The Double-A Midland RockHounds, coming off three straight league championships, entered 2017 without a lot of star power in their lineup. There were three members of our Community Prospect List — infielders Richie Martin, Max Schrock, and an injured Yairo Munoz, and even two of them were coming off down years. By the team’s All-Star break in June, Munoz had moved up to Triple-A and Martin had fallen flat at the plate.
Reinforcements have arrived, though, from multiple avenues. The Hounds opened the second half by bringing up two members of the 2016 draft class: C Sean Murphy (3rd round), and OF Tyler Ramirez (7th round). Next up, the trade deadline brought in SS Jorge Mateo, an elite athlete who pushed Martin back to High-A Stockton. And finally, another July trade acquisition, 3B Sheldon Neuse, has been promoted from High-A.
We just talked about Neuse on Friday, so I won’t say too much about him here. After opening the season in Single-A in Washington’s system, it took him only 22 games to blow through High-A with the A’s thanks to a 203 wRC+ and 7 HR. He split time between SS and 3B in Stockton, but considering he made four errors in eight games at SS it’s hard to see him pushing Mateo off the position. He’s more likely to take over 3B from Jordan Tarsovich, the filler Oakland got in exchange for Brett Eibner.
As for the rest of the new group, Ramirez continues to produce on a near-daily basis. His wRC+ is at 146 through six weeks, with a huge walk rate and midlevel power. His BABIP is still quite high, but it’s worth noting that he’s now 117 games into his season (500 PAs) and his overall mark (combined with High-A) is at .399, where it has consistently sat without ever seriously wavering. We should still proceed with caution, but at this point he’s no longer a complete small-sample fluke. He’s a guy who makes a lot of good, hard, line-drive contact, and earns at least some of those extra hits.
Mateo and Murphy are off to slower starts. Mateo is only 12-for-55 so far, but at least he legged out five of those hits for extra bases and swiped another half-dozen bags without getting caught. One big step for him will be to make more contact so that he can keep using his speed. As for Murphy, his plate discipline appears fine but nothing else is working — low average, no power. Remember that he’s a catcher, though, so he’s got more to deal with defensively than most hitters. He’s already made rapid progress this year and has plenty of time to catch up with the bat at his new level.
In addition to callups and trades, the Hounds have also gotten a player back from injury. OF Tyler Marincov missed time with a broken hand, but has played four games since returning.
Meanwhile, Schrock continues to breeze through Double-A. In 41 games since the All-Star break, he’s got a 149 wRC+ and nearly three walks for every two strikeouts. If you really want to play the pie-in-the-sky Jose Altuve comp, Schrock is in Double-A at almost the same age putting up a similarly good line, especially in the second half (but with more walks and less power). OF B.J. Boyd has also continued his high-contact, high-average production, and at age 23 I can’t give you a good reason why he hasn’t already been promoted to Triple-A. He’s starting to make me a believer that he could have a legit future on an MLB bench.
Haven’t done the full stats table in a while, so here we go (sorted by wRC+):
|Sheldon Neuse||0||Debuts today|
That’s almost an entire lineup, with room to add a first baseman. Everyone is either a top prospect, a top performer of a league-appropriate age, or both. Ramirez, Schrock, and Boyd bat left-handed.
Can Midland’s pitching staff keep up with the stacked lineup? There’s plenty of name power in the rotation, if nothing else. (All are RHP unless otherwise noted.)
- Grant Holmes and Heath Fillmyer are starting to put together more good games than bad, but they’re still having off-days when they get shelled.
- Casey Meisner over his last 4 starts: 1.90 ERA, 23⅔ ip, 12 Ks, 5 BB, 0 HR.
- LHP A.J. Puk is striking out 30% of his batters and posting generally good peripheral stats, but he’s still giving up a lot of runs. Fortuantely, I’m significantly more encouraged by the good news in that sentence than I am discouraged by the bad news, because the former is a better indicator of what comes next. That said, he could still benefit from more efficiency in his pitch count.
- James Naile has returned from the DL and his lower-minors rehab stint. He got smoked for six runs in his first game back in Double-A, but his next time out on Sunday he tossed four scoreless frames (1 K, 1 BB, 2 hits).
Down in the bullpen, Sam Bragg continues to plug along in his second tour in Midland. His strikeout rate is down slightly but the rest of his numbers are as good as ever (2.51 ERA, 4.2 K/BB).
Remember last year’s Bragg Watch, in which we cropped out his two failed attempts at stretching to be a starter? Here are the other 71 games of his Double-A career: 2.52 ERA, 121⅔ ip, 117 Ks, 26 BB, 8 HR, 2.88 FIP. And that doesn’t include his successful stint in the Arizona Fall League. Like with Boyd, I can’t give you a good reason why Bragg isn’t already in Triple-A.
The Hounds are unlikely to make the playoffs this year to defend their title, but it’s not over yet. They’re on a 15-8 run, albeit 6-6 in August, and in the second-half standings they’re in second place and only 6.5 games back with a few weeks left to play. It’s a long-shot, but Midland has the pieces to get hot and make things neuse.
Triple-A Nashville: 4:35 p.m., Ben Bracewell vs. Memphis
Double-A Midland: 4:30 p.m., A.J. Puk vs. NW Arkansas
High-A Stockton: 7:05 p.m., Norge Ruiz vs. Rancho Cucamonga
Single-A Beloit: 5:00 p.m., Kyle Twomey vs. Wisconsin
Low-A Vermont: OFF