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A long opening week leaves the Rockies with a good idea of what they have in the Modesto Nuts

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Here's everything you need to know and then some about the Modesto Nuts' first week of action in the California League this summer.

The Modesto Nuts wrap up a three-game series in Bakersfield at Sam Lynn Ballpark
The Modesto Nuts wrap up a three-game series in Bakersfield at Sam Lynn Ballpark
Bobby DeMuro

From their opening game last Thursday through a loss late Saturday night, the Modesto Nuts (3-6) will be credited with nine completed games and a rainout that'll be made up in June. But those early affairs have thus far included one 11-inning matchup, another that lasted 13 frames, and a ridiculous 17-inning marathon, so forgive the Colorado Rockies' High-A affiliate if it feels like they've been playing just a little bit more than the regular schedule.

Nevertheless, here they are, playing straight through without their first scheduled day off until next Monday, April 25—and here we are, breaking it all down as best we can in this, the first of the Nuts' weekly reviews that will appear on Purple Row.

With that, I'll be covering nearly 50 Modesto games this summer, and we're fortunate to have a very good relationship with the Nuts. Although every weekly review won't be nearly this in-depth—it'll depend on the number of games I'm able to cover in a given week—you can expect consistent player interviews, scouting videos, and other related content on the Nuts coming your way all summer. I have a lot of (hopefully) compelling stuff in the works.

If you'd like to see something in particular, or you feel there's an angle you'd like me to investigate, comment on this post, reach out to me on Twitter, or send me an email. I want your feedback! (Just not the mean stuff, thanks.)

★ ★ ★

Leading off: News and notes, April 7-16
Date H/A Opponent Result Date H/A Opponent Time (MT)
Apr 7 @ Stockton L, 2-13 Apr 17 vs Stockton 2:05 pm
Apr 8 @ Stockton W, 8-3 Apr 18 vs Bakersfield 8:05 pm
Apr 9 @ Stockton Ppd. Apr 19 vs Bakersfield 8:05 pm
Apr 10 @ Stockton L, 2-4 Apr 20 vs Bakersfield 8:05 pm
Apr 11 @ Bakersfield L, 7-8 (11) Apr 21 @ San Jose 8:00 pm
Apr 12 @ Bakersfield W, 13-3 Apr 22 @ San Jose 8:00 pm
Apr 13 @ Bakersfield L, 3-4 (13) Apr 23 @ San Jose 6:00 pm
Apr 14 vs Stockton W, 5-2 Apr 24 @ San Jose 2:00 pm
Apr 15 vs Stockton L, 10-12 (17) Apr 25
OFF
Apr 16 vs Stockton L, 6-8 Apr  26 @ Visalia 7:00 pm

Starting things off, the Nuts made their first roster move of the year on Saturday night: relief pitcher Josh Michalec has been reassigned to extended spring training after two bad outings to begin the year in Modesto. In his place, Logan Sawyer was added to the Nuts' roster just before first pitch yesterday, according to the team's broadcaster, Keaton Gillogly.

Forrest Wall is doing what we know Forrest Wall can do, slashing .381/.447/.571 over his first nine games, with three doubles, a triple, a homer, and twelve RBIs. That includes a five (!) hit performance during the Nuts' 17-inning Friday night affair. Watch video of Forrest Wall from spring training here.

Collin Ferguson, Shane Hoelscher, and Max White are accounting for the Nuts' early power, each knocking two home runs in the first week of the season. Ferguson has added three doubles; Roberto Ramos has four more doubles, but the big lefty has yet to homer. Watch video of Hoelscher from spring training here.

Luis Jean has gotten off to a slow start at the plate (just 3-for-17), but he did throw a couple of innings in the Nuts' Friday night 17-inning contest — and according to reports, he was touching 92 mph on the mound. Amazing.

On the mound, lefty Sam Howard is doing what we've come to expect of him in his young career; he's 1-0 with a 2.79 ERA in two starts, striking out 12 and allowing just ten baserunners in his first 9.2 innings pitched. Read one of our earlier interviews with Howard here.

