The Undercards: Justin O’Conner Drills 4th Homer in 5 Games
By Robbie Knopf
For some reason, it seems like since the Tampa Bay Rays forgot how to lose, their affiliates starting losing like crazy. Rays affiliates did go just 2-5 on Saturday, but players like Justin O’Conner, Nick Ciuffo, and Jordan Harrison did provide some highlights.
Triple-A International League: Toledo Mud Hens (DET) 5, Durham Bulls 0
While the Bulls offense did nothing, managing just five hits all game, Enny Romero actually had a solid outing. In his first 6 innings, he allowed just 1 run on 6 hits, striking out 3 while walking none. Unfortunately, he also faced the first three batters of the seventh inning and allowed hits to all of them, with two coming around to score. Nevertheless, it was Romero’s second straight quality start and his sixth in his last nine. Romero is slowly progressing, and the Rays know how talented he can be when everything finally clicks.
Behind Romero, C.J. Riefenhauser‘s struggles since his oblique strain continued as he allowed 2 runs in 2 innings of work. Doug Mathis did finish the game with a strikeout in a one-hit ninth. On the offensive side, Mikie Mahtook and Jeremy Moore were among the players with hits for Durham, with Moore extending his hitting streak to five games.
Double-A Southern League: Jacksonville Suns (MIA) 1, Montgomery Biscuits 0
An Austin Barnes homer in the first inning proved to be all the scoring in the game as the Suns won this pitchers’ duel 1-0. Mike Colla had an excellent start for Montgomery other than that, going 6.1 innings allowing just that run on 4 hits, striking 4 while walking 2. His groundout to flyout ratio was a strong 9-4. Colla, at 27 years of age, is not really a prospect, but he has looked amazing in his last five starts, managing a 1.52 ERA and a 24-5 strikeout to walk ratio in 29.2 innings pitched. Matt Lollis and Cory Burns tossed hitless ball for the final three innings to finish the game.
For the Suns, Jose Urena and a pair of relievers faced just two over the minimum despite allowing four hits as they forced two double plays. Three of those hits came from Jeff Malm, who went 3 for 3. Malm has struggled this season, managing just a .256/.313/.340 line, but he has reeled off multi-hit performances in his last three games.
Charlotte High-A Florida State League: Charlotte Stone Crabs 6, Dunedin Blue Jays 1
First and foremost, this was a rehab appearance for Joel Peralta, and it went fine as he allowed no runs on 1 hit in an inning of work, striking out 1. Peralta is set to return to the Rays on Monday.
Following Peralta was Jordan Harrison, who proceeded to deliver his best game in a rough season. Harrison went 6 innings allowing 1 run on 4 hits, striking out 6 while walking 1. Harrison was a 25th round pick by the Rays back in 2012, so it is a surprise that he still finds himself starting games. The Rays have to hope that a start like this is a sign that Harrison still has more in the tank. Zach Cooper worked around 2 walks to toss shutout ball in the last 2 innings.
On the offensive side, Justin O’Conner extended his hitting streak to 12 games with another huge performance, going 2 for 4 with a 2-run homer and 2 runs scored. Speaking of that homer, it was his 10th of the season and his fourth in the last five games alone. Overall on his streak, O’Conner has a .400/.441/.782 line with 6 doubles, 5 homers, and 13 RBI in 59 plate appearances. Most encouraging of all is that he has a solid 4 walks against 9 strikeouts. We always knew that O’Conner had the power, and right now he is tapping into it consistently. The question is going to be whether he can improve his plate discipline and pitch recognition to the point where he can sustain that at higher levels.
Speaking of long Stone Crabs hitting streaks, Leonardo Reginatto went 2 for 4 with a stolen base, an RBI, and a run scored to extend his to 15 games. Reginatto is almost the opposite of O’Conner, a speedy, high on-base player with little power, as he now has a .312/.382/.365 line on the season. Patrick Leonard does not have any sort of hitting streak going, but he also had a huge game, going 2 for 4 with a triple, a double, an RBI, and a run scored.
