Notes from the Weekend:
OK, so it wasn't really the weekend, but Thursday morning at 10:35 ET is a great time to watch a baseball game, especially when that game features last season's fourth overall draft pick, RHP Dillon Tate of the Hickory Crawdads (Rangers), going head-to-head against 2014's sixteenth overall selection, RHP Touki Toussaint of the Rome Braves (Braves).
Fresh off the DL after suffering a strained right hamstring, Tate took the mound for the first time since April 14, when he dominated the Kannapolis Intimidators (White Sox), allowing four hits over six innings with no runs, no walks, and ten strikeouts. So it was no surprise that on Thursday the Crawdads lifted Tate after only 26 pitches in two innings of work. RHP Pedro Payano, coming off perhaps the best pitching performance of the season in the South Atlantic League (9 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 11 K) on April 27 against the Greensboro Grasshoppers (Marlins), relieved Tate to begin the third inning and then showed why he is a rising prospect in his own right. Payano's final line (3 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 0 K) looks ordinary enough, but it was impressive to see how much confidence he has in his secondary stuff, in particular his curveball, which he threw on 0-0, 3-1, and anytime he needed a strike.
On the other side, this was my third time checking in on Toussaint--first here, then here--and it was by far the best he has looked. For one thing, he was more efficient than usual, taking 72 pitches to get through five innings. His final line (5 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K) would have looked even better had it not been for a wind-aided, two-run, opposite-field homer off the bat of Hickory OF LeDarious Clark with two outs in the fifth inning. Toussaint did not use his double-plus curveball as often as he normally does, which was fine because he had good command of his double-plus fastball. Efficiency and command allowed him to limit hard contact and prevent the Crawdads from threatening for much of the morning. He also did an excellent job of controlling Hickory's dynamic running game.
Among the position players, Rome's 18-year-old CF Ronald Acuna looks like the most exciting prospect. In the first inning he hit a rocket up the middle off of Tate and then stole second base. Later, he drove a 3-2 pitch from Payano to the opposite field and deep off the wall in right-centerfield for a triple. Acuna flashes every tool necessary, including raw power, and looks like a rising star.
The star of the game, however, was Rome LF Justin Ellison, who homered off Tate in the second inning, then made two sparkling defensive plays, a great running catch to rob Hickory CF Eric Jenkins in the third and an even better throw home to complete an inning-ending double play in the fourth. Ellison isn't yet much of a prospect, but he looked like one on this day.
What to Watch Early This Week:
Monday's minor-league slate offers an intriguing doubleheader for fans of elite pitching prospects. First, at 2:35 ET LHP Julio Urias and the Oklahoma City Dodgers (Dodgers) travel west to take on RHP Jorge Lopez and the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Brewers) of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Then, at 6:35 ET RHP Lucas Giolito and the Harrisburg Senators (Nationals) take on RHP Tyler Beede and the Richmond Flying Squirrels (Giants) in a Double-A, Eastern-League clash. Giolito and Urias rank 1-2 on Jason Hunt's Fake Teams Top 40 Fantasy Starting Pitchers list. Lopez entered the season as the 4th-best fantasy prospect in Milwaukee's loaded system. Beede, a 2014 first-round pick, comes in at #1 overall in San Francisco's much weaker farm system.
If you missed Tate and Toussaint on Thursday, you can see them again this coming Tuesday morning, Toussaint at 10:35 ET at home against the Augusta GreenJackets (Giants) and Tate a half-hour later on the road against the Charleston RiverDogs (Yankees). Then, on Tuesday afternoon at 2:05 you can watch eighteen-year-old phenom RHP Anderson Espinoza of the Greenville Drive (Red Sox) take on the Columbia Fireflies (Mets). Tuesday should be a great day in the South Atlantic League.
As always, enjoy the games!