The Tampa Bay Rays were supposed to have good catching depth at Triple-A this year. For once, their backstop pairing consisted of two prospects, Curt Casali and Luke Maile, and it was only a matter of time until one of them played well enough to supplant Bobby Wilson as Rene Rivera‘s backup. Instead, Casali entered Wednesday with just a .176/.317/.221 line while Maile was at .159/.257/.227. They both looked great in their last game for Durham, and the hope is that they will begin to find their respective forms.
Triple-A International League: Rochester Red Wings (MIN) 8, Durham Bulls 7 (10 innings)
A lot of things went wrong for the Bulls in this game, but let’s start with the things that didn’t. The offense looked very good, and it was Curt Casali and Luke Maile that led the way. Casali, the DH in the game, went 3 for 4 with a homer, a double, a walk, 2 RBI, and 2 runs scored while Maile went 2 for 4 with a double, a walk, and an RBI. They delivered as many combined hits (5) as they had from May 3rd to Tuesday.
Both Casali and Maile have continued to put up good strikeout to walk ratios on the year, with Casali’s at 17-13 while Maile’s is at 11-10. They haven’t looked lost at the plate for Durham–instead their struggles have been a matter of bad luck and just missing on pitches to hit. A scary statistic is that Casali’s .650 OPS following the game is actually the best among Rays catchers at Double-A or above (of course counting the major leagues). Of all of the struggling backstops, though, Casali and Maile may be the best bets to turn themselves around.
Other players who had nice games were Jake Elmore, who went 3 for 5 with a double, a walk, and 2 runs scored, and Taylor Motter, who went 1 for 3 with a triple, a walk, an RBI, and a run scored. On the mound, meanwhile, Andy Oliver worked around 2 hits with 4 strikeouts in 1.2 shutout innings, Grant Balfour tossed 2 perfect frames with 2 strikeouts, and Preston Guilmet pitched a scoreless frame of his own, allowing a hit but striking out 1. All of them had encouraging games, and especially Oliver and Balfour needed them.
Now we have to get to the negatives. Hak-Ju Lee singled in the second inning, but it was a repeat of the Ryan Brett story as he was picked off and then had to leave the game with an injury. Apparently he hurt himself sliding head-first into second base and may have had his hand stepped on. In any event, hopefully he will be OK. He has finally been playing better of late, and it would be cruel twist of fate if he is sidelined for a while right now.
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Matt Andriese started for Durham as he hoped to get his pitch count up and get into a regular routine. The former goal was not accomplished as he needed 68 pitches to go 3.1 innings allowing 3 runs on 7 hits. Once again, he tossed an iffy outing, this time at Triple-A. Luckily, we can explain this one away pretty easily. Andriese struck out 4 while walking none and forced a 5-1 groundout to flyout ratio. And of the 7 hits he allowed, 5 came on the ground, and 3 were even described as “soft groundballs.” He looked fine and just encountered some bad luck.
Players who actually simply looked bad were Jordan Norberto, who allowed 4 runs on 2 hits in an inning of work, striking out 2 while walking 3, and Jose Dominguez, who allowed the winning run to score in the 10th without recording an out on 2 hits and 2 walks. Norberto has been horrific since getting off to a nice start, managing just a 7.84 ERA and a 9-18 strikeout to walk ratio in his last 10.1 innings. Dominguez has looked good enough, meanwhile, that we will give him a pass for this game.
Double-A Southern League: Chattanooga Lookouts (MIN) 11, Montgomery Biscuits 5
Yesterday’s Tampa Bay Rays game was frustrating, but it wasn’t anything like this. The Biscuits held a 4-3 lead through 6 innings before their bullpen collapsed entirely. Austin Pruitt had the worst control of his professional career in this game, but he battled to give the Biscuits 5 decent innings allowing 3 runs on 7 hits, striking out 5 and walking 5 as well. He had never walked more than 3 batters in any of his prior 47 professional appearances, and he hadn’t allowed more than 2 free passes in any of his 7 prior games this season.
