Bakersfield, Calif. -- The Modesto Nuts enjoyed a rare .500 week as a ball club, raising their season record to 34-59 and 8-15 in the High-A California League's second half. In Bakersfield this week for a three-game set, I was able to catch up with the team and get an idea of where they go from here.
The club continues to be sluggish on offense, though individually some players are turning things around here and there; on the mound, at least, the starting rotation of Parker French, Yency Almonte, Ryan Castellani, Jack Wynkoop, and Helmis Rodriguez have more than held their own. Now, it's time for things to align, says outfielder Max White.
"I think we need a lot of us to get hot at the same time," White told me before the Nuts' final game in Bakersfield on Friday. "We’ll have a lot of us cold, and then one or two guys that are red hot. And if all of us can just get warm at the same time, I think we’ll start winning a lot of games. Get more than one or two guys hot at the same time, we’ll start rolling a little bit."
Nevertheless, the Nuts have been a surprisingly optimistic group despite the record and struggles; the outfielder creditedJosh Fuentes in particular, referring to the corner infielder as the club's "energizer bunny," but White also noted that the entire locker room was still focused despite some tough times all year long.
"It’s been hard, but we’ve got a lot of guys and coaches on the team who are good motivation guys," he said. "The minor leagues are about a lot of development, and we all know that and we are focused on that, but at the same time, losing isn’t acceptable. We want to win."
"It's easier because there are a lot of good guys on the team to be around, and everybody is pushing everybody to develop and win at the same time," he continued. "So now, let’s develop ourselves as winners, and not just as individual players."
|July 10||vs||Lake Elsinore||W, 6-2||July 17||@||Stockton||7:10 pm|
|July 11||vs||Lake Elsinore||L, 0-5||July 18||@||Stockton||8:10 pm|
|July 12||—||OFF DAY||——||July 19||@||Stockton||8:10 pm|
|July 13||@||Bakersfield||W, 5-3||July 20||—||OFF DAY||——|
|July 14||@||Bakersfield||L, 7-11||July 21||vs||Bakersfield||8:05 pm|
|July 15||@||Bakersfield||L, 1-5||July 22||vs||Bakersfield||8:05 pm|
|July 16||@||Stockton||W, 13-2||July 23||vs||Bakersfield||8:05 pm|
★ ★ ★
Have the Rockies already found their next Raimel Tapia?
Raimel Tapia hasn't yet crested Double-A, he's still one of the top prospects in the game, there are countless prospect gurus, baseball evaluators, and fans alike excited to see where his career takes him, and... he may already have a near clone on his heels soon looking to fight for the outfield spotlight.
Sure, Omar Carrizales (No. 27 PuRP) may not be quite as highly regarded as Raimel Tapia, but the Nuts outfielder is a prospect, an All-Star (both last summer in Asheville and now in Modesto), and he's tearing up the California League with a batting average above .300 and a role firmly planted as the Nuts' leadoff spark.
On Friday, when I mentioned to Carrizales that he's somewhat similar to Tapia, he never skipped a beat in his answer.
"Well, my favorite player is Ichiro Suzuki, because his game style is like mine," Carrizales admitted, nodding at the Tapia reference. "Ichiro does the same thing as me, put the ball in play, get the bunts down, see and hit line drives, and I’m trying to focus to be like him, and like Tapia. Those guys just hit the ball, put the ball in play, and that works."
To say that works for Carrizales has been an understatement; everywhere he's been in the Rockies' system, he's produced at the plate the last four years, and save for an unfortunate two-week slump at the very end of last summer, he would otherwise be staring down four straight summers with a batting average above .300. That production—and the statistics that come with it—are undoubtedly a focus for the Venezuelan outfielder, too.
"I've tried to put the ball in play up the middle and the opposite way ever since my first years in the minors," he said. "If I put the ball in play, I know that I can run, get on base, steal bases, and score runs. So my focus has just been going up the middle and the opposite way, hit line drives, put the ball in play. That’s all I do."
