Detroit Tigers Minor League Week in Review: 4/24 - 4/30
Toledo Mud Hens
12-10, 1st in the West Division
The Mud Hens stayed comfortably in first place in their division last week after a 3-3 homestand. The action began on Tuesday with a three-game series against a very talented Charlotte Knights squad, and the first game was a classic pitcher’s duel between Carson Fulmer (6IP, 4H, ER, 8K) and Warwick Saupold (6IP, 5H, 7K), but the Knights scored once in the 7th and once in the 9th to take home a 2-1 win. Toledo bounced back on Wednesday behind a strong start from Chad Bell (6IP, 6H, 6K) and a well-balanced offensive attack for a 4-1 victory, but Charlotte took the series with a 6-5 win on Thursday thanks to a five-run 8th inning, though the Hens made it close when catcher Bryan Holaday hit a grand slam in the bottom of the frame. Rain canceled Friday’s game against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, so the teams met for two on Saturday. Lehigh Valley scored five times against William Cuevas, and Pigs starter Ben Lively held Toledo to just six singles and one run to win the first game 6-1, but the Hens brought some drama in the nightcap. Efren Navarro scored on a Jason Krizan sacrifice fly in the 7th inning to tie the game at one and force extra innings, and Krizan scored on an Argenis Diaz single in the 10th to take home a 2-1 walkoff win. Saupold started the final game of the series, and things looked bad when he loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning, but he was able to minimize the damage and pitch long enough (6IP, 5H, 3ER, 3K) to let his teammates bail him out, which they did with a four-run 3rd inning, and a two-run 6th to pull out a 6-4 win and take the series.
- The veteran Krizan got into a game last Sunday, but he saw his first AAA at-bats of the season this week, and he made the most of it. The 27-year-old played outfield and second base and went 6-for-18 with a double, a triple, and three RBIs. He now owns a .378/.424/.635 line in 20 games between Erie and Toledo.
- Toledo’s pitching has been outstanding this season, and they sport the second best ERA in the International League at 2.87. The rotation has been especially good, with Bell (1.25), Saupold (1.99), Drew VerHagen (2.25), and Buck Farmer (2.51) all ranking in the top 20 in ERA.
- Perhaps it’s just a brutal slump, or the disappointment of being removed from the Tigers 40-man roster and going unclaimed, but outfielder Steven Moya is off to a horrendous start to the season. He’s hitting just .135 with two home runs, one walk (intentional) and 21 strikeouts in 52 at-bats, and he has whiffed at least once in each of his 15 games.
10-11, 3rd in the Western Division
Erie fell under .500 after slogging through a second consecutive 2-4 week, and again it was largely on the shoulders of the offense. The club managed just 19 runs in six games, and they got off on the wrong foot on Monday when they managed just one run in 12 innings and eventually fell 3-1 to the Altoona Curve, spoiling a terrific start from Myles Jaye (6IP, 4H, 7K). The Wolves got another strong start on Tuesday from Tyler Alexander (6IP, 7H, 1ER, 4K), but this time they were able to score some runs, with Mike Gerber (3-for-5, 2 2B, 3 RBI) and Christin Stewart (2-for-4, HR) leading the way to a 7-2 victory. The Curve took the rubber match on Wednesday, again pulling out a close one in extra innings when Chase Simpson hit a go-ahead home run off Paul Voelker in the 10th inning. Erie took Thursday off to travel to Trenton, and they beat the Thunder on Friday behind a solid start from Matt Crouse (6IP, 5H, ER, 2K) and three-hit games from Logan Watkins, Kody Eaves, and Grayson Greiner. That was the highlight of the series, unfortunately, as Trenton tacked on three runs in the 7th on Saturday to pull out a 7-4 win, and the SeaWolves were blanked 4-0 on Sunday.
- The offense as a whole was quiet last week, but Gerber (9-for-27, 4 2B) and Stewart (8-for-25, 3 HR, 5 RBI) did their part. Gerber is tied for fourth in the league in doubles (7) and runs scored (15), while Stewart is tied for the league lead with six home runs, and he ranks third with 47 total bases.
- Opposing batters are hitting better than .290 against all five Erie starters, and none of them are striking out a batter per inning, but the pitchers have largely been able to avoid extreme damage by limiting walks.
- A couple of players made their season debuts last week, with minor-league free agent and former first-round pick Zack Cox going 5-for-18 with three walks in his first six games, and reliever Adam Ravenelle working two scoreless innings in his first action of the season after suffering a bit of an injury scare in spring training.
