Yesterday was a nice final day before major league games resume for the Tampa Bay Rays. Prospects delivered promising performances across the system, with a quartet of players in Durham especially standing out in their first games back after the Triple-A All-Star Break.
Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 9, Pawtucket Red Sox 7
This was a slugfest, but the Bulls’ bats proved to be up to the task. Delivering the biggest day of all was Luke Maile out of the number nine hole as he went 2 for 4 with a double, 4 RBI, and a run scored. Maile is hoping to rebound in the second half as his line currently stands at just .195/.296/.292. His strikeout to walk ratio is still a strong 34-24 and he is looking good defensively, but he simply isn’t hitting the ball with any authority.
Maile is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft following the year, and the Rays will face an interesting decision about whether to add him to their 40-man roster. A trade may be likely if Maile has any value because the Rays have enough catchers that can’t hit on their 40-man, but the Rays would love to see Maile get back on track and make their choice more difficult. Maile hit well in each of his first three minor league seasons, even after jumping from Low-A to Double-A in 2014, and we have to wonder whether the team thinks his struggles are a fluke or not.
Another struggling prospect, Ryan Brett, also had a big game, going 2 for 5 with a triple, a double, and 2 runs scored. Almost nothing has gone right for Brett this year other than the fact that he made his big league debut, but the Rays still have high hopes for him. Nick Franklin, meanwhile, went 2 for 3 with a walk and a run scored. He was a disaster in the majors, but he has been much better since coming back to Durham, hitting to a .280/.333/.460 line in 54 plate appearances. The numbers are nice, but the real question is whether Franklin has his timing and bat speed back to where they once were.
Finally, we can talk about Richie Shaffer, who has been great all season and showed even more reason for optimism in this one. Shaffer went 1 for 2 with 3 walks, an RBI, and a run scored. Cutting down the strikeouts may be more important for Shaffer than drawing walks, but it is always nice to see him getting on base like that. Corey Brown also went 2 for 4 with 2 doubles, a walk, an RBI, and a run scored in the Bulls win.
As you would expect from the score, the pitching was sketchier for Durham in this one. Robert Zarate has been fantastic on the year, but that wasn’t true in this game. He tossed 5 innings allowing 4 runs, 3 earned, on 5 hits. Even so, he struck out 5 while walking 2 and forced a perfect 8-0 strikeout to walk ratio. Zarate, who was signed by the Rays out of independent ball in Japan, now has a 2.34 ERA and a 24-9 strikeout to walk ratio in 23.2 Triple-A innings. He is 28 years old, but he touches 94 MPH with his fastball to go along with a good slider. The Rays may really have something here.
Jim Miller and Jordan Norberto made things a little bit too interesting behind Zarate, but both managed to pitch a shutout inning. C.J. Riefenhauser couldn’t do the same as he allowed 3 runs to let Pawtucket take a short-lived lead. But after the Bulls rallied back, Kirby Yates was electric in the ninth for the save, striking out the side on 13 pitches. Yates’ stock is way down after an inconsistent year marred by injuries, but the Rays still like his fastball-slider combination against righty batters and have to hope he can turn himself around.
Double-A Southern League: Montgomery Biscuits 9, Tennessee Smokies (CHC) 2
Get ready to cringe. This was a great game for the Biscuits on the whole, but Jaime Schultz had a very ugly start. He allowed only 1 run on 3 hits in 4.2 innings, but he struck out 8 while walking 7. Yes, 7 walks in 4.2 innings. Only 30 pitchers in the history of Major League Baseball have allowed 7 or more walks in 4.2 innings while allowing 1 run or less, but the bigger deal is that Schultz’s walk rate is up to 6.2 per 9 innings. That’s scary and it looks incredibly unlikely that Schultz will remain a starter for long.
Mark Sappington followed with 2.1 innings allowing an unearned run on 1 hit, striking out 3 while walking 1. Sappington, acquired in exchange for Cesar Ramos, reaches 97 MPH with his fastball but has just a 33-31 strikeout to walk ratio on the year. Kyle McPherson then finished the game with 2 shutout innings, allowing 2 hits and a walk while striking out 2. I can’t say I know what his stuff is like these days, but he has good numbers on his rehab stint and was a mid-90’s guy with a good curveball before Tommy John Surgery.
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On the offensive side, quite a few Montgomery hitters had great games. Johnny Field drilled a 2-run homer, Patrick Leonard went 3 for 4 with 2 doubles and 2 runs scored, Dayron Varona went 3 for 5 with a triple, 2 RBI, a run scored, and an outfield assist, Jake Bauers went 2 for 4 with 2 runs, and Leonardo Reginatto had a 1-for-3 game with 2 walks, an RBI, and 2 runs scored. Field has been in an extended slump, hitting to just a .143/.256/.243 line in his last 82 plate appearances, but hopefully he is finally starting to get back on track. Leonard has been the exact opposite, hitting to a .382/.442/.603 line as he is making sure that 2015 won’t go down as a lost season for him.
High-A Florida State League: Tampa Yankees 5, Charlotte Stone Crabs 1
This was the only loss in the system, and it has to count for something that Tampa was the only team that beat them. German Marquez had a rough start, allowing 5 runs, 4 earned, on 8 hits in 4.2 innings. He did still strike out 4 while walking 1. Following him was Mike Franco in his High-A debut, and Franco looked great, allowing just a walk while striking out 3 in 1.1 innings. The Hot Rods used to have “All-Franco Days” with Enderson Franco starting and Mike Franco tossing the rest of the game, but now the former Franco is in the Marlins system while the latter is in Charlotte.
