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Midshipmen’s Log, 5/24/21: Nuts are hot, Devin is Sweet, Ian McKinney complete game, AquaSox slump

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Also: some names you might not have heard before

Kansas City Royals v Seattle Mariners
Ian McKinney, looking to collect more Pitcher of the Year accolades
Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

As the big league club continues to scuffle, allow me to invite you to turn your attention to the minor leagues, where fun things continue to happen on a near-nightly basis. This week, Modesto surged ahead of Everett to become the winningest affiliate as the AquaSox began to slump a little. Also, a surprisingly good Arkansas team keeps on winning.

Low-A West: Modesto (13-5) takes series from Inland Empire (LAA) (8-9)

There is a train whistle sound that goes off after every Inland Empire home run and it is the worst, so I was rooting all series for the Nuts to keep the 66ers scoring to a minimum. Unfortunately San Manuel stadium plays up offensively, so there were a lot of runs scored in this series—more by Modesto than Inland Empire, thankfully.

Game One: Nuts crush 66ers, 14-4

It’s a good thing there was no train noise for the Nuts scoring runs. Noelvi Marte alone outscored the 66ers, collecting three hits (including a HR), five RBI, and walking three times. Cade Marlowe also pitched in a home run from the three-hole. The bottom of Modesto’s lineup was productive too, though, with Trent Tingelstad and Justin Lavey each collecting three hits out of the seven and nine spots, respectively. Josias De Los Santos was again excellent, going five innings and allowing just one run while striking out seven, although he had to battle some command issues with four walks. He still had an easier time of it than Angels #7 prospect Jack Kochanowicz, who only made it one out into the second inning against Modesto’s powerful lineup, surrendering seven runs on six hits with three walks and no strikeouts.

Game Two: Modesto takes care of business, 4-1

A much more subdued but no less dominant performance from Modesto’s batters tonight, mostly because Noelvi Marte had an off-night (no hits, three strikeouts). Cade Marlowe and Victor Labrada picked up the slack at the top of the lineup, each doubling, and Alberto Rodríguez made sure his and Marte’s hometown of Cotuí was still well-represented in the box score, with an RBI single of his own. Brett Rodriguez, who got off to a slow start but has steadily been heating up, also had an RBI triple. On the pitching side, Connor Phillips continued to roll over Low-A batters, with nine strikeouts in his five innings, although he was lucky only to surrender one earned run having walked four. That’s something he’ll need to clean up before he can head up to the more selective batters of the Northwest League. Modesto’s bullpen (Robert Winslow, Elvis Alvarado, and Matthew Willrodt) locked things down on the back nine with a combined one hit, three walks, and seven strikeouts.

Game Three: Modesto socks away another win, 10-7

This one wasn’t as close as it looks from the score. Adam Macko was solid for Modesto, even as he gave up four runs in his five innings, striking out 10; an impressive start considering he was battling his command at times (three walks). Also battling his command: Juan Mercedes, who after looking rock-solid for an inning and a half, started to see his command disintegrate when there was a fielding error behind him. He then issued two straight walks, and another fielding error allowed a run to score. Mercedes walked yet another batter and allowed a run to score on a wild pitch before mercifully getting out of the inning with the score 10-7. Luis Curvelo came in to work the final two innings of the game and ran roughshod over the 66ers with 95 mph heat, allowing no runs on one hit and striking out four while walking none.

Meanwhile, though, the pitchers didn’t have much to worry about because it seems like the Modesto lineup can just score runs at will. Once again the top of the order was a problem with Labrada and Marte teaming up for a combined four hits and six RBI; Labrada had two doubles and Marte a double and yet another home run. Again, though, the bottom of the lineup came through, with shortstop Juan Querecuto and Brett Rodriguez combining for another four hits and four RBI.

Game Four: Modesto’s winning streak comes to an end, 2-3

It was dueling aces in Modesto with Taylor Dollard, Mariners’ 2020 fifth-rounder, battling Ryan Smith, LAA’s 18th-rounder in 2019. Smith might not have the draft pedigree and is a skosh old for the level at 23, but he mowed down Modesto with no runs allowed and thirteen strikeouts over six innings. Dollard countered with 11 strikeouts of his own in just 4.2 innings but again struggled a little with walks (3) and surrendered three runs, all Inland Empire would need for a win. The Nuts tried to make it interesting after Smith was out of the game, but alas, it was too little, too late.

