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Oakland A’s prospect watch: A’s affiliates go 3-1 on Opening Day

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Nashville (AAA) won a blowout, while Midland (AA) and Beloit (A) scratched out narrow late victories.

Dustin Fowler went 3-for-5 in his Nashville debut.
Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The minor leagues began their 2018 season on Thursday, including four full-season Oakland A’s affiliates. When the dust settled, the A’s teams went 3-1 on the day, with only High-A Stockton falling short. Here’s a rundown on each game, but first click here to familiarize yourself with the names on each club’s roster.

You can also click here to see Thursday’s full box scores.

Triple-A Nashville Sounds

Result: Won 11-0 vs. New Orleans (Marlins)

Everything went right for Nashville in their opener over the New Orleans Baby Cakes. (Hold on, first we need to take a moment to talk about that name. The Zephyrs rebranded themselves last year, and they wound up with one of the silliest/best names in all of sports. If you’ve never been to Louisiana or celebrated Mardi Gras and you’re unfamiliar with the reference, then try a king cake before you die because it’s delicious — and somewhere in each cake is hidden a little plastic baby, with various privileges/obligations attached for the person who finds it. Thus, the Baby Cakes.)

Alright, back to the game. The Sounds scored early and often, and by the end of four innings they were up 8-0. They never looked back from there, cruising to a blowout victory.

Nashville got their runs in a variety of ways. They started simple, with homers by Mark Canha and Franklin Barreto, but in the 4th they strung together an extended rally. A leadoff walk, five singles, and a double helped them bat around and plate five runs in the frame, with virtually everybody contributing. They batted around again in the 8th, though that time they only managed three runs.

If there’s one player who didn’t have a good day, it’s Jorge Mateo — and even then he wasn’t all bad. On one hand he picked up two hits and walk, drove in three runs, and scored twice, which is all great. However, he also made three errors in the field, and picked up a TOOTBLAN early in the evening when runs still mattered — on a pickoff attempt at first base, he broke home from third and was thrown out. That’s all a perfect illustration of Mateo’s combination of incredible raw talent and need for refinement.

On the pitching side, James Naile breezed through five scoreless innings, even despite having to work through Mateo’s errors. Jeremy Bleich, Jake Sanchez, and Kyle Finnegan finished off the final frames.

Franklin Barreto, 2B: 2-for-4, HR, 2B, 3 RBI, sac fly, no Ks
Dustin Fowler, CF: 3-for-5, 2 RBI
Renato Nunez, 1B: 2-for-5
Sheldon Neuse, DH: 1-for-3, 2 BB

James Naile, SP: 5 ip, 0 runs, 5 Ks, 0 BB, 3 hits

My player of the game is Barreto. There are plenty of names to choose from in this case, but I’m going with the top prospect — he notched multiple extra-base hits, and did his damage early when the game was still in question. Best of all, he didn’t strike out in five plate appearances. Honorable mention to Naile, one of my favorite sleepers in the system and suddenly quite high on the organization’s SP depth chart.

Extra note: Nunez is officially on a rehab assignment with Nashville, meaning he has a month before the A’s absolutely have to activate him from the DL and make a decision (keep him in MLB, or risk waivers to send him back to the Sounds). Reliever Ryan Dull is also beginning a rehab assignment, though he didn’t pitch on Thursday.

Double-A Midland RockHounds

Result: Won 6-5 vs. Springfield (Cardinals)

The title defense got off on the right foot, though it wasn’t as straightforward as Nashville’s path to victory. Midland struck first but eventually lost their lead, before a late comeback helped them steal the win.

A bit of small ball in the 1st led to a pair of runs, highlighted by an RBI single from Sean Murphy. Springfield tied the game in the 4th but the Hounds came right back in the bottom of the frame, with doubles by Murphy and Brett Siddall setting up another two runs. However, by the 6th inning the Cardinals had pulled ahead 5-4.

It stayed that way until the 8th, when Murphy and Siddall started another rally with a pair of singles. Mikey White tied the game with a sac fly, and with two outs Skye Bolt doubled in the go-ahead tally. This comeback brought to you (mostly) by the 2015 draft class.

On the pitching side, starter Joel Seddon got knocked around a bit but kept the Hounds in the game. Lefty reliever Cody Stull was blown up, but Sam Bragg played the role of hero. He entered in the 6th and allowed an inherited runner to score to break the tie, but then he retired seven straight batters until Midland was able to launch their 8th-inning rally. In the 9th, TJS survivor J.B. Wendelken put a runner in scoring position but made it through with the lead intact.

