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Midshipmen’s Log, 6/7/21: Connor Phillips, Kaden Polcovich, Leon Hunter Jr. all turn in solid performances

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But it was a down week overall for the affiliates, sadly

Leon Hunter pitching for North Carolina A&T, where he was solely a reliever. A sterling senior season led the Rangers to use a late-draft pick on him, and now he’s climbing the ladder with the Mariners

I don’t know what it’s like for the players, but the six-game series are starting to drag on me. It’s fun when the affiliate is crushing their opposition, of course, but it can make a bad stretch worse for a player (or entire team!) struggling against a particular organization. I spoke to a high-minors player I’m friendly with and he said about the same, that while the regularity of the off-day is cherished (especially for players looking to schedule visits and buy plane tickets for family and friends), it does get a little boring seeing the same faces six games in a row. Perhaps familiarity breeding contempt is a good way to position what happened in the A-AA affiliates this week:

Modesto Nuts (19-11) lose series, possession of first place against San Jose Giants (SF) (19-11)

It was a fight for first place, with the Nuts taking on the Giants’ prospect-packed lineup, and sadly, Modesto just wasn’t up to the task this time around, dropping the series four games to just two. It was a real bummer for the team that’s been the most consistent winner in Seattle’s system, marred by some sloppy defense and poor outings from Modesto’s normally lockdown pitching staff, as well as a surprising offensive power outage. Meanwhile, the Fresno Grizzlies—Modesto’s next opponents—took advantage of the two former first-place teams beating each other up to sneak into first place.

Game one: Modesto’s comeback falls just short, 3-4

In an outing that would become an unfortunate theme for this series, normally stalwart Nuts starter Josias De Los Santos had his worst start of the year, going just 3.2 innings and surrendering four runs, all earned, on five hits with six walks and just two strikeouts. Brayan Perez and Kelvin Nuñez held things down out of the bullpen, but Modesto’s offense wasn’t able to get anything going against Giants 2020 third-rounder Kyle Harrison, who went five innings, striking out six while surrendering just one run. Modesto tried to take advantage out of some wildness from the SJ bullpen, who walked five in just 1.2 innings, but the comeback fell short.

Game two: Nuts beat up SJ’s vaunted pitching staff, win 10-5

A three-run first inning and a five-run fifth inning where the Nuts capitalized on some sloppy play from San Jose meant this one was over early. The murderers’ row at the top of Modesto’s lineup (Marte, Marlowe, and Trent Tingelstad filling in Victor Labrada’s usual place) combined for eight runs on five hits, and Dariel Gomez and Juan Querecuto pitched in from the 8 and 9 spots with a hit each to keep turning the lineup over. RHP Connor Phillips turned in his longest start as a pro, going 5.2 innings and giving up three runs on three hits with five walks (ouch!) and seven strikeouts (good!).

Luis Curvelo gave up his first run of the season in relief, and the normally nails Travis Kuhn also struggled to shut things down in the ninth, needing Matt Willrodt to bail him out for the final out, but the Nuts had built a comfortable lead by that point with an extra insurance run in the eighth, even, as they continued to take advantage of every misplay by San Jose, so all was copacetic.

Game three: San Jose repays the favor, trounces Modesto 1-9

Adam Macko ran into a buzzsaw against a talented Giants lineup; far from his normal double-digit strikeout totals, Macko walked as many batters as he struck out (3) in just 3.1 innings while surrendering a career-high six runs. It was a rare off-day for Macko, as the young pitcher always walks a little bit of a thin line with commanding his big stuff, and today the command just wasn’t there. The bullpen allowed three more runs to score while the offense was entirely dominated by Giants starter Carson Ragsdale, a 2020 Phillies fourth-rounder acquired in the Sam Coonrod deal. Ragsdale struck out 10 in five innings, giving the Nuts a taste of what facing their pitching staff generally looks like from the other side. Not a good taste!

