Thursday, May 25, 2017

Chiefs Use Long Ball to Sink Knights

The final game of my minor league trip took me to BB&T Ballpark in Uptown Charlotte on Tuesday night.  It rained most of the day, but stopped in time to get the game started just a few minutes late.  It was a match-up of the AAA affiliates of the two big league teams I follow, the Syracuse Chiefs (Nationals) against the Charlotte Knights (White Sox).  BB&T is known as a great hitters park and Syracuse seemed to enjoy the confines on this particular night, hitting four home runs on their way to a 6-2 victory over Charlotte.

A theme of the games on this trip was early runs.  Once again, it didn't take long to put numbers on the board in this one.  In the top of the first, the Chiefs scored a pair of unearned runs following a dropped fly ball near the right field foul line by Cody Asche.  Asche, who managed to become a target of disgust from Sox fans in his brief stint in Chicago, seems well on his way to not becoming a fan favorite in Charlotte either.  Though in his defense, he hasn't been playing a lot of outfield lately.  To give him a little credit, I did capture him making a nice move to avoid a tag and pick up a stolen base on a botched hit-and-run play:

Anyway, two batters after the previously mentioned dropped catch, veteran left-handed hitter Clint Robinson launched a two run opposite field homer to left off Knights starter Carson Fulmer.  In the third inning, Fulmer would surrender another homer, this one by Brandon Snyder:

With Fulmer still on the mound in the sixth inning, the Chiefs went to work again.  Robinson hit his second dinger of the game, practically a re-run of the first, hitting the roof of the party area tent in left.  Immediately following that blast, catcher Pedro Severino absolutely destroyed a ball to left, banging it off the scoreboard.  While BB&T plays small, I'm pretty sure these four home runs would have been gone in most parks.

Meanwhile, Greg Ross stymied the strong Charlotte offense most of the night.  Ross entered the game with an 8.63 ERA, but surrendered just one run on five hits in seven strong innings.  The lone run he allowed was on a groundout by Knights outfielder Adam Engel in the bottom of the seventh:

Finally, leading off the bottom of the ninth, Nicky Delmonico scored on a very odd inside-the-park home run.  Left fielder Rafael Bautista made a leaping attempt to make a catch, but missed and evidently slipped in the corner and injured himself.  He would need assistance walking off the field.  I have not seen a report on the seriousness of the injury, but it didn't look good as he headed to the dugout.  I caught that play on video, but as you can see, I didn't catch what exactly happened to Bautista:

Following that unusual play, the Knights did record a couple more hits, but were unable to chase any additional runs home, so they dropped this one to the last place Chiefs by a score of 6-2.

Box Score

Scorecard (Syracuse)
Scorecard (Charlotte)

Photo Album

I already covered most of the key Charlotte prospects in the recap of the game in Norfolk, so I will briefly run through what those guys did in this game.  Also, I am pretty sure I spotted Yoan Moncada in the Charlotte dugout.  He has still not been activated from the disabled list, but I would expect that to happen soon.

Charlotte Position Players

Nicky Delmonico recorded the weird inside-the-park home run for his only hit of the game.  But he had a two home run game over the weekend in Norfolk too.  So I'm sticking to my prediction of him getting called up to Chicago in the next week.  Adam Engel flashed his speed with an infield hit and a stolen base.  Jacob May had another walk in this game, but grounded out in his other three plate appearances.  It really wasn't an impressive game for any of the Knights hitters against a pitcher with no track record of success at this level.  This lineup is definitely not the same without Moncada, although I guess they better get used to that since his days in AAA are numbered.

Carson Fulmer

The good news?  Fulmer allowed just five hits in six innings.  The bad news?  Four of those hits were home runs, and all of them were crushed.  I suppose if there is some consolation for Fulmer, it is that three of the homers were by guys who were on the Nationals playoff roster last season.  But if he is going to be a successful major league pitcher, obviously he can't afford to give up homers in bunches to players of that caliber.  Also, only striking out a pair of Chiefs hitters was another disappointing aspect of this outing.  I had thought Fulmer had perhaps nudged ahead of Lopez as the most likely of the big three Charlotte starters (Fulmer, Lopez, Giolito) to get the call-up to Chicago.  But as of now, I'd say that nod would go to Lopez.  Regardless, unless he continues to have gopher ball troubles, I'd expect Fulmer to be in the Sox rotation in the next month or so.  Whether his ultimate destiny is the rotation or bullpen remains to be seen though.

