I really try to put a player in the headline every day in these Tampa Bay Rays minor league recaps. But today it was simply impossible–there were two extremely qualified candidates and not enough in the title to fit both of them. Let’s just say that the Montgomery Biscuits had themselves a fun day.
Triple-A International League: Buffalo Bisons (TOR) 6, Durham Bulls 2
Getting a bad start and getting 4-hit usually don’t go well together. Everett Teaford went 3.2 innings allowing 6 runs on 7 hits, striking out none while walking 2. He clearly didn’t have it in this game. At least Jim Miller and Andy Oliver finished the game in solid fashion, with Miller going 2.1 shutout innings allowing just 2 hits while striking out 2 while Oliver worked 2 no-hit innings, striking out 1 while walking 1.
On the offensive side, Corey Brown drove in both runs and finished 2 for 4 with 2 doubles and 2 RBI. The other hits came from Vince Belnome and Alexi Casilla, with Belnome going 1 for 1 with 2 walks and a run scored. He’s off to another rough start, hitting .193 with a .250 SLG, although he does have a 24-24 strikeout to walk ratio and a .372 OBP. Brown’s average and SLG numbers were quite similar to that before he went off to the tune of a .319/.360/.638 line in his last 50 plate appearances.
Double-A Southern League Game 1: Tennessee Smokies 7, Montgomery Biscuits 6
It goes without saying that the Biscuits’ pitching wasn’t up to par in this game. After Jim Patterson allowed an unearned run in 2 innings in his start, Mikey O’Brien gave up 3 more in 4 innings and Matt Lollis also allowed 3 in 2 frames. At least the offense was able to keep things interesting nonetheless.
Leading the way for the Biscuits at the plate was Daniel Robertson. The young shortstop prospect proved to be an impossible out, going 4 for 4 with a walk, 3 RBI, and a run scored. This game was just the latest example of Robertson looking just as good as the Tampa Bay Rays hoped he would be and quite possibly more. Luckily for us, he wasn’t done. Johnny Field also drilled a solo homer, his 5th already this year after he hit just 12 in the 2014 regular season, while Richie Shaffer delivered a pair of RBIs.
Game 2: Biscuits 14, Smokies 0
The bats were once again raking for the Biscuits, and this time the pitching matched it inning after inning. Blake Snell started for Montgomery and was unstoppable again, going 7 innings allowing no runs on 2 hits, striking out 5 while walking 2. His groundout to flyout ratio was also an outstanding 13-1. His numbers on the season are absolutely nuts: in 40 innings, he is 5-0 with a perfect 0.00 ERA, striking out 48 while walking 16.
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The walks are a little concerning–and it has to remind you of Matt Moore‘s start to 2013 the way he is dominating despite the walks–but remember that he allowed more than half of them in 2 of his 7 appearances. He hasn’t put his control issues completely in the past, but he is making his bouts of wildness fewer and farther between, giving him more chances to blow away hitters. Snell was always considered a player with number three starter upside and not more because evaluators never believed that he could solve his command problems to a large enough extent. That prediction may hold true in the long-term, but this is the guy Snell could be if he consistently throws strikes.
Snell’s performance also rubbed off well on a couple of inconsistent relievers for Montgomery. Mark Sappington tossed a perfect inning with 2 strikeouts while Colton Reavis struck out 1 in his 1-2-3 frame. Sappington has a 3.52 ERA but more walks than strikeouts on the season while Reavis has a 7.24 ERA but outstanding peripherals–a 12.5 K/9, a 3.3 BB/9, and a 0.7 HR/9. We’ll have to see if his ERA is more on line with those last three numbers by the time the season concludes.
Finally we arrive at the offense. Daniel Robertson finished with 7 hits on the day as he went 3 for 5 with a triple, 2 RBI, and 2 runs scored in this game. On the season, he now has a .298/.390/.484 line on the season, amounting to an .874 OPS that edges out his .873 mark from last season. It would be encouraging enough for Robertson to maintain the same result at a higher level, but that doesn’t actually tell the whole story. The 2014 California League had an average .767 OPS–the 2015 Southern League is at just .690. Moving to a much more pitcher-friendly league hasn’t fazed Robertson at all.
Other heroes for the Biscuits included Richie Shaffer, who went 3 for 5 with a double, 2 RBI, and 2 runs scored, and Tommy Coyle, who went 1 for 2 with a 3-run homer, 3 walks, and 3 runs scored. Shaffer is the only player on the Biscuits that can beat out Robertson’s OPS–as we should hope for from a player three years older–while Coyle has had a fascinating season. He is hitting just .204 compared to .249 last season, but he has actually improved his OBP from .331 to .333 and his SLG from .345 all the way to .419 thanks to much more power and a better plate approach.
