Sunday, September 14, 2014

Farewell Summer Friend!

Yesterday evening marked the official end of the 2014 baseball season in Durham.  The Triple A National Championship Game is taking place on Tuesday night in Charlotte at the home stadium of the Charlotte Knights, so I cannot say it's over in North Carolina, but it's close.  Last evenings game was the fifth and deciding game for the Governor's Cup (International League Championship) between the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Durham Bulls.

This is the second year in a row that the team's have played for the International League Championship, and through the first four games of the series, fans had witnessed a great series.  Game 4 lasted four hours Friday night with both teams making some great plays.  Tim Beckham, Bulls shortstop, had a huge two-run single, to give the Bulls a late lead.  Bryce Brentz, Paw Sox outfielder made a great throw to throw out Cole Figueroa at the plate in extra innings.  A near walk-off home run by Nick Franklin.  The Red Sox finally prevailed.

The game Saturday offered me a chance to see a deciding championship game and also gave me a glance at recent Red Sox signee Rusney Castillo.  The Cuban defector recently signed a huge seventy-some million dollar contract with the BoSox.  He is playing in Triple A right now, but is a definite for the outfield in Boston next year.  Let me give you a glance at the new Red Sox outfielder before we get to the game....


I had to go find Castillo and watch him for a couple of minutes before the game.  He did some really basic stretching, but nothing beyond a few wind sprints and lunges.  Then the game started.  He clearly has talent.

His first at-bat, which led off the game, lasted just two pitches and ended in a fly out.  The ball had a good sound off his bat and had good carry.  He was facing Merrill Kelly in the video.  

His second at-bat resulted in a double.  You can see in the video, again, that Rusney Castillo is swinging right away in the at-bat.  I am not sure how that is going to play in Boston, the organization seems to be all about working counts, when he arrives in the spring.  It could also be that in facing Merrill Kelly, a control pitcher who is around the plate, that Castillo was not going to wait around to fall behind in the count early.  

His third at-bat also resulted in a double on a ball pulled right down the line past the Durham Bulls third baseman Cole Figueroa.  After the double, Castillo fell asleep on the base paths and was nearly picked off by Merrill Kelly, but Figueroa was also asleep at third base and blew the run down.  

His final at-bat was perhaps his most impressive in my mind.  The Bulls had pulled Kelly at this point and had put Enny Romero into the game.  If you are not familiar with Romero from my other posts here's a basic run down: He throws in the high 90s and does not always have the greatest control.  I actually have been a little bit intrigued at the prospect of him pitching out of the bullpen and was happy to see this match-up of power versus power.  

The final pitch results in a walk.  However, if you look at his first couple of swings he actually spoils the first couple of pitches from the hard throwing left hander.  He also did a great job of laying off the high fast balls, which were all letter high, and all were going somewhere between 95 and 99 on the stadium radar gun.  

Overall, I was really impressed by Rusney Castillo.  His skill set stood out and he was clearly the most talented position player on the field last night.  He even made a couple of good plays in the outfield.  I am not going to make any predictions as to what he turns into in the Majors, but he definitely belongs.

Game 5

It was a great night for a baseball at the DBAP.  The heat of summer has started to disappear and the temperatures were sitting in the 70s for the game.  Perfect for the final night at my favorite place to be during the summer.  The Bulls started Merrill Kelly versus the Red Sox Keith Couch.  

Merill Kelly is sort of the good reliable starter on the Bulls.  Nothing flashy or fancy, the guy just wins baseball games.  Unfortunately, the Bulls were starting Merill Kelly because the Rays recalled Nate Karns to the big team.  Karns started a game Friday night against the Blue Jays and had a pretty great night out for his first Major League win.  

Keith Couch is not on the Red Sox Top 20 prospects list, but he posted an 8-2 record in Double A with an ERA of 2.96.  I was not sure what to make of Couch, but I thought the Bulls could probably get a few runs off of him in his Triple A debut.  

Well, Couch was outstanding pitching into the seventh inning, striking out four, and keeping the Bulls off of the scoreboard.  I am not sure the Red Sox could have hoped for any better out of their right handed starting pitcher.  The Red Sox offense was able to put up a few runs, aided by a few Bulls mistakes.  

In the end the Paw Sox won the game 4-1 as the only Bull who could dent the scoreboard was outfielder Jeremy Moore who hit a long home run to right in the ninth inning.  The Red Sox were the better team, all the way around, Saturday night and deserved the W.  

Catcher Ryan Lavarnway was named the MVP and had a long home run off the Tobacco Road resturant above the left-field wall.  In the eight playoff games played by the Paw Sox this year, the catcher his .324 with six RBIs.  A very deserving choice.  Here's a picture of the catcher accepting the MVP award from the International League Commissioner.  

The Red Sox had a great time celebrating on the field.  This is the Paw Sox second championship in the last three years and third consecutive appearance in the Governor's Cup Championship.  

