The Undercards: Nick Franklin Drills First Rays System Homer
By Robbie Knopf
The Tampa Bay Rays had an off-day on Thursday, but the day was not lacking in potential big league impact. We will see Nick Franklin and possibly Enny Romero in September, and they showed in Durham’s doubleheader what they’re capable of doing.
Triple-A International League: Game 1: Buffalo Bisons (TOR) 5, Durham Bulls 1 (7 innings)
Game 2: Bulls 1, Bisons 0 (7 innings)
Bisons and Bulls are quite similar animals, so it is quite appropriate that they split a doubleheader. They are also just a game apart in the standings, with the Bulls holding the ege.
In the first game, Merrill Kelly tossed 3 scoreless innings to begin his outing before allowing a pair of runs in the fourth. Overall, he went 4 innings allowing 2 runs on 5 hits, striking out 5 while walking 3. It has to be hard for Kelly constantly switching between starting and relieving, and in this game, he may have worn down. Then Brandon Gomes was a disaster behind him, allowing 3 runs in just 1.1 innings of work. Gomes isn’t making the best case to return to the big leagues, managing just a 4.60 ERA in 29.1 innings pitched, and he looks like a DFA candidate when the Rays need a 40-man roster spot. In terms of the limited offense, Nick Franklin went 1 for 3 with the only run scored, with Jeremy Moore driving him in with a sac fly. For Franklin, it was his first run scored since joining the Rays organization. He accomplished a bigger milestone in the second game.
Speaking of that second contest, Enny Romero could have been going for a no-hitter in the seventh inning if not for a seventh inning since by Darin Mastroianni. Even if that happened, though, he could have been going back out for the eighth inning if his offense didn’t get him a run in the sixth. In reality, Romero went 6 innings allowing just that hit, striking out 6 while walking 2. He also forced a 6-2 groundout to flyout ratio. Romero is just 5-11 with a 5.01 ERA, but he has delivered three quality starts among his last four outings, and we know how good his stuff is. If he can get going, he will be fascinating pitcher to watch later this year. Speaking of that run of support, it came from the aforementioned Nick Franklin. In the sixth, Franklin drilled a solo home run, his first since joining the system (and, of course, his second run scored). Franklin now has hits in his last four games after going hitless in his first two Bulls games. Yes, it’s a small sample size, but Franklin is doing his best to remind us that he will be an interesting player for the Rays in coming years.
Double-A Southern League: Chattanooga Lookouts (LAD) 8, Montgomery Biscuits 2
Dylan Floro is one of the most intriguing prospects in the Rays system. There are various reasons why, but this is my favorite one: games like this. Floro is a prospect whose performance is so dictated by command that when he loses it, he will basically put up disastrous numbers every time. In this game, he went 3.1 innings allowing 7 runs on 10 hits. Ouch. Except, nearly every time, he also posts a great strikeout to walk ratio, like his 4-1 mark in this game. Another great stat: just twice in his 24 starts this season has Dylan Floro struck out more than a batter per inning. Both came in starts when he allowed seven runs. That’s pretty incredible. So, in conclusion, Dylan Floro is a fun pitcher to watch.
Behind Floro, Jim Patterson had a nice outing, tossing 2.1 shutout innings working around a hit and a walk while striking out 1. Then the enigmatic righty-lefty duo of Braulio Lara and Parker Markel had one of its better days, with Lara striking out 1 in a perfect frame and Markel doing just a touch better in his spotless inning, striking out 2. On the offensive side, Justin O’Conner had his second straight strong game since moving up to Montgomery, going 2 for 4 with a run scored and a runner caught stealing. Alejandro Segovia, meanwhile, went 2 for 4. Also worth noting were a pair of Lookouts. Ex-Rays minor leaguer Daniel Mayora had a huge game, going 4 for 5 with a double and 2 RBI while future Rays prospect (actually, not) Corey Seager went 1 for 4 with an RBI double.
High-A Florida State League: Palm Beach Cardinals (STL) 4, Charlotte Stone Crabs 1
The Stone Crabs lost by half the amount of runs as the Biscuits did, but we can’t have as much fun with this game. Jared Mortensen was mediocre, going 4 innings allowing 3 runs, 2 earned, on 5 hits, striking out 2 while walking 3. Jose Molina and Kevin Brandt did finish the game in strong fashion, striking out 4 amid shutout ball in the final 2 innings. Josh Sale drilled an RBI double for Charlotte’s only run against Cardinals pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins, while Patrick Leonard had his usual type of great game, going 1 for 3 with a walk and the lone run scored. Honestly, the highlight of this game may have been Maxx Tissenbaum‘s defense. The converted middle infielder threw out two attempted basestealers, giving him a 41% caught stealing rate in his first season as a catcher.
