The Undercards: Chris Pike Starts Hot Rods 1-Hitter
By Robbie Knopf
For whatever reason, certain Tampa Bay Rays prospects fly under the radar. Chris Pike is a great example. He was the Rays’ 9th round pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, has good stuff, and delivered a strong pro debut, yet I can honestly say that nothing came to mind when I heard his name before this game. A few more starts like this, though, and Chris Pike will become a minor leaguer that Rays fans know quite well.
Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 12, Charlotte Knights (CHW) 8
The pitching was far from pretty in this game–we’ll save that for the rest of this minor league recap–but several prospects who needed a big day at the plate were able to get one. Ryan Brett went 3 for 6 with his first homer of the season, a double, and 3 runs scored. Brett entered the game hitting just .118 on the season, but we know he’s much better than that and the Rays are looking forward to seeing what he is capable of this season at Triple-A.
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Luke Maile had a strong game, going 2 for 5 with a 2-run homer, and Hak-Ju Lee even had an RBI double. Then there were the veterans that had huge games. Corey Brown led the way for the Bulls by going 2 for 5 with a homer and 5 RBI, and Jake Elmore, Joey Butler, and Vince Belnome delivered multi-hit performances as well. With Allan Dykstra not impressing at the plate for the Rays, the opportunity may be there for another veteran to take his place on the roster. Who would it be?
Dylan Floro certainly had a rough outing for Durham, but after he allowed 5 runs on 8 hits in the first 2 innings, he found a way to battle for 3 more frames. Overall, he went 5 innings allowing 5 runs on 10 hits, striking out 6 while walking 1. His groundout to flyout ratio was 5-2. Few pitchers in this Rays system can battle without their best stuff like Floro can, and nice job by him eating some innings and letting the Bulls offense go to work.
High-A Florida State League: Charlotte Stone Crabs 2, Daytona Tortugas (CIN) 0
It is becoming a tradition for the Stone Crabs–Drew Smyly delivers his rehab start and then Blake Snell dominates behind him. This time, Smyly went 3 innings allowing just a hit, striking out 4 while walking none. He got up to 40 pitches on the mound then threw another 12 in the bullpen. Smyly is progressing slowly, but he feels great and should be at full strength by the beginning of May if not the end of April.
Behind Smyly, Blake Snell tossed 5 innings allowing just 1 hit, striking out 8 while walking 2, before Nick Sawyer pitched a perfect inning with a strikeout for the save. We’re about to talk about a 1-hitter, but this was a 2-hitter. Snell’s stats are absolutely nuts to begin the season–he is 2-0 a 0.00 ERA and an 18-2 strikeout to walk ratio in 11 innings, allowing just 4 hits. Snell began the season as one of the Rays’ top pitching prospects, and it can only be a good thing that he is spending some time around Smyly.
The Stone Crabs scored their first run on a Joey Rickard RBI single and their second on an error. Armando Araiza had a nice game at the plate for Charlotte, going 1 for 3 with a double and the second run scored.
Low-A Midwest League Doubleheader Game 1: Bowling Green Hot Rods 7, Lake County Captains (CLE) 0 (7 innings)
The Hot Rods gave Chris Pike plenty of support, scoring in his first, middle, and last innings. He was comfortable on the mound and delivered an excellent outing. He went 5 innings allowing just a hit, striking out 4 while walking none. That brings up an obvious question: who is Chris Pike?
As we mentioned briefly above, Pike was the Rays’ 9th round pick in 2014, and he was selected as a senior out of Oklahoma City University. He was a money-saving pick for the Rays, signing for just $7,500 to help them sign players like Brock Burke and Spencer Moran to above-slot bonuses. What signing for so little can do, though, is make us overlook his stuff.
Pike consistently throws strikes with a fastball that can reach 94 MPH and he also has a good curveball. The primary things that he is working on are getting his changeup up to par and doing a better job commanding all of his pitches down in the zone. Pike is already 22 years of age, but he has enough stuff to be at least a reliever if he can start moving steadily up the ranks in the Tampa Bay Rays system.
Lefty Kyle Bird, who was the Rays’ 35th round pick in 2014, tossed 2 shutout innings behind Pike to close out the 1-hitter. On the offensive side, meanwhile, Casey Gillaspie had a huge game, going 4 for 4 with a homer, 2 doubles, and 3 runs scored. After hitting a homer on Monday, Gillaspie had much more in store for this game and the Rays have to be excited about that. Gillaspie is supposed to be too advanced for these Low-A pitchers, and he is starting to live up to that standard.
Justin Williams also had an RBI double for the Hot Rods while Thomas Milone went 2 for 4 with 2 runs scored and Jace Conrad went 2 for 4 with a double and a run scored. Conrad’s average to begin the year is still at .412. Cristian Toribio also went 1 for 2 with a walk for Bowling Green, and we will talk more about him in just a sec.
Game 2: Lake County 2, Bowling Green 1 (7 innings)
Enderson Franco allowed a pair of runs in the first inning of the second game of the doubleheader and that was enough for the Hot Rods to settle for a split. Franco still had a nice outing, though, going 5 innings allowing just those 2 runs on 6 hits, striking out 3 while walking 1. His groundout to flyout ratio was 6-1. Damion Carroll then tossed a scoreless inning to finish the game for Bowling Green, although he had to work around a hit and 2 walks to get there.
The only Hot Rods run came on a solo homer by Toribio. The 20-year-old shortstop established himself as a sleeper in the system back in the Dominican Summer League in 2012, and a strong 2014 at Princeton was enough to take him to full-season ball. The Rays love what he can do defensively, and they see the combination of bat speed and power potential that could make him a starting shortstop someday. Gillaspie, Bralin Jackson, and Hunter Lockwood each went 1 for 3 for Bowling Green in the game.