Mandatory Credit: Sam Greene/Cincinnati Enquirer via USA TODAY Sports
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Two prospect-laden teams clashed in level high-A in minor league baseball this weekend. Who prevailed?
Our MLB coverage at Call To The Pen is fairly well-balanced, but in an effort to give you better breadth and depth of coverage of minor league baseball, we will begin a number of weekly posts.
The first will examine the big news items along with the top performers in the minor leagues each Monday. Tuesday will bring a review of the weekend highlight series. Wednesday will bring draft news and college baseball news until that is complete. Thursday will preview the weekend series of note in minor league baseball to watch. Friday will feature a new series, “The Video Room”, where CTTP contributor Benjamin Chase will examine one game from the week from a scouting perspective and break down the game.
Scouting Reports will be scattered throughout the week and weekends as well, so keep on the lookout for those as well. As always, if there is anything you would like to see covered more thoroughly here at CTTP, let us know in the comments section below!
Let’s get started with our first highlight series, this past weekend’s series between the Florida Fire Frogs and the Daytona Tortugas in the Florida State League, one of the top talent series in minor league baseball.
I covered both the Florida and Daytona rosters in my preview of minor league opening day.
The Florida Fire Frogs are technically new to minor league baseball. In 2016, this franchise was known as the Brevard County Manatees, but the Atlanta Braves entered into an agreement with the team and re-branded the team. There are other plans at work with the franchise, but that is the set up for now.
The roster for the Fire Frogs is primarily the offensive roster of the Rome Braves team that was selected as the Baseball America minor league team of the year for 2016.
The pitching features a mix of pitchers from that Rome squad, trade acquisitions, and aggressively promoted 2016 draft picks.
The big name that many will see on the Daytona roster is Nick Senzel, but while the #2 overall pick in the 2016 draft is a significant draw, there is plenty else to watch on this roster.
The Cincinnati Reds were aggressive with two Cuban signees, promoting them directly to high-A. Shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez and pitcher Vladimir Gutierrez will be very intriguing pieces to watch as the Reds have shown a very high success rate with Cuban players, specifically with Cuban pitchers.
The other major “name” to watch at the level will be catcher Chris Okey, who was a 2nd round pick for the Reds out of Clemson last season. He was a defensive-focused catcher in college, but there’s enough in his bat for the Reds to be aggressive with him, and there’s a path for him to move quickly to the majors if he can perform.
Lastly, the other guy of note is former first round selection Jonathon Crawford, a pitcher the Detroit Tigers selected out of Florida in the first round in 2013 before trading him to the Reds after the 2014 season. He has been injured for most of the two seasons he’s been in the Reds system, but he’s healthy now and could have a chance to finally show the talent he’s always possessed.
The series was hosted by Florida at Osceola County Stadium. Game 1 starters Jonathon Crawford and Luiz Gohara both had very solid starts, though in all seriousness, everyone coming away from this game was talking about Gohara, in spite of the end result of the game.
Gohara was acquired by the Braves from the Seattle Mariners in the offseason, and his issue was previously the ability to keep his excellent stuff in the zone. Gohara’s line was 5 innings, 4 hits, no runs, no walks, and 7 strikeouts.
Hitters of note from the game include Florida’s Ray-Patrick Didder, who went 0-2, but did walk 3 times and stole two bases, along with Daytona outfielder Reydel Medina, who went 2-4 with a double and 2 RBI. Senzel also went 2-4.
Game 2: Florida 5, Daytona 4
Florida scored 4 runs in the 3rd inning and never looked back, holding on to a one-run victory.
The Fire Frogs got long balls from both Austin Riley and Alex Jackson while Ronald Acuna went 2-4 with a triple. Sloppy defense cost offseason acquisition Tyler Pike the chance at a win as he only got through 4 innings, allowing 3 hits and a walk, giving up 2 runs (one earned), striking out 4.
Reds starter Jose Lopez was victimized by poor defense, throwing 5 1/3 innings, allowing 5 runs, but only one of them being earned, on 8 hits and no walks, striking out 7. Reydel Medina had another big game, going 2-3 with a double, 2 RBI, a walk, and a stolen base, but it was two other Daytona players who were the talk of this game.
In the loss, two Tortugas made big impressions – Chris Okey and Daniel Sweet. Okey went 2-4 with a double and triple and a walk, scoring 3 times. Sweet ran wild, in spite of going 0-4 with a walk and reaching base on error. He stole 3 bases in the game.
Game 3: Florida 4, Daytona 1
Florida got a tremendous pitching performance from Drew Harrington, with Daytona not even scoring a run until the top of the 9th inning.
Senzel had a double and a stolen base offensively and Okey went 1-3 with a walk. Vladimir Gutierrez took the hill for the first time for Daytona, and after giving up 3 runs in the first inning, Gutierrez settled in, allowing two harmless singles from the 2nd through the 5th before hitting his pitch limit with 2 outs in the 5th inning, finishing with a line of 4 2/3 innings, 3 runs, 5 hits, 2 walks, and 6 strikeouts.
Harrington sparkled in his first start for the Fire Frogs after spending most of his 2016 time in the Braves system as a reliever after being drafted out of Louisville. He threw 6 scoreless innigns with 3 hits, one walk, and 3 strikeouts.
Game 4: Daytona 14, Florida 5
After two scoreless innings, the two teams combined to score 7 over the next two innings. Florida’s offense was primarily finished at that point, whereas Daytona scored 7 more runs in just the 8th and 9th innings alone, let alone 3 more runs scored along the way.
Alex Jackson continued his solid hitting for Florida, smacking his second double of the series, going 2-4 on the day and scoring twice. Carlos Castro also went 2-4, finishing the series with a .462 average over the 4 games, the leading hitter in the series.
With 14 runs scored, it’s not surprising that Daytona’s offense had multiple impressive individual performances. Daniel Sweet had 4 hits, including a double, with 3 RBI and a walk. Cleanup hitter Gavin LaValley went 3-6 with a double and home run, driving in 4 runs.
Overall, the Tortugas hit 5 doubles and 2 home runs as a team.
Top prospects for the series
From the Call To The Pen top 125 offseason list, here’s how players in the top 125 performed:
Here are a few videos from the weekend from Baseball America, as they had one of their best writers, Ben Badler, sitting on the series this weekend. Badler has a number of great articles on Baseball America from the weekend as well, so I’d strongly encourage taking a look there!