Lefty reliever Jerry Vasto is also doing what we've come to expect of him already this summer. Coming out of the bullpen, the hard-throwing southpaw has allowed just one unearned run on five hits and no walks to go along with five strikeouts over his first four appearances of the summer. Watch video of Vasto from spring training here.

★ ★ ★

Spotlight On: Nuts 1B Roberto Ramos

Roberto Ramos didn't raise many eyebrows in his first tour of professional baseball in 2014, so when he started the 2015 season at rookie-level Grand Junction again, that seemed the sensible move for the big left-handed power hitter. But after just nine games in the Pioneer League—where Ramos doubled three times and hit three more home runs—the Mexican-born California resident was quickly promoted to Low-A Asheville. There, he was critical in the Tourists' playoff run, slugging 14 doubles and ten more home runs in just 46 games, and finishing with a .341/.413/.610 slash line and a 1.022 OPS over 164 at-bats.

"When he came to Asheville last year, he surprised a lot of people," says Ryan Castellani, shaking his head in amazement when I ask the pitcher about Ramos. "When he showed up, he was one of the main reasons we got to the playoffs. He played like half a season and had a lot of bombs, including some crucial ones down the stretch, and now coming to a hitter’s league, I’m excited to see what he can do in some of these small parks and push us towards the playoff race here."

The home runs last summer were nice—and it was finally a coming-out party for the 6'5", 220 lb. first baseman—but Ramos was all business last summer and it seems like he's remaining all business in the California League.

"I was just trying to get the job done and be on base," Ramos says when I ask him what changed for him last year. "We were in the run for playoffs, and obviously all we were thinking about was winning, and trying to help the team win. I wasn't trying to hit a home run every time, I was just trying to drive in runs every time and help the team make it to the playoffs."

But what changed for Ramos, really? We can talk maturity, confidence, or even the improved approach — I mention these buzzwords to the big lefty and ask him to go a little bit deeper. Surely, something specific changed Ramos' career trajectory in Asheville, right?

"I was just trying to stay within myself, because I finally figured out that I don’t need to do too much," Ramos admits. "The more you play, the more at-bats you get, the more comfortable you feel at the plate, and of course when things are going good you feel real comfortable at the plate. I was feeling comfortable last year."

It's funny, too; Nuts outfielder Max White's immediate assessment of Ramos' ability coming into 2016 nearly mirrored how the first baseman analyzed his own year in Asheville.

"Just as long as he tries to stay within himself, man, that kid's huge and he’s got stupid pop," White says, shaking his head just like Castellani did. "As long as he stays within himself and doesn’t try to overdo that pop, I think he’ll do just what he did last year."

The transition from last year to this year is a tenuous one for anybody; a few months off of regular season game activities all but kills any rhythm a player develops, especially in Ramos' case considering how white-hot he was to finish 2015. Add to that a higher level—in a league ideal for power hitters, but dangerous if sluggers change their approach to only hit home runs—and Ramos has some challenges ahead. Curious about this, I asked him straight-up how he was going to remain honest to his approach when parks like Bakersfield's have a 354-foot wall in dead center field.

"That’s exactly what went on last year, you’ve got a short porch in right in Asheville, and you just can’t let that get in your head, you know?" Ramos counters. "Everybody says this is a hitter’s league, and everybody tries to get out of their shoes swinging, so you basically have to stick to your approach."

"The same thing goes for Modesto," he adds. "A lot of people talk about how the ball doesn’t fly in Modesto, so you’ve just got to stick with your approach. Besides, if you hit a good ball it’s going to go out just about anywhere."

Regarding Ramos' last sentence, Castellani agrees.

"He just has this pop," Castellani says, obviously proud of his teammate. "He’s just a big, intimidating body that comes into the batter’s box, and they are just instantly aware of it. He creates that, he backs everybody else up, he helps everybody else out in the lineup because they want to pitch around him, and that creates guys on base and more RBIs for other guys."

