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Tampa Bay Rays Minor League Roundup (AA and AAA)

With the first two months of the season in the books, we’ll take a look at how Rays prospects have performed at the two highest levels.

Each team is loaded with talent, as the Rays feature one of the top farm systems in the game.

We’ll have a look at who’s off to a hot start and who’s struggling, with special attention to some of the Rays’ most noteworthy prospects.


AAA: Durham Bulls (31-23, First Place, IL South)

Who’s Hot

First baseman Dan Johnson, famous for his pinch-hit home run at Boston during the 2008 playoff run, is leading the International League with 15 homers and is batting .324. He’s 30 years old and a very known quantity, but he is making a strong case that he belongs in the big leagues somewhere.

Top pitching prospect Jeremy Hellickson has continued his dominance of AAA, going 8-2 with a 2.49 ERA in 65 innings pitched and striking out 67. He recently took a no-hitter into the eighth inning. Mike Ekstrom has anchored the bullpen since his demotion, giving up just one earned run in 20 innings pitched.


Who’s Not

It’s hard to find players that are disappointing on this team, as it is stacked in both its hitting and pitching. Outfielder Fernando Perez has struggled of late though. After hitting .282 in the first month, he hit just .165 in May. He’s batting .237 but has stolen 16 bases.



Desmond Jennings, the Rays’ top outfield prospect, has had his ups and downs in 2010. Injuries have kept him from getting into a groove at the plate, and he is batting .248 in 101 at-bats. He has no home runs but has stolen 16 bases and been spectacular in the field.


AA: Montgomery Biscuits (29-23, Second Place, Southern Division)

Who’s Hot

Pitching has been the strength of this team, and Jeremy Hall has been the workhorse of the staff, logging 57 innings in 10 starts. He’s currently 3-2 with a 2.53 ERA.

Alex Torres, one of the Rays’ top lefty pitching prospects, has been equally impressive, striking out 57 batters in 50 innings. He’s 5-2 with a 2.50 ERA in 10 starts. Starting pitcher Alex Cobb has added to the success of the rotation since coming off the DL, posting a 1.86 ERA in four starts.

Infielder Drew Anderson and catcher Nevin Ashley have paced the offense, batting .321 and .319 respectively.


Who’s Not

Pitcher Rayner Oliveros has been hit hard for a 6.32 ERA in more than 30 innings pitched. Outfielder Cody Straight is hitting just .195.



Starting pitcher Jake McGee, in his first full season after surgery, has had his moments but has also struggled at times. He has a 4.42 ERA in nine starts, with a very good 41 strikeouts in 38 innings.

Corner infielder Matt Sweeney, acquired in the Scott Kazmir trade along with Torres, was promoted to Montgomery from Single-A Charlotte. The 22-year-old has struggled in his first 53 AA at-bats after showing some good pop with Charlotte. He’s hitting .208 with just two walks and 16 strikeouts and has yet to hit his first home run.

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Rays-Angels Series Preview: Tampa Bay Looks to End Struggles in Anaheim

A day after all 27 batters failed to reach base, the Tampa Bay Rays head to Anaheim for a three-game series against the Angels. Looking to break out of a slump, the Rays would probably prefer a different venue. The team has lost 23 of their last 26 games in Anaheim, including the last five.

While the Rays still boast the best record in baseball at 22-9, their bats have been kept silent of late, hitting just .189 as a team over the last nine games. Tampa Bay is 5-4 in those games, which speaks volumes to how good the starting pitching staff has been.

This year’s Angels may need the extra support of playing at home and the added assistance of the Rally Monkey. The team is off to a 14-19 start, the worst in recent memory for Angels fans.

Matt Garza takes the mound in the first game, having already won five games this season. He’s struggled against the Angels though, with a 6.46 ERA in three career starts. The Angels counter with Joel Pineiro, who’s had similar struggles against the Rays.

Game two is the most intriguing as it features Scott Kazmir, the Rays all-time leader in numerous pitching categories, who was traded to the Angels last season. Kazmir has said it will be weird facing his former team and that he may have a hard time not laughing when some of his buddies, namely B.J. Upton, step up to the plate.

The Rays counter with Jeff Niemann, who’s been one of the AL’s better pitchers this season. On Wednesday the Rays send David Price, who’s off to an even better start, against Angels ace Jered Weaver.


