It was the end of the season for the Hillsboro Hops and the Visalia Rawhide, both of whom missed out on the postseason. Happy trails, and we'll see you next year!
It was also farewell to Buddy Kennedy, a former top-30 prospect in the organization. More on that below.
Reno, Amarillo, and Hillsboro all won their series this week. Visalia managed just a single win as they closed out their season at Rancho Cucamonga. Next week, just Reno and Amarillo will be in action. Amarillo has six games remaining in their regular season, and Reno has twelve. The Sod Poodles are fairly certain to be in the postseason, while the Aces remain on the fringes of contention. It will be interesting to see who might get called up from Visalia and Hillsboro to bolster the rosters in Amarillo and Reno.
Batting Prospect of the Week: Kristian Robinson, Visalia
Having already named Robinson the batter of the week once, I thought about going elsewhere. But he had a truly incredible week, and deserves the recognition. He went 8-for-20 and clubbed 4 home runs, posting an OPS for the week of 1.528. Some would point to his .500 BABIP as making him unworthy, but home runs aren’t balls in play. If he had a BABIP of .000 for the week, his OPS still would have been 1.104. I think there’s a very real possibility Robinson gets called to Amarillo to finish the season there.
Pitching Prospect of the Week: Yu-Min Lin, Amarillo
It was slim pickings for the pitchers this week. I am going to have to expand this section beyond just prospects, although I know that people are more interested in the prospects. Lin did put together his best start in some time, going 6 innings and allowing just 1 run, but he walked 4 and only struck out 3. The talent is certainly there for Lin, who deserves every bit of the prospect buzz he has generated. But his inconsistency (which extends back to his time at Hillsboro, as well) leaves me wondering if he would be better off perfecting two or three of his pitches as opposed to continuing to throw nine different pitches.
Tuesday: Reno 7, Albuquerque 6
Every starter got a hit and Blake Walston again pitched decently, albeit once again with a sky-high pitch count that didn’t allow him to finish 5 innings. Jordan Lawlar hit two home runs, but for the sake of the big club, that wasn’t the most important thing he did. Because Lawlar made his professional debut at third base. He had just one chance, but handled it cleanly. The fact that Lawlar is playing third base now, rather than waiting for the Fall League for him to try the position, indicates to me that the club is considering bringing him up this year. (I wrote this brief recap on Wednesday before the news broke that he would be making his debut on Thursday.) Buddy Kennedy had 2 doubles on the day and was the other offensive star for the Aces.
Wednesday: Reno 7, Albuquerque 5
The decision to promote Lawlar cost the Aces defensively, as tonight’s starter at third base, Sergio Alcántara, committed two of the three Reno errors on the night. But the errors ultimately didn’t matter; every run allowed was still an earned run, and the Aces won. Isotope pitching gave their chances of winning radiation poisoning, as they walked 10 batters, meaning that the Aces were able to score 7 runs on just 5 hits. There were three extra base hits: a double by Tristin English, a triple by Jake McCarthy, and a three-run home run by Philip Evans, that last of which capped the scoring for the Aces. Carlos Vargas struggled to make it closer. Recent signing Stephen Nogosek was the best pitcher in a bullpen game, striking out 3 in 2 innings of work.
Thursday: Reno 8, Albuquerque 5
The Aces guaranteed themselves at least a split behind a huge night from Jake McCarthy and the best outing for Nabil Crismatt since he joined the organization. Crismatt went 5.1 innings and allowed 3 runs, striking out 6. McCarthy went 4-for-5, homered for the 7th time, and stole 3 bases. Mitchell Stumpo came off the Development List extremely quickly and probably too soon, as he allowed 2 runs, but Kyle Backhus and Jose Ruiz pitched scoreless outings.
