Amid all this excitement over Blake Snell‘s scoreless streak, let’s tell one cautionary tale: Curt Casali. Casali’s numbers were insane at Double-A as he hit to a .358/.490/.537 line with 44 walks against 34 strikeouts in 241 plate appearances. He still didn’t have the bat speed to hit for that high of an average nor did he have much power, but we looked at his plate discipline and those numbers and called him a potential game-changer for the Rays at catcher. He has since put up a .223/.332/.323 line at Triple-A, doing nothing to unseat Bobby Wilson as the Rays’ backup catcher.
Snell was a better regarded prospect than Casali was, so when he falls, it will not be as far. Even so, let’s refrain from reading too much into this hot streak. If Snell sharpens his control for the rest of the season and continues to improve his secondary pitches, that would be much more meaningful than this dominant stretch. The question isn’t whether Snell can roll at Double-A, but whether he can succeed consistently in the major leagues. This streak doesn’t do much to address the latter point by itself.
Triple-A International League: Rochester Red Wings (MIN) 3, Durham Bulls 0
Tommy Milone tossed a 6-hit shutout against the Bulls in this game, striking out 13 while walking none. Matt Buschmann was fine on the other side, going 7 innings allowing 3 runs on 5 hits and striking out 6 while walking none, but that wasn’t enough. Grant Balfour worked around a walk and a hit to toss a scoreless inning for the Bulls in relief.
Surprisingly, every Bull that managed a hit can claim that he had a pretty good game. Alexi Casilla went 2 for 4 with a double, Jake Elmore turned in a plain 2-for-4 day, Hak-Ju Lee went 1 for 3 with a stolen base, and Allan Dykstra also went 1 for 3. Casilla doesn’t have a spot on the Rays but is making an audition to go somewhere with his .340/.396/.495 line on the season. Lee, meanwhile, has gone 1 for 3 with a stolen base in each of the last two games as he hopes to heat up.
Double-A Southern League: Montgomery Biscuits 4, Chattanooga Lookouts (MIN) 2
Isn’t it great that Tampa Bay Rays affiliates are playing all of these Twins affiliates just after the Rays completed a series with the Twins? Well, yes, but now I’m just stalling before we talk about another great outing from Blake Snell.
Snell went 6 innings allowing no runs on 2 hits, striking out 6 while walking 3. In both the fourth and sixth innings, the Lookouts had a runner on third with one out, but both times, Snell kept him right there. Snell held two of the best prospects in baseball, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, to an 0-for-6 performance with 3 strikeouts. He walked 3 batters for just the third time in his 8 starts, but he is showing that Matt Moore-esque quality of being so difficult to hit when he is around the zone. Of course, we will have to see if he can maintain that at higher levels.
Montgomery manager Brady Williams was extremely complementary of Snell as he talked to MiLB.com.
"Noting that his pitcher had his mid-90s fastball, cutter, curveball and changeup all at his disposal Monday, Williams couldn’t help but be taken aback by the way his starter rose to the occasion in tough spots.“The thing is — he’s doing that even with nobody on,” said the skipper. “You hope he doesn’t have to do it too often, but he can pump it when he has to. He definitely showcases that ability to pitch to the moment and keep things from getting too crazy. It’s impressive.”….“He does it against guys from both sides,” Williams said. “That’s because everything is the same. The ball’s coming out of the same slot. His arm has the same action. It’s hard to distinguish what’s what. His curveball, which was really good today, looks the same as his other pitches. His fastball is what it is for a ball that can hit 97. Then, he’s got the cutter and changeup, and all of it is just so hard to hit.”"
As alluded to above, there is a need for us to wait to see how Snell will react when this scoreless streak (which is now at 46 innings this season and 49 counting last year) comes to an end. Is Snell throwing strikes and being locked in with his curveball a product of him feeling especially good, or will he be able to maintain those improvements even when he starts allowing runs again? We will have to see what happens, but Snell certainly looks like he has taken a step forward this season and has a better chance of reaching his number two starter upside.
After Matt Lollis had a rough inning on his way to allowing both Lookouts runs, Parker Markel looked sharp again behind him, tossing a perfect inning with 2 strikeouts. Like we have been saying in recent days, Markel is putting himself back on the map as a relief prospect. Bryce Stowell then recorded the save with another 1-2-3 frame, striking out 2 as well.
On the offensive side, meanwhile, Justin O’Conner drilled a 2-run double and Patrick Leonard continued his strong recent stretch by going 2 for 4 with a homer and 2 runs scored. It is only a few games, but after a terrible start to the season, Leonard is now 5 for his last 13 with a homer, a triple, a double, 3 RBI, and a 3-2 strikeout to walk ratio. Hopefully he is finding his form. Aside from them, Daniel Robertson just keeps hitting, going 2 for 4 with a double in this game, while Johnny Field went 2 for 4 with a stolen base, an RBI, and a run scored.
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High-A Florida State League: Jupiter Hammerheads (MIA) 1, Charlotte Stone Crabs 0 (11 innings)
Welcome back to Taylor Guerrieri. The Tampa Bay Rays kept him at extended spring training until now so they could monitor his workload closely, but now he is finally back in competitive games. His first game back was a shorter version of the type of outings we saw from him pre-surgery as he went 3 shutout innings allowing just a hit, striking out 2 while walking none and posting a 5-1 groundout to flyout ratio. He has a long way to go before he can throw 5 or 6 innings again, but the talent is still there for him to be a very good pitcher.
Buddy Borden replaced Guerrieri on the hill and followed up his no-hitter in his previous start with another nice game. He went 5 innings allowing no runs on 3 hits, striking out 5 while walking 2. He is now 4-1 on the year with a 2.16 ERA and a 29-9 strikeout to walk ratio in 33.1 innings pitched. Brad Schreiber then tossed 2 shutout innings before Kyle McKenzie finally allowed the go-ahead run in the 11th.
The Stone Crabs did not do much offensively in this game, but Willy Adames did go 2 for 5 with a triple while Mike Marjama also went 2 for 5. Adames’ 2014 was a breakout, but he is playing even better to begin this season, hitting to a .304/.376/.456 line with 7 doubles, 3 triples, 2 homers, and 17 RBI in 141 plate appearances. Marjama, meanwhile, has provided some punch as a backup catcher, hitting to a .340/.358/.440 line in his limited playing time.
Low-A Midwest League: West Michigan Whitecaps (DET) 3, Bowling Green Hot Rods 0
Offense was lacking in the Tampa Bay Rays organization yesterday, that is for sure. Greg Harris started for Bowling Green and had a solid outing, going 5.1 innings allowing 2 runs, 1 earned, on 6 hits, striking out 2 while walking 3. Hunter Wood then tossed the rest of the game as he allowed 1 run on 3 hits in 3.2 innings, striking out 4 while walking 2. Their efforts went for nought, however, as they received no run support at all.
At least their catcher, Nick Ciuffo, was on their side, going 2 for 4 with a double at the plate. Ciuffo is 12 for his last 35 (.343), but he hasn’t walked in that span while striking out 10 times. He also has just 4 extra-base hits, all doubles. Ciuffo’s batting average is quite respectable at .260, but it means little when he is neither walking nor hitting for power. Hopefully that will soon change. Coty Blanchard and Cristian Toribio each went 1 for 3 in the game, with Blanchard also drawing a walk, while Jace Conrad stole his 14th base in 15 tries.