Other than following the adjustment made by promoted players, the past week was on the whole one relatively lacking in newsworthy highlights. But we’re almost three weeks into May which means the monthly end points can serve as a starting point for looking for trends in performance.
Look no further than Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. He literally peaked (so far of course) on the last day of April and hasn’t had a multi-hit game even once in May. His OPS was a ridiculous 1.178 in 12 April games, it’s been .506 in 15 May games. Has anyone told these guys the calendar end-point is completely arbitrary? And then there’s Anthony Alford. He almost perfectly nailed the calendar split. His BA bottomed out at .131 on April 27. He went 1 for 4 on the next day, his last game in April, and has so far hit .250 for the month of May. His May OPS is .762, up from an embarrassing .499 in April. Reportedly he’s put a good bit of work into fixing flaws that crept into his swing but he’s not up to Top Prospect production levels yet so it’s a work in progress still. But at least that 12 game 1/37 slump is long past. Third baseman Andy Burns, too old to be a “prospect” but still rookie eligible FWIW, deserves a hat-tip as well. He started well, found himself on the IL for 11 days, and four more to get his swing back when he returned. He has an .806 OPS since and has been, other than Cavan Biggio, the most reliable offensive contributor.
The Bisons pitching staff frankly confuses me. Officially a AAA roster is supposed to be 25 active players, just like MLB. They have 12 active hitters so they should have 13 active pitchers. But they have been very creative. Right now there’s 14 active pitchers listed (Francisco Rios having just been identified as moving to a new level, presumably back to AA) so another move will be due to rectify that before they play again Tuesday, but the also signed Bobby Boshers and assigned him to Buffal and if Javy Guerra clears the waiver wire he’ll be here too. While a lot of these guys are playing poorly there’s not three obvious candidates to go back to AA Maybe someone will end up on the IL, which is overflowing already, or maybe they are willing to send Zach Jackson back. From the outside that promotion looked aggressive anyway. Why am I spending a whole paragraph on this? Well, mainly because there’s not much good pitching here to talk about.
The Fisher Cats seem to be passing around the one or two hot bats. Early on 2B Vinny Caprea came out of the gate hot, then catcher Alberto Mineo was about the only guy having regular success, then he cooled and Santiago Espinal got hot, then he passed it on to Forrest Wall. Right now that guy is Brock Lundquist. By April 19 he was hitting .295 in 45 AB- not his BA, his OPS! Since then he’s hit .348 with an OPS of 1.022. in 69 AB. He’s carrying most of the offensive load right now. Mineo slumped for a time but recovered his footing in the last couple of days of April and is having a fine May. On the other hand, Wall has gone cold, hitting .200 in May and Espinal is in a 2 for 23 slump. Top prospect Kevin Smith might be righting his ship, he’s 7 for his last 20 in his last five games but… that’s an insanely tiny sample yet.
On the other hand the pitching staff is overflowing with things to get excited about. Nate Pearson was scored upon yesterday for the first time in AA but not to worry. Fellow Top Prospect must have figured out something. He had walked 16 batters in his first 15 IP over his first five outings this season In the last three starts he’s cut that number to 5 in 17 IP. If he’s figured out the control issues that would be pretty big news. Speaking of turnarounds, everyone is suddenly noticing Patrick Murphy. In his first four starts he was all over the place in terms of results, but in the last four his ERA is 1.61 with 32 strikeouts against only four walks. In the shadow of the top prospects, Zach Logue just keeps turning in regular god work. The lefty still isn’t regarded as being on the same tier but succeeding at AA in your second full season as a pro is nothing to sneeze at. Then there’s Yennsy Diaz (who’s younger than any of these except Pearson) which completes a full five man rotation of legitimate prospects.
Alejandro Kirk, apparently, cannot be stopped. Through his first nine games in Florida he’s running an OPS of 1.037 and still has more walks than strikeouts. He stepped in for promoted Riley Adams and bettered the latter’s production, at least so far. Third baseman Cullen Large has cooled some but is still by far the second most productive hitter on this team and given the fact that the 3B in AA is in over his head, I have to think Large won’t spend the whole year with Dunedin, though he might stay until they secure (or lose) their place as first half champs. In less positive news, after Ryan Noda peaked in late April he went into a slump which saw him go 5 for 37 over the next 11 games (three of those hits in one game). He’s 5 for his last 19 though so maybe he’s out of it. First baseman Christian Williams has been moved up to AA and in return Kacy Clemen’s is back to see if he can find the stroke he seemingly left in lansing early last year. CF Cal Stevenson continues his bounce back from a slow start, hitting .304 in May.
As in AA, there’s a multitude of names to brag on in the rotation. Maximo Castillo, just 20 years old, who’s physical proportions (6’2″, 256) suggest comparisons to Bartolo Colon are in his future, keeps rolling (two runs over his last 11 IP). Lefty Nick Allgeyer bounced back from last week’s stumble by striking out eight over six innings of one-run ball. He has a 2.05 ERA this season. That figure, impressive as it is, is bettered by previously unheralded Graham Spraker just keeps producing better results. His ERA is down to 1.69 now. Throw in newly promoted Joey Murray, who took the spot opened up by Pearson’s promotion to AA, who hit the ground running (one earned run in 9.1 IP over his first two starts – with 11 strikeouts) and this is the strength of the team.
I already pointed out the good work of Jake Brodt, DJ Neal, and Nick Podkul so rather than giving you details of the last week, let me mention someone new to the team. Outfielder Hunter Steinmetz had been jumped from extended spring up to Dunedin to fill out the bench when Chavez Young was injured. When the latter came back, rather that crossing town back to Extended, he was moved to Lansing. In a tiny four game sample, he’s started out hitting .364. New catcher, top prospect Gabby Moeno, has only gotten into three games so far but he homered in his first AB with the Lugnuts. Another player newly arrived from a fill-in role in Dunedin is 20 year old shortstop Luis De Los Santos who’s 5 for 10 in his first three games here. All of these are sample-size phantoms but you can expect Moreno to be legit over the long term.
I’ve mentioned him before but 20 year old Josh Winckowski really has been the breakout star on the pitching staff. While he was the Northwest League pitcher of the year last year, he didn’t show up on any top prospect lists over the winter but he’s making that look like an oversight. He’s generated a ton of grondballs but still struck out 38 in 44 IP. If he hadn’t spent 10 days on the DL he might well have been in Dunedin by now. The rest of the rotation has been up and down, but the team continues to get good service out of a core group of relievers despite some changing of the names on the lockers. Statistically, Jackson Rees. continues to be the straw that stirs that drink.