Buckley Back on Track at Bakersfield

Sean Buckley dropped off the radar of top Cincinnati prospects after Tommy John surgery robbed his season at high-A last year. Now he’s back at Bakersfield and blistering the ball as he works to get back on track toward moving up the system.

Bakersfield tied their game in Rancho Cucamonga at two in the top of the fifth Saturday, but allowed one in the bottom of the inning and five more over the next two frames in an 8-5 loss to the Quakes. Sean Buckley singled in the first Blaze run in the third before Zach Vincej singled in their second one. Both hits followed hits by Beau Amaral who crossed the plate both times. Marquez Smith doubled home a run in the seventh and the visitors pushed two more across in the eighth on a bases-loaded walk to Vincej before a run-scoring groundout in a comeback attempt that would fall short. The loss dropped the Blaze to 17-24 in the second half but they’ve already reserved a spot in the California League playoffs by winning the first half season.

Buckley led Bakersfield with three hits while Amaral and Vincej did their jobs atop the lineup by reaching with two hits and walk each. On the mound the Blaze relied on their bullpen all night starting with Sean Lucas who allowed one run over the first two innings. Jimmy Moran was touched up for two over the next three frames for the loss. Kyle McMyne finished the contest by tossing two scoreless.

Buckley, the son of Cincinnati scouting director Chris Buckley was a high profile prospect in the Reds system since they drafted him out of junior college in the 6th round in 2011. He fell off the radar last season when an injury that would require Tommy John surgery limited him to only six games. He started his comeback this season at Dayton with unimpressive results, but it’s been a different story since returning to Bakersfield where he’s now .338 AVG/.384 OB with eight homers in 37 games which has inflated his slugging percentage up to .559.

His performance in the Cali League this season reinforces his earlier reputation as one of the top prospects in the system for projecting raw power. He debuted with fourteen homers in a short season at Billings after signing three years ago. He followed that up with fourteen more at Dayton the following year where he showed improvement over the second half of the season. That earned his first trip to the Cali League last year but nearly all of it was spent on the DL. Actually, Buckley’s track record has no shortage of injuries, going back to his collegiate days. Before the TJ surgery that wasn’t as much of a concern because a couple of his ailments weren’t baseball related.

Since he’s returned to Bakersfield he’s showing that he can hit high-A pitching. Enthusiasm for his breakout season will be tempered a bit when considering his age of 24 which is old for the level. One thing that is encouraging is progress made on a weaker part of his game, contact. Before his promotion he struck out in almost 30% of his minor league plate appearances. After his promotion he’s whiffed 33 times in 159 PA (21%) which is approaching an acceptable level, especially if his power blossoms like expected.

Assuming the offensive production continues Cincinnati will need to find a place for him in the field. All of his action this season has been at DH, perhaps to protect his arm after surgery. He was drafted as a third baseman where the going was rough when he debuted with a fielding percentage under .900 in the Pioneer League and was moved across the infield the next season at Dayton. That was the last time he’s had a need to bring leather to the ballpark. To be fair, he did well defensively at first and has only played 59 games three seasons ago at the hot corner.

In spite of concerns, there must be some optimism in the Reds front office over Buckley’s coming out party. There should be no concerns giving him a shot at AA next season and continuing the improvement on his contact rate will be good reason to move him back up the team’s top prospect lists. In the meantime one could expect him to continue making things tough on opposing pitchers while he remains in the California League.

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