It's April, so the story of minor league baseball's opening weekend was bound to be the weather, and it was. As the snow rolled into the Midwest late last week, postponements multiplied. Nonetheless, all ten full-season leagues got underway, and there was plenty of action involving top prospects. Here's some of what I watched:
RHP Archie Bradley was outstanding (6 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 7 K) in leading the Triple-A PCL's Reno Aces (Diamondbacks) to an 8-0 shutout of the El Paso Chihuahuas (Padres). Meanwhile, Rubby De La Rosa got shelled by the Cubs (3.1 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 2 K). It's too early to speculate about changes in the rotation. The Diamondbacks, however--you might have heard--are "all in" for 2016, so they won't keep Bradley in Triple-A for long if he continues to dominate.
LHP Josh Hader worked hard to get through four shutout innings in the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers' (Brewers) 4-0 win over the defending Southern League champion Chattanooga Lookouts (Twins). Hader struck out five and allowed only two hits, but he also walked three and was in three-ball counts all night, which is why it took him 84 pitches to get through the four innings. To their credit, Chattanooga hitters battled Hader. To his credit, Hader made good pitches when needed.
When I update my Top 100 Prospects list, RHP Anderson Espinoza of the Low-A Greenville Drive (Red Sox) might be #1 overall. Boston's young phenom, who turned 18 on March 9, smothered the Asheville Tourists (Rockies) with five shutout innings, allowing only two hits and striking out four. One of those strikeouts came against SS Brendan Rodgers, last year's #3 overall pick, who swung through a rising fastball that no Major-Leaguer could have hit. Fans in Greenville: get to the ballpark and enjoy watching Espinoza while you can.
Two years ago LHP Ryan Yarbrough walked only four batters while striking out 53 through 38.1 innings in the short-season Northwest League, so I was curious to see his 2016 debut with the Double-A Jackson Generals (Mariners) against the Montgomery Biscuits (Rays). His command seemed a bit off, particularly from the stretch, but in the windup he worked quickly and showed an easy delivery. He's not a top-of-the-rotation arm, but he could be a fantasy sleeper in the next two years.
With all the injuries to the big club's rotation, RHP Jharel Cotton of the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers (Dodgers) could get his chance sometime this season. Since the middle of 2014, Cotton has been downright dominant at three different levels. On Friday he was excellent again in the Dodgers' 2-1 loss to the Nashville Sounds (Athletics). He limited Nashville to just one run on 5 hits, no walks and 5 strikeouts in 5.2 innings.
Saturday was a winter wonderland here in Ohio, but Sunday brought modest improvement in the weather, along with the much-anticipated-yet-thrice-postponed match-up between Tyler Glasnow of the Indianapolis Indians (Pirates) and Mike Clevinger of the Columbus Clippers (Indians). Both pitchers went five innings; both yielded three hits and struck out six. Clevinger began the game with excellent fastball command and later showed the ability to throw his slider for strikes with consistency. Glasnow used his plus curveball to get ahead in counts. Both should arrive in the Majors later this season.
What I'll Be Watching This Week:
To say that the weather wreaked havoc on pitching rotations would be quite the understatement, so there's a lot of uncertainty entering the MiLB season's first full week. We do know, however, that the consensus top two pitching prospects in all of baseball will take the mound for their respective clubs. On Monday at 7:35 LHP Julio Urias will make his season debut for Oklahoma City at the Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals). Then, on Tuesday at 6:35 RHP Lucas Giolito will start for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators (Nationals) at Binghamton (Mets).
If I can pull my eyes away from Urias's start, I also plan to watch a pair of Low-A pitchers: RHP Touki Toussaint in his 2016 debut for the Rome Braves (Braves) at home against Columbia (Mets) at 7:00, and one of my favorite sleepers, RHP Enyel De Los Santos of the Fort Wayne TinCaps (Padres), who will tussle with the Great Lakes Loons (Dodgers) in a 6:05 start. Both pitchers could be of interest to dynasty-leaguers.
Finally, if you don't feel much like working on Monday morning at 11:35, check out RHP Rookie Davis's debut as a member of the Reds organization when the Pensacola Blue Wahoos visit the Mississippi Braves for a getaway-day tilt that will be broadcast on MiLB.TV.*
*Unless otherwise noted, all of these games will be available via subscription to MiLB.TV.
Notes on Majors and Minors
Atlanta CF Ender Inciarte left Friday's game with a tight hamstring. In related news, CF Mallex Smith of the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves went 4-for-5 with 3 runs scored and his first stolen base of 2016. Smith is now batting .400 on the young season and would be a worthwhile add in mixed leagues should he receive a call-up and regular playing time.
Update: Smith did indeed receive the call-up on Sunday.
He's a long way off, and you won't find him on any top-prospect lists, but keep an eye on Greenville RHP Roniel Raudes. Last season, between the Dominican Summer League and Gulf Coast League, Raudes posted a 2.81 ERA in 73.2 IP with 9 BB and 79 K. On Sunday he looked poised with an impressive repertoire as he went five shutout innings. He's also less than two months older than Anderson Espinoza.