Friday: Albuquerque 9, Reno 6
The Aces outhit the Isotopes 13-10 but lost the game, which was unfortunate as they dropped back to 2 games behind Las Vegas in the second half race. Slade Cecconi got the start and struggled through 5.2 innings, allowing 6 runs. Tyler Ferguson and Peter Strzelecki allowed 3 runs between them. For the offense, Jake McCarthy and Kyle Lewis each had 3 hits and Jorge Barrosa hit a home run. The Isotopes stole 5 bases on Adrian Del Castillo.
Saturday: Albuquerque 14, Reno 7
Blaze Alexander had 3 hits. Jake McCarthy and Tristin English homered. Bryce Jarvis tossed 1.2 scoreless innings in his return to AAA. Unfortunately, Peter Solomon and Tyler Gilbert combined for one of the worst performances imaginable. Solomon worked the first 3.2 innings and Gilbert the next 0.2. Solomon allowed 11 hits and Gilbert 8. Through 4.1 innings, the Isotopes had 19 hits and 2 walks. From that point on, the Aces actually outscored the Isotopes 3-2, so perhaps we should pretend the game began when Gilbert left. The only Aces starter held hitless was Jose Herrera, so the Reno bats showed up, just not enough to overcome the poor pitching.
Sunday: Reno 8, Albuquerque 6
On their third attempt, the Aces finally won the series. Philip Evans went 4-for-5. Jake McCarthy and Tristin English homered, the latter a three run shot that put the Aces on top, 7-6. Earlier, Blake Walston had worked three scoreless innings, then given up a solo home run in the fourth. Still, through 4 he had struck out 5 and only walked 2. Unfortunately, the first five batters in the fifth inning all reached, four on singles and one on a fielder’s choice that didn’t result in an out. Four of them would eventually score, leaving Walston charged with 5 runs. Tyler Ferguson gave up a run, but Jose Ruiz, Justin Martinez, and Austin Pope all worked scoreless innings to preserve the win. The Aces have 12 games remaining this season, and will be 3 games behind Round Rock, and also trail Las Vegas. Postseason play for the defending champs isn’t out of the question, but it also isn’t extremely likely. On the bright side, the final series of the year is in Las Vegas, so if the Aces can keep pace with the 51s and pass the Express, they’ll be able to take the second half title with a strong showing in the final series of the year. On the other hand, the success of Amarillo means that they may not get reinforcements such as Deyvison De Los Santos, Seth Beer, Ivan Melendez, or others.
Amarillo Sod Poodles
Tuesday: Amarillo 2, Arkansas 1
Yilber Diaz made his first appearance at the AA level and pitched pretty well, if not quite to the standard of his last few appearances at Hillsboro. He allowed just 1 run on 3 hits in 5 innings, striking out 6. He was helped out by poor baserunning early, that might have allowed Arkansas to score an early run. A trio of relievers (with Christian Montes De Oca working two innings and getting the save) held the Travelers hitless for the remainder of the game. The Sod Poodles got both of their runs in the 4th inning on consecutive singles from Neyfy Castillo and Jancarlos Cintron.
Wednesday: Arkansas 15, Amarillo 3
Dylan Ray struggled again as his adjustment to AA isn’t going as well as planned. He gave up 9 runs in 3.1 innings of work, and it could have been worse, as the Travelers made two outs on the basepaths (Ray picked off a batter and Caleb Roberts threw out Jonatan Clase trying to score.) Deyvison De Los Santos went 0-for-5, but with only 2 strikeouts, so some BABIP correction happened. Camden Duzenack, Tim Tawa, Neyfy Castillo, and Juan Centeno all had 2 hits, and no one else had any hits. Dillon Larsen was the only pitcher with a decent performance on the day, tossing 2.2 scoreless innings with 4 strikeouts.
