Thursday Pebble Report:

Colorado Springs: W 12-5

Perhaps I'd be more excited for the play of the Sky Sox if they had been this good earlier in the year, but right now I'm not exactly sure what to make of it. Over their last ten games they've won nine and outscored the opposition 93-41. Needless to say, they're sort of cruising right now and they've gained five games on division leading Salt Lake in that span. Of course, that still leaves them in fourth place and nine and a half out with 19 left to play, so don't be purchasing your Security Service playoff tickets just yet.

Jason Hirsh pitched two outs into the seventh and allowed just three runs while six Sky Sox had at least two hits.

Tulsa: L 1-5

Derek Holland before the season began sort of got lost in a deep Rangers system, but given many Rangers fans love of their prospects, he's certainly getting some deserved hype now. He did a number on the Drillers last night in his AA debut, but the good news for us is that Keith Weiser kept pace with him before Edward Valdez and Tulsa's well in character shoddy defensive work let Frisco run away at the end. I gave Justin Nelson some hype for his second half hitting in my most recent blog post with the Rocky Mountain News, but his poor work in the outfield remains a fairly substantial hang-up. A missed catch error last night aided the Frisco rally off Valdez.

Weiser finished seven innings with four hits allowed, a walk and an HBP, and just one run with four K's.

Modesto: L 3-4

Even with the loss, the Rockies have to be pleased with Aneury Rodriguez's strong seven innings, wherein he struck out nine and gave up just three runs on four hits, an intentional walk and an HBP. It would be nice if he could get a couple more starts like that before the end of the season.

Despite there not really being that much difference between hitting .298 and hitting .300 (a couple lucky bloops into no-mans land or a line drive or two being miraculously shagged by an infielder can easily make the difference either direction) the symbolic importance of reaching that latter figure in baseball can't be denied. This is probably especially true for a hitter like Michael Paulk, who doesn't have the HR power or even enough doubles power to stand out in any particular way except in his ability to get on base via the batted ball. In fact, if he does the contact game well enough, his other offensive numbers will start to look more acceptable even to somebody like me. So three singles yesterday to get him to that .298 mark and tantalizingly close to .300 have to be nice for Paulk and will probably keep him in the company's good graces, but my own magic number for a contact hitter like him is closer to .325 unless he can turn a few more of those 66 K's into walks instead. The good news is that his Post All-Star numbers are pretty close to that benchmark of what would be an acceptable contact oriented player, the bad news is that the numbers don't believe that he can carry them over to Tulsa and certainly not to the MLB level. I've seen him hit, I'm a little bit more sanguine than they are, but there's still  some considerable forward progress that needs to be made.

Speaking of progress that needs to be made, Brian VanderBeek makes note of Modesto's league leading 1000th strikeout of the season.

Asheville: L 3-4

I get the sense from the Tourists recap that Shane Lindsay had the same trouble locating his pitches in the first inning last night that he did in the beginning of the game I saw him at last weekend, but I'm also seeing some definite positives after the first four batters. In fact, take those four batters away and his line looks like this: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 0 R, 5 K.

Lars Davis had a pair of hits, including a solo homerun. He definitely looked a lot better both offensively and behind the plate from when I had watched him earlier this season last week, but I'm wanting to see some real traction in his game results, so I'm hopeful that this represents a start. Brian Rike had a pair of hits last night, like Davis, I didn't see anything that would make me stop looking for a breakthrough moment from him watching him live. In fact, he had a few near misses while in Lexington that sent outfielders to the wall or making dives to save doubles that encouraged me that his poor overall showing this season could still be turned around next year.

Tri-City: W 5-3

Four consecutive singles to lead off the fifth inning by Chad Lembeck, Charlie Blackmon, Erik Wetzel and Jordan Pacheco got the ball rolling on what would turn out to be a four run inning, but a key two run single by Chris Vasami with two outs (thanks to a GIDP by Scott Robinson) and two on capped the scoring and provided the Dust Devils their margin of victory.

He's still not showing any power, but as with Paulk, Blackmon's looking a lot better this month than he was showing in July just by turning up his contact game to the point where it becomes a legitimate offensive threat. He's gotten aboard at least once in all nine games this month, and gotten aboard multiple times in five of them. I'm feeling a bit better that maybe he'll finally be the one to break the Rockies second round curse, as we've just not had much success -aside from Seth Smith- with that pick in the 2000's after being great with it in the 1990's.

Casper: W 7-6

Four hits by Carlos Martinez, including a pair of doubles, spurred Casper's offense to victory. Martinez still falls into a player of promise category, but as is the case with several players at Casper, he hasn't exactly had the kind of distinctive year that should spur him onto a top prospect list and, in fact, until last night has seemingly gotten worse at the dish as the season has gone along.

This effect of in-season attrition can act as a warning flag, a player that is repeating a level or mature for a league to begin with will frequently have an advantage of experience at the beginning of the season, but the new talent in the league will start catching up quickly and the experienced player's stats will fall back toward a baseline of his true talent level compared to the league as the months progress. How far those stats fall can be instructive. To illustrate, here are the June and August numbers of three Ghosts that were Casper Rockies last season:

Carlos Martinez (19 y.o.):

June OPS: .883

August OPS: .703

Wilin Rosario (19 y.o.):

June OPS: 1.024

August OPS: .864

Orlando Sandoval (22 y.o.):

June OPS: .769

August OPS: 1.103

While Martinez and Rosario are pretty much following the expected trend at two very different tiers of play, Sandoval is reversing it, which shouldn't be too surprising since his age and experience level indicates he should have been hitting like he is right now all along. What he's doing of late does give a glimpse that there might be more to him worth keeping an eye on at Asheville or Tri-City or wherever he winds up next season, but without a complete quality season at this level and his age, he's not below the radar so much as still in the hangar.

The same is not quite true of Martinez. That August OPS includes last night's breakout performance, so it might not give the full effect of the kind of slump he's been in, but experience attrition is just one indicator, and there are others that are showing some positive signs that progression in his development is taking place. Namely, those two doubles are part of an encouraging long trend in his power development that has seen his ISO steadily rise over the course of his two seasons in Casper from a .033 figure in June 2007 to the .154 thus far this month. What's more, both his and Rosario's August BABIP numbers are lower than what would be considered a normal Pioneer League range, so some unluckiness, particularly in the case of Rosario, seems to be skewing their numbers this month down a bit.

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