TAMPA, FL - Minor league Spring Training games began on Friday and it didn't take third baseman Miguel Andujar to pick up right where he left off from his blistering finish last season.
Miguel Andujar, playing with the Tampa Yankees work group this Spring Training camp, hit a blistering .319 in the second half last season with low-A Charleston and picked up right where he left off, lacing a double down the left field line in his very first Spring Training at-bat on Friday to help propel Tampa to a 7-1 victory over the high-A Pirates. He struck out swinging in his second at-bat but finished off on a high note, blasting a one-hop RBI double off of the left-centerfield wall before scoring two batters later on a Michael O'Neill [1-3, K] RBI double to nearly the exact same spot. And for good measure Andujar also made a head-turning back-handed grab on a rocket grounder down the line while playing in for a potential bunt attempt and threw out the runner.
It was on the mound where the Charleston RiverDogs made their mark on Friday despite a 5-1 loss [four runs served up by Jordan Cote], highlighted by the monstrous right-hander Domingo Acevedo. He sat mostly in the 93-96 mph range, topped out at 97 mph, and threw strike after strike. He didn't throw much in the way of secondary pitches, just two changeups and two breaking balls, but he didn't have to. He retired the first six batters he faced [two via strikeout, three by inducing ground ball outs]. He was spot on in his first outing.
Tampa Starting Lineup: Mark Payton, Tyler Wade, Miguel Andujar, Mike Ford, Michael O'Neill, Ericson Leonora, Trent Garrison, Jackson Valera, Ryan Lindemuth, and Leonardo Molina.
Charleston Starting Lineup: Jorge Mateo, Gosuke Katoh, Dustin Fowler, Eric Jagielo, Connor Spencer, Abiatal Avelino, Eduardo De Oleo, Drew Bridges, and Austin Aune.
Acevedo wasn't the only Charleston hurler impressive in his Spring debut. Right-hander Ty Hensley, who actually started the game for Charleston, was nearly as impressive. Sitting mostly 91-92 mph and topping out at 93, Hensley had surprising command of his fastball on Friday. It was his curveball, however, that he had a little trouble locating. The bit was there and it was plus movement, but he just couldn't throw it for strikes when he wanted. Otherwise though, it was a very encouraging first outing.
Brady Lail actually started the game for the Tampa Yankees and didn't have his normal stellar command working for him. Sitting mostly 91 mph, he scattered two hits and a walk over two scoreless innings. He didn't strike anybody out but threw strikes and recorded four ground ball outs.
Tyler Wade had a solid opening day offensively for Tampa, going 1-2 with a walk and a run scored [although got caught stealing and later struck out] but defensively he was outstanding. He made three really great plays, including one wear a ball rocketed off of the heel of Lail, bounced awkwardly, and was not only picked up by Wade on a great play but he ran it over to second base before gunning down the runner at first for a double-play. He is looking like a big leaguer already on the defensive side of the ball.
Wade wasn't the only shortstop making an impact at the minor league complex. Jorge Mateo failed to hit safely in Charleston's victory but he still looked really good. He hit the ball hard the first three times he stepped to the plate, two of which were hard liners to centerfield, and the third was a hard, high chopper to the shortstop that bounced off of the mound and he was thrown out by half a step. He walked in his fourth plate appearance, promptly stole second base on the very next pitch, and later stole third by baiting the catcher; he ran halfway to third in an effort to get the catcher's attention, faked going back to second and as soon as the catcher threw to second in an attempt to pick him off Mateo took off for third and easily stole the bag. Prior to the game Mateo was quite impressive in batting practice, launching some long home runs over the left-centerfield wall.
Making it the trifecta, Abiatal Avelino also made his mark. Playing for Charleston, he went 2-3, including an infield hit and a single to right field, and also made a couple of sterling plays defensively in the field.
Gabe Encinas, like Lail, didn't have his command working on Friday but the stuff was very, very impressive. He sat 92-94 mph, topped out at 95 mph, and showed both an impressive slider and an impressive changeup movement-wise. He had a hard time, however, locating his pitches in the strike zone. He walked two batters in two no-hit, scoreless innings.
Rookie Davis followed Lail and Encinas, and tossed two scoreless innings of his own. He was the beneficiary of two great defensive plays turned in by Wade and another by Andujar, but the stuff was impressive. He sat 93-95, touched 96, showed an impressive breaking ball, and even threw a couple of good looking changeups too.
Mark Payton [1-3, HBP, RBI], Mike Ford [0-2, BB], and Leonardo Molina [1-3, RBI, K] all looked really good at the plate for Tampa. Molina in particular looked rather strong. He flew out to deep center in his first at-bat and later singled sharply to centerfield when he waited on a breaking pitch. It was a fine piece of hitting not many teenagers are known to do.
Chris Breen [1-2, 2B] and Drew Bridges [0-3] looked very strong at the plate for Charleston. Breen's double was a laser beam hit over the left fielder's head that one hopped the wall and even though Bridges went hitless in the stats column he hit the ball hard all three times he stepped to the plate, one of which was a comeback right to the pitcher who had to play goalie on the play and another was a hard liner to the centerfielder. Bridges also appears to be in fantastic physical shape. He did, however, have a defensive miscue in the field at third when he attempted to make a back-handed play on a ball and it popped out of his mitt.
Put Dustin Fowler [1-2, SB, K], Austin Aune [0-1, K], and Gosuke Katoh [0-2, K] in the "showed up to camp in great shape" group too. Fowler looks stronger and quicker, Aune looks a lot stronger, and so does Katoh.
Right-hander Simon De La Rosa, pitching for Tampa on Friday, followed Encinas both in the game and in the way he looked. The stuff was very impressive right out of the gate, sitting 93-94 mph and showing some great sliders. The problem, however, was like Encinas he had a hard time controlling the strike zone. Somehow De La Rosa, despite walking four batters in 1.1 innings, managed to not give up any runs.
Perhaps one of the more encouraging signs on Friday was the successful return of Frank Frias from his gruesome ankle injury. He didn't start in the game for Charleston but he came off the bench and flew out out to centerfield in his only at-bat.
Word from the Yankee Dominican academy is that a lot of last year's top International signings are tearing it up in their Spring Training down there. Nelson Gomez in particular has been impressing with both his hitting and power, and word is Juan De Leon reported to camp a lot stronger and a lot faster, so much so that his speed is now plus with the speeds he's been posting and the power is reportedly as impressive as both Gomez's and Dermis Garcia's at this point.