Sounds simple, and Carrizales has done well to make contact and put pressure on opposing defenses with his good speed. As good as he is over large samples of a full season, though, he can get streaky in the moment; an incredibly hot week filled with hits can be followed by a two-hit week and slim pickings offensively. But that ebb and flow may just be part of Carrizales' game, and it seem like he's adjusted to it well.
"If I am in a slump, I just have to keep doing the same thing," he said, noting he doesn't try to make whole-scale adjustments just to get himself going again. "The ball is going to get in the hole. Sometimes I can bunt to get on base too, but the key to me for getting out of the slump is just putting the ball in play. I heard it from Reggie Jackson, 'put the ball in play and something is going to happen,' so that’s what I try to do."
There's more to Carrizales than just very good bat skills, exciting contact and hit-for-average attributes, and the speed, too. A converted pitcher, he possesses a cannon of an arm in the outfield, and he knows that's an attribute that could serve him well if and when it comes to show things off at the organization's top level.
"I have worked on my arm really hard, for a long time," he said. "Before, my arm was not very good. But up to this point, I’ve worked on long toss every single day, and that’s where my arm came from. I’m glad to get my arm like that, because that will help me get into the big leagues."
From here, Carrizales has one more goal this summer—well, besides helping the Nuts get some team wins—and that centers on his statistics, interestingly enough.
"Last year I was over .300 the entire year, but that last month, well, you can see what happened those last two weeks," he said chuckling, able to laugh about the slump now. "This year, I want to finish strong. I want to finish over .300. That’s my goal. And also, I want to win games. We need that, and I must keep getting on base and scoring runs for my team to do that. But my personal goal is definitely to finish over .300."
Omar Carrizales is well on the way to doing that.
★ ★ ★
Yency Almonte not ready to rest on past achievements in Modesto
We've spoken to Yency Almonte recently, the conversation developing into this post about his status as a prospect. On Friday night, I got the opportunity to watch him pitch again in a start against Bakersfield. The big righty took a 5-1 loss, and allowed five runs in six-plus innings, giving up nine hits and two walks while striking out six batters. That line is deceiving, though; all five runs came off the bat of Bakersfield Blaze catcher Tyler Marlette, who hit a three-run and, later, a two-run home run—but Marlette, as I've found out myself, has been incredibly hot of late, anyways. Save those two pitches, and Almonte's line may look very different.
Oh, and he was throwing absolute smoke on Friday, too—another lesson to let it be known that the final line tell far from the entire story.
Yency Almonte throwing gas tonight. 94-98, 85-89 slider. @PurpleRow #Rockies— Bobby DeMuro (@BobbyDeMuro) July 16, 2016
Speaking after the game, Almonte was clearly focused on reigning in his hard fastball and improving his command with upper 90s velocity.
"It’s a little harder to command [at 98 mph], because it’s higher in the zone," he admitted immediately following the Nuts' loss. "So those pitches down are definitely a little harder to get to. And when they start taking defensive cuts, that’s when I want to go inside. But I need to work on my breaking pitches for strikes, and make them better putaway pitches. That’s where I got beat tonight."
Marlette got one of Almonte's breaking balls on Friday, a long three-run home run early in the game that came on a slider that caught too much of the plate. Later, the Blaze catcher hit the other home run to right-center field off a 97 mph fastball.
"I made my pitches, and I knew he was cheating [inside], so I tried to go away, but he just beat me there," Almonte admitted of the second home run. "It made me mad because I didn’t want to give up any more runs. It was like, yeah, OK, no more runs now."
For Almonte, Friday night was a lesson learned, a reminder that even flamethrowers with projectable stuff and, arguably, the strongest arm in the entire league won't always have it easy. Then again, that's the point.
"I need to just minimize when I get men on base," he admitted, shrugging. "I feel like tonight, when I got men on base, I let it get to my head, and that’s where all the trouble came."
★ ★ ★
From here, the Nuts get Stockton and Bakersfield the rest of the week before traveling to face Visalia and returning home to see San Jose to finish the month. August, then, will be the stretch run until they finish September 5 in Rancho Cucamonga.
In the meantime, we'll have some features on Josh Fuentes (and his cousins, Nolan and Jonah Arenado) and Max White coming at you later this week.