Final Thoughts On The Bulls

1.  This was Charlie Montoyo's finest season as the Bulls manager.

He's the winningest manager in franchise history.  He's won seven division crowns in eight season with two International League Championships and a Triple A National Championship.  People always point out that the Rays have players in their minor league system and there is always a good deal of talent on the Durham roster.  Very true, but where are the five star prospects on this year's team?  I love the players on the roster this year, but there is no Evan Longoria, David Price, Delmon Young, or Ben Zobrist on the team.  The offense of the Bulls struggled at times posting a .248 team average.  Through it all, Montoyo guided the team to first place in the International League's Southern Division and into the League Championship round.  

2. The players with Major League careers ahead of them on this year's roster include:

Kevin Kiermaier- "The Bandit" spent a good chunk of the first half of the season with the Bulls and excelled on defense and at the plate.  I saw plenty of games of Jim Edmonds in his prime and can tell you that Kiermaier is in that neighborhood of players with the glove.  He has hit in Tampa this year, but could still use some improvement at the plate.  Kiermaier is a legit outfielder and never sees Durham again, unless he's on a rehab assignment.  

Mikie Mahtook- Perhaps the fan favorite this year in Durham.  I think he needs a little bit more time in Triple A for consistency.  The 24 year old outfielder out of LSU looked good during the first half of the season, but he had a really rough July hitting just .226/.280/.560.  Not good.  He had a good bounce back during August, but I think the Rays still do not quite have a finished product here.  I still think he's a Major League outfielder at some point.  No worse than say a Brandon Guyer type of player, but I think the ceiling is there for him to be better than that.  

Curt Casali- There is always room for an extra catcher or two, but especially for one who has a career .381 OBP in the Minors.  There is not a great average or tons of power here, but he is a good defensive option and he gets on-base.  Even if he hits at the bottom of a batting order, he will get on base and turn over the line up.  Casali is a solid catching option and the Rays could use him instead of Jose Molina next year behind Ryan Hanigan.  

Hak Ju Lee- The guy can field.  


I am not sure he can hit at the big league level, but neither can guys like Brendan Ryan.  Yet, they are still up and taking up a roster spot, because catching the ball and throwing people out is still a really important aspect to the game.  Lee has some offensive pluses, like his base running, but he needs to become much more consistent. A .200 batting average and .280 OBP is not going to get you far in the Majors, but a .250 average and an OBP of .320 with Gold Glove D might be worth playing time in Tampa.  

Tim Beckham- Stop blaming Tim Beckham for being the 1st overall draft pick.  He might not be a slam dunk super star player you envision when a team uses the number one overall pick on you, but the guy can play and I would not mind seeing him as a Ray.  In fact, he also better than Daniel Descalso, who is my least favorite player on the Cardinals, my other team of interest.  After blowing out his knee in the off season, the shortstop only picked up 65 plate appearances this year.  Limited window, but something is different about Beckham since his return.  Here's the short list: 

1. He cares a lot and has worked hard.  I know this sounds like the "grit" argument, which it is, but he has worked hard to get to Triple A, then rehab, and come back to Triple A.  The last weeks of the season have seen Beckham out early working on ground balls, stretching, and running.  

2.  He's emotional and wants to win.  Last night when I saw the Bulls playing the whole team looked flat with the exception of Beckham.  He looked faster than every player on the field not named Rusney Castillo.  He made several really good defensive plays, and the only one not made, was all on Wilson Betimet looking scared of a one hop throw over to first.  

3. You used the first overall draft pick on him and he's in Durham because you love Sean Rodriguez and his .212/.264/.442 line?  Seriously.  Give him a few weeks and give the man some at-bats.  

Nick Franklin- He was there best player down the stretch and was already promoted after last night's game.  He should be given a chance to play regularly next year in Tampa.  

Brad Boxberger- Why was he ever in Durham this year?  Lueke got a roster spot ahead of him.  Silly.

Alex Colome- He's already been promoted and is starting Monday against the Yankees.  Should be a solid starter for years to come in Tampa.  

Mike Montgomery- Threw a no-hitter this year and is a left handed starting pitcher.  He should get a few spot starts for the Rays next year, but I think there is another year in Durham left for the former Royals farm hand.  

C.J. Riefenhauser- Should be in Tampa next year along.  

Nate Karns- I think he could use another season in Durham for polish, but his first Major League win the other night in Toronto offered a glimpse into the potential.  Karns has a big arm, throws hard, its always a matter of control.  I think he could also be a really good relief pitcher at some point.  

Matt Andriese- I think he's back in Durham next year, but really deserves a shot at pitching in Tampa.  I think he will get some spot starts in Tampa next year and maybe a shot in the rotation at some point in the near future.  I was really surprised at how well he pitched this year.  

Enny Romero- I got my wish of seeing Romero as a relief pitcher last night.  He looked really good coming out of the pen and he throws hard.  He's in Tampa in the future, please say he's a relief pitcher?  Please!


3.  Favorite Moments of the Year

Mike Montgomery's No-Hitter It was already a post, but still the best of the year can get mentioned many times and never get old.  Thinking of something cool to do with my ticket stub.  

Hmmm....Seriously, any ideas?  

The All-Star Game and Home Run Derby

Awesome Promotions
There were t-shirts and hats too, but my two favorites were the Will Myers bobble and the International League Championship ring.  Really cool items.  

Last game and item of the post.  I caught a ball!  

Thank you Nick Franklin!  

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