The Asheville Tourists begin their minor league season today and the lineup features a slew of familiar faces. Including most of the 2017 starting rotation, eight players in total will be returning to Asheville for a repeat performance and a second chance to advance in the Rockies organization past the Low-A South Atlantic League.
Riley Pint is the most recognizable name to repeat in Asheville. The Rockies first-round selection in the 2016 draft, the 20-year-old posted disappointing numbers in his first stint as a Tourist including a 5.42 ERA and a 1.34 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Pint’s skills include a live fastball which has touched a confirmed 99 mph in a game and is rumored to hit well above triple digits. Mechanical issues have led to poor command and an inconsistent off-speed repertoire. According to former Asheville manager Warren Schaeffer, Pint wasn’t even scheduled to pitch at Asheville last year, but a strong spring motivated the front office to move up the timeline and give him a shot.
A do-over isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as there’s still time to improve, but he needs to show progress this season to maintain his elevated prospect status. Earlier this week, Pint acknowledged that he needed to return to Asheville and show improvement.
“I felt like I had to come back here and continue to develop,” Pint told WLOS Keith Jarrett on Monday. “I’m eager to get back and prove myself a little more than I did last year.
In addition to Pint, three other members of the 2017 starting rotation will be returning to Asheville, Erick Julio (Age 21, 4.98 ERA) Antonio Santos (21, 5.39) and Breiling Eusabio (21, 4.46). All three graduated from the Rockies Dominican League academy after playing multiple seasons there.
Santos in particular is one to watch, he’s a hoss at 6-foot-3, 200 lbs and can light up the radar gun at 95 plus. The righthander showed excellent control last season posting a 4.08 strikeout-to-walk rate, but needs to work on missing bats as hitters consistently were able to drive the ball against him. Santos will be the opening day pitcher for the Tourists tonight in Delmarva at 7:05 PM EST. Riley Pint makes his debut on Sunday in the same series.
The Tourists lineup will be infused with some fresh blood as 2017 second round pick Ryan Vilade will be making his Low-A debut. The 18-year-old shortstop had a strong season in Rookie-level Grand Junction posting a 132 wRC+ with a .934 OPS and only 31 strikeouts.
Vilade has a strong frame and a hitting prowess that is advanced for his age. John Sickels of Minor League Ball had the following to say about the young infielder.
“Very impressive pro debut against slightly older players; hitting instincts quite polished for his age and shows very good eye for the strike zone, combine that with plus bat speed and you have a player; not a butcher at shortstop but range would fit better at second base; his arm is strong enough for third, which is also an option if he hits as expected.”
The big bopper in the lineup will be Chad Spanberger. The first baseman slugged 19 home runs and posted an eye popping .323 Isolated Slugging in Grand Junction last season. At 6-foot-3, 235 lbs Spanberger can launch the ball out of any ballpark, but Asheville’s short porch in right field makes an enticing offering for the lefthanded hitter.
“My first thought was, ‘that’s huge.’ But then you see the 297-foot sign and you think you want to pull everything,’ said Spanberger on the 36-foot-high right field wall at McCormick Field.
Another interesting prospect to keep an eye on is second baseman Shael Mendoza. The Dominican native hit .364 in Grand Junction last season and had a pair of 5-hit games. The 21-year-old has shown a quick bat speed and is rangy with good size for his position. For a complete a complete breakdown and video on Mendoza, check out former Purple Row writer Bobby Demuro’s scouting report at Baseball Census.
Having so many players fail to advance in the minors is a little disappointing, but it can lead to some quick promotions throughout the year. This year’s team feature pitchers with high upside and if they can harness their abilities will continue to move up towards the majors. The team is stacked with fresh hitters however, and it will be a fun season to watch them swing the bat.