It is always nice to see struggling pitching prospects find their way, whether after a few bad outings or following concerning peripherals in previous starts. There were plenty of examples of that on Sunday in the Tampa Bay Rays system, with Jacob Faria leading the way as he pitched for Montgomery.
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Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 7, Columbus Clippers (CLE) 1
The Bulls offense had a nice time in this one, and the surprise hero was Hak-Ju Lee. The typically light-hitting shortstop went 2 for 4 with a homer, a double, and 4 RBI. And though we have mentioned his name only a few times in the last couple of weeks of these recaps, Lee’s numbers have been pretty decent for a couple of months now. Through June 24th, Lee had hit to just a .231/.277/.301 line in 190 plate appearances, hitting for no power and striking out 61 times against 10 walks. Since then, Lee has a .217/.345/.333 line and a 36-22 strikeout to walk ratio in 146 PA’s. He isn’t exactly tearing the cover off the ball, but the vastly improved on-base skills are nice and inspire some hope that he can at least become a glove-first utility player.
The other home runs for Durham came from less surprising sources. J.P. Arencibia drilled his league-leading 22nd homer–although remember that he’s also hitting .227 with a .259 OBP–while Nick Franklin went 1 for 3 with 2 walks and his 10th homer. Franklin is no Richie Shaffer, but he is showing off some nice pop, hitting 1 fewer homer than Taylor Motter in 305 less plate appearances to accompany a .277/.361/.530 line. We will have to see what happens in his next extended big league chance (which probably won’t come in September), but he has certainly done enough to receive another such opportunity.
Elsewhere in the lineup, Ryan Brett went 3 for 4 with an RBI and 2 runs scored, Corey Brown went 2 for 3 with a walk and a run, and Mikie Mahtook went 2 for 4 with a walk out of the leadoff spot. This has been a disastrous season for Brett, but his lost year hasn’t gone nearly as badly as Lee’s did and he also has an encouraging .311/.339/.406 line in his last 112 plate appearances. Hopefully he can finish 2015 strongly and get his overall numbers up to par next season.
On the pitching side, Everett Teaford doesn’t qualify as a prospect, but he did have a solid start, going 5.1 innings allowing 1 run on 4 hits, striking out 5 while walking 3. It was his first time tossing 5 innings since June 29th because a stint in the bullpen (for the Rays and then the Bulls) cost him his ability to throw even 75 pitches until this, his third start back in the rotation. Accordingly, this was his first 5-strikeout game since June 23rd, although that it is just the fourth in a season where he has made 17 starts is quite discouraging. At least he did decently in his brief MLB time.
Parker Markel followed with his second Triple-A outing and looked dominant, tossing 2.2 perfect innings with 3 strikeouts and 3 groundouts. Markel was less than outstanding at Double-A this year, but he is hitting as high as 97 MPH, and if he can pitch well for an extended period, he could work his way back into the Rays’ bullpen mix. Jhan Marinez then finished the game with a 1-2-3 inning.
Double-A Southern League: Montgomery Biscuits 1, Jackson Generals (SEA) 0
This game was about as close as we’ll get in the minor leagues to the Tampa Bay Rays’ recent wins. The Biscuits offense had few opportunities and did nothing with the first two of them. An error and two singles loaded the bases with one out before the inning ended on a double play, and Montgomery also had a runner thrown out at home. In the sixth, however, Patrick Leonard singled and scored on Cameron Seitzer‘s double, and the Biscuits were on the board. That was all that they would get, and luckily it was enough.
Jacob Faria’s recent starts haven’t gone quite as expected. After he dominated at High-A and got off to an electric start to his Double-A tenure, striking out 14 in 7 no-hit innings in his second start, Faria slipped to a 4.31 ERA in his previous 6 outings entering this game, striking out 28 but also walking 15 in 31.1 innings. He had allowed 2 runs in 6 innings in his previous start, but he had also walked 4 batters against 5 strikeouts. It took him just 11 Double-A starts to match the number of 4-walk outings (3) that he had in 35 games between Low-A and High-A.
Then you see a game like this, and it is easy to laugh about any control problems from Faria. He tossed 7 shutout innings, getting past 2 hits and no walks, with 11 strikeouts. This start doesn’t mean that we can wipe his slate clean–command is a concern for him as he hopes to become a major league starter–but it is great to see him remind us how good he can be if the requisite fine-tuning of his arsenal can take place successfully.