Game Five: Four-run seventh inning pushes Modesto past Inland Empire, 10-7

With a day off for Victor Labrada and an off-day for Noelvi Marte (no hits), it was up to the rest of Modesto’s lineup to make the lineup chug along, and so they did. In the 2-4 spots, Cade Marlowe, Robert Perez Jr., and Trent Tingelstad combined for five hits and five RBI, and the 6-9 hitters all had at least one hit apiece, keeping the line moving. That offensive output helped compensate for a shaky start from Sam Carlson, who allowed six runs on nine hits in just four innings. New acquisition Leon Hunter Jr. allowed a run in long relief of Carlson, but then Elvis Alvarado and Kelvin Nuñez shut the door on any potential 66ers comeback with two shutout innings.

Game Six: Nuts drop series finale, 3-5

IE is using a five-man rotation instead of six so this was another start for Jack Kochanowicz, who this time lasted into the fourth inning, but gave up three runs in that inning without recording an out. Modesto again was flustered by Kochanowicz’s replacement John Swanda, however (a 2017 fourth-rounder), and couldn’t get anything going off him for the next five innings. Modesto starter Damon Casetta-Stubbs struggled, giving up four runs (three earned) in three innings, striking out five (yay!) but walking four (no). Robert Winslow provided three innings of relief, allowing one run, and Matt Willrodt and Nolan Hoffman each pitched a scoreless inning. The Nuts made it interesting late when Juan Querecuto singled with two outs in the ninth, but was then promptly picked off at first to end the game. Alberto Rodríguez had an RBI double and Ty Duvall had a two-RBI single to account for the Nuts’ scoring.

Prospect Performers:

Noelvi Marte: .347/.427/.569; 25 hits in 17 games; 4 2B and 4 HR

RHP Taylor Dollard: 2.63 ERA, league-leading 29 Ks in 13.2 innings

Name to know:

RHP Josias De Los Santos: 16 K in 14 IP, 1.29 ERA

Santos is deceptively strong despite his thin frame and can rush it up to mid-90s on his fastball with some run away from RHBs. Occasionally that run can run right out of the strike zone, so command can be an issue, and those issues can be compounded by some crossfire action in his delivery, but there’s deception here that prompts some very ugly swings.

High-A West: Everett (12-6) drops series to Spokane Indians (COL) (6-12), win just two games

When you’re the top of the mountain you get everyone’s best, and that’s what Spokane brought to a suddenly mortal-looking AquaSox pitching staff.

Game One: Everett loses, 2-5

Matt Brash gave 3.2 innings of scoreless ball but wasn’t efficient, walking (4) almost as many batters as he struck out (5). The AquaSox bullpen leaked out five runs in relief, with most of the damage being done against Tyler Driver, a 2019 18th-rounder out of a North Carolina high school who is being challenged, maybe overly so, with this assignment. Meanwhile, the AquaSox could only scrape together two runs despite doubling three times (Jack Larsen, Austin Shenton, Patrick Frick), and another HR for Larsen. There won’t be a case for keeping Larsen down at a level he’s already completed for much longer, so someone else from the Frogs lineup is going to have to step up to provide his consistent power production.

Game Two: Everett loses, 3-5

An unpleasant replay of the previous night’s game, this time with Levi Stoudt getting knocked around for three runs; however, Stoudt gave up those runs over five-plus innings of work. Once again Everett’s bats struggled to get much going; Tyler Keenan had two hits, including a double, and Connor Hoover had a single and two RBI, but otherwise the AquaSox couldn’t string together much more than a few scattered base hits.

Game Three: Everett loses, 2-3

Julio kicked in two hits, Jack Larsen homered again, and Kaden Polcovich doubled, but once again the Frogs failed to string together enough of an offensive threat (0-for-3 with runners in scoring position) to get past Spokane’s pitching staff despite a solid start from Emerson Hancock (3.2 IP, 0 ER, 4 Ks, 2 BB). Hancock’s velocity was reported around 93 on the broadcast, which is definitely down a few ticks from where he’d been sitting at MiLB spring training, although who knows how reliable Spokane’s stadium gun is.