Thursday: Amarillo 1, Arkansas 0
One day after allowing 15 runs, Hops pitchers allowed just 3 hits. Jamison Hill got the start and worked 4 innings, Conor Grammes came on and worked 2 hitless innings, Jake Rice and Taylor Rashi finished off the shutout. The Soddies managed 7 singles, with Tim Tawa’s single in the 7th inning scoring Sheng-Ping Chen for the lone run of the game. Now for the bad news: Hill threw one pitch in the 5th inning, a breaking ball strike, and instantly knew he was done. He was visibly upset while leaving. I hate to speculate, but the lack of news that is released from the minors only allows speculation. On the bright side, the trainer was checking his bicep and Hill was rubbing his bicep, at first. On the other hand, the trainer moved to checking his elbow stability and Hill was covering his face with his jersey when walking off. I suspect we’ve seen the last of Jamison this year, and that is unfortunate because he was pitching so well, but Jamison, if you happen to read this, we are pulling for you, hope it’s not as serious as it looked, and hope you get well and come back strong. On a personal note, Hill is a hero of mine for speaking out on his issues with depression and anxiety. I’ve struggled as well with depression and anxiety, and I certainly lacked the maturity at 24 to be able to admit that to anyone. Jamison is a good human being, and I hope that he can overcome this adversity.
Friday: Amarillo 3, Arkansas 1
Yu-Min Lin worked 6 fine innings, allowing just 1 run on 4 hits. By results, it was his best start for Amarillo since his first two starts. Digging deeper, there is still cause for concern. He walked 4 and struck out just 3, with the walks being tied for the most he’s given up this season. Will Mabrey and Raffi Vizcaíno worked the final 3 innings, allowing just 1 hit. A.J. Vukovich had the big hit for the offense, a two run blast in the 6th. Apart from that, the Sod Poodles got 6 singles, with two of them from Seth Beer.
Saturday: Amarillo 5, Arkansas 3
The Sod Poodles clinched a series victory behind a solid pitching performance and a top-third of the order that went 7-for-10, including the lone home run of the game, from Caleb Roberts. Emailin Montilla got the start and allowed 1 run in 2 innings. Montilla was a free agent signee this past offseason; he spent last year in Serie A, which in this context means the top level of Italian baseball. He’s also seen action in Japan. He’s been good in the complex and Hillsboro, and struggled in Visalia and Amarillo, but he gets strikeouts and doesn’t walk too many guys. Listher Sosa followed Montilla and worked 3 innings, also allowing 1 run. Dillon Larsen also allowed a run, and Christian Montes De Oca worked the last 2 innings for his 8th save at the AA level.
Sunday: Amarillo 6, Arkansas 5, 10 innings
Yilber Diaz struggled a bit more in his second start with the Soddies than he did in his first, walking 5 in 4 innings. He did manage a strikeout with the bases full in the first to keep the game scoreless. Caleb Roberts got 2 hits and drove in 3 while A.J. Vukovich and Tim Tawa both homered. Jancarlos Cintron, who has struggled with the bat all year, picked up 2 hits and drove in the tying run in the 9th inning. That allowed Roberts to come through with the game winning hit. Taylor Rashi worked 2 perfect (?) innings to get the win. (Does it count as a perfect inning when a runner starts on second? Is that better than perfect?) With the win, I believe Amarillo’s magic number to clinch the second half division title is down to 1. Amarillo hosts Frisco next week, while second place Midland travels to Wichita. Clinching can happen as soon as Tuesday.
Tuesday: Hillsboro 10, Spokane 7
The Hops ran their winning streak to 6 games thanks to the bottom of the batting order. Spots 6-9 went 8-for-16, driving in 8 runs and scoring 6. Gino Groover was held hitless, but walked twice and scored twice. Kevin Graham doubled and tripled, and Manuel Pena finished a home run shy of the cycle. On the pitching side, Ricardo Yan had his worst performance since being promoted, walking 3 and hitting 2 batters, but the defense behind him helped him to allow just 2 runs. He did strike out 4 in his 4 innings of work, and he does continue to be an enemy of the shins and feet of right-handed batters; in the two innings of work I saw from him, I believe there were 6 pitches fouled off of the lower legs. He just couldn’t control the movement of his pitches; one slider broke so far the catcher couldn’t reach it.
