It was almost a clean sweep for the Jays’ farm teams last night, and had the Fisher Cats managed a little more extra-inning offence, so might it have been. But there were plenty of good stories emerging from last night’s action, including strong comeback performances from one prospect in Dunedin and two star-crossed big-name trade acquisitions in Syracuse.
Syracuse 9 Scranton-Wilkes-Barre 4
Blue Jays fans, I’d like to introduce you to someone you haven’t really met before: John-Ford Griffin, hot prospect. Two weeks ago, he was a disappointment who’d struggled with injuries and performance two straight years at Double-A. The former multiple-.400 hitter in college was 25 and was at the end of his prospect rope. But this morning, Griffin is hitting a cool .333/.405/.758, with 4 home runs in his first 8 games at Triple-A (albeit with a 4/11 BB/K rate in 33 AB), and people are starting to sit up and watch him more closely.
Is this just a hot start in a new league, or has Griffin finally figured something out? I don’t know, but I’d love to hear from the Skychiefs’ hitting coach on what, if anything, has changed. It’s obviously early, and Griffin is obviously old even for the International League. But if he has in fact figured something out, then maybe the Jays have some hitting help closer to the majors than they had imagined.
Griffin drove in 5 runs with a single and a homer last night, but he wasn’t the only hitting hero for the powerful Skychiefs. Aaron Hill, Eric Crozier and Andy Dominique also cracked round-trippers, with Hill also singling to raise his average to .316. Gabe Gross continued to find his stroke with a single, double and triple and two runs, bringing his BA to a respectable .273. Second baseman Bryant Nelson continued his torrid start with a double in 4 trips and finished the night at a cool .419.
Justin Miller was the beneficiary of all this offence, but he pitched well enough on his own, scattering 5 hits and 1 run over 4 innings, striking out 2 and walking nobody; he induced 8 groundballs, an excellent sign. The W actually went to Ryan Glynn, even though he allowed 2 runs in his 3 relief frames. And who’s that earning his first save by striking out 3 of the 5 batters he faced? Why, Jason Arnold, who has been a tandem-act with Griffin in trades from Oakland and New York. These two players' fortunes have tended to rise and fall together. Now, they're both hitting their stride, and Arnold has allowed 3 hits in his first 5 IP, struck out 8 and walked no one. Felipe Who?
Binghampton 5 New Hampshire 4 (12 innings)
On the bright side, the offence-starved Fisher Cats scored 3 runs in their first 2 innings last night, though one came on an error and another on a groundout. On the less bright side, the F-Cats then scored just 1 run in the final 10 innings as they fell in 12 frames. Second baseman Brad Hassey was New Hampshire’s best hitter on the night as he doubled, singled and walked, but that was about all the good news there was. Robert Cosby went 0-for-5 and Miguel Negron went 1-for-6; his average fell to .147. Big Vito is at .192.
What’s up with the Fisher Cats’ offence? There are some talented hitters in this lineup, but a number of them are making the jump from A-Ball and are struggling with the adjustment. Then there’s the fact that the Cats lost their new hitting coach, John Valentin, right before the season began, and the organization had to scramble to replace him. Whatever the cause, the Blue Jays need to think about acquiring some punch for this squad; bringing local favourite Justin Singleton back from Syracuse would be a popular move (though not necessarily with Singleton) and might be a good start, but ideally, the Cats would pick up a jump-starter from outside the organization, much as Anton French electrified Syracuse last season.
The pitching was pretty solid last night. Double-A veteran Cameron Reimers started and pitched decently, allowing 4 runs (though only 2 earned) in 5 innings on 8 hits and a walk, striking out 3. Steve Andrade and Josue Matos came on to provide 5 shutout innings of relief, combining to allow just 1 hit while striking out 7. Gerry McDonald tells the rest of the story: "In the twelfth, with two outs, Ryan Houston allowed a double. After running the count to 2-0 on the lefty, Jacobs, the Cats decided to walk him intentionally to face Prentice Redman. Redman hit a hard liner right at Raul Tablado; it bounced a couple of feet in front of him. Tablado assumed a big bounce, and he missed the ball by a foot, leading to the winning, unearned, run."
Dunedin 4 Fort Myers 1
Welcome back, Kurt Isenberg, at one time the best left-handed pitching prospect in the Jays’ system. And while that label said more about the state of the Jays’ system (before Jon Lalonde took two southpaws in the first round of the 2004 draft), Isenberg was pretty well regarded before a terrible Dunedin experience last summer saw him demoted to the South Atlantic League. His first start of 2005 was nothing special, but he turned in a beauty of a second start last night, firing a one-hit shutout over 6 innings, walking no one and whiffing 7 batters. A sign of things to come? The Jays sure hope so.
Three relievers followed Isenberg, with the save (his third) going to free-agent acquisition Milton Tavarez, who struck out 2 in a perfect 9th. Tavarez has averaged about one K per inning in his two pro seasons in the Boston organization, and at 23, is still young enough to be reasonably considered prospect. Despite one bad outing early in the season, he might be someone to keep half an eye on.
The D-Jays spread their offence evenly throughout the lineup; no batter had more than one hit, although 2B Ryan Roberts walked twice and singled, scoring 2 runs. Third baseman Scott Dragicevich’s double was the lone extra-base hit for Dunedin. Adam Lind’s RBI single in 5 trips dropped his average to .375.
Lansing 6 Beloit 4
Those Lugnuts just keep on rolling under their new Blue Jay affiliation. Young lefty Chi-Hung Cheng continued to impress, allowing just 1 earned run on 6 hits over 5 innings, striking out 5 and issuing no walks. In his first 10 innings of 2005, the 19-year-old has allowed 12 hits, walked nobody and struck out 13. In a nice change of pace, Cheng allowed no home runs in this game. Danny Hill struck out 2 in the 9th for his 4th save.
Catcher Curtis Thigpen and second baseman Jason Armstrong had the only multi-hit nights for Lansing, with Thigpen driving in 2 runs and Armstrong banging out a double and a single. RF Erik Nielsen doubled, walked twice and drove in 3 runs, while DH Joey Wolfe doubled in 4 trips, but struck out his other 3 trips to the plate.
Your Three-Star Selection:
3. Chi-Hung Cheng, Lansing: Five strong innings of 6-hit ball, allowing no walks and striking out 5.
2. Kurt Isenberg, Dunedin: Six shutout innings with 7 strikeouts and just 1 baserunner.
1. John-Ford Griffin, Syracuse: A three-run homer and a two-run single for the possibly-rejuvenated slugger.