Rays Winter Leagues Recap: Justin O’Conner Homers Twice in AFL Championship


There are not too many one-game championships in baseball, but Tampa Bay Rays minor leaguers have no been involved in two of them in the last two years. In 2013, the Durham Bulls lost to the Omaha Storm Chasers in the Triple-A Championship Game. And last night, the Peoria Javelinas lost to the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League Championship Game despite the tremendous efforts of Justin O’Conner.

Arizona Fall League Championship Game: Salt River Rafters 14, Peoria Javelinas 7

This game wasn’t particularly close, but Justin O’Conner certainly did everything he could. After O’Conner hit just 1 home run in an otherwise impressive AFL regular season, he exploded in this game for a pair of homers as part of a 2 for 4 day with 3 RBI. His first homer brought them within 3-2 in the 4th while his second extended their 4-3 lead to 6-3. Obviously things fell apart from there, but it was quite a finish for O’Conner between the homers and yet another runner caught stealing.

Speaking of that 4th inning, it was actually Kes Carter‘s homer that tied the game at 3. Carter continues to be inconsistent, but he showed a few more flashes of greatness than usual this year, and that bodes well for him moving forward. Patrick Leonard also pinch-hit unsuccessfully in the game.

On the Salt River side, at least one former Rays prospect was a champion as Reid Redman tossed a no-hit relief inning working around a walk to earn the victory in the game.

More from Rays Prospects

Australian Baseball League: Brisbane Bandits 4, Melbourne Aces 3 (11/15)

Brisbane 12, Melbourne 6 (11/16)

This is another case of two ABL games being played in between our Winter Leagues recap. In the first game, Tommy Coyle went 1 for 3 with a walk and a stolen base, Johnny Field went 1 for 3 with an RBI, Maxx Tissenbaum went 1 for 3 and threw out 1 of 4 attempted basestealers, and Granden Goetzman went 0 for 3.

The second contest saw some more fireworks from the Rays prospects involved. Coyle had a huge game, going 2 for 4 with a homer, a double, a walk, 2 RBI, and 2 runs scored. He’s now up to an outstanding .348/.434/.674 line in 53 appearances. This is a relatively small sample and Coyle is one of the more advanced hitters in the league, but it’s impressive that he now has 3 homers after he managed just 5 in 525 plate appearances in the regular season.

Tissenbaum also performed well, going 2 for 4 with 2 RBI and a run scored, while Goetzman went 1 for 5 with a run scored. Then there was Johnny Field. He didn’t have the most spectacular game, but he managed to do a little bit of everything to help the Bandits. He went 1 for 4 with a walk, a stolen base, an RBI, and a run scored, also delivering an outfield assist. We’ll have to see how much Field will hit as he moves up the ladder, but he has a future as a big league bench player even if a lot of things do not go as planned.

Dominican Winter League: Leones del Escogido 13, Gigantes del Cibao 7

Merrill Kelly is still trying to hit his stride for the Leones, but this was his most promising start yet. He went 4.1 innings allowing 3 runs, 2 earned, on 5 hits, striking out 6 while walking 1. He even forced a 6-1 groundout to flyout ratio. After that combination of swings-and-misses and groundballs, hopefully the next outing for Kelly will finally see him dominate.

In other news from this game, Jordan Pacheco went 2 for 5 with a walk, an RBI, and a run scored for Escogido while Wilson Betemit went 2 for 3 with a double, 2 RBI, and a run scored.

Mexican Pacific League: Aguilas de Mexicali 6, Caneros de los Mochis 4

Mike Jacobs went 2 for 5 with a double and an RBI for Mexicali while Justin Christian went 0 for 3 for the Caneros, but we’re going to spend most of our time talking about relievers.

For the Aguilas, Edgar Gomez entered the game in the 2nd inning after a disaster start from Javier Solano and was excellent. He got a strikeout to end the 2nd and worked around a single with two more K’s in the 3rd. In the 4th, he did allow a pair of walks, but he forced a double play before departing. He could have done without the walks–they have been his biggest problem so far in the MPL–but he now has a 1.65 ERA in 16.1 IP against older competition, and he is certainly opening some eyes.

In the 6th, Matt Gorgen entered for Mexicali and proceeded to toss a pair of perfect innings. Gorgen, 27, was given a well above-slot $125,000 bonus as a 16th round pick by the Rays in 2008 and pitched well in relief before the Rays traded him in the Chad Qualls deal. Unfortunately for him, the Arizona Diamondbacks system did not suit him as well and he spent 2014 in Independent ball.

Carlos Fisher, meanwhile, finished the game for the Caneros, going 1.1 innings working around 2 hits with a pair of strikeouts.