I think I'm going to get really sick of writing about awesome pitching prospects this year. Wait a minute, who am I kidding? I could never get sick of writing about awesome pitching prospects. Arizona sent 2011 Supplemental-round pick Andrew Chafin to the mound at Hi-A Visalia after his previously-scheduled start in Modesto on Wednesday was postponed. Chafin was utterly dominant for the Rawhide, with his near-perfect six innings of work now giving him a line of 11 IP, 5 H, 1 ER (0.82 ERA), 18:2 K:BB, and - for those who are a fan of the stat - a WHIP of 0.64. Not a bad way to introduce yourself to the "hitter-friendly" California League.
Oh, and for those confused about the title, skip ahead to the South Bend section, and all will be explained.
Snakelet of the Day:
Andrew Chafin (Hi-A): 6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 9:0 K:BB, 5:1 GO:AO
Jeffrey Shields (Low-A): 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 7:0 K:BB, 9:4 GO:AO
Jason Lane (Triple-A): 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1-1, Walk-Off RBI
Triple-A (13 innings): Reno 7, Salt Lake 6. (3-5) A true You Can't Predict Ball moment in this one, as reliever Jason Lane did something I've never seen in a pro baseball game: notch the win on the mound and record a walk-off hit. Lane, a 35-year-old converted outfielder who hit 26 home runs for Houston in 2005 (hat-tip to Kevin Goldstein on that info), worked two innings of scoreless relief in extra innings before his bases-loaded infield single sealed the victory for Reno in the bottom of the 13th.
Starter Joe Martinez had a rough outing, allowing 10 hits, including a pair of homers, and six runs over 5.1 innings, but the relief work of Mike DeMark (1.2 scoreless IP), Mike Zagurski (2 scoreless IP), Jonathan Albaladejo (2 scoreless IP), and Lane gave the Aces bats time to catch up. Reno received a solo home run and a single from Cole Gillespie, a double and a single from A.J. Pollock, and three times on-base from Evan Frey.
Double-A: Mobile 3, Pensacola 6. (6-2) This game was tied at three apiece after five innings, as Mobile's Derek Eitel and Pensacola's Daniel Corcino each turned in so-so outings of five innings and three runs allowed. However, reliever Bryan Henry had a rough outing in relief of Eitel, while the Blue Wahoos' (heh) relief corps worked four scoreless frames to lock down the game. The big stories on the offensive end continue to be third baseman Matt Davidson and second baseman David Nick, as those two continued their success by each turning in identical, solid nights: 2-4 with a double and no strikeouts. (Trivia of the night: Mobile's new hitting coach? Former D-backs second baseman Jay Bell.)
Hi-A: Visalia 6, Rancho Cucamonga 2. (5-2) The story of this game from the very beginning was Chafin. Chafin started this game by striking out the first five batters he faced, three of them swinging, before finally allowing a batter to put the ball in play. The dominance was far from over, though, as Chafin faced just 20 batters while completing six strong innings of work, setting himself up for what could be a lightning-quick promotion to Double-A Mobile. On the offensive end, Marc Bourgeois contributed a double, a triple, and a walk, Jonathan Griffin hit a double, two singles, and walked once, Yazy Arbelo doubled and walked twice, and Chris Owings singled three times.
Low-A (10 innings): South Bend 1, Dayton 0. (4-3) In the second game of my five-game exhibit through the Silver Hawks rotation, I was in the stands to watch Jeffrey Shields, a seventh-round pick of the D-backs in the 2010 draft, take the mound against Dayton. On one hand, the Dayton lineup was terrible - following today's game, two hitters were batting below .100, six hitters below .200 (including the lead-off man), and eight hitters below .225. On the other hand, Shields' performance was backed up with some quality stuff - or, I should say, a quality stuff.
I say that because Shields worked almost exclusively with his sinker - it had to be at least 3/4 of his pitches - an 88-89 mph offering (on a 60-degree day in South Bend) with heavy sink and some arm-side run that absolutely chewed up the Dragons lineup. According to the charters behind me, Shields had used just seven off-speed pitches through the fourth inning.
When Shields occasionally felt like throwing something else, he had a pair of off-speed offerings to work with. The better of the two in my view was his changeup, an 80-81 mph pitch that didn't have substantially more movement than his diving sinker, but was effective in exactly how similar it looked to his primary offering outside of the eight mph velocity difference. He also threw a slider that had a fair amount of movement, but looked more slurvy than sharp and likely won't fool upper-level hitters. He did manage to get a few of the Dragons hitters to chase the pitch outside of the strike zone, and he did a good job of keeping the slider off the heart of the plate.
Shields' delivery is simple and clean, with a relatively low-effort arm action coming from a 3/4 arm slot and a balanced finish after the release that is reminiscent of Joe Saunders' square finish. Shields also does a good job of hiding the ball throughout the motion, making the changeup all the more effective of a pitch. If Shields can develop a sharper third pitch - whether his slider or another offering - to pair with his sinker and changeup, I see a chance for him to chew innings in the back of a rotation, though the far more likely outcome - assuming he ever makes it to the majors - is to work as a fastball/changeup reliever, picking up a couple extra ticks in short stints and using the change to attack lefties.
The results on Thursday, as you can see, were good. Seven strikeouts - six of them swinging - and plenty of work for his infield, despite going through the order two-and-a-half times with mostly one offering. The Dragons bats knew that sinkers were coming - and, as you could probably guess from Shields' walk total, they were consistently in the strike zone - but they just couldn't find a way to square them up with any authority. Every inning of Shields' dominance was needed, as the South Bend bats were sluggish all day off of opposing starter Radhames Quezada. Tom Belza's two-walk day and Gerson Montilla's two singles were the two best performances at the dish of the night for South Bend.
Another name to watch out for that appeared in this game is reliever Willy Paredes. Paredes' delivery is staggeringly violent, getting every ounce of his strength in each pitch and having his entire body falling towards the first base side after his release. Still, Paredes was hitting 93-94 on the radar gun tonight despite appearing in the tenth inning, at which point the temperature was down around 50 degrees out, and threw strikes. He pairs his fastball with a slider in the low-to-mid-80's with sharp bite, giving him a ceiling as a set-up man, and one that could rise quickly given his ability to hit the strike zone. Just don't expect him to be healthy for another five years.