Sunday was a warm, sunny day - the first of its kind so far this year in the Northeast - so I traveled to Wilmington, Delaware to see a loaded Blue Rocks team take on the Winston-Salem Dash. The Blue Rocks are the Hi-A affiliate for the Kansas City Royals and boasts a roster that includes Raul Adalberto Mondesi, Bubba Starling, Hunter Dozier and Cam Gallagher in the field as well as Sean Manaea, Miguel Almonte and Christian Binford on the mound. The Dash, an affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, have a few prospects of their own - namely Tim Anderson, Jacob May, Keon Barnum and Courtney Hawkins. Unfortunately, I missed on the big name pitching prospects on Sunday but both teams had pitchers step up to throw a great game and the lineups were packed with promise.
Famous Philadelphia A's owner and manager, Connie Mack, started baseball in Wilmington in 1940 along with the R.R.M. Carpenter when they formed the original Wilmington Blue Rocks of the Class B Interstate League. The Carpenter family lived in Wilmington and also owned the Phillies until 1981. The Blue Rocks name is a result of a name-the-team contest and stems from the blue granite found in the Brandywine Creek that feeds into the Delaware River. The team has several mascots, most notably Rocky Bluewinkle - a blue moose used for their logo.
The fans in Wilmington are no strangers to hyped prospects. They've been the Royals Hi-A affiliate since 1993 with the exception of 2005 and 2006 when the team was part of the Red Sox farm system. Early teams featured players such as Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon and David DeJesus. Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie and Justin Masterson all played for the Blue Rocks during the Boston tenure and Zack Greinke highlighted the 2002 and 2003 teams. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Greg Holland and Salvador Perez are all recent graduates who are contributing at the big league level today.
Coming from the North, the drive is brutal. Anyone who has traveled through or around Philadelphia knows that a lot of roads funnel into only a few, making traffic a nightmare. If you're lucky enough to be coming from the Northwest, you can avoid the Philadelphia traffic but you will have to travel through West Chester and the City of Wilmington, so it's a lot of stop-and-go. The parts of the city we drove through were a bit run down but once you got near the ballpark and down to the riverfront, the area looks rejuvenated. There are renovated brick buildings just outside the stadium that have been turned into restaurants and cultural attractions making the area a popular destination for those looking for nightlife or a nice "riverwalk".
Originally named Legends Stadium for Delaware sports legends, the stadium is now known as Judy Johnson Field at Daniel S. Stadium. Judy Johnson, a Delaware native, is regarded as one of the best third basemen to play in the Negro Leagues and was a member of the Hilldale Daisies, Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords. Katie, my wife, hit the nail on the head when she noted that the venue has the feel of a local high school ball field. Bleachers are located along both sidelines with stadium seating behind home plate and suites that sit above the concourse. The mid-level seats on the third base line do not allow alcohol so I assume they end up giving those tickets away most nights. The concourse is small and stretches from foul pole to foul pole behind home plate. The stadium only seats about 6,500 people which is about 1 person for every muscle you'll strain in your eyes trying to read the not-so-jumbo jumbotron in right field. Left field features a highway overpass just above its fence which adds an element to the game in that the outfielders need to dodge the spit of kids hanging their head out the window to try and hit the players as their parent drives by.
It's not much to write home about but I really enjoyed the stadium and atmosphere because there was something familiar about it that I think would resonate with a lot of baseball fans. There were, of course, the obligatory games and promotions but they were more subdued than many of the Minor League games I've attended. There were people keeping scorecards, kids getting autographs before the game and the usual baseball traditions like ceremonial first pitches and youngsters leading "Take Me Out to the Ballgame". I was surprised to see as many empty seats as I did but from what I understand, the team usually draws well.
Staying true to the rest of the stadium, the concession options were somewhat limited. There are two main stands with the staple ballpark foods such as hot dogs, nachos and popcorn. There is one area where you can buy Grotto's pizza and a funnel cake station. The team replaced the Blue Moose Grill with a Chickie's & Pete's concession stand this season where you can find Philly favorites such as cheesesteaks, buffalo cutlets and their famous crab fries. I opted for a blast from the past and ordered a corn dog. I haven't had a corn dog in probably fifteen years and it was awesome.
