In past years, we talked about pitching depth as something that the Tampa Bay Rays perpetually had too much of. This year, however, especially with Jake Odorizzi the latest injured pitcher (although hopefully not too seriously), the Rays simply want to stockpile as much of it as they possibly can. Suddenly guys like Austin Pruitt, number four or five starter types in the upper minors, are extremely valuable commodities because you never know when you will need them. And from Pruitt’s perspective, if he keeps pitching well, he will get a chance.
Triple-A International League: Gwinnett Braves 8, Durham Bulls 0
Everett Teaford had a disastrous start, allowing 7 runs in 5.2 innings. His ERA on the season is somehow at a ghastly 6.95, including 9.38 in his last 5 starts. In fairness, he has only made 9 starts on the year and has time to rebound, but we can cross him out as a big league option for now. Jordan Norberto, another pitcher who is no longer in the mix for the Rays’ roster, allowed 1 run over the final 2.1 innings in finishing the game.
Richie Shaffer did provide a highlight in the loss, going 1 for 2 with 2 walks. He now has a .324/.409/.649 line with a 13-6 strikeout to walk ratio in his first 44 Triple-A plate appearances. Shaffer, the Tampa Bay Rays’ first round pick from 2012, is not on the 40-man roster yet, but if he keeps hitting, he certainly has a chance to crack the Rays’ lineup before the year is through. Taylor Motter, meanwhile, went 1 for 3 with a walk and an outfield assist. He is closer to big league-ready than Shaffer and has more versatility, but he also doesn’t have the same upside.
In other news in the game, Alexi Casilla departed this game after getting a hit in his first at-bat. Either he is injured or is on the Rays’ taxi squad in case they are going to make a roster move. It doesn’t sound like Evan Longoria will need to go onto the DL with his wrist injury, but Casilla might be Plan B. Leonardo Reginatto also went 1 for 3 with a double as he is hitting .270 in his 103 plate appearances at Triple-A, albeit with a .291 OBP and a .320 SLG.
Double-A Southern League: Montgomery Biscuits 7, Mississippi Braves 4
Austin Pruitt‘s 2015 season got off to an incredible beginning, as he pitched to a 1.01 ERA and a 26-5 strikeout to walk ratio in 26.2 innings across his first 4 starts. Then he cooled down, slipping to a 6.48 ERA and a 20-12 K-BB ratio in his 25 innings in his next 5 starts. But now he is hot again, allowing just 1 run in 6 innings on May 6th and looking even better (beyond the runs allowed) in this game. Pruitt went 7 innings allowing 2 runs on 5 hits, striking out 6 while walking 1. His groundout to flyout ratio was also a solid 8-3.
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Pruitt doesn’t throw hard, sitting in the high-80’s and topping out around 90-91 MPH, but he makes up for it with excellent command, a great curveball, and a solid changeup. He has improved both his strikeout rate and his groundball rate moving from High-A and Double-A, and that is something that is opening some eyes. Pruitt (who turns 26 in August) isn’t young, was a money-saving pick in the ninth round of the 2013 draft, and is short for a pitcher at just 5’11”, but despite those factors, he always had the arsenal to have a chance to make the big leagues. The odds are only increasing that he cracks the Rays’ roster in some capacity.
Behind Pruitt, Kyle Winkler finally allowed his first run of the season. He allowed two singles to begin his outing before forcing two groundballs, but neither turned into a double play. He then recorded a strikeout to end his outing and it sounds like he will be fine. Bryce Stowell also allowed a run as he has been a wreck since being demoted to Montgomery, pitching to just a 6.43 ERA.
Offensively, Cameron Seitzer had a huge game, going 3 for 5 with 2 doubles and 2 RBI, while Joey Rickard went 2 for 5 with a triple, a double, an RBI, and a run scored. Seitzer’s third go-around in Double-A has been his best one while Rickard is red-hot after working his way back to Montgomery after a stint at Charlotte. Boog Powell also had a nice game, going 2 for 5 with a run scored, and Jake DePew improbably went 1 for 3 with a triple, a walk, an RBI, and a run scored. DePew, an organizational backup catcher, has a .715 OPS after never managing higher than a .595 mark at any level.
High-A Florida State League: Charlotte Stone Crabs 7, Jupiter Hammerheads (MIA) 6
Speaking of backup catchers having great days (and solid seasons), Mike Marjama led the Stone Crabs offense by going 3 for 4 with 3 RBI and a run scored. Dayron Varona, meanwhile, raised his average to .386 after a 2-for-4 day with a double, a stolen base, and 2 RBI while the new-look Granden Goetzman went 2 for 4 with an RBI and a run scored. Finally, we have the players who have been doing this all year–Jake Bauers went 2 for 3 with a walk, a stolen base, and 2 runs scored while Willy Adames went 2 for 4 with a run scored.
On the pitching side, Kirby Yates made a rehab start for Charlotte and allowed a run on a walk in his 1 inning of work. He allowed a stolen base, a flyball to advance the runner to third, and then a sac fly. Hopefully Yates isn’t too far from becoming additional relief depth for the Rays. Jacob Faria then earned his 10th win of the season to lead the minor leagues in relief. Ironically, he did so with a somewhat questionable outing, going 6 innings allowing 4 runs, 3 earned, on 3 hits, striking out 6 while walking 2.
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Low-A Midwest League: Bowling Green Hot Rods 4, Clinton LumberKings (SEA) 2
Don’t be fooled by Greg Harris‘ 2.42 ERA on the season–he has allowed an insane 11 unearned runs, so his run average is 4.47 on the year. Yes, they are called unearned runs, but at a certain point, we just have to acknowledge that a pitcher is allowing a lot of runs to cross the plate regardless of whether they are earned. Harris has had his moments this season, but he has also struggled through too many poor starts. At least this game was one of his better ones as he went 5.1 innings allowing 1 run on 5 hits, striking out 7 while walking 3.
After Kyle Bird allowed a run in 1.2 innings of relief, although he did strike out 3 while walking 1, Mike Franco recorded the save by tossing 2 shutout innings, working around a hit and walk while striking out 4. Franco has been excellent this season, pitching to a 2.30 ERA and a 30-8 strikeout to walk ratio in 27.1 innings, and we will have to see when the Rays deem him worthy of advancing to High-A. Last season, Colton Reavis made it to High-A, pitched in the Arizona Fall League, and then started this year at Double-A. Guys like Franco will hope to do the same.
The run support came on a Jace Conrad 2-run homer, a double play groundball, and an error. At least the Hot Rods had the homer so half the runs were exciting. Bralin Jackson also had a huge game, going 2 for 4 with a double and an outfield assist. He is up to a .317/.374/.425 line on the season to go with 4 outfield assists. He currently has a 14-game hitting streak where he is hitting to an insane .471/.534/.686 line with an impressive 9-7 strikeout to walk ratio.