"You should pick up his bat one day, it’s like a tree trunk," the pitcher adds, laughing. "He swings such a big bat. We were driving to Stockton last week and there was one of those big flatbed trucks carrying the long redwoods, and Lee Stevens, our hitting coach, is like, ‘hey Ramos, your bat order is coming in!’"

★ ★ ★

Catching up with: RHP Ryan Castellani

Castellani is far and away my favorite interview subject—in an organization full of approachable and polite young men, no less—in large part because of how openly and eagerly he talks about his teammates, as we've seen with Ramos (above). If you want to know about a player from a third party, go right to Castellani; it's nearly infectious how proud he is of his teammates, and he's a thoughtful, well-spoken young man who understands the game in a way that belies his age.

Of course, another thing sets him apart, too: he's a damn good pitcher. On Monday night, our No. 19 PuRP tossed five innings in the first start of his season, allowing two runs on five hits (including four infield singles) and two walks while striking out nine batters. Of the 24 batters he faced, he threw 16 first pitch strikes, and came away with 54 total strikes in his 85-pitch outing. His fastball sat 91-93 mph all night, with offspeed offerings in the low-80s.

Nerves were a factor for Castellani, to say the least; the righty told me he was "amped up" in a first inning where he allowed three hits and a run before settling down to strike out the side in the second. Later in the game, at two different points, he retired five straight Bakersfield hitters. For Castellani, that came down to a new kind of preparation he hadn't had before in his professional career.

"It’s funny, this was the first time ever that I got to pro ball and I got a scouting report," he admits of his Monday night start. "It was huge, it helped so much. And it was just executing the plan put together by all of us, it was great."

In vintage Castellani form, though, he doesn't credit himself for his strong start as much as he credits catcher Dom Nunez.

"I loved it, it felt great," he says when I ask about the comfort level working with the well-regarded catcher. "I just saw Nunez’s glove and wherever he set up, I felt like he was there, I was there, and I was going to throw it there."

We've seen Castellani on video before, of course, but below is a short clip of him from Monday night's start to give you a better idea of his mechanics from a perspective more in line with the hitter.

As you might expect with it, because of his mechanics and arm angle, when Castellani runs into trouble or command problems (which, granted, haven't happened a whole lot), it's from getting too rotational and throwing across his body, rather than coming straight down through his delivery and right to the plate.

"I was happy [on Monday] because towards the end of spring training, I was actually pulling off a little bit on the fastball away, and I was cutting it," he admits when I ask him about it. "But here, I just focused on staying through it, and [Nunez] just stuck every ball there. It was sweet."

"It’s a little bit of doing too much trying to force the ball there, as opposed to the last time we talked, where we talked about picking home plate up, move it, and throw a fastball right there," he continues. "That was just a mental adjustment. Obviously you can’t pick up home plate, but it’s that visualization of 'I’m just throwing straight. I’m throwing right to him, in as straight a line as possible, and I know where it’ll end up, because I can trust that.'"

Castellani will get another shot to trust his stuff this afternoon in his second start for Modesto. We'll also have more from him later this week in a separate feature.

★ ★ ★

Nuts in action: This week's scouting videos

JESUS TINOCO, RHP

Jesus Tinoco started the Nuts' third and final game in Bakersfield, the Kids' Day affair on Wednesday, April 13. The game—which the Nuts ended up losing in 13 innings—was more or less without incident early on, and Tinoco threw the ball pretty well. In 5.1 innings, he allowed three runs on ten hits, but only walked one. He struck out just two hitters, though a big part of that was his tendency to fall behind in counts; he threw first pitch balls to 12 of 23 hitters he faced, including the first five batters of the game.

In the early going on Wednesday (above), Tinoco (who threw 88 pitches, 57 for strikes) was working at 89-92 mph, but after the second inning his velocity dropped to the 86-89 mph range. Nevertheless, he appeared to have hard run on his fastball, offspeed pitches that he trusted in tough counts (including a slider that sat from 81-84 mph), and enough sink on his offerings to leave Bakersfield pounding the ball into the ground pretty consistently. Either way, it's a sharp improvement from his first start back on April 7, when he allowed eight runs on seven hits (including two home runs) in less than two innings of work.

