The author attended on Sunday a Class-A Midwest League game between Rays affiliate Bowling Green and Tigers affiliate West Michigan, at the latter’s home park just outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
What follows are some brief comments on notable players from same.
Regarding Jeff Ames
Entering the season, writes Marc Hulet, right-handed Tampa Bay prospect Jeff Ames was known for possessing a mid-90s fastball with excellent life, but less in the way of command or secondary offerings. On Sunday, in fact, Ames’ fastball never exceeded 92 mph — or, at least, not so’s the author noticed. Ames worked at 88-92 mph for the duration of his start and demonstrated an inability to find his release point, sometimes jerking the ball towards the left-handed batter’s box, sometimes opening up his left shoulder too early and pushing the ball to the right-handed batter’s box.
While he ultimately conceded no runs over 4.0 innings, there was considerable labor involved. So far as the slider is concerned, Ames had much the same sort of trouble with it as with the fastball. On those occasions when Ames found his release point, the pitch was effective, at 83-87 mph with nice shape (as demonstrated in the animated GIF, a slider to Lance Durham, below). The changeup — which sat at about 81-83 mph — had little of the depth or fade that one associates with the best versions of that pitch.
Regarding Andrew Toles
Speed merchant Andrew Toles had the most impressive batting practice of any of the rather talented Bowling Green club — not insofar as it was full of home runs (it wasn’t), but for the quality of the contact Toles made and backspin he produced. It surprised the author to find that Toles’ bat has been one of the concerns regarding that player, the core of whose game is based on speed and defense.
In fact, it would be more accurate to say that concerns (from analysts such as Mark Andersen, for example) regarding Toles’ offensive ability haven’t centered on the quality of Toles’ contact, but rather his approach. Indeed, the center fielder has recorded walk and strikeout rates of 3.8% and 19.9%, respectively, this season through 300-plus plate appearances.
Ideally, a player of Toles’ age relative to the level would be demonstrating more control of the strike zone. If he’s to succeed offensively, it will likely require the sustainment of high BABIPs — which is possible, of course, given his speed and line-drive approach.
• Tigers second-base prospect Harold Castro, recently demoted to West Michigan from High-A Lakeland following the promotion of Devon Travis to same, demonstrated impressively fluid movements and quick hands defensively — both in-game and during infield practice. While no demotion is regarded as a particularly great sign, Castro is still just 19 years old.
• In an interview with the author before the game, recently drafted Vanderbilt star Connor Harrell noted that he’d like to make the base-on-balls a more significant part of his game. He walked twice against Bowling Green, and struck out looking in a third plate appearance. Coincidence? Very likely, yes.
• Patrick Leonard, acquired from Kansas City along with Mike Montgomery, Wil Myers, and Jake Odorizzi, started at first base for Bowling Green. The 20-year-old has had some difficulty in the Midwest League — having recorded a 26:62 walk-to-strikeout ratio and just four home runs in 278 plate appearances — after having posted one of the top regressed offensive lines in all of Rookie-level baseball last season. He had probably the hardest-hit ball of the game, a long fly ball to the left-field wall in the second inning.
• Brandon Martin is compelling as a prospect insofar as he’s (a) a supplemental-round pick by the Rays from 2011, (b) a shortstop, and also (c) a 19-year-old in the Midwest League. He produced what the author is prepared to describe as two “competitive at-bats” against Whitecaps starter Charlie Gillies — two at-bats which saw him face a total of 11 pitches and resulted in a walk and then strikeout.
• The author can personally vouch for the quality of the macaroni-and-cheese with barbecue pulled chicken available from a cart behind the home-plate area.
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