Syracuse (Nationals) Prospects

The top levels of the Nationals organization are a little short on big time prospects, in part because several of those guys are now members of the Sox organization thanks to the Adam Eaton trade.  Pedro Severino would probably be in the big leagues for most teams.  His home run in this game was an encouraging sign that he could be bouncing out of his early offensive struggles.  Outfielder Andrew Stevenson is an intriguing prospect, but has struggled early on at the AAA level.  Finally, Rafael Bautista would have had a good shot at another promotion to DC (he was with the Nats briefly following the Eaton injury), but his own health puts his short-term future in doubt.

So that's a wrap on my trip and my blog posts about the White Sox organization.  I will switch this back over to an archive of my MLB Stadium trips shortly, where I will also write a little bit about my weekend visit to SunTrust Park in Atlanta.  In the meantime, we'll see if the Sox can swing a few more trades this summer to add even more interesting prospects into the pipeline.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Kannapolis Pitchers Dominate in 4-3 Win

In front of dozens of fans at Intimidators Stadium in Kannapolis on Monday night, the Kannapolis Intimidators (White Sox) defeated the Greenville Drive (Red Sox) in a Class A battle between two above .500 teams.  After an early barrage of runs, pitchers dominated the final seven innings for both sides.  But the four runs the Intimidators scored in the bottom of the first proved to be just enough for a 4-3 victory.

Intimidators' starter Alec Hansen struck out 10 batters in five innings.  It was his highest strikeout total at this level and second highest of his young professional career.  Kevin Escorcia and Mike Morrison were dominant in relief as well, striking out a combined five Drive hitters in four scoreless innings.  For the game, Drive batters were erased on strikeouts 15 times.  Here is Hansen striking out Roldani Baldwin on a pitch in the dirt:

All of the Kannapolis offensive damage was done in the first inning against Drive lefty starter Robby Sexton.  Mitch Roman got the scoring started with a double to left, scoring Joel Booker.  Then, three consecutive batters knocked in runs with hits:  a single by Brandon Dulin, a double by Zach Remillard and a single by Seby Zavala.  In the first, the Intimidators scored four runs on five hits.  That would be more hits than they would record in their final seven innings at bat.

The Drive scored a pair of runs off Hansen in the top of the second on a Roldani Baldwin double and Lorenzo Cedrola single.  The last run of the game was scored by Greenville in the top of the fourth on a single by Santiago Espinal.  The Kannapolis bullpen was dominant, closing the door on a one run win.

Box Score

Scorecard (Greenville)
Scorecard (Kannapolis)

Photo Album

A the low A level, it is hard to know which players are most worth following since they are so far from the major league level and the most highly touted players on these rosters were playing college baseball at this time last year.  Kannapolis does have some interesting guys on their roster, however.  I'm not going to cover any of the opposition's prospects in this case since none are particularly highly rated or caught my eye, but I would be remiss not to mention that Drive second baseman Jagger Rusconi had about as bad of an offensive game as possible.  He struck out his first four times and then grounded into a game ending double play.  On to the Intimidators.

Alec Hansen

Entering his junior season at Oklahoma last year, Hansen was considered an early first round draft candidate.  But he struggled mightily that season, which caused him to fall into the second round where the Sox grabbed him.  Since turning pro, he's been outstanding.  He was so dominant in rookie ball last summer that he earned a promotion to Kannapolis before the season ended.  Hansen's overall line on Monday wasn't all that great, allowing six hits and three walks in five innings.  But then there were the ten strikeouts.  Unfortunately, that meant a lot of deep counts and his pitch count piled up quickly.  Overall, I was impressed.  He got a ton of swing-and-misses out of both his fastball and breaking balls.  Here he is throwing a high fastball by Greenville #3 hitter Chris Madera:

Jameson Fisher

Another 2016 draft pick, Fisher was one of the best hitters in college baseball last year for Southeastern Louisiana.  Like Hansen, he dominated rookie ball last summer.  The left-handed hitting outfielder has had mixed results this season so far, not hitting for power and striking out a lot for such an accomplished college hitter.  But he is still an intriguing player to keep an eye on.  Oh, and he sports a sweet mustache too.  In this game, his only hit came on a perfectly executed bunt which hit the third base bag.  It was the Intimidators second bunt single of the inning.  Here it is:

Micker Adolfo

Another interesting outfielder on the Kannapolis roster is Adalfo.  Like Fisher, he hasn't been able to tap into his home run power too often so far this season, but he does have 15 extra base hits and an average around .300.  This was a rough one for him though.  He went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.  He signed with the Sox out of the Dominican Republic in 2013, but is still only 20 years old.  As I've mentioned several times in these posts, the Sox lack elite outfield prospects (or did prior to the weekend signing of Luis Robert, anyway).  So guys like Adolfo will get every opportunity to make their case to be a part of the Sox future outfield.

Mike Morrison

Finally, I'm ending with someone who I had never heard of before yesterday.  When Morrison took the mound in the 8th, I looked up his stats and was stunned by what I saw:  19 1/3 innings, 0 runs allowed, 4 hits, 3 walks and 30 strikeouts.  This looks like a guy who should expect to be promoted soon.  He built upon those numbers with a two inning save on Monday.  He did not allow a hit and struck out three.  He did walk a pair of guys though.  Hard to give up runs when nobody ever gets hits off of you.  Here he is baffling Roldani Baldwin with an off-speed pitch in the dirt.

Up Next

It has been raining most of the day here in Charlotte, so we'll see what happens.  But I'm scheduled to see the Knights take on the Syracuse Chiefs tonight, Tuesday, in the final game of my trip.  This will feature the AAA squads of the two MLB teams I root for (Sox and Nats), so I should be very familiar with a lot of the guys on the field.  Carson Fulmer is scheduled to start for Charlotte.  This would have been Joe Ross' night for the Chiefs, but the Nats brought him back up to start tonight's game in DC.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Barons and Smokies Split Doubleheader

Thanks to a Saturday night rainout in Birmingham, I was able to add an extra game to my trip as the Sunday game between the Tennessee Smokies (Cubs) and Birmingham Barons (White Sox) turned into a doubleheader.  In the minors, doubleheaders are only seven inning games, so it was more like a regular game and a half.  I had a fun afternoon in Alabama.  I believe I played in high school baseball games with more fans than were present for the beginning of the first game.  But by the time the second game started, there was a pretty good crowd on hand at the very nice Regions Field in Birmingham.

The first game was a bit of a snoozer as the Smokies cruised to a 7-1 victory.  Birmingham starter Jordan Guerrero had a rough go of it, surrendering two homers.  Ian Rice got things started for the Smokies in the second inning with a two run homer to left.  In the next inning, Smokies leadoff hitter Jeffrey Baez absolutely crushed a Guerrero hanger over the Barons bullpen for another homer.  Here is that shot:

The Smokies would add three more runs in the inning to take a 6-0 lead.  Smokies pitchers James Pugliese, Daury Torrez and David Garner had it on cruise control from there as Tennessee took Game 1 by a final of 7-1.

Game two was far more exciting.  The starting pitchers in that one were a pair of decent prospects:  Spencer Adams for the Barons and Duane Underwood for the Smokies.  Jeffrey Baez hit his second home run of the day to start the second game.

But the Barons would tie it up in the second on a controversial home run by Cameron Seitzer that would lead to yet another manager ejection.  Seitzer's blast to right appeared to hit the railing above the wall and bounce back onto the field.  Initially, the umpire ruled it in play and it went for a double.  But after a discussion with Birmingham manager Julio Vinas and then an umpire's conference, they changed it to a home run.  Naturally, Tennessee manager Mark Johnson didn't like this.  He would eventually get thrown out of the game.  He was the third manager and fourth person overall to be ejected in the four minor league games I've seen on this trip.  While I'm sure this is a bit of an anomoly, I'm attributing all these ejections to less than stellar umpiring at the minor league levels (and no replay).  In this case, if they had made what appeared to be the correct home run call from the start, I don't think there would have been much arguing.