YENCY ALMONTE, RHP

By far, Yency Almonte—who started the Nuts' April 12 game in Bakersfield—was the most impressive pitcher I saw this week that I wasn't expecting. Castellani is always impressive, of course, but he's a known entity around these parts; Almonte, who the Rockies acquired in the Tommy Kahnle trade this winter, was relatively unknown coming into this week. That has changed for me now, and it should also change for you.

In that Bakersfield game (above), Almonte was working his fastball 95-97 mph throughout, with great life and generally good command. Combine that with a breaking ball in the mid- to upper-80s, and Almonte clearly has power offerings that should make you drool when he's right.

At points, he ran into the bouts of wildness that every 21-year-old in High-A experiences, be it from slight mechanical miscues or overthrowing his hard stuff, but generally, Almonte was impressive on Tuesday night. In that start, he allowed three hits and four walks—and no runs—in 5.1 innings, fanning nine hitters in the process, and throwing 43 of his 73 pitches (58%) for strikes.

MAX WHITE, OF

We'll have much more on Max White in an in-depth feature I've been working on that should run very soon (hopefully tomorrow morning!), but I thought it'd be worth it to get his video report up now just so you can get a look at him on the field. Of course, we've seen some of Max White on video before, but here he is (above) in game action.

Without saying too much more about him (don't want to spoil the feature!), he's succeed in the early going in Modesto, going 9-for-28 (.321) with a triple, two home runs, eight RBIs, six walks, and four stolen bases to his name. The 2012 second round draft pick, who toiled for three seasons in Low-A Asheville before his promotion to Modesto this year, has figured something out in professional baseball. Gee, maybe that's the angle of his upcoming interview...

HELMIS RODRIGUEZ, LHP

A member of starting rotations at every professional level up through Low-A Asheville in 2015, Helmis Rodriguez has been relegated to the Nuts' bullpen with the addition of Tinoco and Almonte from outside the organization in the last year. The Venezuelan left-hander is still pitching like a starter, though; not only have his two outings in 2016 each nearly lasted five innings, his deliberate pace and multiple pitch offerings make him an ideal swingman who figures to most likely get some starts later this summer as depth is inevitably tested.

In the video (above), Rodriguez tossed 4.2 scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and no walks while striking out two batters in Wednesday morning's 13-inning affair in Bakersfield. As a weird quirk, in one of his innings—coincidentally captured on the video—Rodriguez allows three bunt base hits and then proceeds to pick off two runners. Cal League, baby!

Rodriguez was throwing in the upper 80s this week in Bakersfield, and figures to be one of those lefties that can pitch for quite a while, in part thanks to his handedness. He's got a funky delivery, as you can see in the video, so perhaps there is an opportunity long-term for him to be a lefty situational reliever coming out of a bullpen, too.

WES ROGERS, OF

We just did a big piece on Wes Rogers that you should read; we have also captured him on video before, too. In other words, you have no excuse not to have seen Wes Rogers content on this website already... Rogers (video from Bakersfield, above) continues to impress with the Nuts; he's hitting an even .400 after Saturday night's loss, and probably most encouraging to the Rockies, he's drawn eight walks in eight games for Modesto.

NOTE: As you watch these videos, please click here and subscribe to the Purple Row YouTube channel. We'll have continued video reports throughout the summer from Modesto and other minor league outposts, and subscribing will allow you to stay on top of all of it!.

★ ★ ★

Closing notes: Links, looking ahead
Modesto Nuts 2016 Links
Official website Keaton Gillogly (team broadcaster)
Season stats Modesto Bee sports
Season schedule @ModestoNuts
Team roster Game tickets

Jon Gray made two rehab starts for the Nuts this past week; I wouldn't expect him to make any more in Modesto, at least for this injury, as he should be back in Denver very soon. Beyond that, it'll be business as usual for the Nuts this coming week. I'll only be at one game this week—Wednesday night, when they host Bakersfield—as opposed to an entire series, so expect a slightly smaller week in review seven days from now, as well as a couple other Nuts- and minor league-related pieces coming very soon to Purple Row.