Sean Murphy, C: 3-for-4, 2B, RBI, 2 runs
Brett Siddall, OF: 2-for-4, 2B, RBI, run
Eli White, SS: 3-for-5, RBI, run

Sam Bragg, RP: 2⅓ ip, 0 runs, 1 K, 1 hit

My player of the game is Murphy. Everything the Hounds did on offense went through him, as he had a hand in every single rally they put together. He’s the biggest prospect name on this roster, so it’s great to see a strong first impression from him at the Double-A level where he struggled last summer. Honorable mention to Bragg, slogging through his third year in Double-A with little remaining to prove at this level.

High-A Stockton Ports

Result: Lost 4-0 vs. Lake Elsinore (Padres)

There’s not much to say about this game. The Ports were wiped out by the Storm and managed only two hits, with Will Toffey and Eric Marinez each picking up singles. Nothing more to see on the offensive side.

On the pitching side, Jesus Luzardo made a highly anticipated start and didn’t disappoint. He wound up taking the loss because his team got shut out, and he only recorded one 1-2-3 inning, but he avoided big rallies and made it to the 5th before allowing a run. His final line score is impressive. Two swingmen came in for relief — Brendan Butler was ineffective (five hits, only four outs), but Angel Duno put up three scoreless innings to keep Stockton close.

Jesus Luzardo, SP: 4⅔ ip, 1 run, 6 Ks, 1 BB, 4 hits
Angel Duno, RP: 3 ip, 0 runs, 5 Ks, 1 BB

My player of the game is Luzardo, by default. The lineup was invisible, and the bullpen exacerbated the problem, but the 20-year-old phenom was as excellent as advertised in his High-A debut. The Ports official scorer had him topping out at 97 mph, a rep from 2080 Baseball had him reaching 98, and former SB Nation contributor Jen Mac Ramos noted he was sitting at 95 regularly. For video clips, click here and here.

Single-A Beloit Snappers

Result: Won 4-3 vs. Wisconsin (Brewers)

The Snappers opened the year with extra innings against the Timber Rattlers, in an epic reptilian showdown. It was a true seesaw affair, with the two clubs trading single runs throughout until Beloit won in the 11th.

The first two runs for the Snappers each came the same way — San Mateo native and 18th-round pick Mickey McDonald set the table, and diminutive 19-year-old top prospect Nick Allen delivered an RBI hit. We saw a glimpse of Allen’s elite defense during the spring, but it’s even more encouraging to see him show up at the plate because the question marks presented by his lack of size are mostly in regard to his offense.

The score was tied 2-2 at the end of regulation, so we got our first look at the new extra-inning rules. Both teams began their ups in the 10th with a free runner on second base — the last batter of the previous inning, just like how you chose the first-base coach in Little League. Both teams immediately dropped a sac bunt to move him to third, and then got him home on mistakes by the opponent (balk and wild pitch, respectively). However, in the 11th the Rattlers failed to get their runner over and ultimately didn’t score, while the Snappers needed just one pitch for catcher Skyler Weber to single in the walk-off tally.

On the pitching side, 21-year-old Jean Ruiz put up a strong debut after spending last year in Low-A Vermont. He went five innings and struck out seven batters, keeping Beloit in the game and leaving with a tie. Seth Martinez, Heath Bowers, Logan Salow, and Jesus Zambrano combined for the final six frames, allowing just one hit and the freebie extra-inning run from the bonus baserunner (which goes down as unearned). They did walk five batters, but after all this is Single-A so don’t set your hopes too high.

Nick Allen, SS: 2-for-4, BB, 2B, 2 RBI, SB
Mickey McDonald, RF: 2-for-2, BB, sac bunt, 2B, run
Austin Beck, CF: 0-for-5, 2 Ks

Jean Ruiz, SP: 5 ip, 2 runs, 7 Ks, 1 BB, 4 hits 1 HR

My player of the game is Allen, who seemingly willed the Snappers to victory. He was the only hitter who could find the big hit in regulation, and he did everything he could to win it in the 10th, too — after the tying run had scored, he walked, stole second, and moved to third on a groundout, before being stranded. He was also involved in the defensive play that eliminated Wisconsin’s lead runner in the 11th. Honorable mention to Ruiz.

Friday’s games

Beloit is out of action, with their scheduled game being rained out.

Triple-A Nashville: 5:00 p.m., Frankie Montas vs. New Orleans
Double-A Midland: 5:00 p.m., Corey Walter vs. Springfield
High-A Stockton: 7:10 p.m., Brian Howard vs. Lake Elsinore
Single-A Beloit: Rained out

The A’s are stretching Montas out in an attempt to start, so today will bring the first data point in that experiment. Walter spent most of last year in Triple-A but eventually finished in their bullpen, so he’ll have to work his way back up if he wants to keep starting. Howard is my dude and I’m so excited for his Stockton debut.

Link to Friday box scores