The 2015 season unfortunately isn’t over for the Princeton Rays, but it is for the Durham Bulls, Bowling Green Hot Rods, and Hudson Valley Renegades. Durham and Hudson Valley were able to finish strongly…but we won’t talk much about the Bowling Green game.
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Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 6, Norfolk Tides (BAL) 0
If Tampa Bay Rays fans are being totally honest with themselves, they should get ready for a feeling something like this to end this season. The Bulls mirrored the Rays in a lot of ways–injuries, roster turnover, and outright disappointments limited what they could do this season, and we know that so many players overlapped between the two teams. The Bulls finished the year at 74-70, which is fine, especially given how bleak things looked at times this year, and the end result was finishing 4 games out of a playoff spot. It is a weird feeling congratulating rookie Triple-A manager Jared Sandberg on doing a good job while hoping that next season finishes more fruitfully.
Taylor Motter was the Bulls’ Logan Forsythe, their breakout star that was alright last season but reached a new echelon that we didn’t know he was capable of this year. Marc Topkin reports that he is unlikely to be called up this September, making it especially nice that he ended the 2015 International League season like this. He went 2 for 3 with 2 homers, a hit-by-pitch, and 3 runs scored to finish the year with a .293/.366/.471 line. He cooled off in August, but his .393 average in September was a nice reminder not to read too much into the rough month.
Steven Souza Jr. played the field for the first time, but he exited after 5 innings after getting hit by a pitch. He went 0 for 2 before that. Kevin Cash tells us that he is fine and will head to Charlotte to join their team for the Florida State League playoffs. Look for a piece on him later today.
Get ready to be exceedingly confused again. Catcher Wilmer Dominguez entered 2015 having never played a single game at full-season ball. Then he made one spot appearance at Double-A this season, going 1 for 4 at the plate, before joining the Bulls after both J.P. Arencibia and Luke Maile were needed in the majors. He went 2 for 5 with an RBI and 2 runs scored in his first Triple-A contest before finishing his year by going 2 for 4 with 2 more RBI in this game. Dominguez is 24 and literally played in 3 games this season–certainly don’t call him a prospect–but that is quite an amusing way to end 2015.
Dominguez was catching Jared Mortensen, the 27-year-old right-hander who delivered a nice season at Double-A before getting hit hard in his first Triple-A start. His second was much better as he tossed 7.2 innings allowing no runs on 7 hits, striking out 7 while walking 2. Mortensen’s age limits what he can do, but with a mid-90’s fastball and developing secondary pitches, he still has a chance to be a late-blooming reliever. It will be interesting to see how Mortensen does next season at Triple-A, when he will presumably be back in the Rays system.
Wilmer Dominguez then caught Jose Dominguez, who wrapped up his year with 1.1 shutout innings, getting past a hit and a walk while striking out 1. Dominguez was so good in his brief stint with the Rays this April, tossing 5.2 shutout innings in which he got past 2 hits and 2 walks with 5 strikeouts, but his Triple-A time was nothing short of disastrous to prompt his DFA. He finishes with just a 6.18 ERA in 30 appearances, and now the Rays will hope to re-sign him as a minor league free agent and get his big arm back on track.
Double-A Southern League: Montgomery Biscuits 3, Birmingham Barons (CHW) 1
The Biscuits delivered a smooth win in their last tune-up before the postseason. Chris Kirsch started and finally pitched well after giving up at least 3 runs in each of his first 10 Double-A starts and allowing 17 between his last 2 outings. He looked particularly sharp, tossing 6 innings allowing 1 run on 4 hits, striking out 9 while walking 1 and forcing a 6-1 groundout to flyout ratio. The lefty Kirsch pitched well (2.98 ERA) at High-A this year, but will he get a second chance to start with the Biscuits in 2015 or will he be converted into a sinker-slider reliever? A game like this is certainly an argument for him to start for a little while longer.
Neither Ryan Garton nor Matt Lollis had crisp stuff, but they combined to work around 3 walks in their 2 hitless innings, striking out 2. Then Brad Schreiber struck out 1 in a perfect ninth for the save. Schreiber was able to find himself again after a horrific couple of weeks to finish the season strongly, and the Biscuits are optimistic that he can be an effective playoff closer.