Wednesday: Spokane 4, Hillsboro 2
The Hops’ 6 game win streak came to an end Wednesday, despite a solid outing from Joe Elbis. Elbis worked 6.2 innings and gave up all 4 runs, but it was a nice long outing, particularly after Yan’s short outing. Juan Corniel got 2 hits, but was also picked off and was caught stealing (technically caught stealing twice, but one was combined with the pickoff.)
Thursday: Hillsboro 6, Spokane 2
Manuel Pena hit his first home run since July 21 and finished a double shy of the cycle. Jack Hurley also got 3 hits. Billy Corcoran allowed 1 hit in 3 innings. On the down side, David Martin allowed 5 stolen bases and didn’t catch anyone, and the Hops committed 3 errors.
Friday: Hillsboro 7, Spokane 1
The Hops guaranteed themselves at least a split behind the excellent, if wild, pitching of Spencer Giesting. The lefty worked 6.2 innings and allowed just 1 run on 5 hits, striking out 6 but walking 5. Gino Groover picked up 2 hits, Wilderd Patiño stole his 45th base, and Jean Walters, recently back from the complex, drove in 3 runs. Matthew Linskey, the 16th round selection in the recent draft, made his first appearance outside of the complex and worked a scoreless 9th, striking out 2. He is the son of Mike Linskey, a long-time minor league left handed starter. The younger Linskey is right handed, huge (6’7" and 240) and a reliever with absurd strikeout numbers (he’s struck out 15 of 29 batters faced so far in the minor leagues, and struck out 120 in just 85 innings in college, as well as 50 in 32.1 innings during summer ball.)
Saturday: Spokane 9, Hillsboro 8, 11 innings
Hillsboro fell short in their first attempt to clinch a series victory. Logan Clayton, making his first start for the Hops, pitched 3 solid innings, and Zane Russell, the 10th round selection this year from Dallas Baptist, continued his excellent run with 3 more scoreless innings. After 6 innings, the Hops led 4-0. Unfortunately, Alfred Morillo was charged with 5 runs and retired just 1 batter. The Hops would tie things up twice, but not lead again the rest of the way. Jack Hurley finished a home run short of the cycle. Wilderd Patiño got 2 hits and stole another base. But the game ended under crazy, minor league only, circumstances. First, a chance to win the game in the 10th came to nothing when Gino Groover was picked off for the third out. Then Spokane got a three run home run with one out in the 11th. In order to save pitchers, Jean Walters moved from third base to the mound, Gavin Conticello moved from first base to third base, and David Martin came in at first base. Of course, Walters set down both batters he faced. In the bottom of the frame, the pitcher led off the inning! Walters flied out. Juan Corniel homered and Patiño singled, but Hurley lined into a double play to end the game.
Sunday: Hillsboro 2, Spokane 1
The Hops ended their 2023 season with a victory at home. Ricardo Yan was able to make his second start of the week, and he worked 6 innings and allowed just one run, on a solo home run in the 2nd inning. Apart from that, he allowed 1 hit, 1 walk, and struck out 8. He finishes with a 1.19 ERA during his time with the Hops. Billy Corcoran had a successful return to Hillsboro with a scoreless inning, and Gunnar Groen picked up the win when Kevin Graham drove in Jack Hurley with the winning run in the 8th inning. Groen is a 26 year old pitcher from London (the one in the UK). With the injury to Jamison Hill, one wonders if Yan might be under consideration to pitch for Amarillo next week. There is no starting pitcher in better form anywhere in the lower levels.
Tuesday: Rancho Cucamonga 11, Visalia 0
The Rawhide had almost as many errors (2) as they did hits (3). Jacob Steinmetz struggled through 4.2 innings, and Junior Cerda was even worse in relief. Jhosmer Alvarez, again working his way back from injury and well removed from any chance at the prospect leaderboards, was the pick of the pitchers, working 1.2 innings and striking out 2. Druw Jones walked twice.
