Sonnanstine's impressive statistics have created a buzz around the internet on whether or not he should be called up to the Devil Rays. Critics of Fossum and Seo are counting the days down until this happens, but no immediate plans seem to be on the horizon. Currently, Sonnanstine is not even on the Devil Rays' 40 man roster. However, if Sonnanstine continues to stay at the level he is pitching at now, it would be hard for the organization not to think long and hard about making a change.
As a 13th round draft pick out of Kent State University, the Ohio native has come a long way over the past few seasons to establish himself as a legitimate major league prospect. He may not have the best stuff of the other talented pitchers in the Durham rotation, but all Sonnanstine seems to do is win (and quite a bit). That is all he did last season as the ace of the Southern League Champion Montgomery Biscuits. Sonnanstine finished the year with a 15-8 record and a 2.67 ERA in 28 starts. His success was one of the biggest reasons that the Biscuits brought home a title.
After such a strong showing in 2006, Sonnanstine still did not crack Baseball America's list of top ten prospects in the organization. With such a strong start in 2007 though, he could reach the major leagues faster than any player on the list with the exception of Delmon Young. Baseball America, did however, select him as the pitcher with the best control in the Devil Rays' minor league system, the asset that is arguably the biggest reason for his current success. Sonnanstine's command is consistently outstanding, which is perfectly displayed in his 57/9 strikeout to walk ratio.
Sonnanstine's start may not be as scrutinized as Roger Clemens' start for the Tampa Yankees on the first leg of his now annual minor league tour earlier in the week, but management will definitely be watching Sonnanstine very closely. From what I have been told by several sources, Sonnastine is the pitcher who will get the call if a change does happen in the next few weeks. I think he will be up to the challenge.
Other minor league news:
Durham Bulls closer Seth McCLung was the tough luck losing pitcher in a devastating 5-4 loss to the Syracuse Chiefs on Saturday night. After the Bulls fought back from a 3-0 deficit to take a 4-3 lead headed in to the ninth inning, the two Bulls' errors, including a throwing error by Tampa Bay opening Day starting shortstop Ben Zobrist, opened the gates for the Chiefs to score two runs to win.
Speaking of Zobrist, his offensive struggles have continued since being demoted at the end of last week. In twenty eight at bats for Durham, he only has four hits, good for a .154 average. In last night's loss, Zobrist finished the game 1-4 with his first triple of the season and a run scored. Zobrist's new double play partner Elliot Johnson is not doing much better. Johnson, who also made an error in the ninth inning that allowed the Chiefs to come back, is still only hitting .197 for the season (although he does have six home runs). Other than the costly error, he had a big game for the Bulls in the loss finishing the night 2-4 with two runs. Hopefully, better days are ahead for both infielders.
Jeff Niemann took the ball for the Bulls and turned in another strong pitching performance. Niemann, like Sonnanstine, is making a case for a call up to the Devil Rays. On Saturday, the tall right hander lasted six innings scattering six hits and only giving up two earned runs to lower his ERA to 3.97 for the season. Niemann (3-2) came up short in his attempt for his fourth win of the season, but he is starting to throw the ball like he did in spring training when he impressed Devil Rays' pitching coach Jim Hickey. As several Devil Rays' pundits have pointed out on message boards all over the internet, it is hard to imagine Niemann doing any worse than Fossum, Edwin Jackson, or Seo. It seems very likely that the former Rice University standout will be pitching at Tropicana Field at some point during the summer.
There are so many talented young pitching prospects in the organization that I say with unwavering faith that brighter days are ahead for the franchise. Keep the faith, Niemann and Sonnanstine are well on their way.