Jeff Ames then finished the game, allowing just a hit in 2 innings, striking out 1. Ames is clearly a disappointment as a former supplemental first round pick, but he still has good stuff and a 3.27 ERA on the season. His 35-23 strikeout to walk ratio is iffier, although that does improve to 32-16 if we take our his first 4 appearances of the season. There wasn’t much hitting for Charlotte in this one, but Andrew Velazquez did go 2 for 3 with a walk and a run scored.
Low-A Midwest League: Bowling Green Hot Rods 4, Great Lakes Loons (LAD) 3 (10 innings)
This was a pretty game. Hyrum Formo started and tossed 3 innings allowing 1 run on 2 hits, striking out 2 while walking 2. Then Jordan Harrison tossed the next 3 innings, and though he allowed 2 runs on 3 hits, he also struck out 6 while walking 1. Brian Miller was the last leg and tossed 3 more innings allowing 2 hits and nothing else, forcing a 5-1 groundout to flyout ratio. You have to love that symmetry, but the Hot Rods were down 3-1 after Miller’s final inning.
The story luckily didn’t end there as Hunter Lockwood came through with a game-tying 2-run homer to take the game to extra innings. Then, after Edwin Fierro tossed a scoreless frame, Riley Unroe walked, advanced to second on a wild pitch, and scored on Bralin Jackson‘s walk-off single. Unroe finished at 1 for 2 with 3 walks and that huge run scored as his relative breakout season has continued. Like everyone else on this Hot Rods team, we are waiting for the power, but his .286/.363/.362 line is nice nonetheless.
Short Season-A New York-Penn League: Hudson Valley Renegades 6, Aberdeen IronBirds (BAL) 3
A true breakout season may be what Manny Sanchez is delivering for the Renegades. Sanchez, who turns 20 in October, was a player that the Rays liked enough to jump from the Dominican Summer League to Princeton last year, but he managed just a .628 OPS and a 72-15 strikeout to walk ratio. This season, however, Sanchez is living up to the potential that the Rays saw in him. After going 3 for 4 with a double, an RBI, and 2 runs scored in this game, Sanchez now has a .328/.405/.484 line in 74 PA’s for the Renegades while showing a solid 18-9 strikeout to walk ratio.
Sanchez stood out when the Rays signed him for his excellent raw power, good bat speed, and strong arm, but he doesn’t move well enough to play centerfield and needed major work on his plate approach. Now that he is more disciplined at the plate, he is really starting to shine, and hopefully he can keep that going. Another well-regarded international prospect is Angel Moreno, who turns 19 at the end of July. He has struggled much more for Hudson Valley, but he did go 2 for 3 with a double, a walk, an RBI, and a run scored in this game.
Roel Ramirez started for the Renegades and pitched well once again, tossing 6 innings allowing 2 runs on 6 hits, striking out 4 while walking 1. Ramirez has moved more slowly than expected since the Rays made him their 8th round pick in 2012 as an advanced high school arm and he also needs to miss more bats, but it’s nice that he has walked only 1.4 batters per 9 innings as a professional as such a young player. He has also struck out 4 in his last 2 starts after failing to top 2 K’s in his previous 3 outings.
Luis Urena then finished the game with 3 innings allowing just an unearned run on 1 hit, striking out 3 while walking 1. He also forced a perfect 6-0 groundout to flyout ratio. Urena, the converted position player and minor league Rule 5 pick from the Pirates, continues to progress in his second season as a pitcher. His 1.5 BB/9 and 0.8 HR/9 are exactly where they were last season, but he has doubled his K/9 from 4.1 to 8.2 and lowered his ERA from 5.25 to 3.00 in the process. Urena reaches the mid-90’s and his secondary pitches are starting to come along.
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Advanced Rookie Appalachian League: Princeton Rays 7, Kingsport Mets 6 (10 innings)
David Olmedo-Barrera‘s professional career was off to a miserable start. He was just 0 for his first 20 (.050), and a trio of walks didn’t make him feel much better. However, he quadrupled his career hit total in this game as he led the P-Rays to victory. Olmedo-Barrera went 3 for 5 with a 2-run homer to tie this game at 3 in the fifth inning. Olmedo-Barrera came out of college needing serious adjustments to his batting stance as his bat speed was well below-average. This probably isn’t that, but it is nice to see Olmedo-Barrera showing the potential reward if the changes are made successfully: good in-game power.
Zac Law also played extremely well, going 3 for 5 with a 2-run homer, a double, and 2 runs scored. Law, who the Rays managed to sign in the 23rd round of last year’s draft as a high school player, now has a solid .247/.314/.390 line with 2 doubles, 3 homers, and 9 RBI as Princeton’s centerfielder. Law is only 5’8″, 180, but he stands out for his bat speed, foot speed, and decent power potential. Also impressing were Landon Cray (3 for 4, BB, RBI), Jose Rojas (3 for 4, 2 runs), Kewby Meyer (2 for 5), and Peter Maris (2 for 6, 2B, run).
On the mound, Brock Burke had a decent start with one big reason for optimism. He tossed 5 innings allowing 3 runs, 2 earned, on 4 hits, striking out 1 while walking 2. What was especially interesting, though, was that his groundout to flyout ratio was 10-2. Burke now has a 49% groundball rate, which is a great sign for an 18-year-old pitcher, especially a lefty. The big question is where Burke’s velocity is at (he was clocked as high as 93 MPH before the draft), but the Tampa Bay Rays clearly like him and it’s nice to see him progressing.
Ethan Clark followed by making his pro debut, and a solo homer marred his 1 inning of work. That was the only baserunner he allowed as he struck out 1 and recorded his other 2 outs on the ground. Ruben Paredes followed by working around a walk with strikeout in his inning before Armando Bastardo finished the game with 3 innings allowing 2 runs, 1 earned, on 4 hits, striking out 4 while walking 1.