Ryne Stanek then finished the game in nice fashion, tossing 2 shutout innings. He did let up a hit, but he struck out a batter and forced 3 groundouts. Stanek has been inconsistent since moving to the bullpen, but he has the stuff to dominate once he gets his feet under him. Back to the offense for a second, Johnny Field went 2 for 3 while Leonard had a 1-for-3 day with that big run and a hit-by-pitch.
High-A Florida State League: St. Lucie Mets 1, Charlotte Stone Crabs 0
We have also seen too many games like this from the Rays over the years. Greg Harris failed to exceed 5 innings in any of his 4 starts following a strong Charlotte debut, but these results. He tossed 7 innings allowing 1 run on 5 hits, striking out 2 while walking none. The 2 strikeouts force us to take this game with a grain of salt–he didn’t exactly dominate like Faria–but he has a good arsenal and hopefully his confidence is rising.
Jordan Harrison finished the game by giving up a lone hit in 2 innings of work, striking out 3 and forcing 2 groundball outs, but the Stone Crabs managed just 4 baserunners all game. Yoel Araujo went 1 for 2 with a double and a walk while Pat Blair went 1 for 3. Also, as noted by Josh Vitale (hat tip to Steve Kinsella), Justin Williams was removed from this game after laziness on a groundball single to let a runner advance.
Short Season-A New York-Penn League: Hudson Valley Renegades 8, Tri-City ValleyCats (HOU) 2
The Renegades offense had a fun time in this one, pounding out 14 hits. Leading the way was Taylor Hawkins, who went 2 for 3 with a double, a walk, and 3 RBI out of the 9-hole in the lineup. Hawkins has progressed extremely slowly since being signed to an above-slot bonus in the 12th round of the 2012 MLB Draft as a catcher with legitimate power potential, but his defense has continued to improve and the hope is that the bat will eventually come around.
Joe McCarthy also played well, going 2 for 4 with a triple, a hit-by-pitch, 2 RBI, and a run scored, and Hector Montes also drove in 2 despite going 0 for 2 with a walk. McCarthy now has 3 extra-base hits in his last 2 games, as many as he delivered in his first 37 contests as a professional. Alex Schmidt also went 2 for 3 with a double, a walk, and a run while Matt Dacey went 2 for 4 with an RBI and a run. Manny Sanchez and Michael Russell also recorded multiple hits in the win.
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Travis Ott took the mound for Hudson Valley coming off his worst start of the season–he had thrown 69 pitches while failing to escape the third inning. Then he proceeded to get right back on track in this game, tossing 6 shutout innings working around 3 hits, a walk, and a hit batsman while striking out 5. On the year, he is 6-3 with a 3.53 ERA and a 47-18 strikeout to walk ratio in 51.2 innings pitched. Ott, acquired along with Steven Souza Jr. from the Nationals in the Wil Myers trade, hasn’t yet tapped into the velocity potential in his lanky 6’4″, 170 frame, but it has been nice to see his control and secondary pitches look good. Tim Ingram was next up and tossed 2 shutout innings before surrendering 2 meaningless runs in the ninth.
Advanced Rookie Appalachian League: Burlington Royals 6, Princeton Rays 1
This was a rough game for the P-Rays overall, but at least Eduar Lopez and Brett Sullivan played well. After giving up 6 runs in just 3 innings in his last start, Lopez came back to make it 3 good outings in four tries since joining the Tampa Bay Rays organization. In this game, he tossed 5 innings allowing 1 run on 7 hits, striking out 3 while walking none. Garrett Fulenchek had an extremely tough time behind him before Armando Bastardo and Andrew Woeck looked better.
Sullivan, meanwhile, led the offense by going 3 for 4 with a double and a run scored. Sullivan began his career in dreadful fashion, hitting to just a .219/.255/.323 line with 20 strikeouts against 2 walks in his first 103 PA’s. Since then, he has a .277/.309/.569 line with 10 doubles, 8 homers, 17 RBI, and 10-5 strikeout to walk ratio in 136 PA’s. His power as an infielder is nice, and he has gotten himself to right about where he should be. Jamie Mitchell had the lone Princeton RBI while Kewby Meyer went 1 for 3 with a walk.