We are roughly ¼ of the way through the 2022 minor league season. This is a sweet-spot junction because there is clearly a lot of baseball left to be played, but there is enough data available to start drawing strong impressions about which players are seeing significant changes in their stock. Time will tell whether these changes are for real, but for now let’s take a look at one player from each level that has jumped out to a hotter start than expected.
Relatively speaking, Wynton Bernard was good for the Albuquerque Isotopes last season. He posted a .524/.319/.395 line over 100 games, went 23-for-25 in stolen bases and played well defensively in front of the center field hill at Rio Grande Credit Union Field for the Isotopes. So, after a solid campaign in 2021, why would more success this year be considered a surprise?
Because Wynton Bernard has been a completely different hitter.
In his tenth minor league season, Bernard ranks third in Pacific Coast League in AVG (.343), SLG (.657), sixth in OPS (1.044), eighth in XBH (16) and has the sixth-lowest K% (13.2%) while ranking towards the bottom in PA (106) among qualified hitters. His power has jumped significantly, as he is already just one homer shy of his career single-season mark and his SLG% is 250 points higher than his career mark of .406.
Bernard is still waiting for his taste of the majors, and the cluttered outfield situation of the Rockies big league roster is not doing him any favors. But his performance so far this season has been nothing short of superb. So, if a spot opens up at some point in Colorado or elsewhere around the league, Bernard has done everything you could ask for to earn a look.
Hartford Yard Goats
It may sound a little odd to claim surprise on a former fourth overall draft pick finding moderate success in the minors, but the story of Riley Pint’s career to this point has been an ultimate aberration for a top-five draft pick. We all know Pint’s story, and after his retirement in 2021 it felt like the book may have been closed for good.
But Pint returned and has been a strong contributor in his first season in Double-A. He leads the league in games, appearing in 16 so far while being scored upon in just three of them. The control is still in need of progress, as evident by his 13 walks and 4 HBP in 16 ⅔ innings. But his 26.7% strikeout rate and one homer allowed shows the big league stuff is still there.
Coming back from the dead is as surprising as it gets. There have been plenty of strong performances so far in Hartford, but Riley Pint getting back in the conversation as a future major league piece may be the least expected narrative of any Rockies’ prospect.
An 11th round selection out of Florida Atlantic, Mike Ruff had an unspectacular first full-season with Fresno in 2021. He was good, posting a 4.34 ERA over 74 ⅔ innings with 83 strikeouts, but it wasn’t especially noteworthy. His first six starts with High-A Spokane have been, though.
Ruff started the season with 22 consecutive innings pitched without issuing a walk, racking up 26 strikeouts in that span. He has the lowest BB/9 (1.01) and second lowest WHIP (0.87) over the second most IP (35 ⅔) in the Northwest League this season. He has pitched through the sixth inning in all but one of his six starts and only once has allowed more than three runs.
As a relatively unheralded prospect at 24 years-old, it may be too soon to fully jump on the Mike Ruff train. But if the command he’s displayed thus far persists and he is able to make an effective jump to Double-A, the Rockies may have an intriguing pitching prospect on their hands.
Speaking of late-round picks, Braiden Ward has been an absolute monster for the Fresno Grizzlies this season. A 16th-round selection out of the University of Washington, Ward started the season on the Fresno bench but has taken off since receiving regular playing time in the second half of April.
Ward leads all qualified hitters in the California League in AVG (.365), OBP (.474), and OPS (1.037). He is a perfect 19-for-19 in stolen base attempts, sitting in third in most bags swiped while also leading the league in HBP (13) and sitting in the top-ten in runs (27) and SLG (.563).
Ward’s torrid production has overlapped with Benny Montgomery hitting the injured list, which seemingly opened the door for him in the first place. With Montgomery now back in the lineup, how Ward is deployed will be of interest moving forward. At 23 years-old, he is almost two years older than the league average so, like Ruff, caution is advised before going all-in on his prospect status. But when he is promoted to High-A, how he performs against more difficult competition will be telling on how much of a steal Ward was in the late-rounds of the 2021 draft.
★ ★ ★
Due to snow, the start of the series against the Mets has been postponed. Friday’s game has been rescheduled to 1:10 pm MT on Saturday, serving as the the first game of a doubleheader. The start time for the originally scheduled second game has been moved back to 6:40 pm MT.
Brian Serven made his major league debut on Wednesday and, in a cool moment, provided a souvenir to his family to mark the occasion. In the first pitch of his first at-bat, Serven fouled the ball behind home plate. The ball was nabbed by a fan, who offered it to the nearby Serven family as a kind gesture.
Baseball is special— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) May 18, 2022
Brian Serven fouled off the 1st pitch of his 1st major league AB. Where did it end up? In the hands of his family watching him play! pic.twitter.com/Bnadf9AcRC
★ ★ ★
On the Farm
Alan Trejo gave the Isotopes an early lead with a two-run home run in the top of the fourth inning. Unfortunately the lead didn’t last long as Salt Lake put up four runs in the bottom of the second inning against starter Matt Dennis. Trailing 5-2, Albuquerque rallied to plate three runs and tie up the score. The bullpen remained strong, holding the score at five into the ninth inning. They couldn’t get the last out, however, as Jake Bird surrendered a walk-off home run with two outs in the ninth to give the Bees a 7-5 victory.
Ryan Feltner was originally scheduled to take the ball for Albuquerque, but his start was scratched likely because he will join the Rockies for Saturday’s doubleheader.
Like the Isotopes, Hartford got off to an early lead before ultimately failing to secure a victory on the road. Brenton Doyle and Kyle Datres hit solo shots in the top of the second to put the Yard Goats up 2-0. But Bowie answered quickly, putting up five runs in the third and adding four more in the fifth inning. Eight of those runs came against reliever Trent Fennell, who was tagged with the loss. Hunter Stovall would bring in one more with an RBI single in the seventh, but it was too-little, too-late for Hartford.
Spokane and Eugene were locked in a pitcher early with each team scoreless through five innings. The Emeralds drew first blood with a two-run homer from prospect Marco Luciano off starter Will Ethridge. Those were the only runs Ethridge allowed over his six innings, with five strikeouts recorded.
The Indians would get one back on a Julio Carreras solo bomb in the seventh, but that would be countered by a Eugene run in the eighth. Entering the ninth trailing by two, a double by Grant Lavigne and walk to Daniel Montano set the table for a comeback. Down to their last out after a Carreras sacrifice bunt and Zac Veen strikeout, Robby Martin Jr. came through, driving a home run over the wall in right-center to give Spokane a walk-off victory.
The Grizzlies plated two runs on just six hits in a loss at home to Rancho Cucamonga. Juan Brito doubled home the game’s first run to give Fresno a lead in the third inning, but the Quakes answered with three runs in the fourth inning off starter Brayan Castillo, who walked and struck out four in his start, before adding two more in the next inning. Braxton Fulford brought home another with a ground-out in the sixth to cut the lead, but Rancho Cucamonga would add two in their final trip to the plate, putting the game out of reach.
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