TigsTown MLN: New Starters Shining in Erie

The Erie rotation got a makeover this past weekend, with a pair of new additions to the team from A ball. How did the pair fare in their first AA appearance? Plus, which SeaWolf is on a hot streak this month after a rough start to the season, in more ways than one.

The first newcomer to the Erie rotation doesn't come as much of a surprise, as Virgil Vasquez was likely the most polished pitcher of the group in Lakeland. Justin Verlander of course has the highest ceiling, but Vasquez has better command of his pitches and is more advanced in terms of simply getting hitters out. So there was no surprise when he was elevated to the Erie team.

What was surprising was his extremely impressive debut with the SeaWolves, as Vasquez pitched eight shutout innings of one-hit baseball to earn his first victory in the Eastern League. Vasquez also struck out five batters and walked just one. While Vasquez isn't a high ceiling prospect, he's been establishing himself for the past year and a half in that second tier group, who may not have dominant stuff, but gets batters out nonetheless. Looking for a comparison? Think a right-handed Mike Maroth.

As for the other promotion, this one came as possibly the first surprise on the minor league end of things this season, with Randor Bierd being promoted up to Erie all the way from West Michigan. Bierd was a relative unknown coming into this season, having just a handful of GCL appearances (as well as a few late season appearances in Lakeland) to show. But the Dominican Republic product shined early, and did enough to establish himself as a prospect and force the Tigers to move him up.

Bierd had a nice opener for Erie, coming out with the encouragement to not try and dominate, just get the ball over the plate and stay under control. Those instructions didn't get Bierd his first AA strikeout (he didn't walk or strike out a batter in his six innings of work), but it did get him his first AA win as he allowed just one run over those six innings of work. Relatively little is known about Bierd, but at the rate that he's progressing, you'll start to hear plenty more about this budding talent in the coming weeks and months.

After a great spring training in which he wowed manager Alan Trammell among others, Tony Giarratano seemed poised for a breakout year. But a slow start and a slight shoulder injury tempered those expectations. But now Tony looks to be back on track with his recent 16-game hitting streak, dating all the way back to May 8th. Over that period, Giarratano is hitting .348, including scoring 13 runs, smacking nine doubles and driving in eight more runs. His hot streak has raised his average over this little more than two week period from .190 to .261, and any questions that may have existed about his talent and possible lone hot streak for Lakeland last year have now been quieted.

Finally, one player who has been going in the opposite direction of Giarratano as of late has been David Espinosa, whose average has now fallen to an even .300, quite a drop from the .340's he was hitting when the month started. Fortunately for Espinosa, and a perfect example of how much on base percentage is a factor, his continued high walks has kept his on base percentage well above .400, leaving him in the leadoff slot and enabling him to still get on base and provide base runners for the heart of the order that would follow. Espinosa has 37 walks, which leads the Eastern League by a rather high margin (the next closest is 30). A lesson to all those young ballplayers out there, being patient at the plate has its benefits.

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