The Salt River Rafter are still part of the pennant race in the East Division, but time is not on their side. They currently have an 11-11 record, putting them 2.5 games behind the division leaders, the Mesa Solar Sox. The Rafters have been gaining ground of late, however, winning seven of eight games through the end of October, but lost an important match-up to Mesa by the odd run in nine yesterday, after jumping out to a three-run lead in the second. The two teams face off again this evening in the televised game on the MLB Network, with first pitch just after seven. After that, there are only eight games left, so victory tonight for Salt River is almost essential.
There was one enforced change in the Diamondbacks' prospect on the Rafters roster. Left-handed pitcher Andrew Chafin was taken down after reporting a dead arm: farm director commented, "He said he had no pain and that his arm felt fine. But he said it just wasn’t coming out like he wanted it to. He threw a lot of innings this year and it didn’t make sense to push him. He wouldn’t have thrown a ton more innings anyway, but he wasn’t feeling like he felt like he should." I do wonder why he was in the AFL if he had thrown "a lot of innings," as I generally thought it was a place for those in need of an additional workload, like Matt Stites, who missed time through injury.
Chafin had only appeared in a couple of games, allowing two runs on four hits over 2.1 innings; he had walked three with only one strikeout, so it did seem there may have been something up. He was replaced on the roster by left-handed reliever Henry Garcia. The 23-year-old had a 2.25 ERA in 60 innings for South Bend, with a solid K:BB ratio there of 63:10. His first two appearances were impressive, with five of the eight outs recorded being by the K, but the wheels fell off in his third game, as he retired one of five faced and took the loss, allowing a grand-slam to Boston's 1B Travis Shaw.
Bo Schultz has put up the best numbers of our AFL pitchers. His last four starts have all been five innings, with a total of just three earned runs in those 20 frames, with a 16:4 K:BB ratio over that time. That has helped reduce his ERA in the Fall League to 1.93, with close to a strikeout per inning, and Schultz has also held opposing hitters to a .218 average. Stites has also settled down nicely. After an awful first outing (three ER, one batter retired), he has not allowed a run since October 11, only allowing two hits over those six innings, with two walks and four strikeouts. He has been particularly tough on righties, who have a .176 average this fall.
Going the other way is Jake Barrett, whose numbers were inflated dramatically after a nasty October (in) Surprise on the 30th. In two-third of an innings, he allowed three hits, two of which didn't come back and also walked two batters: the resulting four earned runs boosted his ERA to 7.94. On offense, infielder Mike Freeman has the best numbers, a .776 OPS, though like all our three batters, power has been at a premium (the trio have combined for one home-run in 129 at-bats to date). Barrett has a nice on-base percentage of .405, however, with as many walks as strikeouts.
Just behind, with a .757 OPS is Jake Lamb, who has hit .300, but also has been striking out at a ferocious rate, with 18 whiffs in 50 at-bats. Finally for the Fall League, there's Nick Ahmed, who continues to live up to expectations. He may not be hitting much, with an average at a low .227, but with the help of some good plate discipline (K:BB ratio of 8:9), his OBP is a decent .358. He also had the one home-run mentioned, going deep on October 26, and according to Nick Piecoro, Ahmed has been "drawing raves for his defense." He thinks his bat will eventually catch up: "I feel like if I can keep improving defensively, the offense is going to come." We can but hope...
Switching to the other winter leagues, the first number that stands out is outfielder Ender Inciarte in Venezuela. He is hitting .372 and over his last nine games is even hotter, having gone 14-for-33 with two doubles and two triples. Also encouraging, he is walking more often than he is striking out, with a season K:BB ratio of 10:12, and he has completed the package by stealing nine bases in ten attempts. Inciarte turned 23 last week, and has some similarities (at least on the surface!) to Gerardo Parra, another left-handed Venezuelan outfielder. Though in his age 23 season, Parra appeared in 133 games at the major-league level, so maybe not. :)
Alfredo Marte is also hitting well with Estrellas de Oriente in the Dominican League. Hitting .269 with two home-runs and seven doubles, Marte's 11 RBI so far is easily the most on his team, though he has also made a couple of errors in right field. Keon Broxton has got off to a fast start in the Australian Baseball League, though I'm not sure of the level of pitching he's seeing there. Broxton is 6-for-14 in four games for Sydney, with three doubles and three walks, for a total OPS of 1.143.
On the mound, Derek Eitel has yet to allow an earned run in his 10 appearances for Yaquis de Obregon of the Mexican League, going 3-for-3 in save opportunities. He has held the opposition to a .125 average, on four hits and two walks over nine innings, with eight strikeouts. Finally, Silvino Bracho has been almost as good in Venezuela, giving up one run in 8.2 frames of work, on three hits and a walk, with 10 strikeouts. Considering he spent the year in rookie ball, with the Missoula Osprey, that's impressive - though he did fan a lot of htters there too, striking out 38 in 26.1 innings, putting up a 1.71 ERA.