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.

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