Wednesday: Rancho Cucamonga 6, Visalia 2
The Rawhide managed just 4 hits, with two of them from Kristian Robinson, including his 6th home run. Luis Tejada, Alec Baker, and Josh Swales combined to work the final 6 innings and allow just 1 run while striking out 7. This, after Casey Anderson was shelled again in the first 2 innings.
Thursday: Visalia 4, Rancho Cucamonga 3
Druw Jones walked three times. He also stole a base. Denny Larrondo put together what was easily his best start since being promoted to Visalia, striking out 8 in 5 innings. Kyle Amendt got the save with 2 scoreless innings, striking out 4. Larrondo might be a name to watch. He was in the Yankees system, but of course missed the COVID year, and then missed all of 2022 with injury, and the Diamondbacks picked him in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft. They’ve brought him along carefully this year, but he has 68 strikeouts in 61 innings, and has been striking out just as many batters at Visalia so far as he did in the complex league.
Friday: Rancho Cucamonga 6, Visalia 5
Once upon a time, the Rawhide had a 5-3 lead, which included the first triple for Druw Jones and another home run from Kristian Robinson. Wyatt Wendell had pitched better. Then Jansel Luis, playing shortstop on this day, happened. With 2 outs in the 8th, Luis committed his first error, allowing the runner to score from third and make it 5-4. Then Josh Swales allowed the first two to reach in the 9th, but got two outs without allowing a run, when Luis committed his second error on a ground ball, allowing the tying run to score. Rancho Cucamonga (nickname withheld in honor of the victims of the Morocco earthquake) won the game on a walk-off double-steal. Sadly, no video exists because apparently Rancho Cucamonga doesn’t broadcast.
Saturday: Rancho Cucamonga 8, Visalia 5
After I praised him last week and hoped he had turned a corner, Landon Sims had a disappointing performance. He gave up 4 runs in 2.2 innings. But there were more positive signs from a different top prospect, as Druw Jones walked twice and got 2 hits. His OPS in Visalia is now almost to .700, despite his slow start. He’s also walked 20 times now against 33 strikeouts. Kevin Sim and Kristian Robinson hit home runs for the Rawhide.
Sunday: Rancho Cucamonga 8, Visalia 6
Druw Jones got three more hits and finished with an OPS of .717 at Visalia. He also stole his 6th base at the level. Kristian Robinson stole 2 bases, and now has 20 for the Rawhide. Unfortunately, the pitching struggled, as even Kyle Amendt, who still has not allowed a run at the level, walked 2 batters in his lone inning of work. This concludes the season for Visalia; with Hillsboro and Visalia both done for the year, but Reno and Amarillo still playing, one wonders whether any of the players from either level will be moved up. I suspect Jones is done for the season; he ends on a high point. Robinson would be the lone candidate from Visalia that I could see moving to Amarillo, or possibly one of the college pitchers.
Pitcher Spotlight: Billy Corcoran, RHP, Hillsboro
As a 6’6" 18-year-old pitcher, there really couldn’t be much doubt as to what Corcoran would do when the Rangers selected him in the 36th round of the draft in 2018. He would honor his commitment to the University of Pittsburgh, a commitment he had made as a high school sophomore. He had plenty of room to grow, and surely some success at the college level would gain him more attention in the future. Plus, he would now focus on baseball after playing both basketball and baseball in high school.
What no one saw coming was the COVID-19 pandemic and the MLB draft being chopped in half.