At the plate, it was Dayron Varona getting the runs in as he went 2 for 4 with 3 RBI and an outfield assist. Varona finishes the regular season with a .264/.310/.458 line, and he puts himself in line to start 2015 at Triple-A and make his way into the Tampa Bay Rays’ outfield depth. There is no guarantee that he turns into anything–he is a 27 year old in a crowded picture of right-handed backup outfielders–but it was nice to see his athleticism and defense look as advertised while his power was better than expected.
Daniel Robertson also went 2 for 3 with a hit-by-pitch while Tyler Goeddel and Justin O’Conner both went 2 for 4. Robertson showed enough to get a cup of coffee at Triple-A to end the year, but he wasn’t brought up because the Biscuits will be in the postseason while the Bulls will not be. Had the Bulls been a few games better, it would have been interesting to see what kind of upgrade Robertson could have provided over Hak-Ju Lee in the playoffs.
Low-A Midwest League: Fort Wayne TinCaps (SDP) 17, Bowling Green Hot Rods 0
The score speaks for itself. Bradley Wallace, Ryan Pennell, Luis Urena, and Edgar Gomez all had games to forget on the mound. At least the guy who had to catch them, Nick Ciuffo, was the one Hot Rod who had a strong game by any standard. Ciuffo went 2 for 3 at the plate and threw out the 2 baserunners that attempted to steal against him. Ciuffo’s defense was tremendous this year, and he hit to a .310/.314/.387 line in his last 159 plate appearances. He absolutely needs to show more plate discipline and power, but let’s just say that he is far from a lost cause.
Short Season-A New York-Penn League: Hudson Valley Renegades 7, Aberdeen IronBirds (BAL) 1
A combined 2-hitter was a great way for the Renegades to give fans at Dutchess Stadium a nice sendoff. Roel Ramirez started and tossed 4 no-hit innings, striking out 2 and forcing a 6-1 groundout to flyout ratio. Ramirez has certainly shown enough to spend next season in the Bowling Green rotation, and we will have to see what happens from there. John Williams then allowed a run on a hit in 2 innings before Tyler Brashears tossed 2 perfect frames with 3 strikeouts. Then Reece Karalus got past a hit with 2 strikeouts to close out the season.
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Renegades manager Tim Parenton showed increase confidence in Taylor Hawkins as the season went on, and Hawkins actually finished the season batting in the cleanup spot. Hawkins didn’t disappoint, going 3 for 4 with a homer, a double, and 4 RBI. Hawkins has been brought along extremely slowly, with 2015 marking his fourth straight year spent primarily in Short Season ball, but he has come a long way defensively and has always been known for his bat. His overall line in Hudson Valley–.242/.284/.386–leaves something to be desired, but he finished the year scorching hot and hit .357 in a 5-game cameo in Bowling Green when they needed an extra hitter at DH. Hawkins is a guy that we don’t know a ton about at this point, but he could be a breakout candidate back with the Hot Rods in 2016.
Michael Russell also had a big game, going 2 for 4 with a homer, a walk, his 22nd steal, and 2 runs scored. Even though Russell was the Rays’ 5th round pick in 2014, this was his pro debut after he missed last season due to a back injury. His defense at shortstop looked sketchy and he didn’t hit for much power, but he also finished with a .361 OBP and a perfect 22-for-22 mark in stolen bases. The lost year of development time is annoying, but he will get more chances to reach his upside of a big league utility player.
Advanced Rookie Appalachian League Championship Series Game 2: Greeneville Astros 10, Princeton Rays 8 (Series Tied 1-1)
The P-Rays held an 8-3 lead after 6 innings before everything came apart. Instead of winning the Appalachian League championship by winning 2 out of 3 in this series, they will need to have short memories and come back to win tonight. Blake Bivens was mediocre in his start, giving up 2 runs on 5 hits in 4 innings, and 5 innings proved to be too much for the bullpen to cover. Bryan Bonnell, Ty Jackson, and Andrew Woeck couldn’t get the job done.
At least the Princeton offense continued flexing its muscles. David Rodriguez kept up this piece’s theme of catchers hitting as he went 3 for 5 with a homer, a double, 2 RBI, and 3 runs scored. He also threw out Astros top prospects Kyle Tucker and Daz Cameron attempting to steal. It will be interesting to see if the Rays think Rodriguez is advanced enough to join Hawkins in the Bowling Green catching corps next year. Usual catcher Jose Rojas also went 2 for 3 with a double, a walk, and 2 RBI in a DH capacity while Zac Law went 2 for 5 with a double and 2 runs and Jonathan Popadics went 2 for 4 with a run.