Well, the first full calendar week but you know what I mean, right? Technically the MiLB season is 11 days old but anyway, moving along.
Last time the lead story was a lot of very nice pitching performances in the Opening Weekend, but it turns out most of those were not followed up the second time through the order. Let’s take it team by team, starting with Lansing this time, and see what’s in need of some spotlight.
The biggest story here is still the three-headed offensive monster leading the Lugnuts. Infielder Otto Lopez is hitting .333 with a .911 OBP and two teammates are doing better than he is. Rising star catcher Alejadro Kirk is at 1.147 and last year’s first rounder Jordan Groshans sits at 1.029, and what’s more two out of the three have more walks than strikeouts so far. Of course it’s early but if you’re watching the Nuts you make sure not to be off to the restroom when these guys are up. Also worthy of a hat-tip are unheralded relievers Jackson Rees and Connor Law. In 7 IP, and 6 respectively, each has a single walk and double figure K’s.
You can’t talk about the D-Jays without talking about Big Nate. Just yesterday Nate Pearson pitched five one-hit innings and struck out nine. It’s only three outings so far, but if someone doesn’t challenge him before the All-Star break he may well be promoted to AA to find one. Less noticed but also dominating so far are starters RHP Turner Larkins (21st rd pick, 2017) and lefty Nick Allgyer (12th, 2018) and reliever (for now) Graham Spraker. Offensively, the – wait for it – large story is Cullen Large (you known this is going to go on all year if he keeps preforming, right?). He got one at bat in his first game and didn’t reach base. He hasn’t failed to do so in any game since. On each of these teams there are other guys doing “pretty good” but it’s too early to dwell on that, or on the one’s who have started out cold.
The guys at the top of the stat page for the Cats are not entirely expected. Most surprising is SS Vinny Capra. Just 5’8″, Capra was a 20th rounder last year, and he split his debut season between Vancouver and Lansing where he was…okay? He showed doubles power and an ability to take a walk but nothing that suggested “this dude is gonna break camp in AA next year.” It’s only six games but so far so good. Another surprise near the top is catcher Alberto Mineo, taking advantage of his shot to be the #1 guy after the surprise retirement of Max Pentecost. Mineo is an interesting story that you’ll probably here expanded upon more if he keeps hitting. A 24 year old left-handed hitter born in Italy, he was signed as an international free agent by the Cubs in 2010 and survived his first five years in their system, almost all of it in short-season ball, on defense alone because he couldn’t hit at all. In 2017 playing for South Bend (the Cubs equivalent of Lansing) he suddenly picked up the pace. His batting average, walk rate, and slugging all show a significant jump. (his 2016 OPS was .611, pretty standard for his track record, in 2017 it jumped to .732). After the season the Jays (technically the Bisons) claimed him on waivers and last year, as a part-time reserve behind Riley Adams he took another step up. I have to assume his defense is solid given how long he survived without hitting, and now he’s getting his best chance to prove he’s got a future in the game. The other guy at the top of the list flirted with some prospect lists last winter so he’s not a complete shock. Still, a hot start at AA is always interesting given the difficulty many players have in taking that step.
Offensively, Cavan Biggio has been the big producer still, but returning veteran Andy Burns and outfielder Roman Fields are also both off to hot starts. Vlad has player three whole games (actually not whole games as the second one was shortened by rain) so don’t start, okay? A hat-tip is in order for Danny Barnes who, hopefully, has a bead on getting his old groove back in the early going but among the pitchers the guy I’ll give a shout-out for is Dusty Issacs. In his first appearance he pitched three one-hit innings and struck out seven. He has still yet to allow a run. At 27 he’s on the old side to be regarded as a prospect, and he’s behind a lot of other more highly regarded guys, but stranger things have happened.
For the next week, ten days, or so the Bisons will get to enjoy Vlad (and host him for two lousy home games – get your tickets now!) but then that story passes off of our minor league radar again. Thankfully there’s a lot more guys to watch.