Projected Lineups


1. Jason Bartlett – SS

2. Carl Crawford – LF

3. Ben Zobrist – RF

4. Evan Longoria – 3B

5. Carlos Pena – 1B

6. B.J. Upton – CF

7. Willy Aybar/Pat Burrell – DH

8. Dioner Navarro/John Jaso – C

9. Reid Brignac/Sean Rodriguez – 2B


1. Erick Aybar – SS

2. Bobby Abreu – RF

3. Torii Hunter – CF

4. Kendry Morales – 1B

5. Hideki Matsui – DH

6. Juan Rivera – LF

7. Howie Kendrick – 2B

8. Brandon Napoli – C

9. Brandon Wood – 3B



TB: M. Garza (5-1, 2.09)
LAA: J. Pineiro (2-4, 5.30)

Batter vs. Pitcher: Carl Crawford has seen Pineiro the most, going 5-for-17 with a home run. Carlos Pena is 2-for-11 with six strikeouts. Kendry Morales in 2-for-2 with a homer off Garza. Hideki Matsui is 1-for-9.


TB: J. Niemann (2-0, 2.23)
LAA: S. Kazmir (2-2, 7.11)

Batter vs. Pitcher: A few of the current Rays have seen Kazmir when they were on other teams. Jason Bartlett is 3-for-7. Matsui has seen Niemann the most and is 1-for-7. Mike Napoli is 3-for-5 with a triple.


TB: D. Price (4-1, 1.91)
LAA: J. Weaver (4-1, 2.66)

Batter vs. Pitcher: Bartlett is 2-for-10 with a homer off Weaver. Evan Longoria is 2-for-5 with two doubles and Crawford is 1-for-9. The Angels haven’t seen much of Price. Jeff Mathis is 2-for-4.

Game Notes

-Rays manager Joe Maddon is 1-13 in Anaheim against his former team.

-Former Angel Sean Rodriguez, traded in the Kazmir deal last year, will play against his former team for the first time.

-Tampa Bay was 12-21 against the AL West in 2009, 6-2 this season.

-The Angels went 4-2 against the Rays last season, 3-0 in Anaheim.

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Rays-Mariners Series Preview: Tampa Bay Heads West

The Rays (18-7) are off to the best start in baseball but begin a tough western road trip this week that sees them travel to Seattle, Oakland, and Anaheim.

They open up with the Mariners (11-13) on Tuesday, who come in having lost three straight after being swept at home by the Rangers.

These three series will go a long way to showing how good the Rays really are in 2010. Last August, when the Rays were beginning to get back into the wild-card race, the western road trip crippled the team’s chances, beginning with a blown save and loss to Seattle.

The Mariners have fallen to the bottom of the AL West standings but are easily within striking distance at just two games back. They have the added advantage of starting pitcher Cliff Lee, who has rejoined the team after a stint on the DL.


Projected Lineups


1. Ichiro – RF

2. Chone Figgins – 2B

3. Franklin Gutierrez – CF

4. Jose Lopez – 3B

5. Milton Bradley – LF

6. Ken Griffey Jr. – DH

7. Casey Kotchman – 1B

8. Rob Johnson – C

9. Jack Wilson – SS



1. Jason Bartlett – SS

2. Carl Crawford – LF

3. Ben Zobrist – RF/2B

4. Evan Longoria – 3B

5. Carlos Pena – 1B

6. B.J. Upton – CF

7. Pat Burrell – DH

8. Sean Rodriguez/Gabe Kapler – 2B/RF

9. Dioner Navarro/John Jaso – C


With the Rays facing three left-handers, Reid Brignac likely won’t start but should come off the bench later in games. Willy Aybar will likely get a start in this series, possibly in place of Carlos Pena.


Pitching Matchups


TB: James Shields (3-0, 3.38)

SEA: Jason Vargas (2-1, 3.60)

Shields is coming off his best start in more than a year, striking out 12 in seven innings to beat Oakland. The Mariners counter with the 27-year-old lefty Vargas, who’s had three quality starts in a row.

Pitcher vs. Batter: Chone Figgins has had some success against Shields, going 6-for-17 with three steals. Jose Lopez is just 2-for-15. Ichiro is 5-for-19 lifetime with a home run off Shields. Vargas has seen limited action against the Rays.



