This week marks the end of the first half for the three lowest levels of the full-season minor league ranks, with the Triple-A season reaching its midpoint next week. The Triple-A halfway mark is unceremonious as the playoffs are determined through the final regular season standings. But for the rest of the clubs, winning the division in the first half will punch a ticket into the playoffs. This is the case for the Fresno Grizzlies, who clinched their division on Thursday to ensure their first back-to-back playoff seasons in team history. Unfortunately Spokane fell short in their first attempt to secure a playoff berth, but Hartford is still very much in the running with just two games remaining.
This presents as good a time as any to check in on performances from each of the affiliates. There are overarching trends, such as high stolen base tallies across the system and standout pitching performances at each level (Triple-A, Double-A, High-A and Low-A). We’ve highlighted these performances as they’ve come along and will continue to do so each week through the Pebble Report. But for now, let’s take a step back and go through some notable performances from each club’s first half of the season.
Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes (33-36, 10 GB)
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, Elehuris Montero (No. 5 PuRP) has nothing left to prove with the bat in the minor leagues. Through 53 games, Montero has posted a .327/.395/.563 line with team-high 13 home runs and 43 RBI. His .958 OPS sits fourth in the PCL and he sits in the top-10 in OBP, hits (68) and total bases (117) while maintaining a K% of 21.3% and BB% 7.9%.
While Montero’s performance has earned him big-league time, so has Sean Bouchard’s. Bouchard sits just outside the qualifying threshold for the PCL leader boards, but if he did reach the necessary figures his 1.113 OPS would be a league-leading mark. Career minor leaguer Wynton Bernard is a qualified hitter, and sits in the top-10 in AVG (.323), SLG (.585), OPS (.953), XBH (27) and SB (14).
On the downside, it took Ryan Vilade (No. 8 PuRP) over 50 games and nearly 200 AB to collect his first home run of the season and his wRC+ sits at an unfavorable 89. Pitching has also been a major weakness for the Isotopes as their 6.84 team-ERA sits dead last in the PCL; a full run worse than the next worst team. But strong performances from Ryan Feltner (No. 19 PuRP), Chad Smith and Jake Bird have earned each time with the major league squad. Feltner has been the unquestioned ace for the Isotopes, with a 3.76 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 38 ⅓ innings. As for Bird and Smith, each holds a sub-3.00 ERA with strikeout rates north of 30%. The king of the strikeout has been Justin Lawrence, though. Lawrence’s 43.6% K% in 14 ⅓ innings is the top mark for any Rockies’ MiLB pitcher.
Double-A: Hartford Yard Goats (42-24, - GB)
If you didn’t already know, Ezequiel Tovar (No. 6 PuRP) is quickly ascending to a new-level of prospect caliber. A full four-years younger than the median Double-A age, Tovar leads the Eastern League in hits (81) and AVG (.332) while also placing in the top-5 in SLG (.570), RBI (46), SB (17), XBH (29) and TB (139) to go along with a top-10 showing in HR (13), runs (39) and OBP (.404). Simply put, Tovar has put himself among the elite in prospects circles this season.
After a difficult 2021 season, Aaron Schunk (No. 24 PuRP) has begun to rebound in his first Double-A season. His slow start in April has held his season totals down, but he has posted an .855 OPS and 130 wRC+ since the start of May. Brenton Doyle (No. 10 PuRP) is also getting his first taste of Double-A but has yet to catch on the same way, as indicated by his OPS (.632) and strikeout rate (34.5%). That strikeout rate matches Michael Toglia’s (No. 7 PuRP) who has punched out 94 times in 235 AB, but he has boasted a 12.5% walk rate to help keep his OBP above .300.
On the mound, Karl Kauffmann (No. 20 PuRP) has fared much better in his second Double-A season, posting a sub-4.00 ERA in 13 starts with 74 strikeouts in 68 IP. He has teamed with LHP Nick Bush to form the top of Hartford’s rotation in the first half. Bush has registered a 3.55 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 71 innings this season and has allowed three runs or less in 10 of his 13 starts. The rest of the rotation has had its inconsistencies, but the bullpen has picked up the slack with sub-1.00 WHIPs from P.J. Poulin, Gavin Hollowell and a 1.53 ERA from Stephen Jones. Also coming out of the ‘pen has been Riley Pint, who has shown flashes of brilliance in his return but has also experienced familiar control issues with 22 walks and 6 hit batters in 29 ⅔ innings.
High-A: Spokane Indians (34-30, 4.5 GB)
With all of the attention paid to Ezequiel Tovar’s season a level above, it may be easy to overlook that Zac Veen (No. 1 PuRP) continues to thrive in his second professional season. In an offensively depressed Northwest League, Veen has posted a .259/.368/.440 line with 24 XBH and 25 SB, good for a 134 wRC+.
Veen has not been the only hitter to find success in Spokane. Drew Romo (No. 3 PuRP) has slashed .300/.361/.452 in 59 games and driven-in a team-high 40 runs while striking out just 16.4% of the time. Grant Lavigne (No. 22 PuRP) has also fared well with an .816 OPS this season but no hitter was more impressive for Spokane than Daniel Montano, who posted a .943 OPS in 32 games before his promotion to Double-A.
