Tampa Bay Rays MiLB Recap: Jake Cronenworth Drills Walk-Off HR


At Citizens Bank Ballpark, the Philadelphia Phillies have a scoreboard where they keep fans updated on their minor league affiliates’ games. For the people in attendance who were familiar with the Tampa Bay Rays’ affiliates as well, it quickly became amusing that in addition to the Rays-Phillies matchup in the majors, the Hudson Valley Renegades were taking on the Williamsport Crosscutters at the Short Season-A level. That contest was quite different, although it was another 1-run game and it ended in exciting fashion.

Triple-A International League: Charlotte Knights (CHW) 7, Durham Bulls 4

Taylor Motter returned from his hamstring injury in style, going 2 for 4 with a 2-run home run. His huge season continues–he now has a .308/.364/.491 line on the year with 31 doubles, 9 homers, 55 RBI, and 24 stolen bases in 369 plate appearances. He will never be a top prospect, but that means less considering how close he is to being a useful big league player. The Rays just wish that he was looking better defensively on the infield to go along with his strong outfield glove.

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Nick Franklin also had a nice game, going 1 for 3 with a solo homer and a walk. He has outhit Motter in his 93 Triple-A plate appearances, managing a .305/.376/.537 line. You can cry “small sample size,” but it’s a nice reminder of two things, one positive and one super negative. The good news is that despite Franklin’s struggles, he has come to Durham and been the Bulls’ best hitter of late. His potential certainly remains. On the other side, we can also look at how poorly Franklin played in the majors before this and remind ourselves that despite Motter’s excellent results, he could easily fail to hit at all for the Rays if they called him up. There is a huge difference between Triple-A and the major leagues.

Everett Teaford was surprisingly effective in his limited time with the Rays, but he got lit up again as a starter for the Bulls, allowing 6 runs in 2.1 innings. Fellow lefties Enny Romero and C.J. Riefenhauser did look good later in the game, with Romero allowing just 2 hits in 3 shutout innings, striking out 2 and forcing 4 groundouts, while Riefenhauser struck out both batters he saw.

Double-A Southern League: Montgomery Biscuits 8, Chattanooga Lookouts (MIN) 4 (10 innings)

The Biscuits took a 4-0 lead only to let it slip away, but they made it up for it by exploding in the 10th inning. Schultz lasted just 1.2 innings, and though he didn’t allow a hit, he walked a scary 7 while striking out 4. He walked 7 batters for the second straight start, and his control issues aren’t anything new. Luckily the bullpen was much better behind him. Mark Sappington had probably his best outing of the season, allowing 1 run on 2 hits in 3.1 innings, striking out 6 while walking 1. Ryan Garton then struck out 3 to get past a hit and a walk in 2 innings before Brad Schreiber struck out 2 while allowing a hit and a walk in the final 3 frames.

There was plenty of offense for Montgomery in this game as Dayron Varona went 3 for 5 with a triple, 2 RBI, and a run scored, Patrick Leonard and Leonardo Reginatto each went 2 for 4 with a walk and 2 RBI (Reginatto also had a double and a run), Tyler Goeddel went 2 for 3 with 2 walks and 2 runs scored, and Jake Bauers went 2 for 5 with a run scored. Leonard is staking a claim for the system’s player of the month for July, hitting to a .345/.415/.534 line with 5 doubles, 2 homers, and 7 RBI in 65 plate appearances.

High-A Florida State League: Charlotte Stone Crabs 12, St. Lucie Mets 0

Needless to say, this game was fun for Charlotte. Armando Araiza had a ridiculous game, going 4 for 5 with 3 RBI and a run scored. Araiza has been known for his light bat as much as his defense (see Rivera, Rene and Molina, Jose), but he is 10 for his last 22 (.455) to raise his average to .193. Andrew Velazquez also went 3 for 5 with a walk, a double, a stolen base, an RBI, and 2 runs scored. The steal was just his 2nd in 8 attempts on the year–that is still so bizarre. Kean Wong and Marty Gantt also had 3-hit games while Willy Adames and Granden Goetzman had 2 RBI.

This game was Greg Harris‘ High-A debut after 38 Low-A appearances, and it went quite well as he tossed 6 shutout innings allowing just 3 hits and a walk while striking out 4. The Tampa Bay Rays were presumably waiting to see more development in Harris’ secondary pitches, and now he is ready to keep moving up. He is still young–he won’t turn 21 until next month–and is armed with a mid-90’s fastball. He’s a guy to keep an eye on despite his slow ascent through the minors. Eduar Quinonez, Kyle McKenzie, and Josh Kimborowicz tossed a scoreless inning each in relief.

Low-A Midwest League: Lansing Lugnuts (TOR) 2, Bowling Green Hot Rods 1

Yonny Chirinos made just one major mistake in his third Low-A start, but it was enough to cost the Hot Rods this game. Chirinos tossed 6 innings allowing 2 runs–both on a homer–on 9 hits, striking out 4 while walking 1. His groundout to flyout ratio was an excellent 8-2. While we’re on the topic of sleepers, we also need to talk about Chirinos. Per Twitter and my friend Greg Hudson with the Hudson Valley Renegades, Chirinos can reach as high as 93 MPH and also shows promise with a low-80’s breaking ball.

Nick Ciuffo stayed hot at the plate for Bowling Green, going 2 for 4 with a run scored, Alec Sole had the lone Hot Rods RBI, and Thomas Milone had an interesting game. He went 1 for 1 with 2 walks, a hit-by-pitch, and an outfield assist at third base.

Short Season-A New York-Penn League: Hudson Valley Renegades 7, Williamsport Crosscutters (PHI) 6 (12 innings)

Another team may have drafted Jake Cronenworth as a right-handed pitcher, but he has been solid as a middle infielder in his short time in the Rays system. This was his best game yet as he went 4 for 4 with a homer, a double, 2 walks, a stolen base, 2 RBI, and 3 runs scored. The homer was the first of his career and he couldn’t have picked a better time–it was a walk-off blast in the bottom of the 12th inning. Cronenworth now has a .295/.412/.442 line to start his pro career, and the Rays liked his defensive chops enough to give him some time at shortstop in addition to second base.

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It still seems a little hard to believe that Cronenworth will remain a position player for the foreseeable future. He touched 94 MPH in relief at the University of Michigan to go along with a plus splitter, and there was even some talk prior to the draft of him receiving a chance to start. On the other hand, he has good bat speed, a great plate approach, and a little bit of power, and if he can do that as a shortstop, that would also be very interesting. Most of the reports I heard on Cronenworth’s defense weren’t optimistic that he could stick at short, but that could be one reason why he isn’t pitching right now.

Michael Russell also had a nice game, going 2 for 4 with a walk, 2 stolen bases, and 2 RBI while Joe McCarthy drove in 3 runs. Danny De la Calle contributed a nice game as well, going 2 for 5 with a double, 2 runs scored, a runner caught stealing, and another runner picked off. De la Calle has thrown out a ridiculous 73% of opposing basestealers, showing off his advanced defense. The question with him is whether his bat will come around.

The first pitcher De la Calle worked with, Michael Velasquez, tossed 4 innings allowing a lone run on 3 hits, striking out 4 while walking 1. His 3.44 ERA and 15-4 strikeout to walk ratio in 18.1 innings are quite good. Cristopher Crisostomo was another story as he allowed 4 runs in 1.1 frames, but Luis Urena followed with 3.2 innings allowing only an unearned run before Diego Castillo tossed 3 shutout innings to finish the game.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays Game 96: Nate Karns Does It All In 1-0 Win