New York Penn League Semi-Finals Showcased Starting Pitching, Star First Basemen

Albany, New York — In a game in which one team would head home to off-season jobs, and another would advance to the New York Penn League Championship, the highlights came from a pitcher’s duel and timely hitting — by top draft picks and lesser-known talents alike.

The Tri-City Valley Cats went on that night to shut out the Aberdeen Iron Birds 3-0 in the best-of-three series, advancing to the finals.

Aberdeen’s Hunter Harvey and Tri-City’s Kyle Westwood got the start for their teams, and both kept the game scoreless through six innings.

Westwood threw a straight fastball with good, late movement, but had early trouble in the first, giving up a single to shortstop Jared Breen, followed by a single to 2013 third-round first baseman Trey Mancini.

In both situations, Westwood elevated pitches that Breen and Mancini easily made contact on. But Westwood came back to get outfielder Conor Bierfeldt to ground into a double play. Westwood would continuously get groundball-outs throughout the game, working all parts of the plate and deceiving hitters on a breaking ball on the corners.

Eighteen-year-old 2013 Orioles first rounder Harvey faced the minimum in the bottom of the first, using a mid-nineties fastball that got center fielder James Ramsay and third baseman Tyler White to strike out swinging. White would strikeout again against Harvey in the fourth. White’s two-strike approach improved later in a crucial at-bat, after a pitching change.

Westwood worked much quicker in the second inning. He located better on the inside, keeping the ball down and in on infielder Federico Castagnini to get him to strike out swinging.

Astros 2013 fourth-rounder Conrad Gregor led off the second for Tri-City, grounding out on the first pitch he saw. Gregor has shown excellent plate discipline all season, with an ability to adjust in the game, in each at-bat. He would do the same thing that night.

DH Yonathon Mejia swung late on a Harvey fastball that Valley Cats hitters had trouble catching up to. He was a little wild that inning, but controlled the ball and made his pitch in a 2-2 count to Mejia.

Westwood continued to attack, staying aggressive, with smooth delivery. He stayed down in the zone, getting another ground ball out to Justin Viele, and on an 0-2 count, got outfielder Mike Yastrzemski to K swinging. Westwood consistently relied on the fastball, using it in any count, but locating it particularly well when he went for the strikeout.

While Gregor didn’t contribute at the plate early in the game, he made an excellent play in the fourth, with a throw to third that showed off his arm strength and accuracy.

Harvey continued to move the ball around the plate with a power-slider and sharp break on his curveball. The late movement fooled hitters again, and in the fourth he got a flyball out and a strikeout. He started to show signs of wear, however, hitting Dineen, then Gregor. The pitch to Gregor was particularly concerning, up chin-high. But he smoothed out his delivery after that, getting outfielder Ronnie Mitchell to fly out.

Castagnini would pick up on a Westwood off-speed pitch that he put through the middle for a single, and Viele would hit a similar pitch away through almost the same spot. Westwood changed eye-levels, throwing his fastball both high, and low for strikes. On a high fastball, Manny Hernandez flied out.

Harvey was pulled after five innings, having allowed no hits, no runs, no walks, and striking out seven. He never looked like a high-schooler, even when his wildness showed up. He was able to calm himself down, and worked quickly through jams, allowing his defense to work for him. His ability to get the groundball out, get the strikeout when needed, and his mound composure were highly impressive.

Westwood kept dealing into the sixth. First baseman Trey Mancini, the Orioles eighth-round pick out of Notre Dame this year, singled early in the game, but that would be his only hit. He was one of the best players in the league, putting together a particularly consistent stretch in the final few weeks, to help the Birds make the playoffs. In the sixth, he laid off a fastball in, then swung on a pitch down in the zone, striking out swinging on a pitch Westwood put in almost the same exact spot.

Janser Severino would relieve Harvey, and that’s when Tri-City’s offense turned the game on. Mitchell doubled to lead off and Jon Kemmer doubled to right field on a 3-0 count. Kemmer was aggressive when he needed to be, but his patient approach allowed him to adjust after flying out earlier leading off the third. Kemmer’s double allowed Mitchell to score. Shortstop Chan Moon hit one toward the second base side, through the middle, scoring Kemmer.

Westwood pitched seven innings of five-hit baseball, didn’t allow a run, hit two batters, and struck out three.

Tri-City used two pitchers, while Aberdeen needed three. Both teams pitching was a mix of very good, and little bad. There was a good balance on both sides of solid defense, excellent starting pitching with few bumps, and smart hitting.

It was good to see guys like 25th-rounder Dineen and 33rd-rounder White have the most impact in such a big game.

Westwood, the Astros 13th-rounder, exhibited the same kind of innings-eating, hard-to-catch stuff that he had at the University of South Florida where he ended the season with 234 IP and 209 strikeouts.

But despite the ending for Aberdeen, there’s no way to overlook what might be the most impressive pitching performance I’ve seen in the New York Penn League in the past two years: eighteen-year-old Harvey. He located all of his pitches, mixed speeds, and executed in hitter’s counts. He never looked rattled when the pressure was on. For one so young, and a game so big, it was a test he passed brilliantly.

Severino was tagged for the loss, while Westwood got the win.

Print This Post

Jessica has provided minor league baseball coverage for Baseball Digest, Gotham Baseball Magazine, Pirates Prospects, Project Prospect, The Binghamton Bulletin, The Trentonian, The Worcester Telegram, and her blog 'High Heels On The Field'. She's covered MLB for and Junior Baseball Magazine, for which she's regular contributed for seven years. Follow her on Twitter @heelsonthefield

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>