We’re about a month into the minor league season, so it’s a good time to look at how each of the teams in the farm systems are doing. All of them are near the top of the standings early on, which is good. But early results have been mixed in performances, with each team having 2-3 clear top performers on both the pitching and hitting sides. So here’s what we’re seeing at each level.
AAA: Sacramento River Cats – 15-15, 3rd in PCL West, 2.0 GB
The River Cats went 2-4 against Las Vegas this past week, which let the Aviators move into 1st place in the West division. The River Cats have had a lineup and pitching staff that has been plundered by San Francisco a lot over the first month, with injuries and COVID issues. But they’ve still generally had a potent offense in an offensive league. David Villar co-leads the team in games played (26), leads the team in home runs with 8, while hitting .290/.405/.602. Bryce Johnson has also been a steadying influence through 24 games.
The pitching side has been rougher, but has been led by Raynel Espinal and his 1.74 ERA through five games. The other leading starter recently got called up to the bigs, but Sean Hjelle with his 4.37 ERA has been the other rock of the pitching staff. Meanwhile, Joey Marciano has been a standout in the bullpen with a 1.46 ERA, though walks have been a trouble. Also, Patrick Ruotolo was promoted after a week, and has been awesome with a 0.96 ERA.
AA: Richmond Flying Squirrels – 16-11, 1st in EL Southwest, 1.0 GU
The Flying Squirrels are off to one of the best starts in their history, taking the early lead in their division in the Eastern League, with a talented team. Only one player has a .300 batting average, which belongs to the returning Frankie Tostado. He’s hitting .312/.333/.473 with a team-leading six doubles and also three home runs. But the clear team leader on offense has been Sean Roby, who leads the team with eight home runs, and a .268/.351/.573 batting line.
So far, the pitching leader has been Jake Dahlberg, who has been leading the rotation with a 2.97 ERA and 31 strikeouts to 7 walks in 30.1 innings through six games. But the bullpen has been the source of some strong pitching, with Taylor Rashi still unscored upon through nine games, and Solomon Bates with a 1.15 ERA through seven appearances. The most saves have gone to Chris Wright with three and a 1.64 ERA, though he has nine strikeouts to eight walks in 11.0 innings.
High-A: Eugene Emeralds – 13-11, 2nd in NWL, 1.5 GB
Like last season, the Eugene Emeralds have an extremely talented roster, but again, there’s only a few guys at the top of the statsheet, and the names aren’t who would be expected. Marco Luciano is not a surprise, leading the team with a .300 batting average, adding five doubles and four home runs. Casey Schmitt leads the team in home runs with 5, and he’s having a breakout season with a .294/.347/.574 batting line. Also doing very well is Ghordy Santos, who is batting .286/.367/.500 with four doubles, a triple, and three home runs.
On the pitching side, the team leader has been Kyle Harrison, who ranks among the leaders in strikeouts in all the minors with 42 strikeouts in just 19.0 innings, with eight walks. Harrison’s ERA is up to 2.37 after one really bad game. And with that, another starter, Prelander Berroa leads the rotation in starters with a 0.68 ERA through four games, though in just 13.1 innings over those starts. The team has had several strong bullpen pitchers, with Nick Morreale still with a 0.00 ERA after having allowed just one run, and Brooks Crawford’s 1.54 ERA early on.
Low-A: San Jose Giants – 16-11, T-1st in CAL North
San Jose spent much of April struggling offensively, but two players have really picked up the slack, especially with the start of May. Vaun Brown leads the team in most offensive categories, particularly in batting average at .317/.384/.535 with a team-leading six home runs and four doubles, and also a team-leading nine steals. Not far behind has been Grant McCray, who has a batting line of .289/.382/.539 with five doubles, a triple, and four home runs.
San Jose’s pitch staff has been much lauded, and there’s been a lot of great pitchers so that it’s hard to pick a top guy. Nick Sinacola has taken the early lead in key areas, with a 1.83 ERA working both as a starter and piggyback starter. He also leads the team with 32 strikeouts to seven walks in 19.2 innings. First round pick Will Bednar has a team-leading six starts and a strong 2.28 ERA, with 27 strikeouts to 10 walks in 23.2 innings. Right behind him is Mason Black with a 2.89 ERA, and 28 strikeouts to five walks in 18.2 innings.
New Triple-A Championship Format
Maybe this is really looking far ahead, but minor league baseball made a big announcement about the playoffs.
Triple-A now gets a neutral site with one-game playoffs for each league, followed by a one-game Triple-A Championship, all occurring in Las Vegas, or at least its suburb Summerlin, home of the Las Vegas Aviators. Las Vegas had been previously named the host for the cancelled 2020 season’s Triple-A Championship.
The Triple-A Championship has long been a one-game championship, but previously past League championships had been determined by more traditional championship series. The Triple-A Championship game had been a neutral site, originally held for four years in Oklahoma City, and then a rotating home afterwards.
Still, the reigning Triple-A champion is technically the Sacramento River Cats, who won the last Championship game played in 2019, played in Memphis. Of course, there was no season in 2020, and the 2021 season only had individual league champions determined by regular season record.
This week, the much delayed High-A West Championship Rings for the 2021 Eugene Emeralds finally arrived, and were handed out.