Game four: battle of the 2020 fifth round picks goes Modesto’s way, 6-3

The last time Taylor Dollard pitched he went up against D-Backs 2020 fifth-rounder Brandon Pfaadt and was outdueled; this week he faced Giants 2020 fifth-rounder Ryan Murphy and won, mostly by virtue of being able to hang in the game longer. Murphy went four innings and surrendered just one run on two hits with seven strikeouts, but the Modesto batters made him work, pushing his pitch count to almost 80 through four. Dollard wasn’t as sharp as he has been, with a mere five strikeouts and three runs surrendered, but was able to hang in the game for a career-high 6.1 innings, allowing Elvis Alvarado and Matthew Willrodt to lock things down out of the bullpen.

Meanwhile Modesto’s batters racked up five more runs after the one scored off Murphy (off the bat of RBI-machine Cade Marlowe, natch): Alberto Rodríguez tripled and was driven in by BFF Noelvi Marte on an infield single. Rodríguez’s hit would be Modesto’s only extra-base hit on the day; the rest of the runs came in on singles and productive outs, and Cuban speedster Victor Labrada manufactured a run entirely on his legs, walking, stealing second, stealing third, and then taking home on a bad throw by the catcher.

Game five: Modesto can’t support Sam Carlson’s strong start, lose 2-6

Sam Carlson was effectively wild as he continues to navigate the early waters of his professional career, walking six in five innings with a wild pitch AND a HBP and only throwing 48 of his 94 pitches for strikes, but also striking out five and limiting the damage to just one run, earned. 2019 UDFA Robert Winslow, bouncing down to Modesto after doing fill-in duty at Tacoma, had a rough entry to the former Cal League, giving up five runs in just 1.2 innings, but only two were earned thanks to a couple of wild pitches and a throwing error by Winslow, compounded by a fielding error by 2B Justin Lavey. Meanwhile, after scoring two runs in the second off Giants 2020 FA signing Will Jensen with Alberto Rodríguez again leading the offensive charge, the offense turtled up for the rest of the game.

Game six: Modesto loses big again, 4-11

Ouch. This is the kind of rout this Modesto team has been good at avoiding, but they again played some sloppy ball and failed to make much happen with the bats to support starter Damon Casetta-Stubbs, who worked three clean innings and then had a nightmare fourth inning where he gave up five runs, most of those on a three-run home run. The Nuts did give DCS two early small-ball runs in the second but then failed to score again until the seventh, when it was Modesto’s turn to scrape a couple cheap runs off some San Jose sloppy play. That was the closest the game would ever get, though, at 3-7, before the Giants added four more runs in garbage time off Brayan Perez, and the Nuts would go on to lose both the game, and possession of first place. Boooooo.

Everett AquaSox (17-12) drop rain-shortened series vs. Hillsboro (ARI) (13-16)

No Julio, still, as he’s off raking with team Dominican Republic, and also no video, still. If you happen to be at Everett for a game and capture something great, please send it on over to us to feature, we’d love to have some more video.

Game one: Frogs get Hops, 16-2

Before being traded to the Mariners, Matt Brash had worked only in one-inning stints in the Padres system. In this game he turned in his longest start as a pro, going 5.2 innings and surrendering just one run on four hits with seven strikeouts and two walks. Dayeison Arias cleaned up when Brash got into a little trouble in the sixth, hitting a batter and allowing a single, and Tim Elliott worked the final three innings allowing just one more run. Meanwhile, the AquaSox offense said “no Julio, no problem,” touching up Hops starter Conor Grammes for seven runs on eight hits over 3.2 innings. Everett got three runs off Grammes in the first on home runs by Austin Shenton and Carter Bins, and then another four in the fourth as seven consecutive Frogs reached base with only a fielder’s choice as an out; Jack Larsen and Kaden Polcovich homered, and Patrick Frick and Austin Shenton doubled. Everett added one more run on a Carter Bins home run in the fifth, and then went nuts in the sixth, scoring another eight runs in an inning where Kaden Polcovich had two hits in the inning, a single and a three-run home run. Frick and Shenton also had their second doubles of the game in this inning, which boosted the AquaSox’s league-leading run differential back up to an MiLB-leading +79.

