While we try to bring the goings on with the Rays’ minor league affiliates, there is only so much we can talk about when we rarely, if ever, see these prospects play. The other problem we face with the minor league affiliates is the duality of these teams. They exist to serve the major league franchise. But at the same time, each of these teams have their own fans that root hard for their teams to do well.
With 21 games remaining in the regular season, the Durham Bulls are 66-55, 2.5 games behind Richmond in the IL South division and only 1 game back in the wild card race.
Today we bring you guest writer Chris Wise, a Durham Bulls fan, who gives us a late-season look at the “State of the Team”. His words follow the normal links…
Durham 4, Charlotte 3. Jae Seo struck out 7 and walked none in 7 innings. He was touched for 3 runs on 7 hits. Chad Orvella gave up a hit and 2 walks, but settled down to pick up his 17th save. Evan Longoria was 1-3 with a double and an RBI. Jason Pridie was 1-3 with 2 walks. He stole his 7th base.
Chattanooga 8, Montgomery 3. Reid Brignac was 2-4 and hit his 16th home run. He drove in 2. Chris Nowak was 2-3 and homered in his first action in a month.
Vero Beach 8, Lakeland 2. The Rays scored 6 runs in the final three innings to break a 2-2 tie. Doug Waechter allowed 2 runs in 4.1 innings. He gave up 7 hits and struck out 5 while walking none. JT Hall homered for the third time in four games. Sergio Pedroza was 3-5 with 2 doubles and 2 RBI.
Hickory 17, Columbus 3. Rough night for Will Kline in only his sixth professional start. In 2 innings, Kline gave up 12 hits and 11 runs including 3 home runs. The Catfish picked up only 4 hits.
Lowell 2, Hudson Valley 1. Jason Ragan pitched 6 innings, and gave up only 2 runs but the Renegades managed only 3 hits, 2 by shortstop Shawn O’Malley.
Princeton 14, Bristol 8. Nick Barnese gave up 5 runs in 3 innings, but Austin Hinkle came on and pitched 5 scoreless innings of relief. He gave up 2 hits and walked none while striking out 4. Catcher Mark Thomas was 4-4 with 2 doubles and his second home run. He drove in 5. Kyeong Kang was 3-4 with a double and his second home run. He scored 4 runs.
NOTES FROM DOWN ON THE FARM…
- Ryan Royster did not homer yesterday for the first time in 7 games. [MiLB]
DURHAM BULLS State of the Team [By Chris Wise]
Obviously, the Bulls are a pretty good AAA team. We’re in the hunt for a playoff spot, mostly because we’ve had a very good run since breaking through the .500 barrier on the 24th of June (24-16 since then). We’re now 8 games over .500 and have a shot at either a wild card spot or winning the Southern division.
We’ve got a good mix of young and veteran position players. None has a stellar batting average or any other great individual stats. But together they’ve been winning games. [a detail not lost on us. Winning is often an attitude and several of these players were involved with the Montgomery team that won the SL last season. Maybe the attitude will carry over to the big leagues next season-RI]
Coaching/Managing: Such an improvement from last year. I started keeping a chart of “ejections” last year. Manager/coach crew could not keep the youngsters under control and it showed on the field. Manager himself thrown out quite a bit. This year the crew seems to know their stuff and seems to make mostly good decisions…Notable is the performance of the pitching under the management/coaching.
Catcher: I thought that was going to be this year’s problem position. Shawn Riggans was with us last year, but in and out of the lineup and that’s the way he’s been this year both before and after being called up. At first I thought the veteran Raul Cassanova was going to be the stabilizing influence, but Tampa called him up. Fortunately, Michel Hernandez was found and signed. A real pro, he’s probably made as much difference as anyone in these last few weeks, because the backup catcher, Josh Johnson, just hasn’t been able to handle the job all that well. Johnson’s been around for all of last year and this. Our section of the stands calls him the “ghost” catcher since he’s often assigned to Hudson Valley on paper to make room on the roster. On the other hand, Johnson is among the leaders in pitching stats (ERA of 0.00 in two appearances in desperate circumstances).