TB: Matt Garza (4-1, 2.06)

SEA: Cliff Lee (0-0, 0.00)

This has the makings of a classic pitcher’s duel. Lee looked very sharp in his first start, and Garza has been among the best in the American League thus far.

Pitcher vs. Batter: Current Mariners have had quite a bit of success against Garza; they are a collective 21-for-55 (.382) against the Rays righty. Ichiro is 4-for-11 with a home run.

Lefties Carl Crawford (3-for-18) and Carlos Pena (5-for-22) have each struggled against Lee. Pena has hit three homers off him though. Dioner Navarro has gone 0-for-10.



TB: Jeff Niemann (1-0, 2.76)

SEA: Ryan Rowland-Smith (0-1, 5.28)

The rubber match of the series features the third lefty in a row for the Mariners, something the Rays have struggled against in the past. The Rays counter with Niemann, a workhorse in the early going.

Pitcher vs. Batter: The Mariners haven’t seen much of Niemann, but Figgins is 4-for-6 off him. Griffey, Lopez, and Ichiro have all homered off him. The Rays haven’t seen much of Rowland-Smith either. Willy Aybar is 4-for-8 with three doubles, and Navarro has a home run off the lefty.


Game Notes

– This series features the top two teams in the AL in total ERA: Rays 3.01, Mariners 3.25.

– The Rays lead the majors in runs scored with 147, while the Mariners are second to last in the AL with 86. The Rays are hitting .263, the Mariners .236.

– Seattle is last in the AL with nine home runs as a team. The Rays have hit 26.

– The Rays were 3-5 against Seattle last season, 1-2 at Safeco Field.

– Tampa Bay was 12-21 against the AL West in 2009, 2-0 this season.

– Rays closer Rafael Soriano returns to the place he started his career; he spent five seasons with the Mariners from 2002-2006.

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Minor League Roundup: San Diego Padres

With one month of baseball in the books, we check up on the four minor league affiliates of the San Diego Padres. We’ll take a look at who’s gotten off to a hot start and who’s struggling, as well as how the Padres’ most notable prospects are coming along in the early going.

AAA – Portland Beavers

Who’s Hot: The Beavers’ pitching staff has carried them thus far, thanks in large part to starters Will Inman and Radhames Liz. Inman, 23, has started four times and boasts a 2.57 ERA in 21 innings. The 26-year-old Liz, a reliever for much of his career, has found success as a starter, striking out 22 in 14 innings and posting a 2.57 ERA.

The bullpen has been anchored by Ernesto Frieri and Ryan Webb, each of whom has thrown 10 scoreless innings. Frieri, 24, a hard-throwing righty who’s been on the Padres’ radar for quite some time, has 13 strikeouts and five saves, while giving up just two hits.

The Beavers’ lineup hasn’t been as impressive, but outfielder Mike Baxter is hitting .360 in 50 at-bats. First baseman Craig Cooper has been the best regular thus far, hitting .338 with a team-high 14 RBI.

Who’s Not: After a good spring, shortstop Lance Zawadzki was hitting just .162 with Portland. This didn’t prevent him however, from being called up by the Padres earlier this week when Everth Cabrera went on the DL.

Catcher Dusty Ryan, acquired from the Tigers in the offseason, has gone 7 for his first 52 (.135). Starting pitcher Nathan Culp was hit hard in two starts, prompting a demotion to AA, where he has struggled in three more starts for a total ERA of over six.

NOTABLE: Outfield prospects Aaron Cunningham and Luis Durango have shown flashes of potential in the first month. They are hitting .278 and .276 respectively. Cunningham is second on the team with 12 RBI, while Durango leads the team in stolen bases with 10 (though he’s been caught five times). Infielder Matt Antonelli has been on the DL.


AA – San Antonio Missions

Who’s Hot: Once considered a top prospect, outfielder Cedric Hunter had a rough 2009, causing many to drop him from their prospects lists. Back in San Antonio for a second go-around, the 22-year-old hasn’t disappointed. Playing every day he’s batting .333 and leads the team with 14 RBI from the leadoff spot.