Low-A Midwest League: Quad Cities River Bandits (HOU) 9, Bowling Green Hot Rods 2
D.J. Slaton got hit hard in his start, and a decent effort by the bullpen was not enough to keep this game close. Slaton allowed 7 runs, 5 earned, in 5 innings of work, striking out 3 while walking 1 but allowing 2 home runs. Josh Kimborowicz did allow two of the runners he inherited from Slaton to score, but he looked good after that, allowing 1 run on 4 hits in 3 innings, striking out 3 while walking none. On the offensive side, Julian Ridings went 2 for 3 with a walk while Ty Young went 1 for 3 with a walk and an RBI. For Quad Cities, ex-Rays draft pick J.D. Davis went 2 for 4 with a double, an RBI, and a run scored. Davis, who was drafted in the third round by the Houston Astros this year after the Rays took him in the fifth round in 2011, is hitting .270 in 10 games since moving up from Short Season-A Tri Cities to the River Bandits.
Short Season-A New York-Penn League: Lowell Spinners (BOS) 9, Hudson Valley Renegades 5
The Renegades did a great job keeping this a ballgame after they allowed 8 runs in the bottom of the first inning, but they could not do enough to come all the way back. Allowing all those runs was Jose Alonzo, who lasted 0.2 innings allowing 8 runs, 7 earned, in his first Renegades start. Luckily for the Renegades, Brian Miller was able to spare the rest of their bullpen with a tremendous outing. Miller, who had not gone more than 2 innings in any previous appearance for Hudson Valley, flashed back to his collegiate season as a versatile Vanderbilt reliever as he went 4.1 shutout innings allowing just a hit while striking out 5. His groundout to flyout ratio was a strong 5-2. Miller has been unhittable this season, going 12 innings allowing just an unearned run on 2 hits, striking out 14 while walking 1. He has a chance to be a big league reliever before long, and the Rays should start pushing him up the ranks soon.
In terms of the offense, Grant Kay was contained as he went 0 for 3 with a walk and a run scored, but there were some actual highlights. Hunter Lockwood drilled a 3-run double, Jace Conrad went 2 for 4 with his first professional homer, and Bralin Jackson went 3 for 4 with a triple, a double, and 2 runs scored. Jackson, a fifth round pick back in 2012, has strong numbers on the season for Hudson Valley, hitting to a .289/.365/.408 line, and he has a chance to hit his way to becoming a legitimate prospect.
Advanced Rookie Appalachian League: Pulaski Mariners 2, Princeton Rays 1
Did you give up on Nick Ciuffo after his rough start? You should not have. Ciuffo is turning it on at the plate, hitting to a .324/.419/.432 line with 6 walks against 6 strikeouts in his last 43 plate appearances. In this game, he did it all, going 2 for 4 with his first professional homer and also picking a runner off first base. Manny Sanchez and Nic Wilson also went 2 for 4 in the loss to Pulaski.
Behind the plate, Ciuffo caught Freddy Alvarez, who went 4.2 innings allowing 2 runs on 6 hits, striking out 4 while walking 2. But Damion Carroll followed with 2 hitless innings behind him, striking out 2 while walking 1, before Steve Ascher tossed 1.1 perfect innings with a strikeout to end the game. Control continues to be a concerning for the hard-throwing Carroll, but he has found his way to a 1.02 ERA in 17.2 innings pitched nonetheless. He has walked 9, but he has allowed just 6 hits while striking out 19.
Rookie Gulf Coast League: GCL Rays 3, GCL Orioles 1
At least we’ll end this minor league recap on a winning note as the GCL Rays found a way to top the GCL Orioles. 19 year old right-hander Henry Centeno delivered another strong start for the Grays, allowing 1 run on 2 hits in 5 innings, striking out 5 while walking 2. His groundout to flyout ratio was also a perfect 8-0. In 7 starts and 34 innings this season, he is 3-0 with a 0.79 ERA, striking out 36 while walking just 6. Deivy Mendez tossed 3 hitless innings behind him, striking out 2 and walking 2 as well. Then Edwin Fierro, a right-hander recently signed by the Rays out of the Mexican League, forced 3 groundouts in the 9th for the save. Fierro had a 3.74 ERA and a 15-8 strikeout to walk ratio in 21.2 Mexican League innings this season–and the Mexican League is unofficially considered Triple-A–so it would not be a surprise if he was not with the Grays for long.
The run support came from Christian Knott, who went 2 for 3 with a triple, 2 RBI, and a run scored. Josh Rapacz had the other RBI for the GCL Rays while David Rodriguez went 1 for 3 with a walk and a run scored. Rodriguez, who won’t turn 19 until next February, hasn’t hit the ball with authority, but has a .341 on-base percentage for the Grays this season nonetheless. That has to count for something.