First Base: Hasn’t settled down all year. Wes Bankston is having a streaky year and spent almost a month on the DL. Chris Richard has played 1st and outfield and is a fine player. Another veteran (29) he’s now on the DL ,but should be back soon. And then there’s Jo-el. (Guzman). Since the arrival of Longoria (and for a few games before that) Guzman has been playing 1st, DHing, and playing an occasional 3rd. He’s a surprisingly good 3rd baseman. He just doesn’t look like a 3rd baseman (6’6″, 250). He’s got a very awkward running style, and even more awkward look at the plate. And he hits in streaks. Often looks like he’s not even paying attention and then he’ll whack the ball way over the Monster, once dinging the steel in the building under construction across the street. [Video can be found HERE-RI]
Second Base: Mostly handled by Elliot Johnson who I’d say if the fans’ biggest disappointment this year. Only hitting .209 and a thoroughly unreliable leadoff batter (not sure why he’s being kept there, but that’s where he’s played since the departure of Zobrist). Not a great glove either. [Likely being kept there at the request of the parent club-RI]
Shortstop: Now handled by Jorge Velandia. Yet another solid veteran ballplayer. If within his range, he gets the ball and makes the play, and his range is pretty good. Not a great hitter, but seems to do well in clutch situations. Was mostly disappointed in Zobrist this year, but that was tempered by the fact that finally we didn’t have to watch BJ any more. Two years of seeing him make the spectacular play and botch the simple ones was more than enough for us. But Zobrist was really coming around in the weeks before being called up. Particularly good at getting on base. Was making a difference since he was batting leadoff.
Third: Have only seen Longoria in a couple of games so far and appreciate the he’s Tampa’s great hope for the future. Looks pretty good. Hope that he gets the chance to settle in and make a real contribution.
Brent Butler is another Bulls stalwart. Has played every infield position and left field this year. Gets a clutch hit from time to time. May never see the majors, but keeps things on track down here.
Outfield: Latest addition, Jon Weber, is a real find. Full of energy. Serious threat at the plate. Doing a fine job in left field…Jason Pridie came up from Montgomery a few weeks ago and is doing a good job at the plate and in the field. I’d consider him a solid prospect and I’m so happy that Tampa doesn’t need him. I really like the way he and Weber and the next two handle themselves.
Justin Ruggiano is also doing a fine job. Covers the field nicely. Can hit a timely home run. And has some speed on the bases. Jeremy Owens is another solid player. Been around for a while. Something of a utility outfielder, but decent bat, arm, and slugging capability.
Pitching: Until the last couple of days I was more than pleased with this year’s pitching, both starters and relievers. Not sure what’s happened in the bullpen recently, but think I’ll blame it on the manager for leaving starters in too long (that’s certainly what’s happened to Seo in his last two starts. He needed to come out sooner.) In my opinion Tampa did a real disservice to Andy Sonnanstine by calling him up this year. I don’t think he was ready. Not sure that TB had a real choice in the matter since he was probably the better of the ones down here at the time.
Two of our starters, Talbot (who’s been here all year) and Prochaska (who’s only been here a short while) show some real promise. You know about Seo and Ryu and Howell. Niemann is another who just needs to be left alone with a good coach and challenging batters and a veteran catcher for a while. Very promising.
Tampa knows our bullpen too. Up until the last few games, we were getting really solid work from both Ridgeway (set up) and Orvella (closer), but not lately. Here’s hoping they get back on track, or we won’t make the playoffs. New guys, Shackleford, Medlock, and (for us) Camp haven’t had much of a chance yet. Switzer has always done a fine job down here. Not sure why he’s had so much trouble down Tampa way.
Pitching is, of course, where we are most hostage to the vagaries of Tampa. Realize that it was time to let him go, but it sure was fun to watch Seth McClung on the mound. Not sure that he was ever really sure where his ball was going, but he sure could throw it hard.
So how do we get into the playoffs this year? Sure would be nice to hope that Tampa will leave us alone, but given their troubles, that’s not likely. On the other hand, barring injury, really no place for our position players to go. So that leaves the pitching. Really no good reason to screw up Neimann’s development (but I’m betting they will). Niemann could win a couple of games for us that might make all the difference. Even if he could win a couple for Tampa, it won’t make a difference. But I’m resigned to the probability that he’ll be gone in a couple of weeks. Here’s hoping that whomever they send down has his head screwed on right and will win a couple of games for us.