Though it was Opening Day for teams in the Sally, bad weather proved to be the main headline of the day for the league. Three games were postponed (Lexington-Greensboro, Delmarva-Asheville, Hickory-Kannapolis), one was suspended (Rome-Charleston, which was called after a half an inning) and one ended early (Lakewood-Greenville ended their game after eight innings). Despite the weather factors, there still proved to be some notable performances from Opening Day in the Sally.
- Second baseman Carlos Willoughby provided the offense for the Greenjackets as he went 2-for-5 with a run scored. He started off the game with a triple, though the Greenjackets were unable to capitalize on his leadoff hit. Willoughby also roped a single and scored the tying run in the seventh inning. Willoughby has a good tool set, as he is known for his patient approach (0.73 BB/K ratio last year) and speed on the basepaths (33 stolen bases on 43 attempts). However, at 23 years old, the Colombian-born infielder is an older prospect and is in his second year in the Sally. If he can build upon this strong 2012 debut, he could be due for a call up to San Jose at some point this year.
- Clayton Blackburn made his much anticipated Sally debut, as the Green Jackets tabbed him as the Opening Day starter. Blackburn went 4.2 innings and allowed four hits and two runs, but showed impeccable command as he struck out six and walked none. Blackburn was tabbed the 21st best prospect in the Giants system and posted a 1.80 ERA, a 0.57 WHIP and a 10 K/BB ratio in the Arizona Rookie League last year. While he didn’t dominate, the performance was a promising one for the 19-year-old right hander from Oklahoma.
- Chuckie Jones, Shawn Payne and Kelby Tomlinson made their full-season minor league debuts and struggled at the plate, as they combined to go 0-for-10 at the plate. Jones particularly struggled, as he had three strikeouts. Jones biggest problem as a player has been his ability to make consistent contact at the plate, as he posted a 61 percent contact rate in Salem Keizer last year. However, all three guys have some solid tools (mainly speed) and athleticism, so they have plenty of time to develop despite the disappointing debuts.
Sand Gnat Notes:
- T.J. Rivera and Charles Thurber had solid days for the Sand Gnats, as Rivera went 2-for-5 with a double and Thurber went 2-for-5 with two RBI. Neither is a heralded prospect in the Mets system (Rivera went undrafted and Thurber was a 39th round pick in the 2011 draft) and they are a little old for the Sally (Rivera is 23 and Thurber is 22). However, Rivera did hit well in the New York Penn League last year (.326/.340/.372), so there is some potential on Rivera’s end.
- Starting pitcher Logan Verrett kept the Greenjackets offense at bay, as he went five innings and allowed only two hits and one run while walking two and striking out four. Unfortunately, the bullpen was not able to hold the lead, as Marcos Camarena allowed two hits and the tying run to score in the seventh. Despite not getting the win, Verrett’s performance was nice, especially considering he was a third round pick out of Baylor in last year’s draft and is the 26th best prospect in the Mets system, according to Baseball America. Scouts note that Verrett throws his fastball in the 88-92 MPH range and that he sports a plus slider that goes in the mid-80’s. Considering his polished status as a prospect out of college and this initial performance, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Verrett earn a call up to St. Lucie at some point this year.
- Aderlin Rodriguez may be the most touted prospect on the Savannah roster (14th best prospect in the Mets system according to Baseball America), but he struggled to hit for average last year in Savannah (.221 average) and also showed lackluster plate discipline (0.27 BB/K ratio) to boot. Rodriguez is now on his third tour of duty with the Sand Gnats, but he didn’t get off to the best start, as he went 0-for-4. Rodriguez has tremendous power potential (17 homers in 516 at-bats) and he is only 20 years old, but he needs to show progress at the plate if he wants to get a call up to High-A St. Lucie at some point this year.
- Kelly Dugan was the offensive standout for the Blueclaws today, as he went 2-for-4 with a home run. Dugan was a former second round pick by the Phillies in the 2009 draft, but he has struggled in the minors, as the highest level he has played prior to this year was the Short-Season New York Penn League. Dugan is one of those prospects where no tool of his particularly stands out, as he posted a pedestrian slash of .283/.343/.386 in 198 plate appearances in Williamsport last year. However, he does some sport some power potential, as he posted a .527 slugging in a combined 113 plate appearance stint in the Gulf Coast and New York Penn League in 2010. Dugan will have to improve his plate approach (0.41 BB/K ratio a year ago) and he did have two strikeouts today, but the two-hit, home run performance was a nice start for the 21-year-old.
- Lino Martinez gave a solid, though unspectacular performance today as the Blueclaws’ opening day starter, going 5.2 innings while allowing six hits, one run and striking out four batters with zero walks. Martinez is a 19-year-old left handed pitcher from Venezuela who is still very projectable at six-foot and a 160 pounds. He went 6-2 with a 2.79 ERA last year in Williamsport, but he doesn’t strike out a lot of guys as he only struck out 46 batters in 67.2 innings of work in 2010.
