Feature Photo: Riley Pint, RHP, Rockies
This week, a few 19-year-olds stood out, either by boasting astronomical slugging percentages, earning their first wins, or owning the basepaths. Take a trip around the farm to see who else caught Emily and Jared’s eye, including stories covering a high-profile pitchers’ duel in the Double-A Southern League, a father who was able to surprise his sons at a Carolina Mudcats game, and a peek at a successful, if not old-fashioned, hidden ball trick pulled off in the Carolina League last week.
Minor League Roulette
Players Who Stood Out for Emily
Corey Ray, CF, Brewers (High A Carolina, Carolina League)
Ht/Wt: 5’11” / 185 lbs B/T: L/L Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 22y, 6m
Season Stats: .240/.293/.387, 18 H, 9 2B, 1 3B, 10 RBIs
Finally able to shift his focus from rehabilitation back to development after a severe knee injury during the Brewers’ 2016 Instructional League, Ray is back to work. Bringing an effortless combination of athleticism and an above-average hit tool to the Brewers High A club, Ray has posted a career-high .160 ISO to start the year, safely hitting in 13 of his first 17 games as a Mudcat. With his walk rate resting at 7%, as it did in 2016, Ray has suffered a spike his strikeout percentage, jumping from 21.5% last season to 30.5% this year. Noting the fact that Ray did not return to live action until April 16 after lengthy time off, the strikeout rate could be expected to drop back down as Ray settles into live pitching again.
Rafael Devers, 3B, Red Sox (Double-A Portland, Eastern League)
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 195 lbs B/T: L/R Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 20y, 5m
Season Stats: .333/.366/.590, 26 H, 5 2B, 5 HR, 12 RBIs
Since signing with the Red Sox as a free agent in 2013, Devers is getting his first crack at Double-A play in the Eastern League and already putting on an offensive show for the Sea Dogs. At just 20 years old, Devers is leading Portland in five offensive categories, including home runs (five) and RBIs (12), as well as sitting fourth overall in the Eastern League with his .590 slugging percentage over 20 games. After going 5-for-5 at the start of May, Devers has collected nine hits over his last four games with the Sea Dogs, including three home runs and five RBIs. He’s posted a career-high 20.7% strikeout rate at Portland, and showing a clear preference to rake against righties (.356) versus lefties (.263), but with youth on his side, he’s making a great impression on evaluators while adjusting to Double-A pitching and holding down third base with an average glove and a plus arm. The Red Sox should be thrilled with the progress he’s shown in the early going.
Bo Bichette, SS, Blue Jays (Class A Lansing, Midwest League)
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 200 lbs B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 19y, 1m
Season Stats: .361/.448/.602, 30 H, 9 2B, 3 HRs, 17 RBIs
If we take a look back at our life at 19 years old, I doubt many of us could claim the achievement of a .602 slugging percentage, but then again, how many can? Just barely beyond his 19th birthday, the transition to Class A for Bichette has proven seamless. Following up last season in the Rookie Gulf Coast League, where the shortstop hit .432 with a whopping .732 slugging percentage, Bichette has managed to maintain his pace in 2017, sitting in the top two in six Midwest League offensive categories, all while holding his strikeout percentage at 18.8%, almost equal to his 2016 percentage. With the Blue Jays working to balance the workload of the youngster, Bichette, along with his teenage teammate Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are being held to a strict routine of four games on, one game off. While Bichette is still finding his footing defensively with six errors at the six-spot through 21 games with Lansing, his bat is speaking far too loudly to ignore.
Here’s a Player to Watch
Riley Pint, RHP, Rockies (Class A Asheville, South Atlantic League)
Ht/Wt: 6’4” / 195 lbs B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 19y, 4m
Season Stats: 1-3, 2.29 ERA, 19 2/3 IP, 18 H, 5 ER, 15 BB, 14 SO
The first win off the season is always the sweetest, and when Pint notched his first on May 5 for the Tourists, it was one positive step forward for the Rockies 2016 first-round pick (#4 overall, and signed to a $4.8 million signing bonus). Continuing to feel out his first year of full season ball, the lanky teenager features a fastball that has touched triple digits, an above-average power curveball, and both a slider and changeup that both project as average-or-better offerings as he continues to develop. In his first victory, Pint found success by staying down in the zone, with seven ground ball outs and four strikeouts over five innings of work, though he did walk three batters. In addition, the night marked his second scoreless outing of four innings or more since the start of the year. He’s faring better against right-handers, holding hitters to just to one earned run over 12 1/3 inning and fanning 11, while he’s allowing four earned runs over 7 1/3 innings against lefties. Pint has seen a bump in his walks-per-nine innings from 5.5 BB/9 in 2016 to 7.1 BB/9 in 2017, mostly attributed to below-average control issues that stain the profile presently, though it’s a small sample size of 56 2/3 pro innings to-date, and he’s still quite early in his development. For now, he’s still able to get results based on the raw stuff alone. He’s seen three-point drop in his ERA, from 5.35 in 2016 to 2.29 over 19 2/3 innings.
Players Who Stood Out to Jared
Jack Flaherty, RHP, Cardinals (Double-A Springfield, Texas League)
Ht/Wt: 6’4” / 205 lbs B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 21y, 8m
Season Stats: 5-0, 0.69 ERA, 39 1/3 IP, 24 H, 3 ER, 5 BB, 40 SO
The California native is putting up video-game numbers through his first six starts, and Flaherty might be on his way to earning a mid-season promotion. The right-hander has risen steadily through the ranks every year since beginning his professional tenure in 2014, and he stands poised now to make the final jump before the majors and head to Triple-A Memphis in the Pacific Coast League. In his most recent start, on Friday against Northwest Arkansas, Flaherty struck out 12 over seven innings while only allowed a single run, just his third earned run on the season. The Cardinals prospect effectively works his mid-90s fastball to both sides of the plate, commanding it at a level that is clearly giving fits to Texas League hitters.