Some of the champions were now in Richmond, and they got theirs as well, appropriately wearing some green themselves as the usually-red Flying Squirrels became their alter identity, Las Ardilla Voladoras.
One more set of rings are due to be handed out, this upcoming week, by the Low-A West champion San Jose Giants!
There’s one notable injury from this week, and another big injury move:
Will Wilson has a batting line of .246/.373/.507 in Double-A this season, and is second on the team with five home runs, and has 14 walks to 22 strikeouts in 69 at-bats. There wasn’t any word on any details of his injury.
Ian Villers had a 3.00 ERA across three games with San Jose before he was put on the 7-day injured list back on April 19th. This move means we won’t see him until late June at the earlies, but details of his injury have not been released.
Highlights of the Week
There honestly weren’t a lot of shared highlights from the farm system this week, but there were some great plays, not the least of which was a walkoff hit by Shane Matheny for the division-leading Flying Squirrels!
Catcher Rob Emery only played only 28 games in his first pro season across both Single-A levels, but he’s already in Double-A Richmond. And this week, he hit his first home run of the season.
And of course, we love defense here on the Prospect Round-Up, so here’s Tyler Fitzgerald with amazing reflexes after a ball hits the second base bag.
If you’re wondering what playing baseball on the artificial turf in Eugene can be like, this slide by Casey Schmitt is a great example. It’s already raining. But the only dirt on the field is the mound, so the basepaths are just more of the rubber.
The Reading/Listening List
In a podcast from early last week, Farhan Zaidi spoke about why Heliot Ramos has been kept in Triple-A, after an early season callup and debut.
This is a great story about Giants newcomer Kevin Padlo, and his incredible journey one weekend that included a 3-homer game, his MLB debut, and a lot…a LOT…of driving.
A great piece for everyone to hear, from San Francisco’s Alyssa Nakken: Diversity is good in every industry.
Hitter of the Week: Vaun Brown – 11-for-23 (.478), 4 HR, 5 RBI, 1 BB, 5 SO, 3-3 SB
Vaun Brown had been leading a relatively weak San Jose offense for a while, but May has really kicked things off for the 10th round pick. Brown currently has a 4-game home run streak going, and leads San Jose with six home runs, which has him tied for second in the California League. Brown’s nine steals also leads the team, and is in a 3-way tie for sixth in the California League (though far behind the league leader Max Ferguson of Lake Elsinore, who has 26). But this week was enough not just for us, but the California League to honor Brown.
Pitcher of the Week: Kyle Harrison – 4.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 10 SO
Kyle Harrison might win a couple of these by the time the season is done. This was his second straight week with double-digit strikeouts in 4.0 innings, and Harrison is looking fully back from the game two weeks ago he struggled through while under the weather. Harrison now has 42 strikeouts to eight walks, which is the 2nd-most strikeouts in the Northwest League. And the pitcher he’s six strikeouts behind has through 10.2 more innings to reach that total.
Top Prospect Watch
Marco Luciano – .300/.374/.513 – 24-80, 5 2B, 0 3B, 4 HR, 8 BB, 20 SO
It was a bit of a quiet week for Luis Matos, who went just 3-for-16 (.188) on the week, though with a double, and two walks to four strikeouts. Even with the low production on the week, Luciano remains one of the farm system’s top overall producers through the season’s first few weeks.
Luis Matos – .152/.253/.152 – 10-66, 0 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 8 BB, 13 SO, 1-1 SB
Matos has been out of the lineup for most of this week, for unspecified reasons, though he has not been put on the injured list. In his one game, he went 0-for 4. It’s been a very difficult year for Matos, who has neither been making contact, nor hitting for any power. So far, the only saving grace has been that he has not been among the farm system’s leaders in strikeouts and is still drawing walks, but this has not looked like the Matos from last season.
Kyle Harrison – 2.37 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, .186 Avg – 19.0 IP, 13 H, 8 R, 5 ER, 8 BB, 42 SO
Harrison had one of his best starts of the year, going for 4.0 shutout innings with two hits and three walks against 10 strikeouts, and is among strikeout leaders in all of the minor leagues despite being limited to just 19 innings across five starts. Harrison doesn’t have the best ERA, due to a rough start while he was under the weather, but has been the most dominating pitcher in the system in terms of strikeouts.
Heliot Ramos – .212/.350/.294 – 18-for-85, 1 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 16 BB, 22 SO
Over the week, Ramos was 3-for-14 (.214) with three walks and four strikeouts. Ramos has been struggling since his callup to the Majors early in the season, and hasn’t been able to get any consistency at the plate. The good news is that Ramos also struggled to start the season in Double-A last season, and was able to turn it around, so hopefully the same will come soon this year.
Will Bednar – 2.28 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, .118 Avg – 23.2 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 10 BB, 27 SO
Bednar got two starts in this season, going 7.0 innings with three runs allowed on four hits, five walks, and two hit batters. That comes after Bednar’s no-hit five innings the week before. Down in Low-A, Bednar has remained among the team’s most effective starters, but free passes remain a question, as he has ten walks and nine hit batters in 23.2 innings this season.
How can you wrap up with anything but this fun…Jon Miller as Vin Scully, calling Darth Vader at the plate facing Sandy Koufax.
Have a good week everyone!