Corcoran graduated from Malvern Prep, one of the premier baseball programs in the Philadelphia area. During his time there, the Friars won two state championships. Until about a month ago, Corcoran wasn’t the only Malvern alumnus in the Diamondbacks system, as Shane Muntz, a 2021 draftee out of Wake Forest, graduated from Malvern a year before Corcoran. Malvern has produced three major league players and once, in 1995, produced the second pick in the draft, however ill-advised that pick might have been. (With Darin Erstad the only player off the board, the Padres could have picked a future Hall of Famer like Roy Halladay or Todd Helton, or one of Kerry Wood, Matt Morris, or Mark Redman. Instead they picked catcher Ben Davis. But theirs was not the worst miss. The Marlins picked Jaime Jones sixth and went over slot to sign him; he never made the majors. Halladay, Helton, and Geoff Jenkins were all still available at that time.) Phil Gosselin is the only Diamondback to have been a Malvern product. Lonnie White, Corcoran’s former teammate at Malvern, became a second round pick by the Pirates and is currently rated their #18 prospect by MLB Pipeline. It’s a school with a lot of baseball tradition.
Corcoran made 11 starts for Pitt as a true freshman in 2019, and pitched well. His 2020 was off to a great start, as his WHIP was below 1 and he was striking out 11.1 batters per 9, before the pandemic halted the season. 2021 was a struggle with injuries and ineffectiveness, but he pitched excellently in 2022, demonstrating superb control (walking 8 in 85.1 innings) and posting a 1.184 WHIP. Keep in mind that, while Pitt is a northern school, they compete in the ACC. At one stretch, three of four starts had come against top-five college teams. He opted not to take an extra year for COVID and signed with the Diamondbacks on July 27, 2022.
He's now listed at 6’8" and 220 pounds. His changeup was regarded as his best pitch prior to signing. The control he exhibited both at Pitt and in his stint at the complex last year has taken a step back this year, but he still is striking out three times more batters than he walks.
Among the fun facts about Corcoran on his Pitt bio was that he had descended the Grand Canyon. Now, his goal is to play in the Grand Canyon State. It seems unlikely that he will reach that goal; Corcoran may well be like the majority of professional players: great in high school, good in college, but just lacking that little bit extra to allow them to make it. Or he might put it all together and make it.
Batting Spotlight: A Farewell to Buddy
As part of the series of transactions that ultimately led to Jordan Lawlar and Seby Zavada being part of the Diamondbacks, Buddy Kennedy was designated for assignment. Unsurprisingly, he did not clear waivers and was claimed by the Oakland Athletics. While Kennedy may not have turned into the second coming of Mike Trout, he had some good moments in the desert.
Kennedy became the second player from Millville High School in New Jersey selected in the MLB draft when the Diamondbacks selected him in 2017. Mike Trout was the first, but Trout was not the first Millville grad to appear in the major leagues. That honor belongs to Steve Yerkes, a middle infielder who played in all three major leagues that existed in the 1910s. He started with the Red Sox, played for the Pittsburgh Rebels of the Federal League, and concluded his career with the Chicago Cubs. Andy Lapihuska, who pitched 23 innings for the hometown Philadelphia Phillies during World War II, was the second Millville player to reach the majors. Larry Milbourne was the third; he was a utility infielder who managed an 11 year career despite an OPS+ of 70.
I’ve seen Kennedy described as resembling a fire hydrant, physically, and at a height of 5’9" and being close to 200 pounds, that’s somewhat fair, but he has surprising speed and athletic ability for someone of his physique. I recall seeing him play in Atlanta and catch a pop-up that seemed uncatchable. And his career for the Diamondbacks got off to a fantastic start. He singled in his first game, tripled in his second, and, in his third game, on Father’s Day, sealed a win over the Twins with a grand slam. Unfortunately, he's had just 4 extra base hits at the major league level since then, and had only a double and 3 singles in his action with the Diamondbacks this season. He’s been much better at Reno, posting a .924 OPS there, with 37 extra base hits.
Kennedy is the kind of player that I’ve always enjoyed; a guy who doesn’t necessarily look like he belongs but plays hard. While I wish he could have become a regular with the Diamondbacks, there really wasn’t a place for him with the return to form of Geraldo Perdomo and the rising prospects. He should get a better chance to stick in the major leagues with the Athletics. I think we will all be pulling for him, as long as they aren’t playing the Diamondbacks.