Hickory outfielder Chris Grayson is creating some buzz with his hot start to the 2012 campaign. Through six games, he's 12-for-24 (.500) with two doubles, two triples, and a home run. He has walked three times, struck out three times, and stolen two bases in three attempts.
Grayson had a particularly strong performance on Wednesday, when he filled up the box score by going 4-for-4 with a double, a triple, a walk, and a stolen base.
Despite his early-season successes, the 22-year-old prospect isn't particularly well-known. A native of Monroe, La., Grayson played his first two collegiate seasons at Frank Phillips College––a junior college located in Borger, Texas, which is about 50 miles northeast of Amarillo.
Grayson then moved on to Lee University in Tennessee for his junior campaign, where he fell into the area of Rangers area scout Chris Kemp. In his year at the NAIA school, Grayson posted a .364/.408/.585 slash line with 11 doubles, 11 triples, and five home runs in 58 contests. He also stole 17 bases in 20 attempts.
With borderline plus-plus speed and good bat speed at the plate, the left-handed hitter's tools––in addition to the strong results––were enough to get him drafted in the 13th round of last year's MLB Draft.
Grayson signed a few days after the draft and reported to the rookie-level Arizona League. There, he appeared in 48 games and batted .288/.323/.424 with 17 stolen bases.
Grayson's excellent speed makes him a definite factor on the base paths. But perhaps more importantly, his bat speed enables him to catch up with plus velocity and helps him make up for a little bit of a long load––including a bat wrap––in his swing mechanics. His bat speed and present strength help give him some gap-to-gap pop with the ability to knock one out on occasion.
The outfielder isn't as developed in the field, but he has the tools––particularly his plus speed––to become a good defender. Grayson must work to improve his reads, route-running, and throwing mechanics. He has a below-average arm at present, but it looks like he has more arm strength if his mechanics improve. He's playing both left and center field for Hickory thus far this season.
While Grayson doesn't have a sky-high ceiling, he has major league potential given his speed and ability to handle the bat. The Louisiana native is an under-the-radar prospect who has a chance to make some noise at the full-season level in 2012.
L - Scheppers (0-1)
2-5, 4.0 GB
Round Rock lost in walkoff fashion for the third time in their last four games on Wednesday. After beginning the season 2-1, they've now dropped four consecutive games.
Coming off an excellent opening start to the 2012 campaign, left-hander Martin Perez was just so-so on Wednesday, though he actually pitched quite well after the first inning.
Overall, Perez allowed three runs on six hits in 5.2 innings, walking two and striking out five. He threw 52 of his 90 pitches for strikes. But in the first inning, he gave up two runs, three hits, and a walk. The prospect finished his outing by retiring 15 of the final 19 hitters he faced.
First baseman Mike Bianucci continued his Triple-A power surge by going 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles, and he has now hit safely in all seven of his Triple-A games.
The 25-year-old Bianucci is 11-for-31 (.355) with two doubles and four home runs. He's also struck out at least once in all seven contests, with 11 on the year.
Catcher Luis Martinez broke out of an early-season slump with four singles––including an RBI––in four at-bats. But he wasn't as sharp behind the plate, committing and throwing error and gunning down just one of Omaha's five attempted base stealers.
Left fielder Yangervis Solarte (1/3, BB) singled, walked, and drove home a run via sacrifice fly. Although Solarte played in the infield for much of the spring and early on this regular season, he has played quite a bit of left field in recent years while with the Twins organization.
Veteran reliever Aaron Heilman allowed one of Perez's inherited runners to score, but he didn't give up a run of his own despite yielding three hits and a walk in 1.1 innings.
After working a 1-2-3 eighth inning that included a groundout, a popout, and a strikeout, things unraveled for Express closer Tanner Scheppers in the ninth.
Scheppers, who threw 43 pitches in 1.2 innings, ended up surrendering three runs on three hits, a walk, and a hit batter in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Royals ultimately won on an Irving Falu walkoff single. He gave up three runs in 1.2 total innings, bringing his ERA up to 6.75 in three appearances.