Game two: Sox squander Stoudt’s start, lose, 2-6

RHP Levi Stoudt was excellent over five innings, striking out 10 and allowing just one run. His offense scored two runs over those five innings off Arizona’s 2019 second-rounder Ryne Nelson, thanks to David Sheaffer coming up with two clutch RBI hits. Unfortunately, reliever Tyler Driver couldn’t keep the Hops off the board beyond that, and the offense couldn’t create any more runs, in a hole that only deepened when Kyle Hill allowed two more runs.

Game three: Sox offense falls asleep in second half of game, lose 2-7

Everett kept this one close until the fourth, after which the Hops scored five unanswered runs in another sleepy night for the AquaSox offense. Emerson Hancock gave up two runs in three innings; emergency fill-in Michael Limoncelli also gave up two earned runs (three runs total) as did Dayeison Arias, but none of those count since the offense took a big ol’ nap from the fourth inning on. Come back soon, Julio.

Game four: AquaSox find missing offense, pair with excellent pitching, win 13-2

Everett gave 2020 D-Backs CBA pick Slade Cecconi a very rude welcome to the Northwest, tagging him for eight runs, seven earned, in just 2.1 innings. Cecconi struggled with his command early, walking the first two batters of the game and then loading the bases on a Kaden Polcovich single. A passed ball by the catcher allowed the game’s first run to score, and then an RBI groundout from Jack Larsen put another tally on in the first. The trouble for Cecconi began in earnest in the third, which began with an Austin Shenton homer, and after a Polcovich groundout, four straight singles and a Miguel Perez double to put four more runs on the board. Everett didn’t take it any easier on Cecconi’s replacement Justin Vernia; Cody Grosse greeted him with an RBI single and then Zach DeLoach, the 9th batter in the inning, doubled in another two runs. Polcovich, who wanted in on the run-scoring after grounding out earlier in the inning, added a two-run homer to put the Frogs up 11-0. Ouch. The Sox would add another pair of runs, one on another Polcovich solo shot. Meanwhile, George Kirby made a much-anticipated return to the mound and went 2.1 innings, striking out four and walking an un-Kirby-like two batters; reportedly his velo sat in the mid-90s, though, so that’s all good news. Isaiah Campbell was the long man, allowing one run over three innings while striking out four, and Jarod Bayless pitched two scoreless innings.

Game five: Everett loses rain-shortened contest, 3-5

This was supposed to be a double-header consisting of two seven-inning games but the clubs could only get one in before the rain really started coming down in the PNW. Brandon Williamson bad-lucked his way into a loss but struck out 12 batters in just 5.2 innings while walking no one; this is the quirk of the minor leagues, in that sometimes the game result doesn’t always mean bad things on the farm.

C Carter Bins was the offensive hero of the day, hitting his fourth double and fifth home run of the season.

Arkansas Travelers (13-15) drop series against Wichita Wind Surge (MIN) (18-11)

Exciting news for those of you with MiLB TV: the Wind Surge was initially slated to be a Triple-A affiliate, meaning the stream is crystal-clear HD with a good centerfield angle and high-quality camera work. Less-exciting news: the Wind Surge are one of the best teams in the Central League, and Arkansas wasn’t able to climb out of the hole the Tulsa Drillers put them in during this series.

Game one: Offense spoils solid outing by pitching staff, Arkansas loses 1-2

The Arkansas pitching staff took it on the chin some against a prospect-packed Drillers team, so it was disheartening to have a strong start by Alejandro Requena (5 IP, 2 R) and hero’s work done by emergency call-up 21-year-old LHP Holden Laws (3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 K, 0 BB) go for naught as the Travelers couldn’t get much going off Mercyhurst alum (same as Dan Altavilla) and one of my favorite targets in the 2018 draft Chris Vallimont, who gave up just one run in four innings, and the remainder of the Surge’s bullpen. Brian O’Keefe led the way with three hits and Bobby Honeyman had the Travs’ only RBI.

