Tampa Bay Rays MiLB Recap: Jace Conrad Homers Twice
By Robbie Knopf
While the homers were flying in the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim yesterday, two out of three games in the Rays system did not feature a homer. Two out of three in that game, however, came from Jace Conrad. Second basemen under 6 feet tall are not your usual candidates for multi-homer performances, but after Johnny Giavotella had a nice game for the Angels against the Rays, we are reminded to give guys like Conrad their due. He was great in this game, the latest highlight in his fantastic season.
Double-A Southern League: Montgomery Biscuits 5, Jacksonville Suns (MIA) 3
Austin Pruitt worked around some baserunners while the Biscuits offense received good results with runners in scoring position to lead Montgomery to the win. Pruitt finished with 6 innings allowing 1 run on 9 hits, striking out 5 while walking 1. Pruitt has had a rough time since getting off to a scorching start, but the hope is that a game like this can restore his confidence. His numbers on a the year are still fine–he has a 3.43 ERA, a 51-18 strikeout to walk ratio, and just 1 homer allowed in 57.2 innings, although he has also allowed 66 hits.
Colton Reavis followed by allowing just a hit in a shutout inning with a strikeout before Ryan Garton tossed a scoreless frame with a K. Garton has retired the last 12 batters he has faced across 5 appearances. Parker Markel then allowed a pair of unearned run in the ninth, but the game was luckily out of reach by then.
The Biscuits scored thrice in the second inning on a Justin O’Conner 2-run double and an RBI double by Boog Powell. Thomas Coyle and Johnny Field also had big games as each went 2 for 4 with a stolen base. Field added an RBI and a run scored as well. The other two RBIs came from Cameron Seitzer and Tyler Goeddel.
High-A Florida State League: Charlotte Stone Crabs 2, Palm Beach Cardinals 0
Jacob Faria is having some kind of season–he leads the minor leagues in wins with 9. In this game, Faria went 8 innings allowing no runs on 4 hits, striking out 8 while walking 1. In something we very rarely see at any level of baseball these days–especially not at A-ball–Palm Beach starter Trey Nielsen also went 8 innings, but he lost thanks to 2 unearned runs. One scored on a fielding error after the Stone Crabs got runners on thanks to another error and a Pat Blair single, and the second happened on a Blair sac fly after Nielsen’s own error.
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On the year, Faria is now 9-1 with a 1.17 ERA and a 54-20 strikeout to walk ratio in 51.1 IP. The clear red flag is that Faria hasn’t allowed a home run yet despite managing a 38.3% groundball rate compared to the 45.1% league average. Faria’s command is still a work in progress. However, he is throwing strikes with his fastball to go along with a promising changeup and a decent curveball. He has come a long way since he was drafted in 2011, and that’s all that the Rays can ask for. Hopefully improving his fastball location will be his next breakthrough.
Brad Schreiber finished the game with a perfect ninth with 2 strikeouts–a little bit different than Brad Boxberger after Chris Archer‘s last start–and Juniel Querecuto went 1 for 3 with a walk and 2 runs scored.
Low-A Midwest League: Bowling Green Hot Rods 8, Great Lakes Loons (LAD) 4
The Hot Rods offense was surging, and leading the way was Jace Conrad. He continued his terrific year in Bowling Green by going 2 for 4 with a pair of solo home runs. On the season, he now has a .299/.337/.518 line with 7 doubles, 9 homers, 25 RBI, and 16 steals in 18 attempts in 171 plate appearances. That’s quite an output from a player who managed just a .265/.297/.362 line in his pro debut at Hudson Valley, and he has even done so while playing third base and left field in addition to his natural second base.
Conrad slipped to the Tampa Bay Rays’ pick in the 13th round of last year’s draft, mostly because his plate approach was extremely raw for a college player. He had blazing speed, showed excellent defense, and even provided some pop in his bat, but teams weren’t confident that he would ever hit. However, something has clicked for him this season, and he has a chance to go down as a steal of a draft pick. The 22-year-old Conrad isn’t young for the Midwest League, but he is starting to make himself into a player to watch for coming seasons.
Also delivering 2-hit games were Casey Gillaspie, Justin Williams, Bralin Jackson, and Coty Blanchard. Blanchard went a perfect 2-for-2 with a pair of walk and 3 runs scored. Blanchard is another sleeper from last year’s draft and has a .314/.370/.393 line. The first rounder from that year, meanwhile, is the red-hot Gillaspie, who is now up to a .278/.342/.485 line on the season.
On the mound, Henry Centeno allowed 4 runs, 3 earned, in 3 innings, but the offense and the bullpen picked him up. Damion Carroll finally had a good outing amid his disastrous season, striking out 3 while walking 1 in 2 hitless innings. Mike Franco then struck out 2 in 3 perfect innings, forcing 5 groundouts, before Hunter Wood K’d 1 in a spotless frame.