Meanwhile the consensus top prospect in the system, starting pitcher Simon Castro, has not missed a beat. In four starts, Castro, 22, is 2-0 with a 1.11 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 24 innings. Fellow pitching prospect Jeremy Hefner had been just as good in his first four starts, posting a 1.35 ERA before getting hit hard in his start tonight.

As with the rest of the organization, the bullpen has been a strong point for the Missions. Leading the way are Brandon Gomes (1.35 ERA, 14 K’s) and Craig Italiano (11 scoreless innings).

Who’s Not: Two of the team’s most highly regarded prospects have struggled in the first month. Third baseman James Darnell has a .192 batting average and has struck out 20 times. Starting pitcher Wynn Pelzer is 1-3 with a 7.88 ERA and has been the outlier in an otherwise strong pitching staff.

NOTABLE: After an explosive offensive season in 2008, Kellen Kulbacki struggled through an injury-riddled ’09 season. His April has been somewhere in between the two. He’s hitting .290, but has yet to hit his first home run.

The Padres decided to put lefty Aaron Poreda, the top prospect in the Jake Peavy trade, in AA after pitching in AAA all of last season. He is a power arm being used out of the bullpen, posting a 1.63 ERA so far.


High A – Lake Elsinore Storm

Who’s Hot: Finally healthy and able to play every day, shortstop Drew Cumberland is showing what made him a high draft pick in 2007. He’s hitting .357 and leading the team in steals with nine. Outfielder Dan Robertson continues to meet every challenge thrown at him since being a low-round draft pick out of Oregon State. He leads the team in batting average (.366) and on-base percentage (.424).

Starting pitcher Anthony Bass has started five games and has a 3.41 ERA, an impressive feat in the hitter-friendly Cal League. Jorge Reyes has also been impressive as a starter (2-1, 3.54 ERA), striking out 19 batters in 20 innings. Brad Brach has been dominant as the closer, notching eight saves with an ERA of 0.77.

Who’s Not: Allan Dykstra, the first round pick in 2008, continues to disappoint in the minor leagues. The Padres hoped that a move to the hitters paradise of the Cal League would get the power-hitting first baseman going, but that just hasn’t happened. He hit .200 in 75 at-bats in April without a home run. Outfielder Yefri Carvajal is also off to a slow start, hitting just .140 over the first month.

NOTABLE: Former first round pick Nick Schmidt continues to try and come back from arm surgery. It remains to be seen if the 24-year-old lefty starter is the same pitcher as before the surgery. He’s started five games and logged more than 25 innings, posting a 4.97 ERA with 23 strikeouts. Highly-touted outfielder Jaff Decker is on the DL.


A – Fort Wayne Tin Caps

Who’s Hot: First baseman Nate Freiman has started the season on a tear, hitting .366 and leading the team with 18 RBI. The 6-foot-7, 23-year-old out of Duke is playing in his first full season of pro ball.

At 21 years old, starting pitcher Michael Watt has been the team’s ace. In five starts, he is 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA and 23 strikeouts. Miles Mikolas has thrown 16 2/3 innings out of the bullpen with a 1.62 ERA.

The ace of the pen though has been lefty Juan Oramas, who turns 20 this month. Oramas won the Mexican League Rookie of the Year this winter and threw 15 innings with a 1.20 ERA and 25 strikeouts in April for the Tin Caps. He was recently promoted to Lake Elsinore.

Who’s Not: Two of the team’s most promising young international prospects have floundered in the first month. Third baseman Edinson Rincon and outfielder Rymer Liriano excelled in the short-season leagues last year, but each have batting averages around .200 with more than 80 at-bats. A tough transition is to be expected for the two 19-year-old Dominicans, adjusting to the cold weather of the Midwest and the culture shock of their first full year playing stateside.

NOTABLE: The Padres started outfielder Everett Williams, last year’s second-round pick, in Fort Wayne, while first-rounder Donavan Tate remains in extended spring training. Williams, 19, hit .241 in his first 54 at-bats.

Shortstop Jonathan Galvez, a 19-year-old from the Dominican Republic who’s seen as having great potential, has fared slightly better than Rincon and Liriano. He’s hitting .259 with a .411 OBP. His 15 walks to 14 strikeouts is a rarity among players his age and shows his good plate discipline.


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