Another photo of a manager walking off the field following an ejection (Mark Johnson)
Anyway, after falling behind again, the Barons bats woke up in the bottom of the fourth.  Following a Telvin Nash single and a Cameron Seitzer double, Hunter Jones did this:

That was a two run triple by the speedy Jones off Underwood, giving the Barons a 3-2 lead.  Later in the inning, the Barons scored another run on a perfectly executed safety squeeze by catcher Chris O'Dowd.  Adams would throw five solid innings, but gave up a pair of hits to start the 6th before giving way to Robinson Leyer.  Leyer immediately induced a double play and retired all five batters he faced to close out a 4-2 victory for Birmingham.

Here is the defensive play of the day, courtesy of Barons third baseman Ronald Bueno, making a diving stop to start a double play.  Bueno was just promoted to AA earlier this weekend:

Box Score (Game 1)
Box Score (Game 2)

Scorecard (Game 1)

Photo Album

While the Sox and Cubs do have their share of good position player prospects in their respective organizations, none of them are currently playing in AA.  By far the biggest prospect on either roster is the Barons' pitcher Michael Kopech, another one of the key pieces in the Chris Sale trade.  But he was on the mound for Friday's victory over Tennessee.  So I didn't have many guys to pay special attention to in these games, but here are some notes on a few guys who I did see on Sunday.

Jordan Guerrero

It was a tough outing for the lefty on Sunday, which made some sense out of his season stat line.  He entered the day tied for the Southern League lead in strikeouts (with teammate Michael Kopech), but now has an 0-6 record with an ERA north of 5.00.  He is able to fool hitters with his assortment of curveballs and changeups.  But he often misses on location, as evident in that video of the Baez home run above.  Here he is striking out Cael Brockmeyer on a well placed curveball:

Spencer Adams

Prior to the trades the Sox made this past winter, Adams was probably the Sox second best starting pitching prospect behind Carson Fulmer.  But with the influx of pitching talent, Adams has become somewhat overshadowed.  He doesn't have the overpowering fastball that you typically see from highly regarded right handed pitching prospects.  But he does have above average command and off-speed offerings.  His outing on Sunday wasn't spectacular, but he was effective, limiting the Smokies to a pair of runs in five plus innings.  Here he is striking out Jacob Hannemann to end the fourth inning:

Hunter Jones

If I were to guess, I don't think any position player on the Barons current roster will eventually become an everyday player for the Sox.  But if I'm going to pick one guy who may have a shot at being a darkhorse major league contributor, I'll go with center fielder Hunter Jones.  This hunch isn't based so much on what he did on Sunday, though he did produce the game winning triple in the second game.  I just like his skill set.  Reports are that he is an excellent defensive outfielder.  He has some power and great speed.  And in an organization with not a lot of great outfield prospects, there seems to be an opportunity for a lightly regarded player to move up the ranks.

Smokies (Cubs) Prospects

Like the Barons, the Smokies don't have a lot of highly touted players on their current roster.  But a few hitters stood out on Sunday.  First was obviously outfielder Jeffrey Baez who homered in both games.  The Cubs could use another Baez on their roster, right?  Next, catcher (designated hitter in both of Sunday's games) Ian Rice crushed balls for extra base hits in his first two at bats of the day (HR, 2B) and drove in four.  Finally, third baseman Jason Vosler had four hits on the day.  They were all singles, but he has displayed more power this season than he had previously.  He may be an emerging talent in the Cubs system.  On the pitching side, Duane Underwood was probably the most highly touted player I saw from Tennessee.  Interestingly, prior to the game I had read FanGraph's Eric Longenhagen's pre-season capsule on Underwood where it was suggested he might be better off in the bullpen.  After seeing him on Sunday, I agree with that assessment.  Underwood had a decent first three innings, but appeared to run out of gas in the fourth.  Maybe allowing him to pitch in shorter stints would prove beneficial to his career path.

Up Next

Monday, it is off to the Charlotte area to see a low A game in Kannopolis between the Intimidators and the Greenville Drive (Red Sox).  2016 second round pick Alec Hansen is the scheduled starter for Kannapolis.