Colton Reavis followed by working around a hit with 2 groundouts in a scoreless frame, but then Mark Sappington and Parker Markel had disaster outings. Sappington allowed 4 runs on 5 hits in his inning, striking out 1, while Markel allowed 4 more runs on 2 hits in 0.2 innings, striking out none while walking 3. We have been singing Markel’s praises lately at this site, but his control was absent in this game and hopefully that won’t happen again for a long time.
At least better things were happening on the offensive side. Leonardo Reginatto finally showed a flash of his Triple-A success at Double-A, going 3 for 4 with a double. It is beyond bizarre that he currently has a .300 career average at Triple-A and just a .184 mark at Double-A, although this game did get his OPS for Montgomery above his OPS for Durham this season. Reginatto has never been a real prospect, but his flair for the dramatic as a professional makes you wonder whether he could carve out a big league career of some kind.
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Among prospect we have heard more about, Johnny Field went 2 for 4 with a homer, a double, and 3 RBI while Tyler Goeddel had a 2-for-4 day with a triple and a run scored. Both also delivered outfield assists. It seems hard to believe that Field will earn his second straight Rays Minor League Player of the Year award with Daniel Robertson playing so well, but his overall numbers edge Robertson’s right now as he has a .314/.370/.536 line with 11 doubles, 6 homers, and 28 RBI in 156 plate appearances. Goeddel, meanwhile, is catching fire again, going 10 for his last 26 (.385) to get his average back to .307 on the season. We will have to see where his numbers finish, but there is still reason for excitement with him.
High-A Florida State League: Jupiter Hammerheads (MIA) 2, Charlotte Stone Crabs 1
Chris Kirsch was out-dueled by Scott Lyman as the Stone Crabs were edged in this game. The lefty Kirsch delivered his third strong outing in his last four as he went 6 innings allowing 2 runs, 1 earned, on 3 hits, striking out 5 while walking 2. For Kirsch, who is more of a pitch-to-contact type than anything else, the 5 strikeouts were his most this season. He has been able to force a good amount of groundballs, but his strikeout to walk ratio is still just 24-18 in 38.2 innings this season.
Steve Ascher followed Kirsch with a strong relief outing, tossing 3 shutout innings allowing 2 hits while striking out 1. On the offensive side, meanwhile, Kean Wong drilled a homer, his first of the year, for the lone Charlotte run. Armando Araiza also went 2 for 4 (speaking of catchers hitting) while Braxton Lee went 1 for 3 with a walk and a stolen base. Wong is hitting just .220 to start his High-A tenure, but his 16-10 strikeout to walk ratio is the best of his career by far. Hopefully that is a sign of things to come.
Low-A Midwest League: Bowling Green Hot Rods 9, West Michigan Whitecaps (DET) 2
It just so works out that we will finish this Minor League Recap with the most positive game of all from the Rays system yesterday. Henry Centeno had an outstanding start for Bowling Green, going 6.1 innings allowing 1 run on 3 hits, striking out 7 while walking 1. His groundout to flyout ratio was even 8-1. Centeno, 20, made just 1 start in the Appalachian League after leading the Gulf Coast League in ERA, but the Rays saw enough to send him to full-season ball for this season. His ERA is currently at 5.23 on the year, but outings like this show us how good this guy could be.
Edgar Gomez followed Centeno with 1.2 perfect innings with 2 strikeouts, but we’ll talk a lot more about the offense. Jace Conrad continued his big season by going 3 for 4 with a homer, a double, a walk, 3 RBI, and 2 runs scored. After a mediocre debut at Hudson Valley, Conrad has been incredible for the Hot Rods while playing third base, second base, and left field. He has hit to a .333/.370/.540 line with 6 doubles, 6 homers, 22 RBI, and 14 stolen bases in 15 attempts in 135 plate appearances.
Other big games for the Hot Rods came from Justin Williams, who went 3 for 3 with a double, a walk, and 3 RBI, and Casey Gillaspie, who went 1 for 3 with a walk, 3 RBI, and a run scored. Riley Unroe also stayed red-hot by going 2 for 4 with a double, a walk, and 3 runs scored. His overall numbers continue to approach expectations as he is now 8 for his last 17 (.471) with 4 walks against just 1 strikeout. His plate approach has always been excellent, and the question will be whether he can continue hitting the ball with more authority.