Johnny Field, Tyler Goeddel, and Joey Rickard also had multi-hit games for the Biscuits, and Justin O’Conner also made something happen by picking a runner off third base. Before we move on, there are two interesting tidbits to note about this doubleheader: 1) both games played were 9 innings as opposed to usual 7 for a minor league twinbill, and 2) after 7 innings, the Biscuits and Smokies were tied at 4 runs apiece in the first game and Montgomery only led 2-0 in the second contest.
High-A Florida State League: Charlotte Stone Crabs 8, Clearwater Threshers (PHI) 2 (7 innings)
For some reason, this game, which was not part of a doubleheader, was actually 7 innings. In any event, it went quite well. German Marquez looked good for the second straight appearance after a rough start to the season, going 5 innings allowing 1 run on 7 hits, striking out 4 while walking 1. Suddenly his ERA is perfectly fine at 3.67. Marquez is just 20 years old and over 3 years younger than the average age in the Florida State League, yet he has found his way to hold his own. Hopefully he can keep this up if not continue progressing.
After Josh Kimborowicz allowed a run in his inning of work, a new face surfaced for the Stone Crabs: Yonny Chirinos, who worked around a hit to toss a scoreless inning with a strikeout. Chirinos, just 21, is a 6’2″, 170 right-hander who pitched well at Advanced Rookie Princeton last season, pitching to a 2.09 ERA and a 33-11 strikeout to walk ratio in 40 innings pitched. We will have to see if he just came over from extended spring training for a day because the Stone Crabs needed an arm or whether the Rays really think they have something.
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The offense, meanwhile, was led by another top shortstop prospect, Willy Adames. He went 2 for 4 with a homer, a double, an RBI, and 2 runs scored. Adames now has a .282/.364/.417 line, amounting to a .782 OPS that is exactly identical to his .782 mark from last season. Wait…didn’t we just say the same exact thing with Robertson! He is also moving to a more pitcher-friendly league–the 2014 Midwest League had a .692 average OPS compared to the 2015 Florida State League’s .658 mark. Adames’ numbers still aren’t good as Robertson’s, but can we really complain about a player putting up such stats against players four years older than him?
Also homering for the Biscuits were Marty Gantt, who finished 1 for 3 with a walk and 2 runs scored, and Granden Goetzman, who drilled a 3-run shot. Gantt has been outstanding to start the year, hitting to a .273/.407/.455 line, and while Joey Rickard received the first call to Montgomery among Charlotte’s outfielders, you have to hope that Gantt is next. Goetzman, meanwhile, struck out twice in this game, which sounds like vintage him. The difference between this year and last year, though, is that those are his first 2 K’s in 13 plate appearances.
Low-A Midwest League: Bowling Green Hot Rods 5, West Michigan Whitecaps (DET) 1
The streak is finally over for Jace Conrad. After he stole 12 bases without getting caught to begin the year, he was picked off second base in this game and caught in a rundown going towards third. That is a frustrating way for it to end–you really should never get picked off second base–but at least Conrad went 2 for 3 with a solo homer and a walk in this game, giving him a .330/.371/.55 line to begin the season. That is good enough for us to forgive a caught stealing or two.
Thomas Milone also had a nice game, going 2 for 4 with a stolen base and 2 RBI, while Bralin Jackson went 1 for 3 with a double, 2 RBI, and a run scored. Remarkably, Milone, Jackson, and Grant Kay are all hitting .284 as of right now. Milone and Jackson even have the same .358 slugging percentage, although of course that is low and not a good thing. Both of them are athletic young outfielders hoping to hit the ball with more authority and take the next step in their careers as prospects.
On the pitching side, meanwhile, Greg Harris and Hunter Wood both looked great to ensure that Willy Adames’ former club couldn’t get much. Harris moved past two straight bad starts by going 5 innings allowing 1 run on 5 hits, striking out 8 while walking none. He now has a 2.17 ERA and a crazy 32-6 strikeout to walk ratio in 29 innings pitched. Wood, meanwhile, finished the game with the 4-inning save, allowing just 2 hits and a walk while striking out 6. In his 27 innings, he has been even better, delivering a 1.67 ERA and a 39 strikeouts against 8 walks.