The food was simple but the beer selection was excellent. Wilmington is located in an awesome area for microbreweries with Dogfish Head, Victory Brewing, 16 Mile Brewery and Yards all very close. Dogfish Head has a number of excellent beers that I often drink at home so I opted to go with two beers from 16 Mile that I'd never had before. I started with an Amber Sun Ale. I was expecting more of a red ale but I enjoyed it as it had a little bit of a caramel sweetness on top of an earthy taste. I followed that up with an Inlet IPA that was a fairly generic IPA. Not to say I didn't like it, but it didn't have anything that made it stand out. Katie recently found out that she has a gluten sensitivity, so she has been gluten free for a few months now. On our way to the game this past weekend she made the comment, "A beer at a ball game is one of the things I will really miss." Thankfully, the stadium offers Red Bridge, a beer created by a man who suffers from Celiac Disease that is made from sorghum rather than wheat or barley. It's a small offering but the option made the game more enjoyable for at least one fan that day.
Photo credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Both teams featured a trio of prospects in the top third of their order highlighted by a pair of premium shortstops. Raul - brother of Raul, son of Raul - Adalberto Mondesi was the leadoff hitter for the home team and the top prospect on either team. At just 18 years old, Mondesi is the youngest player in the Carolina League which makes his performance that much more exciting. Mondesi's slick fielding and strong arm make him a top prospect in actual baseball but his offensive potential should get fantasy owners' blood boiling as well. Mondesi is a switch hitter but batted only from the left side (his natural side) on Sunday. He reportedly shows similar swings from both sides of the plate. Mondesi's stance was quiet in his first at bat with little movement and he took two strikes before flying out to center field. In his second plate appearance, Mondesi showed a little movement pre-pitch and looked more comfortable as he roped the first pitch he saw down the first base line. He got a great break out of the box and flew around the bases for a standup double. In the 6th inning, Mondesi drew a four-pitch walk showing good plate discipline before flying out again in the 8th. Mondesi made everything look easy on the field and he more than held his own against much older competition. I feel like Mondesi's fantasy potential is lost at times when reading scouting reports that rave about his defense. He has the potential to hit for a high average and be an asset on the base paths. The Royals lineup is full of young, talented hitters and if Mondesi can make his way to the top, he could contribute in the runs category as well.
Bubba Starling was slated in the two-hole for the Blue Rocks on Sunday and was the prospect I was most looking forward to seeing. He made a lot of noise as the number five overall pick in a loaded 2011 draft due to his prospects as a top quarterback recruit and scholarship to play at Nebraska but also because of his enormous potential on the diamond. The Royals were able to sign the outfielder away from the Corn Huskers and start down the long road from present performance to future potential. I will admit that I've never been a big fan of Starling mainly because of the huge gap between present and future but the tools are enticing. He's a physical specimen, standing six-foot-four and weighing around 180 pounds with an extremely athletic look. He has above-average power but questions about his hit tool leave scouts wondering if it will ever play in games.
At the plate, Starling looked uneasy with a lot of movement that I would characterized more as fidgety than smooth and rhythmic. He moves almost the whole time he is in the box, even as the pitcher is coming to the plate and he was late on several high-80s fastballs. Twice he was beaten on fastballs for strikeouts. In his second at bat, Starling showed quick hands and good bat speed to line a ball into center field but those seem to be more redemptive qualities than usable tools unless he can improve his pitch recognition. He keeps his hands close to his body and stands up straight with little to no load so his timing looked off all game. Starling plays hard and hustles on and off the field, making me believe a little more in his chances to at least make it to the show. He's worked hard to make improvements thus far and will need to continue to do so to even come close to his ceiling.
Batting third for Wilmington was the number eight overall pick in last year's first year player draft, third baseman Hunter Dozier. I really liked Dozier coming into the draft as what I thought was the best power hitting shortstop available but neither I nor the industry pegged him for a top ten pick. When the Royals selected Dozier, it appeared to be a cost saving selection that would allow them to take a higher profile player later in the draft and their plan worked to perfection as they were able to draft Sean Manaea in the supplemental first round and sign both players. Dozier has made the Royals' front office look brilliant as he dominated Rookie level and Lo A ball in 2013. He moved off of shortstop and over to third base earlier than I thought he would but sharing an infield with Raul Adalberto Mondesi will end that way for most players. Dozier was the DH in Sunday's game and looked very good at the plate. Bigger than Bubba Starling, Dozier has big time raw power and his stance and set up suggest he will be able to tap into it. He gets his foot down early and loads well before whipping his hips through and pulling the trigger with the bat. He put a charge into a deep fly ball to center field in his first at bat before striking out in his second. He swung at five of the first six pitches he saw and only made contact once but he showed promising signs in both plate appearances. My notes look contradictory with "swings at everything" followed immediately by "great 3rd at bat - worked count, fouled off 2 pitches and drew walk". Dozier impressed me without getting a hit as he showed strong mechanics and an ability to make in-game adjustments.