Game two: Bullpen day works out for Arkansas, Travelers win 5-2

Arkansas got off to an early lead, scoring two runs in the first on a two-run single from Brian “Please Promote Me Already” O’Keefe, and another in the third on a Bobby Honeyman double; they’d manufacture one more run in the fifth to stake starter Adam Hill to a 4-0 lead. Hill held things down into the fifth, when he finally gave up a couple of runs on some hard contact, but the recently-promoted Leon Hunter quelled the threat and then pitched in two more scoreless innings with five strikeouts. Collin Kober and Darin Gillies locked things down out of the bullpen, although the Travs added one more insurance run in the ninth on a bases-loaded Joe Rizzo walk, just in case.

Game three: Arkansas gets walked off, 6-7

Ian McKinney has been nails so far this season for Arkansas but didn’t have his stuff today, lasting just three innings and giving up five runs. That should have been enough to sink Arkansas’ less-than-potent lineup but the Travs made a game out of it in the seventh, with Connor Lien hitting his second home run of the day to draw the Travs within one, and then in the eighth Brian “Please Promote Me Already” O’Keefe hit a two-run home run to give Arkansas the lead. Alas, it was short-lived, as reliever Michael Stryffler couldn’t keep the Wind Surge from, uh, surging ahead in the bottom of the ninth.

Game four: Travs drop game in extras, 5-8

Penn Murfee was solid, giving up three runs in five innings of work, but the bullpen couldn’t hold it together, allowing the tying runs to score in the 7th after Arkansas had gotten a lead, and the winning runs in the 10th. on a game-ending homer. Joe Rizzo and Bobby Honeyman had doubles for the Travs as part of three and four-hit days respectively, and Jake “Rake” Scheiner hit his seventh homer of the season.

Game five: Travs drop third consecutive game, 4-6

Devin Sweet struck out nine but also allowed five runs over 5.2 innings, and the Travs offense struggled to get anything off highly-ranked Twins prospect Jordan Balazovic, who struck out five batters in 3.2 innings while only allowing one hit. The Travs were able to get some runs off the Surge’s bullpen, thanks to home runs from David Masters and Connor Lien, as well as a Jake Ancía double, but it just wasn’t enough.

Game six: Travs decide winning is more fun, crush Wind Surge 9-0

After getting their butts handed to them by Balazovic the previous day, the Travs batters took out their frustration on Wichita starter Chris Vallimont, profiting also from seeing him the second time this series. After Vallimont held them to just one run in four innings in the series opener, the Travs tagged him for four runs in three innings, with Stephen Wrenn leading the charge with a homer and an RBI single; Josh Morgan also homered. Bobby Honeyman dealt damage to the Wind Surge bullpen with an RBI single and a double. Meanwhile, Tyler Herb held things down on the pitching end, shutting out the Surge through seven innings as Ray Kerr and Darin Gillies each pitched in a scoreless inning to keep the shutout intact.

Name to know this week:

RHP Leon Hunter Jr., AA, 1.93 ERA and 20 Ks in 13.2 IP across A+/AA

Hunter, a 35th-round draft pick by the Rangers in 2019, was acquired in a late-April trade for either cash or a PTBNL. Hunter is 24 but had never pitched above A-ball before coming to the Mariners, who moved him up to Double-A after just four games in Modesto. At the time, I thought it might be a temporary bump, but Hunter is age-appropriate for the level despite having just 26 professional innings under his belt before coming to Seattle, and so far, things seem to be going quite well for LHJ in the Texas League:

Hunter, who attended the HBCU North Carolina A&T State (NCAT), is a certified Large Lad at 6’3”/250; in college he had 31 strikeouts in 31 innings pitched in his senior campaign, after which Texas drafted him. There’s heavy sink on Hunter’s fastball and he also throws a breaking pitch (the Inland Empire announcer called it a changeup, so that’s what I’m going with) that showed some swing-and-miss in the Cal League, but it will be interesting to track his offerings against more advanced batters in AA.

Upcoming matchups, June 8-13:

AA: Arkansas @ Springfield (STL), Tue-Weds 4:35 PT, Th-Fri 5:05 PT, Sat 4:05 PT, Sun 4:05 PT

A+: Everett vs. Eugene (SFG), Tue-Sat 7:05 PT, Sun 4:05

A: Modesto vs. Fresno (COL), Tue-Fri 7:05 PT, Sat 6:05 PT, Sun 2:05 PT