Eric Lauer, LHP, Padres (High A Lake Elsinore, California League)
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 205 lbs B/T: R/L Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 21y, 11m
Season Stats: 0-2, 2.22 ERA, 28 1/3 IP, 22 H, 7 ER, 11 BB, 34 SO
Lauer had a rough debut outing to his 2017 season, but the Kent State product has been steadily dealing ever since. In his two most recent starts, Lauer has 16 combined strikeouts and has gone seven innings in both. The left-hander has been building off of his low-90s fastball with an effective curveball and slider. Lauer is in just his second professional season after being drafted in the first round by the Padres in 2016 (#25 overall, and signed to a $2 million signing bonus), but he was solid in 25 innings in the Short-Season A Northwest League last summer, and he even got a brief look at the Midwest League as well. That he is already pitching so well at the High A level has put him on my prospect watch list for the remainder of the season.
Ronald Acuna, OF, Braves (High A Florida, Florida State League)
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 180 lbs B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 19y, 6m
Season Stats: .284/.327/.451, 29 H, 3 2B, 2 HRs, 16 RBIs
Still a teenager, Acuna has shown no signs that he is in over his head in the Florida State League. He is hitting for extra base hits in bunches, with a trio of doubles and already four triples to go with his two home runs. The Braves signed Acuna out of Venezuela as an international free agent in 2014, and he has steadily risen on prospect ranking lists, including our own Braves Organizational Review, since making his professional debut the following year. Acuna has a surprising power tool for his size, and as evidenced by his high number of triples and 12 stolen bases so early in the season, he brings plenty of speed and quality baserunning to the profile as well. Even though the 19-year-old outfielder is doing so well a month into the season, his parent organization probably stands to benefit from taking their time with him.
Here’s a Player to Watch
Aramis Garcia, C, Giants (High A San Jose, California League)
Ht/Wt: 6’2” / 220 lbs B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 24y, 5m
Season Stats: .357/.403/.732, 20 H, 6 2B, 5 HRs, 20 RBIs
A swing to his facemask put him on the disabled list with a concussion on April 21, but that didn’t slow the hot start to his season when he returned. Garcia is 4-for-10 in his first three games back, including a four-RBI effort on May 5 against the Stockton Ports. The catcher is in his fourth professional season since being drafted in the second round (#52 overall) out of Florida International University in 2014, but he missed most of 2016 after a facial fracture landed him on the DL May 23. Now healthy and raking more than 90 points higher than his 2016 High A batting average, he’s another prospect to keep an eye on for the rest of the season. He might be headed for Double-A Richmond fairly soon.
Statistical Highlights From Around the Minor Leagues
- Dueling aces Kolby Allard (LHP, Braves) and Michael Kopech (RHP, White Sox) went toe-to-toe on May 4, combining for 12 innings and 19 strikeouts. Allard never gave up a hit, and his Double-A Mississippi Braves came out on top 3-0.
Key Minor League Transactions
- 2015 first-rounder (#24 overall, and signed to a $1.78 million signing bonus) Walker Buehler (RHP, Dodgers) made the jump early last week from High A Rancho Cucamonga to Double-A Tulsa in the Texas League. Buehler, who had to miss the 2016 season because of a late 2015 Tommy John surgery, has been pitching in limited innings so far, only recently going into the fourth inning in his starts.
- The Milwaukee Brewers are moving on from Victor Roache, their 2012 first-rounder, trading him to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a player to be named later or cash considerations. The outfielder has been struggling at the plate in his third season in Double-A this year, hitting well below the Mendoza line (.176/.238/.230 slash line) and striking out in nearly a third of his trips to the plate.
- The Chicago Cubs placed 20-year-old Class A third baseman Wladimir Galindo on the 7-Day DL, retroactive to April 28. Over 19 games with the South Bend Cubs, Galindo is hitting .324 with five doubles, seven RBIs and a 22.8% strikeout rate.
Notes of Interest
- Lucas Erceg (3B, Brewers, High A Carolina, Carolina League) pulled of an old-fashioned hidden ball trick to get Kyle Tucker (OF, Astros, High A Buies Creek, Carolina League) out at third base. You can see video of the play here, but the hubbub led to Tucker’s manager getting tossed and Erceg’s Mudcats going on to win, 3-0.
- Phillies Class A LHP Ranger Suarez was named Minor League Pitcher of the Month for the month of April. The 21-year-old southpaw allowed just two earned runs over 22 ⅓ innings of work spread over his four starts for the month. Following the pair of runs allowed in his April 8 start versus Kannapolis, Suarez went on to toss 24 consecutive scoreless innings, carrying over into his first start for the month of May.
What We’re Reading
- David Laurilia at Fangraphs highlights the end of Jon Duplantier’s (Class A Kane County, Midwest League) scoreless innings streak and Duplantier’s thoughts on superstition. There’s also an interesting note about Duplantier’s relationship with Roger Clemens (RHP, 1984-2007, multiple teams).
- Very cool story from Isaac Chips at ESPN about a military dad who was able to surprise his sons at a Carolina Mudcats game when they were given the job of throwing out the first pitch. Unbeknownst to them, the catcher receiving their first pitch was their father, just returned home from a deployment with the Air Force.