Neither Zane Evans nor Cam Gallagher were behind the plate which was disappointing and as I noted, I didn't get a chance to see any of the Blue Rocks' top pitchers. Daniel Stumpf was the starter for Wilmington and
. He's listed at 5-foot-10 but looked shorter than that to me. He's a non-prospect but he showed some moxy as a stereotypical crafty lefty as he mixed an 87-89 mph fastball with a good changeup and 12-to-6 curveball that was effective when he located it. Kyle Barstch, another diminutive southpaw, threw an inning in the game and his fastball worked 91-93 with late life. He also featured a tight breaking curve and a changeup that came in up to 11 mph below his fastball.
Leading off for the Dash was centerfielder Jacob May - a player who fits well with the name on the front of his jersey. May comes from baseball bloodlines with his father, grandfather and uncle all playing in the big leagues. His best tool is his top-of-the-scale speed that has earned 80 grades from scouts. The speed was on full display and May wasted no time showing it off on a dig to the shortstop on the first pitch of the game. He didn't attempt a stolen base but his speed commanded the attention of the opposing pitcher and was disruptive without even being utilized. May is a switch hitter who holds his hands high in his stance and the swing looked more geared to take advantage of his wheels than to hit for power. He batted right handed in his first three plate appearances before turning around in his fourth. The bat looked slower from the left side although he hit a double to cap off a three hit afternoon. The only knock I would potentially have on May is that he seemed to turn it on and off when he felt necessary. I wouldn't call him lackadaisical or say that he wasn't playing hard but he just seemed like he had a lower gear that he threw it into at times.
Winston-Salem has a premier shortstop of its own in 2013 first round pick, Tim Anderson. Although the defensive profile may not match Mondesi's, the offensive ceiling looks to be higher. Anderson has the potential to be a plus hitter with plus power at the shortstop position and his speed a game changer. Reviews of Anderson's power potential are mixed but he has strong, quick hands and uses a double toe tap in his stance to help him with his timing. I'd like to see him stiffen his front leg more in his swing but he relies on his hands more than his legs for power so it might not be an issue like it could be for other players. He jumped all over the first pitch of his second at bat and lined a double into left field. He busted it out of the gate and took third base on the left fielder's error showing off his speed and his baserunning ability. There's a chance that Anderson has to move to second base but he could become a five category contributor which would make him a monster at either position.
Everyone knows Courtney Hawkins as the guy who did a backflip on draft day in 2012. Winston-Salem's 3-hole hitter is obviously very athletic but he's stockier than I expected his lower half is quite thick already. Hawkins has struggled on and off since being drafted and did not fare well in the Carolina League last year. He's repeating the level this year but the results were the same on Sunday. Hawkins crowds the plate and his long swing leaves him susceptible to pitches inside. He looked lost at the plate taking the first three pitches he saw for a strikeout in his first at bat. He swung and missed on a change up in his second at bat and got beat by an uninspiring fastball for his third K of the day. He did put the ball in play in his last at bat but only managed a weak pop up. At no point did Hawkins look comfortable or put a good at bat together and he was visibly (and audibly - dropped an expletive after the third strikeout) frustrated. The raw power is huge and he had a big first week to the season but Baseball America cites a scout who warns against getting caught up in Hawkins' early showing.
I was hoping to see Keon Barnum and witness the power I've read about but he did not play in the game
The Royals seem to keep reloading a perennially strong farm system and the White Sox are turning around what used to be a system bereft of him impact potential. Mondesi was what I thought he'd be and Starling was what I was afraid he'd be. I really think Hunter Dozier could jump up prospect lists this season and Tim Anderson has a lot of offensive potential. These two teams are stacked offensively and defensively and are a lot of fun to watch. I'll be switching gears for my next game and heading to Altoona for a premier pitching matchup as Pittsburgh's Nick Kingham facing off against the Giants' Clayton Blackburn.
You can follow Zack on Twitter at @FantasyNinja8.