Tampa Bay Rays MiLB Recap: Dayron Varona Shines in Debut
By Robbie Knopf
The Tampa Bay Rays’ loss yesterday was extremely frustrating, but for what it’s worth, the minor league system had a perfect 4-0 day. It was a day of impressive work by their starting pitchers and outfielders. with Dylan Floro and Henry Centeno impressing the most on the mound while Dayron Varona and Bralin Jackson were among the most notable at the plate.
Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 2, Rochester Red Wings (MIN) 1
We can certainly say that Dylan Floro has found his form for the Bulls. His ERA is now down to 3.54 on the season after he went 7 innings allowing 1 run on 8 hits, striking out 7 while walking 1. He forced an outstanding 15 groundballs against 4 flyballs, and 5 of the hits he allowed were on grounders while another was on a bunt. He was dominant, but with better defense behind him, he would have done even better.
On the season, Floro now has a 5.2 K/9, a 1.4 BB/9, and a 0.4 HR/9 to go along with that 3.54 ERA in 61 innings pitched. He managed a 3.48 ERA, a 5.7 K/9, a 1.4 BB/9, and a 0.2 HR/9 at Double-A Montgomery in 2014, so essentially Floro has repeated his 2014 numbers at a higher level. Floro still has his concerns–he isn’t missing many bats, he has allowed a .300/.330/.450 line against lefty hitters (albeit with a 14-5 strikeout to walk ratio), and the Rays don’t have great middle infield defense either–but he is emerging as a potential big league option nonetheless.
Andy Oliver followed Floro with a 1-2-3 eighth inning, striking out 2 while getting his other out on the ground, before Ronald Belisario worked around a walk in the ninth for the save. Bulls pitching finished with 12 flyouts versus just 2 groundouts on the night. Oliver continues to have control problems but has pitched relatively well for Durham in his 18.1 innings. He has a 3.00 ERA, a 10.0 K/9, a 5.0 BB/9, and a 0.5 HR/9 in addition to a 46.7% groundball rate that is the best of his career. We will have to see to what extent his progress will continue.
Taylor Motter drilled a 2-out RBI double to tie the game at 1 in the fifth, capping a 2-for-4 evening, before Corey Brown drilled a go-ahead solo homer in the seventh. He finished the game 1 for 2 with the homer, a walk, and 2 run scored. Ryan Brett also made his return to the Bulls and went 0 for 4. The season did not begin as planned at all for Brett, but the Rays hope that he can find himself at the plate and begin to make up for his lost time.
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Double-A Southern League: Montgomery Biscuits 14, Jackson Generals (SEA) 1
This is what the Rays would like to do the Mariners this afternoon. Joey Rickard had an incredible game out of the nine-hole, going 4 for 5 with a triple, a double, 3 RBI, and 3 runs scored, while Justin O’Conner had the big game he was waiting for, going 3 for 5 with a double and 3 runs scored. Daniel Robertson broke an 0 for 19 by going 2 for 6 with a double, 2 RBI, and a run scored and Boog Powell had a 2-for-4 day with 2 walks, 2 RBI, and 2 runs scored. Tommy Coyle went 2 for 4 with a double, a walk, a stolen base, an RBI, and 2 runs scored to finish off the multi-hit games, but Tyler Goeddel and Cameron Seitzer also drove in 2 runs each.
There are way too many analysis points that can be made after a game like this, but let’s start with Robertson, who reminded us that he will be just fine. Justin O’Conner comes with many more concerns, but he has a 3-game hitting streak now and the Rays have to hope that he is beginning to find himself. Joey Rickard, meanwhile, deserves praise for handling his demotion to High-A the right way. He used it as a learning experience rather than a reason for anger, and now he has a .321/.371/.446 line since returns to Montgomery. His future looks brighter than it did a year ago.
On the pitching side, Bradin Hagens used his cutter to be another groundball artist. He walked 4 while striking out 1 in his 6 innings of work, but he allowed just an unearned run on 3 hits with the help of a 12-3 groundout to flyout ratio. Matt Lollis followed with 2 innings allowing a hit and a walk while striking out 2 before Ryan Garton tossed a perfect ninth with a strikeout. Garton has been dominant in his last 6 innings after a rough beginning to his Double-A tenure, allowing just 1 hit and 1 walk while striking out 5. His groundball rate is at 59.1% on the year.
High-A Florida State League: Charlotte Stone Crabs 7, Brevard County Manatees (MIL) 3
We heard a while back about the Rays signing Cuban defector Dayron Varona, and in this game, he finally made his debut. It went extremely well as he delivered a 2-for-4 performance out of the leadoff spot with a triple, a walk, 2 RBI, and 2 runs scored. He even added an outfield assist, showing off his arm strength, which may be his best tool. Varona is 27 years old, so it is not particularly meaningful how he plays at High-A, but it is nice to see glimpses of his quick bat, foot speed, arm strength, and plate discipline.
Jake Bauers also had a big game, going 2 for 4 with a homer, a double, and a walk. He looks like the clear favorite for Tampa Bay Rays first baseman of the future at this point between his .268/.364/.472 line, 24-21 strikeout to walk ratio, and excellent defense. The only thing he was missing was power, but he has found it this season. Bauers has been one of the most impressive prospects in the system all year, and he still has yet to turn 20 years of age. By the end of the season, people may call him a top prospect.
Yoel Araujo and Pat Blair each went 2 for 4 with a double for Charlotte, with Araujo having an RBI and a run scored while Blair scored twice, and Kean Wong went 1 for 3 with a walk, a stolen base, and an RBI. Wong now has 11 stolen bases in 13 attempts this season and is slowly heating up, hitting to a .269/.321/.423 line in his last 29 plate appearances. The Rays really hope he can break out of his early-season slump.
On the mound, Chris Kirsch had a great outing, going 6 innings allowing no runs on 6 hits, striking out 5 while walking 1. His groundout to flyout ratio was 8-5. The pattern continues to be the same for Kirsch–an ERA under 3.00, a nice groundball rate, and not enough strikeouts. He doesn’t even have Floro’s control, so that combination won’t work at higher levels. The Rays are stil waiting for an adjustment from the 23-year-old lefty Kirsch, and we will have to see if it ever comes.
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Low-A Midwest League: Bowling Green Hot Rods 8, Lansing Lugnuts (TOR) 4
Henry Centeno is on some kind of roll. After 6 starts, the 2014 Gulf Coast League ERA leader had just a 6.20 ERA and a 14-13 strikeout to walk ratio in 24.2 innings pitched. He had dominated Rookie ball, but it seemed that pushing him to Low-A was too much of a challenge. However, Centeno has looked like an entirely different pitcher in the 2 starts since. In this game, he went 7 innings allowing 1 run on 5 hits, striking out 5 while walking none. He now has a 1.35 ERA and a 12-1 strikeout to walk ratio in 13.1 innings in his last 2 outings.
On the offensive side, Casey Gillaspie continues to hit out of his mind, going 3 for 4 with a double, an RBI, and 2 runs scored. After a mediocre start, he has certainly woken up, going 15 for his last 30 (.500). Bralin Jackson, meanwhile, went 2 for 4 with a homer, a double, and 2 RBI. He is up to a .285/.338/.387 line on the season, and he could have even more power in the tank. Mac James and Grant Kay also each went 2 for4 with a run scoring, with James delivering an RBI while Kay stole a base.
Next: Tampa Bay Rays Game 47: Kyle Seager Makes Mistakes Hurt