The Undercards: All Clear for Drew Smyly in Rehab Start
By Robbie Knopf
Another Tampa Bay Rays minor league season is here, and with that, another season of our minor league recaps here at Rays Colored Glasses. We call them “The Undercards” because they are the lesser though still important games that happen alongside the Rays’ major league contests. In any event, with the Rays off on Thursday–and because all the games were so interesting–we can certainly say that the minor leaguers certainly took center stage.
Triple-A International League Opening Day: Durham Bulls 1, Gwinnett Braves 0
There wasn’t much offense in this game–much like we are seeing in Major League Baseball these days–but Dylan Floro had a strong Opening Day start in his Triple-A debut and received just enough run support as the Bulls won 1-0. Floro went 6 innings allowing just 1 hit, striking out 1 while walking none. His groundout to flyout ratio was 8-4. We will have to see how Floro’s pitch-to-contact approach works at Triple-A, but with the help of his defense, this game went extremely well.
Spring training hero Joey Butler got Floro his only run on a solo homer in the second inning. Then, following Floro, Brandon Gomes struck out 3 in 2 innings of 1-hit ball while Jose Dominguez struck out 2 in the ninth working around the Braves’ third hit of the game. They entered with that one-run lead and made sure it was enough. The Rays are especially excited about Dominguez, whose fastball reaches triple digits.
Other highlights in this game included Vince Belnome‘s 2-for-4 day and Jake Elmore‘s 1-for-2 performance with a walk. Mikie Mahtook went 0 for 4, but he came through for Floro was a diving catch and was promoted to the big leagues after the game. More on that in a few hours here at RCG. Hak-Ju Lee also looked good at shortstop as he was involved in recording seven of Floro’s 18 outs.
Double-A Southern League: Montgomery Biscuits 4, Chattanooga Lookouts (MIN) 3
I don’t know what was cooler from this game: 20 strikeouts (!) from the Biscuits’ pitching staff or a comeback from a three-run deficit in the bottom of the ninth inning. Either way, what a game!
Jaime Schultz started for Montgomery and was electric although not quite dominant. He struck out 9 while walking just 2 in his 4.2 innings, but he allowed 2 runs on 5 hits. Schultz’s mid-90’s fastball and power breaking ball give him some of the best stuff in the system, but a questionable injury history and subpar command will likely push him to relief. In this game, though, his efforts started something special.
Schultz struck out 9, and then Bradin Hagens, who struck out just 4.6 batters per 9 innings in 2014, came in and did the same. Hagens somehow went 3.1 innings allowing just 1 hit, striking out 9 more while walking just 3. We expect that type of thing from Schultz, but where is this coming from for Hagens? Did the Rays already make some career-changing adjustment to his arsenal?
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Parker Markel struck out 2 more while allowing a solo homer in the ninth inning, and it looked like the headline for this game would be “Montgomery Strikes Out 20 in Loss.” That wouldn’t have been so bad, but the Biscuits had their eyes on something more. In the ninth inning, the Biscuits received walks from Richie Shaffer and Patrick Leonard followed by a Justin O’Conner single. Nick Burdi then rebounded to strike out Montgomery’s next two hitters, and they were still down 4-0 with two outs.
However, then the walks continued. Johnny Field walked to score one run and then Tommy Coyle walked to score another. Then Boog Powell insured that the win would come in a more exhilarating fashion as he drilled a walk-off two-run single to give the Biscuits a 4-3 win. Powell delivered a huge performance in his Double-A debut after being promoted to the level despite just 14 High-A games, going 3 for 4 with a walk and 2 RBI.
Among the other heroes for the Biscuits, O’Conner went 2 for 4, Coyle went 2 for 3 with a triple, a walk, and an RBI, and Patrick Leonard went 1 for 3 with a double, a walk, and a run scored. O’Conner and Daniel Robertson are the best prospects on the team, but a guy like Powell is very interesting. It says a lot that the Rays are pushing him, and it will be fascinating to see what he can do.
High-A Florida State League: Charlotte Stone Crabs 2, Fort Myers Miracle (MIN) 0
If you’re here for the Drew Smyly rehab game, hopefully you have enjoyed yourself thus far, but now you have actually arrived. Smyly started for Charlotte and went 2 perfect innings, striking out 1 and getting 4 more outs on the ground. He threw 23 pitches, and his arm felt so great that he threw 12 more in the bullpen. This was an encouraging first outing from Smyly, and the Rays will look forward to getting him back in a few weeks.
After Smyly, deserving Opening Day starter Blake Snell was dominant, going 6 shutout innings allowing just 3 hits, striking out 10 while walking none. Snell still has some control issues to work through, but when he’s hitting his spots, he can be unhittable. He received just enough run support as the Stone Crabs scored two runs in the fifth inning on a Braxton Lee RBI single and a Kean Wong RBI double.
Lee also had an outfield assist to cap a strong 1-for-3 debut with an RBI and a run scored at High-A. He faces a tough assignment as he was promoted straight from Short Season-A. Other impressive performers included Andrew Velazquez‘s 2-for-4 day, Wong’s 1-for-3 performance with a double, a walk, and an RBI, and Yoel Araujo‘s 1-for-2 day with a double, a walk, and a run scored.
Low-A Midwest League: South Bend Cubs 2, Bowling Green Hot Rods 1
The Hot Rods make it four Tampa Bay Rays affiliates who delivered strong pitching, but in their case, one run scored was not enough. Brent Honeywell started for Bowling Green and went 4 innings allowing 1 run on 4 hits, striking out 6 while walking 2. His groundout to flyout ratio was also a solid 4-1. Honeywell has burst onto the scene as a prospect since the the Rays made him a second round (Compensation Round B) pick last year, and his first outing was just more to like.
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Honeywell was followed by Hunter Wood, who went 4 no-hit innings while striking out 7 and walking 3. His groundout to flyout ratio was a perfect 5-0. Unfortunately, Mike Franco allowed a run in the ninth inning, and that was enough for Bowling Green to lose this game. Their only run came on a Thomas Milone solo homer in his second full-season at-bat. In other news, Nick Ciuffo also went 2 for 4, Hunter Lockwood went 1 for 3 with a double and a walk, and Riley Unroe went 0 for 2 with 2 walks. The Rays are really pushing guys like Milone, Ciuffo, and Unroe up the ranks as they combined to log zero Short Season-A games, but they clearly believe that their talent makes that type of aggressiveness worthwhile.