Minor League Report 4/29/16: No Hitters and Roaming Yard Goats

The minors are in full swing, and it wouldn’t be the minors without some no hitters and roaming Yard Goats. The up-and-down nature of the affiliate rosters, along with youth in general, leads to what may seem like an abnormal amount of no nos. Then there are the Hartford Yard Goats, who are touring the northeast as both the home and away squad, as they await their new digs to be completed. Brandon Magee fills us in on all we need to know on what occurred over the last week in this week’s Minor League Report.

On April 9, Ross Stripling, in his MLB debut, carried a no-hitter through 7 1/3 innings. Two years off of Tommy John surgery, Stripling was taken out of the game by Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts after walking Angel Pagan on pitch #100 and his fourth walk of the game. While Stripling understood the reasoning Roberts used to make his decision, many fans and analysts could not, insisting that a pitcher should never be pulled when going for a no-hitter  as if a multi-pitcher no-hitter is somehow a less impressive feat.

In the minor leagues, development is the name of the game and when no-hitters occur, they are invariably completed by a reliever. Of the 19 no-hitters in the affiliated minor leagues during 2015, not a single one that went nine innings (or longer) was completed by a single pitcher. While seven individual no-hitters were thrown last season in the minors, they all went seven or fewer innings.

That trend has continued in the minors this season. In the past week, the Toledo Mud Hens, Dunedin Blue Jays and Trenton Thunder all completed no-hitters, all of which were finished off by the bullpen. Earlier in the year, the Columbia Fireflies also completed their first no-hitter in franchise history, a three-pitcher effort.

On Tuesday night in the AA Eastern League, Ronald Herrera of the Trenton Thunder, a 21-year-old right hander, dominated the New Hampshire Fisher Cats over eight innings, walking a pair while striking out five. However, with 105 pitches on the night, Jonathan Holder was brought into pitch the ninth, striking out two of the three batters he faced.

On Saturday, minor league baseball had a pair of no-hitters tossed – the fifth consecutive season that minor league baseball has had two no-hitters thrown on the same day. In the AAA International League, a quartet of Mud Hen pitchers stymied the Charlotte Knights. Warwick Saupold, in his first start of the season, threw 58 pitches in his five innings of work, facing the minimum 15 batters as the one batter that reached base against him – Jason Coats, who reached on a HBP – was erased on a double play. Preston Guilmet followed with two perfect innings, Logan Kensing allowed two batters to reach – with Coats getting hit again followed by a walk to J.B. Shuck – in his inning of work before Bobby Parnell finished the no-hitter off with a perfect 9th.

In the Florida State League, Brad Allen made his first start of the season in the second game of a doubleheader throwing 55 pitches in four innings walking a pair of batters and striking out five. Adonys Cardona gave up a pair of walks in his 1 1/3 innings to pick up the win before Tim Mayza picked up the final five outs of the game to complete the first high-A no-hitter of the season.

The first no-hitter of the year happened during the third day of the minor league season, as single-A Columbia whitewashed the Charleston RiverDogs in South Atlantic League action. Thomas McIlraith pitched six hitless innings, accumulating 72 pitches while walking a pair and striking out six. Alex Palsha followed with two perfect innings, striking out four of the six batters he faced. Johnny Magliozzi completed the no-hitter in style, striking out the side in the ninth.

On any given day, in any given ballpark, a no-hitter could be thrown. Every season since 2010 has seen at least 15 no-hitters in the minors, and with four in the first month, 2016 does not look to be an exception. Your next trip to the ballpark could find you in the presence of history.

Yard Goats Update

While the Hartford Yard Goats have yet to play an actual home game during the first month of the season, they have picked up a couple of accolades. Sports Illustrated ranked the Yard Goats as the second-weirdest name in minor league baseball, with only the Batavia MuckDogs outranking Hartford. However, Keith Law ranked the team second to none in his list of top prospect teams in minor league baseball entering this season. Law’s designation seems apt, as the Goats have won 16 of their first 20 games – tied with the California League’s High Desert Mavericks and the Carolina League’s Lynchburg Hillcats for best record in Baseball – and lead the Eastern League Eastern Division by 3 1/2 games. 

Hartford began their season with four home games in Richmond, Virginia, winning their first three on the season before losing their first game, the second game of a double dip. The team would move onto their next home series, this time beginning a two-week road trip in Northern New England with a trio of games in New Hampshire against the Fisher Cats, winning two of three. The loss on the 12th is currently their last “home” loss of the season.

Their first road series followed in Portland, where they lost game one before winning three in a row. The Goats would go back down to Manchester for three road games against the Fisher Cats, and like the week before, would win two of three. The loss on the 19th, their fourth of the season, was the last loss the team suffered. The Goats would “return home” to Portland, sweeping the Sea Dogs by allowing a single run over four games. The team has since won their first two home games in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Winners of seven straight and 11 of 12, the Yard Goats pitching has allowed only 20 runs in the last dozen games.

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Not surprisingly, a quartet of starters have been the key to the Yard Goats early success. Harrison Musgrave has pitched 20 2/3 innings in his three starts, going 3-0 with a 0.87 ERA and a microscopic 0.57 WHIP. Kyle Freeland has averaged six innings a start over his first four, putting up an ERA of 1.13 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP. German Marquez has been nearly as stellar, putting up a 1.71 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP over 21 innings in his four starts. Zach Jemiola has thrown a team high 24 2/3 innings over four starts, putting up a 1.05 WHIP and a 1.82 ERA.

However, the bullpen has been just as stellar. Matt Pierpont, Austin House, and Devin Burke all sport spotless ERAs. Matt Carasiti has allowed a single earned run while picking up saves in half of Hartford’s victories. Rayan Gonzalez, Matt Flemer, Johendi Jiminian and Konner Wade all have ERAs under 2.00 in the early going.

Obviously, with all these pitchers having success, the team leads the Eastern League with a team ERA of 1.71, over a run lower than the second place Trenton Thunder. The Yard Goats also have the lowest WHIP at 1.06, have walked (47) and hit (1) the fewest batters, and are second to the Thunder with eight HRs allowed.

With the pitching being fantastic early, the offense has merely needed to be breathing. The offense has a line of .233/.296/.362 early in the season, ranking 9th of 12 in OPS in the EL. Their team batting average is third worse only to New Hampshire and Portland – the two teams Hartford has played the most – while their OBP only beats out the pathetic Sea Dogs. However, their slugging is mid-pack in the league, with the team leading the league with 42 doubles and being in the upper half of the league with 15 home runs.

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David Dahl, however, has been more than “merely breathing,” putting up a .271/.361/.644 line with six doubles and a league high seven home runs (tied with Bowie’s Trey Mancini), leading the team with 16 runs scored and 16 runs batted in.. Pat Valaika has scored 13, driven in 14 and has a league high eight doubles (tied with Akron’s Clint Frazier) through the first 20 games of the season.

Winning 16 games in the first 3 weeks of the season is a difficult task during a normal season. However, winning 80% of your games with all the contests being on the road is amazing. The question for the Yard Goats is: Can they sustain a similar pace for another month on the road? And, if they do, will the players who have dominated early still be on the team when Hartford finally debuts on home soil? Or will these Goats break out of the yard and move on to the next step on their journey to the majors, AAA Albuquerque?

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.

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