Game Four: Frogs snap losing streak, win 8-6

Everett’s bats helped put a stop to their brief three-game losing streak even as the bullpen gave up six combined runs after a strong start from Stephen Kolek, traded in late April from the Dodgers. Kolek struck out five over three innings and gave up no runs, but no member of the bullpen was able to put up a clean inning after him. Dayeison Arias made his 2021 debut and Holden Laws made his full-season debut. The offense was able to pick up the slack, though, posting two runs in the second and then really getting the train moving in the fifth, with fifth more runs. Most of the runs were manufactured rather than big blasts, but Carter Bins did have a two-run double. As Spokane threatened to get closer in the later innings, the Sox added two more key insurance runs in the 9th with big blasts off the bats of Carter Bins (again!) and Jack Larsen.

Game Five: Frogs drop another game, 5-7

Brandon Williamson struck out nine batters over four innings but also surrendered four hits on four runs. Blake Townsend followed him and gave up another three runs in 1.2 IP but struck out four and also made his first pro pitching appearance since early 2019, as he had a long rehab from TJ, so just him standing on top of a mound was a win. Julio Dilone, a 2020 signing out of Cotuí (Noelvi Marte’s hometown), making his professional debut in an aggressive assignment, also pitched a scoreless inning with his first pro strikeout. Everett scored five runs in the first three innings but the offense went cold after that, not able to scratch any more runs off Colorado’s 2020 second-rounder Chris McMahon in three more innings, nor the bullpen behind that. Austin Shenton had two hits and Kaden Polcovich had an RBI double in the loss.

Game Six: AquaSox finish series strong, win 11-6

This game featured a ton of back-and-forth scoring, with Spokane getting to Everett starter Juan Then for five runs in just over three innings, and Everett returning the favor on an Austin Shenton double and a Zach DeLoach homer. The AquaSox climbed ahead in the fifth with a two-run Jack Larsen double and a David Sheaffer double, and then salted the win away with an Austin Shenton grand slam off former #4 overall pick Riley Pint. Isaiah Campbell in the back half of a piggyback start provided 5.2 innings of one-run ball with four strikeouts and just one walk.

Name to know: He wasn’t as on fire this week as he had been, but Julio remains 4th in the Northwest League with a .983 OPS, .303/.391/.592

Promote him already: Jack Larsen, .355/.429/.661, 1.090 OPS (1st in NWL), 7 2B, 4 HR

Double-A Central: Arkansas Travelers (11-6) take series from Corpus Christi Hooks (HOU) (6-11)

Game One: Travs can’t hold late lead, lose 8-10

Welp, this one can’t be blamed on the offense, as the Travs hung four runs on Hooks starter Parker Mushinski before tacking another three on against Chad Donato. The three-man wrecking crew of Jake Scheiner, Brian O’Keefe, and Joe Rizzo accounted for the lion’s share of those runs, with seven hits between the three of them, including two more doubles for the hot-hitting Scheiner and Joe Rizzo’s first Double-A home run. Congratulations Joe!

Things were not so great on the pitching side, obviously, but it should be pointed out Nick Duron threw another scoreless inning; he has seven scoreless innings, a K/9 of 12+, and oh my gosh just get him to Seattle already, he can’t be worse than Brady Lail.