Lakeland Flying Tigers
14-10, 2nd in the North Division
Lakeland had a wild but ultimately successful week on the road, finishing a pair of three-game series with a 4-2 record thanks to some impressive offense. The action began in St. Lucie where the Flying Tigers weren’t very nice guests, banging out nine runs on 13 hits, led by Joey Pankake (3-for-5, BB, 2B, HR), Zac Shepherd (2-for-4, HR), and Arvicent Perez (3-for-5, 3 RBI). The Mets got a small measure of revenge by scoring eight runs against Matt Hall and Jeff Thompson in an 8-7 win on Wednesday, though the Flygers put up 13 hits again, led by Harold Castro going 4-for-5 in his season debut. Lakeland took the series on Thursday with 16 more hits and nine more runs, with Shepherd going yard twice, six players having multi-hit games, and Beau Burrows doing the rest in another strong start (5 1/3IP, 5H, 2ER, 6K). The club then made the 106-mile trek from St. Luice to Kissimee to take on the Florida Fire Frogs only to suffer one of the most savage beatings in team history. Florida sent 16 men to the plate in the first inning and scored ten runs, all with two outs, including eight off Lakeland starter A.J. Ladwig, who came into the game having surrendered just two runs in his first 25 innings. The Flying Tigers lost 18-0 on Friday, but baseball is strange and wonderful, so the club came back to the park the next day and eked out a 2-1 win behind Spencer Turnbull’s best start of the season (6 1/3IP, 4H, ER, 4K), and then they blanked the Fire Frogs 7-0 on Sunday.
- Few hitters in the minor leagues are hotter than Zac Shepherd. He went 9-for-24 last week with three walks, four home runs, and nine RBIs, and in his last ten games the 21-year-old third baseman is hitting .385 with six homers and 16 RBIs.
- The Flying Tigers may have two of the most dominant pitchers in the Florida State League right now. Burrows is third in the league with a 1.30 ERA, tied for third with 27 strikeouts, and sixth with a 1.05 WHIP, while reliever Jairo Labourt, who struck out seven in four shutout innings last week, owns a 0.66 ERA in 13 2/3IP, with 22 strikeouts against just 3 walks.
- Friday’s massacre saw Florida put up 24 hits, and Flygers outfielder Ben Verlander pitched for the second time in his pro career, giving up four hits and two runs in his lone inning of work. It was Lakeland’s most lopsided loss since they fell 20-2 to the Sarasota Reds on April 26, 2006, and it was the most runs the team has given up since since July 29th, 2010, when current Flying Tiger Quincy Latimore went 2-for-5 to help his Bradenton squad win 18-5.
West Michigan Whitecaps
15-9, T1st in the Eastern Division
The Whitecaps offense has awoken, their pitching remains strong, and they are on a roll, winning six of seven games last week, and taking nine of their last ten to surge into a tie for first place. The offense pounded out 24 extra-base hits last week, though that would have been hard to predict on Monday when they picked up just two timely doubles from Danny Woodrow and Will Savage. That was all Gregory Soto (6IP, 3H, 8K) needed to earn his first win of the season as West Michigan topped the Fort Wayne TinCaps 4-2. Kyle Funkhouser (6IP, 4H, 9K) has his third nine-strikeout game of the young season on Tuesday, and the offense put up 11 runs after the 5th inning to win a 12-3 blowout. They completed the sweep with an 8-2 win on Wednesday thanks to another strong start, this time from Eudis Idrogo (6IP, 8H, 2ER, 6K), and a productive day at the dish from Blaise Salter (3-for-5, 4 RBIs). The Whitecaps then hit the road for a four-game set with the Lake County Captains, and despite hitting four homers, the club’s six-game winning streak ended in a 10-5 loss on Thursday. But they then set about starting a new streak, winning the next three games in the series 7-3, 1-0, and 5-1 behind more excellent starting pitching from Anthony Castro (5 1/3IP, 2H, ER, 7K), Austin Sodders (6IP, 3H, 10K), and Soto (5IP, 4H, 5BB, 4K). Catcher Austin Athmann had his best game as a pro on Friday (3-for-4, 2 2B, HR, 3 RBIs), Woodrow knocked in the game’s only run on Saturday, and Anthony Pereira went 2-for-4 with a double in Sunday’s victory.
- Salter began the year terribly, hitting just .152 with 14 strikeouts in his first 12 games. In the 12 games since he’s hitting .378 with just three strikeouts. Last week he went 11-for-27 with 8 RBIs, three doubles, and his first career two-homer game.
- Soto still hasn’t given up an earned run this season, he has 21 strikeouts in 22 innings, and opposing batters are hitting just .135 against him so far this year. His fellow lefty Sodders has given up just two earned runs in 20 innings, has struck out 25 batters, and appears ready to join Chris Cody, Duane Below, Jon Kibler, Jordan John, Kevin Ziomek, and Matt Hall in the long line of polished college lefties who dominate the Midwest League for the Whitecaps.
- West Michigan’s offense suddenly has a number of hitters near the top of the league leaderboards. Cam Gibson ranks fourth in runs scored (18) and first in triples (5), Jacob Robson is third in hits (29), and Salter is third in RBIs (19).