Last week’s Minor League Report highlighted the hot starts by some of baseball’s top prospects, as well as some lesser-known players, but in our second installment we find ourselves looking at struggling players. Brandon Magee looks at some of the soaring ERAs and troubling teams that have littered the minor leagues during the first two weeks of the season.
Joe Saint, resting after another fruitless day in the KIT, was reported to exclaim: “Darn it! This game is tough. I haven’t had a good strike of the ball in weeks.” The story, as with most stories from the Minor League D Leagues, is likely apocryphal. The quote – scrubbed of any of the profanity of failure – was likely made up by a stringer looking for a quick lede. However, the sentiment makes for a worthwhile quote – the game is hard and full of struggles. In this week’s Minor League Report, we look at an unlucky few who are already drawing comparisons to Shaq Thompson through the first two weeks of the 2016 season.
A caveat, before we look at the statistical sufferers of the first two weeks: we’re talking two measly weeks. Less than 50 plate appearances for hitters and at best three starts for starting pitchers. Slumps at the beginning of the season aren’t any more or less important in a prospect’s development than a similar slump at another point in the season, but they’re an awful lot more prominent.
Tim Adleman “leads” the International League in ERA at 7.20, allowing eight runs in his first two starts. Despite giving up a five-spot during five innings of work on Wednesday, Adleman was still able to claim his first win. William Cuevas sports a 6.17 ERA after two starts in Pawtucket, but still picked up a 40-man roster spot and a trip to Boston thanks to Joe Kelly’s injury on Tuesday. Anthony Swarzak’s return to the starting rotation for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders – after spending the large portion of the past five seasons in major-league bullpens – has been rough, with a 6.92 ERA and a 1.85 WHIP over three starts. However, the title of worst pitcher in the IL may belong to Phillippe Aumont, who has given up seven runs on nine hits and seven walks in four appearances out of the Charlotte Knights bullpen.
In the PCL, starters are being whacked around at an alarming rate. Veteran Jeremy Guthrie has allowed 19 runs in 13 innings of work for the El Paso Chihuahuas, good for three losses and an 11.77 ERA with a 1.92 WHIP. Tacoma’s Joe Wieland has somehow picked up a win for the Rainiers, but has allowed 14 runs and 22 hits in three appearances totalling 10 1/3 innings. Las Vegas’ Seth Lugo has been anything but an ace in the hole during his first three starts, allowing 17 runs on 26 hits in 12 2/3 innings of work. Albuquerque’s Nelson Gonzalez has been roughed up out of the bullpen, allowing seven runs in 6 2/3 innings over his five appearances.
Down in the EL, Ricardo Pinto and Jason Creasy have both allowed a dozen runs in their first three starts. Pinto, of the Reading Fightin’ Phils, has a 6.46 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP, while Altoona’s Creasy has a 5.63 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP and a surprising pair of victories for the Curve. Ray Black has struggled out of the Richmond Flying Squirrels’ pen, allowing five runs in 4 2/3 innings of work and picking up the loss in each of his last two appearances.
In the Southern League, Mobile’s Johnny Omahen has scuffled off the blocks, with a 9.28 ERA and a 1.97 WHIP in his first trio of starts. Birmingham’s Carson Fulmer has also struggled, picking up the loss in each of his first three starts while allowing a dozen runs on a dozen hits and ten walks. Josh Conway of the Tennessee Smokies has allowed four runs in his five outings out of the pen, picking up a pair of losses.
The Springfield Cardinals’ Trey Nielsen would like a do-over on his start of the season. The right-hander has allowed ten runs on 22 hits and 10 walks in his first three starts, posting a 6.43 ERA and a 2.29 WHIP. Arkansas Traveler Victor Alcantara would also like to start this year’s journey over. Alcantara has a 6.28 ERA and a 1.60 WHIP over his 14 1/3 innings on the season. But the worst start in the Texas League goes to Sam Bragg of Midland. In two outings totalling 4 1/3 innings, Bragg allowed 14 earned runs on 11 hits – including five bombs – and five walks while striking out a single batter. That’s a 29.08 ERA and a 3.69 WHIP to begin the season.
In the high-scoring California League, it is little surprise that a trio of starters have struggled out of the gates. Modesto Nut Jesus Tinoco has allowed 28 hits in his first 11 1/3 innings, leading to 16 runs, an 11.91 ERA and a 2.65 WHIP. Inland Empire’s Jake Jewell has a 10.97 ERA and a 2.72 WHIP over his first three starts, giving up 26 hits in 10 2/3 innings. Visalia’s Miller Diaz isn’t too far behind, with a 10.32 ERA and a loftier 3.09 WHIP in his 11 1/3 innings. Diaz has only allowed 23 hits, but has given away 12 free passes. Over in Bakersfield, Ronald Dominguez has been blazingly bad out of the pen. His 4.76 ERA is deceptively low; in 5 2/3 innings, Dominguez has given up 12 hits and five walks. However, only three of the eleven runs Dominguez has been charged with have been earned.