- Maikel Franco, the 10th best prospect in the Phillies system according to Baseball America had an underwhelming 2012 debut, as he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. Scouts note that he has great bat speed and hand-eye coordination, but his pull-heavy and aggressive approach is a bit worrisome. He did post good BB/K ratios last year in Williamsport (0.83 in 202 at-bats), and he sports some solid tools (he has above average arm strength), but he still has a lot to work on. He struggled last year in a late season callup to the Sally (.127/.292/.330 in 65 at-bats), and hopefully for the Phillies this opening day showing is only a blip in his development and not a sign of a repeat of his Sally performance in 2011.
- The middle infield provided nice pop for the Drive at the end of the order, as second baseman Jose Garcia and shortstop Jose Vinicio each had two hits against the Blueclaws. Garcia also scored two runs and Vinicio scored one. Both Garcia and Vinicio are young prospects out of the Dominican Republic as Garcia will be 21 on April 20th and Vinicio won’t be 19 until July. The strong performance is a nice sign for Garcia, who struggled in 215 at-bats for the Drive last year, as he posted a slash of .219/.265/.335.
- Yeiper Castillo was pretty dominant for the Drive as he struck out eight batters, walked one and allowed one hit in five innings of work. Castillo was a former prospect in the Red Sox system, but has had mixed results as a professional, as he hasn’t advanced beyond Single-A since breaking in as a professional in 2006. Maybe the new change of scenery will be good for Castillo, though considering that he is 23 and this is his third tour of duty in the Sally, he should be excelling against Sally hitters.
- Garin Cecchini might have been the MVP of the game, as he went 2-for-4 with two stolen bases, a double and two RBI. Like Castillo, Checchini comes from the Red Sox system, but he is still young at 20 years old. He did well in the NYPL for Lowell as he posted a slash of .298/.398/.500 in 133 plate appearances. He also added 12 stolen bases and 16 extra base hits (12 double, 1 triple and 3 home runs), so he has some nice well-rounded potential. Considering how shallow the Astros system is, Checchini could be a sleeper prospect if he can build upon this Opening Day performance.
Hagerstown 11, West Virginia 9 (At Hagerstown)
- The offense was in full force for the Power tonight, as shortstop Alen Hanson, Left fielder Willy Garcia and center fielder Gregory Polanco all had three hits each for West Virginia. Hanson also added a home run and double, while Polanco hit a triple. If today’s performance was any indicator, this West Virginia team should have a lot of offensive potential in their lineup.
- Speaking of potential, ballyhooed prospect and 2011 second round pick Josh Bell made his anticipated debut. Bell went 1-for-5 with three strikeouts, but he did hit a double and scored a run. Bell is the third best prospect in the Pirates system, according to Baseball America, and signed a $5 million signing bonus last year, the highest ever for a pick outside the first round. Bell sports “five tool” potential, and is young for the league, as he won’t turn 20 until August. While the three strikeouts were a little disheartening, his double showed the kind of hitting potential Bell sports as a prospect.
- Starting pitcher Nicholas Kingham will definitely like to put this game in the rear-view mirror. He only went 1.2 innings, and allowed 5 runs on four hits and two walks. He did strike out three batters, but his lack of command and control didn’t help his team out early. Kingham is rated as the 14th best prospect in the Pirates system and was a fourth round pick out of high school in 2010. He did well in the New York-Penn League a year ago, as he posted a 2.15 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 71 innings of work. However, he doesn’t strike out guys in bunches, as he only posted a K/9 of 6.0 with State College. Hopefully for the Pirates this was just a bad start, but he’s going to need to bounce back in his next couple of starts if he wants to live up to his pre-season hype.
- Brian Goodwin was deemed a first-round pick based on his talent in last year’s draft, but he fell to the supplemental round due to signing bonus demands. The National swooped in at the 34th pick and awarded him with a $3 million signing bonus right before the deadline. Today, Goodwin made good on the Nationals’ bonus, as he went 2-for-4 with a home run, two runs scored and four RBI. Goodwin is an athletic outfielder with four solid to plus tools, with power being the only one scouts have some skepticism with. However, after his home run today, Goodwin showed that he does have big-fly potential. It’ll be interesting to see how Goodwin will be able to build off this stellar professional debut.
- Starting pitcher Wirkin Estevez struggled as the Suns’ opening day starter, as he allowed nine hits and six runs in four innings of work. He did strike out three and allowed no walks, so at least he showed decent control, even if he was quite hittable. Estevez was decent in the New York-Penn league last year, as he posted a 4.01 ERA, 1.40 WHIP and 2.50 K/BB ratio in 67.1 innings of work. Hitters made contact against him at a pretty good clip in the NYPL last season (9.6 H/9), so that will something to watch out for with him as he makes the transition to the Sally. He is still young though (20 years old) and this is his first full season of professional ball, so Estevez does have that going in his favor.
- Jason Martinson flashed a lot of good things in his first full year in the Sally in 2010. He posted a .360 OBP, stole 26 bases and also hit 19 home runs in 433 at-bats, all stellar numbers for a shortstop prospect. That being said, he only hit .252 and whiffed 144 times, thus forcing the Nats to keep him another year in the Sally. While he went 1-for-3, Martinson did draw two walks, stole two bases and scored two runs for the Suns in their victory. Martinson is still a touted prospect (he’s ranked the 25th best prospect in the Nationals system), but the Nats decision to keep him in the Sally for another year was probably a bit discouraging. However, if he can continue to have performances like he did today, he could be on his way to High-A soon.