The backbone to Spokane’s success has been on the mound, however. Joe Rock (No. 16 PuRP) has led the way with 68 strikeouts – third most in the NWL – and a 3.32 ERA in 62 ⅓ innings. Tony Locey (HM PuRP) has also been extraordinary for the Indians, holding the opposition hitless in two of his starts this season and added two more with just one hit permitted, leading to a 2.76 ERA for the season. Beyond Locey and Rock, Mike Ruff has posted a 1.06 WHIP in 59 ⅓ innings and Evan Shawver has held a 3.63 ERA in eight starts since his promotion from Low-A.
Low-A: Fresno Grizzlies (41-24, clinched)
Simply put, the Fresno infield has been spectacular in the first half of the California League season. Hunter Goodman’s (No. 27 PuRP) 18 bombs is the top mark in the league and his sits second in SLG (.568). Warming Bernabel (No. 18 PuRP) is tied for the most doubles (19) in the league with another Grizzlies’ hitter while also ranking second overall in AVG (.323). Juan Brito (HM PuRP) has posted a top-10 OBP (.401) while recording more walks (43) than strikeouts (41). The same narrative applies to Adael Amador (No. 17 PuRP) who has registered a 128 wRC+ with a BB-to-K of 36-to-37.
In the outfield, Braiden Ward ran wild at the top of the order with a 1.020 OPS and 26 SB before receiving a promotion to High-A at the end of May. Meanwhile, Yanquiel Fernandez (No. 25 PuRP) has the tying mark in doubles with Bernabel while also knocking 26 extra-base hits. It hasn’t all been roses, though, as Benny Montgomery (No. 2 PuRP) has missed much of the season since suffering a quad injury at the end of April.
On the hill, Victor Juarez has impressed in his first full season. At 19 years-old (almost three years younger than the league-average), Juarez has posted a 3.36 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 56 ⅓ innings. The start to McCade Brown’s (No. 29 PuRP) season was delayed out of spring training, but he has posted a 34.5% strikeout rate since his season debut on May 5. The leader in strikeouts for Fresno has been Case Williams, notching 64 in 61 IP and a 3.98 ERA for the season.
★ ★ ★
Drew Romo leaning on faith, work ethic to fulfill forecast as Rockies’ catcher of the future | Denver Post ($)
Kyle Newman of the Denver Post delivers a great column delving into the personality and work-ethic of Spokane catcher Drew Romo. The 35th overall pick of the 2020 draft, Romo is a baseball diehard to the extent that he is admittedly having to learn more about being away from the game than in it. His Catholic upbringing is the foundation for his personal life, but when it comes to his on-field performance he is hungrier than ever to make the most of himself. Heading into this season, his right-handed swing was one of the biggest points of emphasis and it has paid of thus far as he is hitting .380 as a RHH compared to .218 last season.
★ ★ ★
On the Farm
It was tough from the get-go for Albuquerque on Friday, as Riley Smith was tagged for five of his six total runs allowed in the first inning. The bullpen wouldn’t fare much better as six pitchers combined to allow six runs in the final six innings. Wynton Bernard drove in two of the Isotopes’ four runs in the loss.
Michael Baird’s strong start on the hill paved the way for a Yard Goats victory on Friday. RBIs from Brenton Doyle and Kyle Datres in the second inning put Hartford up early before a solo homer by Jimmy Herron in the fifth set them up for victory as the wining run. This all happened under Baird’s watch, as he allowed two runs — both coming on solo home runs in the fifth — in 6 2⁄3 innings with six strikeouts recorded. The Yard Goats would tack on two runs late on an RBI double from Datres and a solo homer by Michael Toglia, before P.J. Poulin and Stephen Jones shut the door with scoreless appearances to close out the ballgame.
Spokane held the lead for the first six innings before eventually falling on Friday night. Will Ethridge was masterful during the first five, allowing three hits and one run while striking out six. He departed with a one run lead thanks to a Colin Simpson solo homer in the second and a Nic Kent RBI single in the fifth. Zac Veen would add a two-run homer to stretch the lead to 4-1 through six inning. Unfortunately, that is when things would fall apart as Everett would tag five runs on reliever Shelby Lackey to take the lead for good. Spokane would mount a comeback with a Julio Carreras RBI single in the ninth, but ultimately fell short with the tying runs on base during the last out.
It was a back-and-forth affair in Fresno on Friday night that the Grizzlies wound up on the wrong side of. Starter Brayan Castillo got hit hard early, allowing seven runs (one unearned) on seven hits and three walk in just three innings. Fresno entered the bottom of the fourth down 7-0, but a Zach Kokoska solo homer in that frame was a precursor to a five-run fifth — highlighted by an Adael Amador homer and Bryant Quijada two-run double — which led to the tying run being plated by a Hunter Goodman single in the sixth. The Grizzlies would take the lead in the eighth on a Juan Guerrero single but coughed it up in the ninth when Taylor Ahearn allowed three Nuts’ runner to cross the plate in the final frame.
★ ★ ★
Please keep in mind our Purple Row Community Guidelines when you’re commenting. Thanks!