In the Carolina League, a trio of starters have edged their ERA above 7 in the early going. Lynchburg’s Mitch Brown has a 7.43 ERA and a 2.18 WHIP over his first 13 1/3 innings. Phillips Valdez of Potomac has a 7.36 ERA and a 1.64 WHIP in his first 14 2/3 innings, but picked up the win in two of his three games. Frederick’s Mitch Horacek has put up an ERA of 7.07 and a WHIP of 2.00 over his 14 innings of work. Winston-Salem’s Danny Dopico has found himself dashing off the mound after poor bullpen work. In four outings, Dopico has earned a 17.18 ERA, allowing seven runs on four hits, seven walks and a pair of hit batters.
In the FSL, Lakeland’s Endrys Briceno has been roughed up at the beginning of the season. Briceno allowed 13 runs on 20 hits and six walks in 11 1/3 innings, putting up a 10.32 ERA and a 2.29 WHIP. Dunedin’s Ryan Borucki has scuffled through 12 1/3 innings of work in his first three starts, resulting in a 10.22 ERA and WHIP of 2.11. Jupiter’s Juancito Martinez has not been a pleasant sight for Hammerhead fans. In four relief appearances, Martinez has earned three losses by giving up eight runs on eight hits (three leaving the yard), four walks, and a pair of plunked hitters.
In the MWL, South Bend’s Justin Steele has three starts totalling 10 2/3 innings. The young Cub has allowed 15 runs – ten earned – on 17 hits and six walks. Quad Cities’ Alex Winkelman has been caught in the maelstrom, as this River Bandit has a 8.25 ERA and a 1.75 WHIP after his first dozen innings of work. Teammate Sebastian Kessay has been even worse. In his first two appearances, totalling only 2 1/3 innings, Kessay has allowed ten runs on six hits and five walks – a 38.57 ERA and a 4.71 WHIP.
In the Sally, Lakewood’s Franklyn Kilome leads the league with a 15.83 ERA and a 3.10 WHIP in his first three starts. The right-hander has allowed 19 runs on 20 hits and ten walks in only 9 2/3 innings. Teammate Tyler Gilbert has also pitched poorly out of the gates, putting up an 8.56 ERA and 1.68 WHIP over his first three starts. Lexington’s Scott Blewett has a 6.08 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP over his first three starts, allowing ten runs on 15 hits and six walks. Greenville Drive reliever Victor Diaz has been a relief for the opposition, putting up a 9.95 ERA and a 2.84 WHIP in 6 1/3 innings. Diaz has accumulated three of the Drive’s five losses on the season.
While a sextet of minor-league teams have gone through the first weeks earning only a trio of wins, two teams have set the bar even lower.
The South Atlantic League’s Lakewood BlueClaws is already nine games behind the West Virginia Power in the Northern Division, after going 2-12 in their first 14 games. While pitchers Kilome and Gilbert highlighted the BlueClaws struggles, it’s been the inability to win the close games that have been truly frustrating for the Phillies affiliate. The team has played six one-run games in the early going, losing all but one.
The Inland Empire 66ers have also gone 2-12 in their first two weeks, and are eight games behind the High Desert Mavericks in the Southern Division of the California League. The 66ers started off with eight consecutive losses to begin the season, including three consecutive one-run outings. While Jake Jewell “leads” the roasted rotation, fellow starters Justin Anderson (7.53 ERA) and Alex Klonowski (6.60 ERA) have not picked up the slack. Besides the aforementioned David Fletcher, Taylor Ward, with a .456 OPS, and Ayendy Perez, with a .195/.244/.220 line, have also struggled offensively.
While it will be difficult for Inland Empire and Lakewood to crawl back into the divisional races, they can both take solace in the fact that both leagues use a split-season format. A bad start may have doomed them in the first half, but the second half could be a completely different story.
For these struggling players, two weeks is a decent-sized slump, but is not a season. For most of these players, a hot streak will be coming soon, and better form will lead to promotions up the minor-league ladder. For others, however, a demotion down the ladder or even a quick release from the organization may soon be in the offering if the hot streak does not come. Baseball is a game of continual development, and when development stops, careers end. After all, there’s always another hungry prospect looking to move up to the next level.
*Note – All Stats used in this article are current as of the end of play on Wednesday, 4/20.
Brandon Magee is our minor league expert; he has written about minor league travel, ranking prospects, a first round draft pick, and the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.