has four multi-hit performances in his last six games. Carter has plenty of work to do proving that he can keep this up, but the Rays are hoping that moving up to the new level may finally be what gets Carter going.
Short Season-A New York-Penn League: Hudson Valley Renegades 16, Batavia Muckdogs (MIA) 4
It was exciting enough when the Rays’ 27th round pick in this year’s draft, Grant Kay, hit a 3-run home run in his first professional at-bat. But Kay had a lot more excitement in store than that. Barely joining the team for Monday’s game, Kay proceeded to drill a double in his third at-bat and singles in his fourth and fifth. Then, in the eighth inning, Kay topped it all off by drilling a triple down the line to complete a five-hit game and a cycle in his first professional contest. Overall, he went 5 for 6 with the aforementioned homer, triple, double, and two singles, plus 3 RBI and 5 runs scored. We talked about Grant Kay following the draft as a major sleeper if the Rays could get him signed. It has only been one game, but his potential is already evident, and we will have to see what he does from here.
Also having impressive game for the Renegades were Bralin Jackson, who went 4 for 6 with 2 doubles, a triple, a stolen base, 2 RBI, and 2 runs scored, and Casey Gillaspie, who delivered a 4-for-6 performance of his own with a double, an RBI, and 2 runs scored. Jace Conrad and Coty Blanchard made it five Renegades with at least three hits, while Blanchard joined Kay, Jackson, Douglas Duran, and Chris Tailey to give Hudson Valley five players with multiple runs batted in. What a game it was for the Renegades offense, and combine it with a solid start from Enderson Franco (5 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 2 K), and this ended up being one of the greatest games in Renegades history.
Advanced Rookie Appalachian League: Princeton Rays 4, Bluefield Blue Jays 2
Speaking of 27th round picks impressing, Hyrum Formo (who was selected in 2013) had a nice start for the P-Rays, going 5 innings allowing 2 runs on 6 hits, striking out 2 while walking 1. His groundout to flyout ratio was also a strong 7-2. Formo has just a 5.09 ERA so far this year for Princeton, but the walk was just his first of the season against 15 strikeouts in 17.2 innings pitched. With Formo already 22 years old, the Rays may start pushing him up the ladder if he has a few more good games. Kyle McKenzie and Mario Fernandez followed by each working around 2 hits to toss 2 shutout innings, with McKenzie striking out 2 while walking none and Fernandez registering 3 K’s against 1 base on balls. They did what they could to hold Bluefield down, and the Princeton offense did the rest.
Blake Grant-Parks delivered the biggest hit of the game for the P-Rays, a 4th inning 2-run double, on his way to a 2 for 3 game with a walk, and Carter Burgess give pitchers more trouble at the bottom of the order by going 2 for 4 with a double and a run scored. Riley Unroe, meanwhile, went 2 for 5 with a run scored while Nic Wilson went 1 for 3 with a double, a walk, and an RBI. But the most encouraging game of them all may have come from Nick Ciuffo, who went 1 for 3 with a walk and an RBI. Ciuffo has started the year in disastrous fashion, hitting just .154, but he now has 5 walks in his last 10 games against 11 strikeouts. His plate approach is coming around, and hopefully it is only a matter of time until his numbers get in order.
Rookie Gulf Coast League: GCL Rays 7, GCL Orioles 2
Good luck finding two better Rays prospects splitting up the first 5 innings of a ballgame than the two from this one. Taylor Guerrieri started in a rehab outing and looked like he is coming around, working around a hit and a walk with 3 strikeouts in 1.1 innings pitched. Cameron Varga followed with a more extended outing, going 3.1 shutout innings allowing just 2 hits and no walk while striking out 5. Varga’s professional career is off to a great start as he now has a 3.48 ERA and a 9-1 strikeout to walk ratio in 10.1 innings pitched. Tommy Lawrence followed with 2.1 shutout innings before Trevor Dunlap allowed a pair of unearned runs in the 8th to finish off an impressive game by Grays pitching overall.
On the offensive side, Zacrey Law went 3 for 5 with a double, an RBI, and 2 runs scored, Matt Ford went 2 for 4 with a double and an RBI, and Christian Knott went 1 for 2 with a double, 2 walks, and 2 runs scored. Law, who the Rays found a way to sign as a 23rd round high school pick, is hitting .315 in his first 17 pro plate appearances, while Knott has shown off an excellent approach in the GCL, walking 8 times against 12 strikeouts. The pitchers have stolen the show for the GCL Rays so far as they have pitched to a league-leading 1.94 ERA, but there are a few hitters worth watching as the season progresses.