Short Season-A New York-Penn League: Hudson Valley Renegades 5, Williamsport Crosscutters (PHI) 2
If it wasn’t clear, Grant Kay just doesn’t stop. In this game, he went 3 for 3 with a double and a sac fly, giving him a .430 average in 21 games this season. You can scream small sample size as many times as it takes to make you feel better, but we are talking about 90 plate appearances here. A .430 average means something, although it doesn’t happen to mean that Grant Kay is the next Ted Williams. Kay is just making it clear that he is a sleeper in the system and a player to watch moving forward.
Hunter Lockwood is also a nice prospect, and he had a great game, going 2 for 3 with the more difficult half of the cycle–a homer and a double–to go along with 2 RBI and 2 runs scored. Then, on the mound, Hunter Wood (pardon the unbelievably similar name) went 6 innings allowing 2 runs on 5 hits, striking out 5 while walking 1. He also managed a 5-2 groundout to flyout ratio. It had to be annoying for Wood to be demoted from Bowling Green to Hudson Valley, but he has responded well, managing a 3.02 ERA and a 45-10 strikeout to walk ratio in 50.2 innings pitched. After a stretch like this, Wood should be better prepared in his next stint with the Hot Rods, and he may not even be there for long before going up to Charlotte. Edwin Fierro also tossed 2 perfect relief innings in the win.
Advanced Rookie Appalachian League: Princeton Rays 4, Bluefield Blue Jays 2
If I haven’t mentioned it before (oh wait, I have), “Bluefield Blue Jays” is a redundant-sounding team name. In any event, the P-Rays had a nice win. Freddy Alvarez was decent enough in his start for Princeton, going 4 innings allowing 2 runs on 5 hits. Then he was one-upped by Roel Ramirez, who delivered the ultra-cool 4-inning save with his best outing ever. Ramirez entered his appearance with just 15 strikeouts in 34.2 innings pitched, a puny 3.9 strikeouts per 9 innings. Then he went out there and tossed 4 innings allowing just a hit, striking out 5 while walking none. It was the first time in his career that he struck out more than 3 batters in a game. If that wasn’t enough, he got 6 other outs on the ground. The Rays would love to see a few more outings like this from their 19 year old right-hander.
In regards to the lineup, Cristian Toribio stayed blazing hot, going 2 for 4 with a solo home run. He has a .400/.462/.771 line in his last 10 games to bring his line to .299/.359/.533 on the season. Basically every young shortstop has a lot of work to do, but it’s impressive how good Toribio’s career is beginning. Thomas Milone also had a nice game for Princeton, going 1 for 3 with a walk, while David Garcia went 1 for 2 with a walk, a stolen base, and a run scored.
Rookie Gulf Coast League: GCL Red Sox 10, GCL Rays 6
The GCL Rays made this game interesting with 5 runs in the 8th inning, but a horrific middle relief performance was enough to lose them this game. Roberto Gomez made a rehab start for the Grays and was decent enough, going 3 innings allowing 2 runs on 4 hits, striking out 4 while walking 1. Gomez has now allowed 5 runs, 4 earned in 5.2 rehab innings, but we can basically ignore that because quite a few of the hits he allowed were because of poor defense. Jose Castillo followed with another rehab appearance and allowed a run in an inning of work, striking out 2 and walking 2 as well. He and Jose Mujica have disappeared off the map this season, but it is nice to see the highly-touted lefty at least appearing in a game.
Then, after Deivy Mendez allowed 7 runs in just an inning, Michael Velasquez was excellent to end the game, tossing 2.1 shutout innings allowing only one baserunner on a hit while striking out 4. Velasquez, a 21 year old lefty (really not that old) who was signed as an undrafted free agent, struck out 4 in his fifth pro outing after K’ing just 3 in his previous four. If he deliver four or five more outings like this, we can begin to wonder whether the Rays helped him make a career-changing adjustment. We’ll have to wait to see whether he can actually pull that off, however.
On the offensive side, having 2 hits including a double was the popular thing to do as Oscar Sanay, Cade Cotta, Zacrey Law, and Matt Ford all accomplished the feat. Gotta and Law each drove in a run, with Bill Pujols driving in 2 more. Among the doubles parade, the most encouraging game was from Law as it was just his second multi-hit game as a pro. Law was the rare 23rd round high school pick to sign, and it will be interesting to see how he progresses.