Game Two: Rained out

Game Three, and Game Two makeup: Travs sweep doubleheader, 8-4 and 6-1

If you haven’t guessed by now, the Double-A affiliate is not where Houston is housing their best pitching prospects, generally, but actually Hunter Brown is the Astros’ #3 prospect overall, and their top pitching prospect not named Forrest Whitley (or alternately, their best healthy pitching prospect). That didn’t stop the Travs offense from hanging three runs on the 22-year-old and knocking him out after just 1.2 innings of work, nickel-and-diming him with soft singles more than hard contact but still keeping the line moving despite three strikeouts from Brown. The Travs offense wasn’t any nicer to the longman out of the bullpen, J.P. France (apparently a pitcher in the Astros organization and not a terrifying hybrid of Seattle infielders), tagging him for another three runs powered by back-to-back RBI doubles from Scheiner and Rizzo. The Travs let the Hooks get tantalizingly close in the fourth, when Arkansas starter Adam Hill, who’d been living dangerously all afternoon, got into some two-out trouble and let the Hooks draw within two; Darrin Gillies then allowed an RBI single to J.J. Matijevic to trim the Travs lead to one, but got out of the inning without further damage after striking out certified Large Lad Colton Shaver. The Travs added on some insurance in the sixth (Joe Rizzo sac fly scoring Connor Lien) and even more in the seventh thanks to a Dom Thompson-Williams RBI single and a Jordan Cowan RBI double.

In Game Two of the doubleheader, the Travs and their taxed bullpen needed a strong start, and they got it from LHP Ian McKinney. McKinney pitched a complete game (7 innings), striking out 11 and walking just one batter in the first inning. He didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning, and he didn’t allow a run until the seventh, on a mistake pitch solo home run to Norel Gonzalez. Double-A has been McKinney’s bugaboo level; it was the level he struggled at when he was released by the Cardinals, and he struggled some after being promoted back in 2019 after a strong showing in Modesto. However it looks like McKinney has conquered the Texas League for once and for all, and should be on his way to Tacoma soon.

Let us all conquer our foes with this much style:

The Travs gave McKinney plenty of offense to support him; the big blows came from, of course, Jake Scheiner and Joe Rizzo, as well as Keegan McGovern, all of whom homered in prodigious fashion.

Game Four: Travs drop game in extras, 6-7

The Travs dropped three runs in the first on Hooks starter Joe Record thanks to a Brian O’Keefe two-run single and a Stephen Wrenn RBI single, but Arkansas starter Penn Murfee gave those runs right back in the bottom of the second. Each team added another run, pushing the game to extras, where they again traded blows until David Hensley knocked a two-run homer off Matt Stryffler to secure the victory for the Hooks. Stephen Wrenn was Arkansas’ hit leader with three, but Jake “Rake” Scheiner had two hits, including yet another double, and Joe Rizzo also had a two-hit day with a double.

Game Five: Devin Sweet dominates, Travs cruise to 7-2 victory

A three-hit day for former CC Hook Stephen Wrenn led the Travs offense to a decisive win, but the real story here was Devin Sweet, making just his third start in Double-A, going seven innings and allowing two runs, one on a solo shot, while striking out eight and walking none. It was a drastic improvement on Sweet’s first start when he walked six batters (although he did strike out seven, showing his stuff does indeed play at higher levels). Dom Thompson-Williams hit his first home run of the young season and Jake “Rake” Scheiner added another double to his impressive season total (7).

Game Six: Travs blank Hooks, 3-0

The Travs got six scoreless from prodigal Mariner organization member Tyler Herb, and another recently returned organization member Darin Gillies struck out the side for the save. Dom Thompson-Williams liked his first home run of the year the other day so much he decided to do it again, accounting for two of the Travs’ three runs; a Bobby Honeyman single accounted for the other.

Names to know:

LHP Ian McKinney: League-leading 29 Ks in 17 IP, 1.59 ERA

As the final reigning California League Pitcher of the Year, McKinney could make a bid for being the zombie Texas League POY, but likely won’t stick around long enough for that to happen.

Bonus: McKinney apparently also spent quarantine watching The Queen’s Gambit. Minor-leaguers, they’re just like us!

INF Jake “Rake” Scheiner: .358/.427/.642

Also, here’s one for the “Joe Rizzo can’t play defense” crowd:

Upcoming matchups, May 25-30:

Double-A: Travelers vs. Tulsa Drillers (LAD) (MiLB TV): 5:10 PT Tues-Fri, 4:10 PT Sat, 12:10 PT Sun

High-A: AquaSox at Vancouver Canadians (TOR) (games played at Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro), 7:05 PT Tues-Sat, 1:05 PT Sun

Low-A: Nuts vs. Visalia Rawhide (AZ) (no MiLB TV): 7:05 PT Tues-Fri, 6:05 Saturday, 2:05 Sunday