First off, how exciting did the back of our rotation look over the weekend? Richards flirted with 98 mph Friday night, and threw eighteen pitches that registered 97 mph or higher. As noted here, or pictured here, he also achieved ridiculous vertical movement on his 86-88 mph slider and upper 70's curveball. Of the 26 breaking balls that he threw, six generated whiffs and only one went into play. For an out.
Who needs a change-up when you can throw two breaking balls like that? Yes, command was a mess, but after an outing like that I'm back to dreaming on him as a front-line starter.
Speaking of potential frontline starters, Skaggs looked amazing even if he didn't have Richards' velo. Consistently at 92-94 mph, he went to the heater 65% of the time, which helps his secondary pitches to play up. Surprisingly, he threw almost twice as many two-seamers as four-seamers, something that we haven't seen him do before. The results were stunning: 59% of the balls put into play against him were on the ground. He was more efficient than Richards too, going three additional innings and looking for all the world like an ace in the making.
Another thing that I love about him: after watching his change-up get knocked for a hit, he started off the next two batters with the same pitch. One was a called strike, and the other was a whiff. He showed the same conviction in the pitch over spring training. Cool beans.
It was almost enough to let us forget Weaver coughing up 4 homeruns for the third time in his career.
Ok, let's talk minor leaguers, beginning with the pitching: predictably, Arkansas' bullpen was superb over the weekend, fanning 16 guys over eleven innings while yielding only one unearned run, four hits, and three walks. Mike Morin and Ryan Chaffee were the most dominant - both currently boast a K/IP of 2 - but Orangel Arenas was also impressive in long relief, Dane De La Rosa looked sharp in his rehab appearance, and newly-acquired Michael Brady looks like he'll fit right in. Promotions will likely be the biggest issue confronting the Trav's relief corps this year.
Unsurprisingly, our starters in the upper minors didn't do much, and the best outings came from minor league hired guns Jarrett Grube for Salt Lake, and Drew Rucinski, in his double-A debut for Arkansas. The Halos plunked Rucinski out of independent ball a year ago after he went undrafted, and he was clutch for Inland Empire down the stretch last year. He could play a big role stabilizing the Trav's rotation this year.
In the lower minors, Inland Empire's front two starters Nate Smith and Kyle McGowin had the most impressive debuts. Both went five innings, with McGowin fanning five to Smith's single k, but the former also coughed up a homerun while Smith somehow limited Lancaster to just three hits in one of the most hitting friendly environments in the minors. Cam Bedrosian looked outstanding, racking up 4 k's in just 1.2 innings, and longtime organizational arm Dan Reynolds did yeoman's work, contributing five innings of scoreless middle relief. Look for the two of them to potentially move up the chain this year. And lastly, down in the Midwest League, Mike Clevinger looked the part of redeemed prospect, racking up six k's in 4.2 innings.
On the offensive end, Salt Lake's Grant Green and J.B. Shuck hit for the most total bases. Green sprayed the ball all over the Bee's ballpark, notching three doubles and six knocks while walking three times and stealing a pair of bags. I worry about him making enough contact at the major league level, but he's really hit all spring and I'm becoming a fan of his ability to shoot line drives and hard grounders all over the field. He played shortstop in all four of the Bees' games and committed an error; but a shortstop who hits like he does can be forgiven the occasional fielding gaff. And Shuck hit a homerun! At least, the boxscore says so. There is no video record of it, so it could be just a hoax. I'll do some digging on that when I have some more time.
Kaleb Cowart might have challenged the Salt Lake duo in total bases, but didn't have a crack at the fourth game due to the Travs getting rained out yesterday. He inflicted his damage opening night, when he went five for six with a homerun, a double, and three knocks. And check this out: from the left side, he shot a line-drive homerun over the right field wall, a line-drive double down the leftfield line, and line-drive single up the middle. If he can keep making that kind of quality contact with his left-handed swing, he will shoot back up prospect lists. He also threw in a couple of stolen bases for good measure.
Mike Fish, exiled in the Midwest League, knocked three extra-base hits of his own, including a homerun. Everything he hit hard was pulled, continuing a trend from last year, and he fanned four times in four games. I'm nitpicking over small sample sizes, sure, but those are the numbers I'll be watching most closely with him. He also DH'd in two of the games, which is weird, because he's supposed to be a capable defender. Quite possibly he's a little banged up.
Cal Towey... Wow. A .600 OBP over his first four games. His most impressive PA's came against Mariners' super-prospect Taijaun Walker, against whom he yanked a triple to right and singled. He also doubled to left and sprayed groundballs all over the field, so isn't just pulling the ball. He might wind up a very good hitter. He DH'd in two games, and then split a third game in the field between catcher and right field, so it's unclear what the Halos have planned for him defensively.
Other interesting tidbits: Burlington second baseman Kody Eaves, a deep sleeper, opened the season by rapping an opposite field shot off of the left field wall for a triple. The bat's cooled since, but he's walked three times and offers an intriguing power/speed package. Taylor Lindsey homered to right last night. All of his other hard-hit balls have been pulled, which continues a trend that we saw last year. C.J. Cron's knocked three doubles in four games, but he also leads the system with six whiffs, so we're going to have to keep an eye on that. Lastly, Matt Long returned to Salt Lake and has been flipping between the bottom and top of the Bees' line-up, almost like they don't quite know what to do with him. He's homered, tripled, and walked four times, but he's also fanned in over a third of his PA's. I'll be curious to see if he can maintain his spring numbers in the face of what had to be a disappointing roster decision on the Angels' part. Anecdotally, I can think of lots of guys who cooled upon being sent down under similar circumstances.