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Tampa Bay Rays MiLB Recap: Justin O’Conner Is Coming Together

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The Tampa Bay Rays won a game…but of course, their affiliates’ results don’t actually have anything to do with theirs, so they still had a pretty mediocre day, at least in terms of wins and losses. Down in Hudson Valley, though, the more superstitious of you might be willing to say that the Renegades earned redemption for the Rays in a very specific way and cleared a hurdle necessary for them to contend the rest of the season.

Triple-A International League: Gwinnett Braves 4, Durham Bulls 2

The Bulls scored twice in the bottom of the ninth, but Jim Miller had unfortunately given up 3 runs in the top of the eighth. Hello again, bullpen collapse. More notable from the Rays’ standpoint, though, was Dylan Floro‘s start. After we talked about Floro possibly breaking through after his last outing, he finally did look good in this one. He went 6 innings allowing 1 run on 10 hits, striking out 2 while walking none. His groundout to flyout ratio was 10-3. He did allow a whole bunch of hits, but 4 of them came on groundballs and he was able to get past them with 3 double plays.

The Bulls managed just 4 hits, but two of them were back-to-back homers by Taylor Motter and J.P. Arencibia in the ninth. Tim Beckham also went 1 for 2 with a walk while Nick Franklin had a 1-for-4 day. Motter already has 4 homers in July after managing just 4 combined from April to June, and he has a .364/.417/.909 line overall this month. He went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft last year, but he looks like a certainty to be added to the Rays’ 40-man roster this offseason if he isn’t called up during the year for his big league debut.

Double-A Southern League: Pensacola Blue Wahoos (CIN) 6, Montgomery Biscuits 3

Jaime Schultz began this game with 4 shutout innings before everything came apart. He finished with 6 innings allowing 6 runs on 7 hits, striking out 5 while walking 2. His 4.09 ERA on the year isn’t bad, but he is walking everybody–57 walks plus 6 hit batsman in 88 innings–and we have to wonder when the Rays will convert him to relief. They do have a little bit of time as he doesn’t need to be added to the 40-man roster until after next season.

Kyle McPherson, the Tommy John rehabber, followed Schultz with 2 shutout innings allowing 2 hits but striking out 2. The former Pirates right-hander has looked good in his 2 appearances each at Charlotte and Montgomery, and we will have to see if and when he is considered a big league option. At the plate, meanwhile, Justin O’Conner went 2 for 4 with a homer, a double, a stolen base, and 2 runs scored, Jake Bauers drove in 2 runs, and Leonardo Reginatto went 2 for 3 with a double and a walk.

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O’Conner’s .227/.257/.371 line on the season doesn’t seem like much, but he has worked extremely hard to get to that point. From April to June, his strikeout to walk ratio was a scary 74-7 and he didn’t manage an OPS higher than .587 in any month (that’s really bad!). In July, however, he has not only played extremely well, but has also showed vastly improved plate discipline. In 8 games, he now has a .345/.405/.621 line with 5 doubles, a homer, 4 RBI, and a strong 4-3 strikeout to walk ratio. The Rays have to hope that he has made an adjustment and will continue moving towards respectability the remainder of the year.

We also should talk about O’Conner’s stolen bases. He didn’t attempt a single one last year, but he went 12 for 13 in steals earlier in the minors. Now this season, he has stolen 7 in 9 attempts even though he hasn’t been getting on-base at all on the whole. Basestealing catchers don’t come about too often–although Russell Martin was a notable exception for much of his career–mostly because of the grind of playing the catcher position defensively. Even so, O’Conner has always been more athletic than the typical catcher and it would be nice if he could help his team in an additional way.

High-A Florida State League: Charlotte Stone Crabs 6, Brevard County Manatees (MIL) 4

This game had an interesting finish as Brevard County scored 4 times in the seventh only to see the Stone Crabs roared back with 4 tallies in the eighth. German Marquez got the start in this game and pitched well, allowing no runs on 3 hits in 5 innings, striking out 4 while walking 2. He has a 3.36 ERA and a 63-25 strikeout to walk ratio in 88.1 innings on the year. It would be nice if he was missing bats more consistently, but he is certainly holding his own as a 20 year old at High-A.

Jeff Ames had a disaster outing, allowing 3 runs in 1.1 frames, before Edwin Fierro made his second Charlotte appearance and looked decent, allowing 1 run on 2 hits in 1.2 innings, striking out 1. The 21 year old Fierro was acquired by the Rays from the Mexican League last year and has showcased his advanced repertoire for his age by striking out 10 while walking only 1 so far this season. Isaac Gil then tossed a perfect ninth with 2 strikeouts for the save.

On the offensive side, Jace Conrad had a big game, going 2 for 4 with a double and 2 RBI, and so did Andrew Velazquez, who went 2 for 4 with a double and a run scored. Kean Wong also went 1 for 3 with a triple, a walk, an RBI, and 2 runs scored while Pat Blair (playing first base in place of the injured Casey Gillaspie) went 1 for 3 with a double, a walk, and a run. Wong hit .389 in June, and though he has fallen far short of that pace in July, he now has an impressive 5 walks against 2 strikeouts.

Low-A Midwest League: West Michigan WhiteCaps (DET) 4, Bowling Green Hot Rods 3

Bralin Jackson entered this game having gone hitless in his previous 3 contests, but he got his strong season right back on track in this game, going 3 for 4 with 2 doubles to raise his slash line to .304/.361/.396. He hasn’t hit for a lot of power and stands to improve on stolen bases, but his plate approach has made huge strides and you have to like his athleticism. Mac James also had a big game, going 3 for 4 with a double and an RBI. He now has a .314/.360/.395 line on the year, which could be more impressive but certainly stands out in a system where no catchers are hitting at all.

Hunter Wood was due for a bad start eventually, and this was it. He needed 83 pitches to work 3.1 innings allowing 4 runs on 8 hits, striking out 4 while walking 2. This was a rough game, but his stuff is electric and he has been tremendous this season–don’t be surprised if this is just a blip on the radar. Jordan Harrison followed by working around a hit and a walk in 2.2 shutout innings, striking out 2, before Edgar Gomez allowed just a hit in the final 2 frames.

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Short Season-A New York-Penn League: Hudson Valley Renegades 6,  Brooklyn Cyclones (NYM) 5 (12 innings)

This game was so notable because after the Yankees beat the Rays after committing an error on a sacrifice bunt a week ago, the Renegades won on a sac bunt themselves in this contest. Angel Moreno was the one who laid it down. Other heroes for the Renegades in the game included Matt Dacey, Michael Russell, Manny Sanchez, and Cade Gotta. Dacey went 3 for 5 with 2 doubles, a triple, a walk, 2 RBI, and a run scored, Russell went 2 for 4 with a steal, a walk, an HBP, and 3 runs scored, Sanchez had a 1-for-3 game with 3 walks, a stolen base, and 2 RBI, and Gotta went 2 for 5 with a walk, a stolen base, an RBI, and a run scored. Dacey, the Rays’ 21st round pick in this year’s draft, stood out for his power and certainly showcased it in his second pro game.

On the mound, Roel Ramirez started and looked good, allowing 2 runs, 1 earned, on 5 hits in 6 innings, striking out 4 while walking none. His groundout to flyout ratio was also a nice 6-3. Justin McCalvin then allowed 3 runs in an inning, but Tim Ingran followed with 2 shutout innings allowing just a hit while striking out 2 before Cristopher Crisostomo earned the win with 3 shutout innings getting past 3 hits and a walk while striking out 2.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays Game 89: How About Erasmo Ramirez?

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