4-2, 1.0 GU
The entire Texas League took Wednesday off. The RoughRiders return to Frisco for their regular-season home opener versus Springfield on Thursday evening. It'll be a battle of southpaws, as Frisco's Miguel de los Santos is slated to face Cardinals lefty (and former Rangers draft pick) John Gast.
L - Font (0-1)
2-3, 1.5 GB
Wilmer Font's first post-Tommy John surgery start was a disaster, as he failed to retire any of the six hitters he faced before being pulled.
The 21-year-old Font actually made his first appearance of the season on April 8, when he recorded three consecutive groundouts in a perfect inning. But he wasn't nearly as sharp on Wednesday.
Font's outing went as follows––walk, walk (wild pitch), walk, single, walk, single. He was pulled after surrendering four runs in zero official innings, walking four and allowing two hits.
The Pelicans pitchers teamed up to issue 11 walks in the nine innings.
Working in long relief, left-hander Chad Bell gave up just two runs in four innings––while striking out four––but walked four hitters himself. Bell also committed two errors, both of which came on pickoff attempts.
Francisco Mendoza (2 IP), Zach Osborne (2.1 IP) and Jimmy Reyes (0.2 IP) kept the P-Nats off the scoreboard for the remainder of the game. Osborne was particularly strong, hurling 2.1 hitless frames while walking two and fanning three.
Second baseman Santiago Chirino ended his early-season slump by going 3-for-4 with a triple and a run batted in. Centerfielder Jake Skole, who was 1-for-4 with a double and two RBI, had Myrtle Beach's only other extra-base hit of the contest.
Odubel Herrera (2/5) singled twice while Christian Villanueva (1/3, BB) and Vin DiFazio (1/3, HBP) also reached base a pair of times.
In his first five High-A games, Villanueva is 5-for-17 (.294) with a double, a triple, two walks, and two strikeouts.
W - McBride (1-0)
SV - Martinez (1)
5-2, 0.0 GU
Hard-throwing starter Luke Jackson missed plenty of bats in four innings on Wednesday, but he was also quite erratic.
The 20-year-old fanned seven batters and walked four in four innings, giving up two runs (one earned) on two hits. After punching out the side––all swinging––in the second inning, Jackson walked the first three batters he faced in the third inning. He then followed with two swinging strikeouts, a throwing error of his own, and a groundout.
Despite his 5.64 earned-run average in 75 innings with the Single-A club last season, Jackson showed promise by flashing three plus pitches at times and running his fastball up to 97 mph. He's continuing to miss bats early this year with 15 punchouts in his first nine innings.
While the Hickory bats were solid, the bullpen duo of Nick McBride and Nick Martinez shut Greenville down through the remainder of the game.
McBride, who appears to be in a tandem role with Jackson now, tossed four innings of one-hit ball, allowing just an unearned run. He fanned four without issuing a walk.
McBride, 20, hasn't found much consistency results-wise since signing with the Rangers as a fifth-round pick in the 2009 MLB Draft. However, his performance in camp this year was quite promising, as he showed the ability to locate a 90-93 mph fastball with a new slider (he'd previously used a curveball) and a decent changeup.
Martinez, 21, closed out the game by striking out all three batters he faced, earning his first professional save. The former Fordham second baseman now has nine punchouts (with no walks) in his first four innings.
At the plate, leadoff hitter and centerfielder Chris Grayson led the way by falling just a home run short of the cycle. He was 4-for-4 with two singles, a double, a triple, a walk, and his second stolen base.
Right fielder Zach Cone (2/4, 3B) added his first single while first baseman Trever Adams (2/3, 2B, BB) socked his first double and drew a walk.
Despite the fact that Rougned Odor is just 18-years-old, he has the talent and advanced skill set to find success in the Sally League this season. But he's off to a bit of a slow start, going 4-for-26 (.154) with a double, two walks, and seven strikeouts in his first seven contests.
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