Playoff races are heating up in the minors, as their regular season ends the second week of September. The San Antonio Missions, winners of their division in the first half, are looking to repeat the feat, as they lead the Midland RockHounds by 2.5 games. They’re trying to win their first Texas League championship since 2013 (with a team that featured Cory Spangenberg and Austin Hedges, among others). The Fort Wayne TinCaps, who had the worst record in the Midwest League in the first half, are currently half a game back of the Bowling Green Hot Rods for a playoff berth due to an incredible turn around in the second half. The Tri-City Dust Devils are tied for first in their division, sporting a sparkly .600 winning percentage. Even the El Paso Chihuahuas, who have a .500 record, are eyeing the postseason, as they sit first place in their division in the Pacific Coast League.
While standings-watching might be fun, prospect-watching is even better. Here are some of the top performers from the past week.
Joey Lucchesi, SP – San Antonio Missions (Double-A)
6.2 IP, 1 ER, 5 H, 0 BB, 9 K
The lowest hyped of the four rotation pieces that were promoted from Lake Elsinore, Lucchesi has become the most consistent of the bunch. Since joining San Antonio, his K/9 rate has dropped from 10.9 to a still respectable 8.0, and he has posted a 1.91 ERA (down from 2.52 in High-A). Since joining the Missions, hitters are slugging just .316 against him – and while it definitely helps to escape the hitter-friendly climate of the Cal League, the hitters at Double-A are no slouch. San Antonio should be fun to watch in the playoffs.
Michael Gettys, OF – Lake Elsinore Storm (High-A)
6 for 21 (.286), 1 HR, 1 2B, 3 R, 4 RBI, 2 BB, 14 K
Gettys hasn’t made an appearance here since the middle of June (in part because he had a stint on the DL a while back), and while it’s nice to see him hitting a bit and driving in some runs, the glaring part of his stat line is the fourteen strikeouts. That’s good for a 60.9% K rate for the week, inflating his yearly total to 37.5%. On the plus side, while he’s set a career record for strikeouts (169), he’s also set a career record for walks (41, good for a 9.1% BB rate). While a .336 OBP isn’t nothing, man, it’d be nice to see some improvement in the strikeout category.
Pedro Avila, SP – Fort Wayne TinCaps (Single-A)
13.1 IP, 3 ER, 8 H, 3 BB, 20 K
No, Avila didn’t have a 20-strikeout extra-inning game, these are the combined totals of the two starts he made this week. Yes, the strikeout numbers are fun (12.3 K/9), but the walks have been wonderful, as he’s improved his BB/9 numbers from 3.7 per nine in Lake Elsinore to 1.4 per nine in Fort Wayne. At 20 years old, he’s still almost two years younger than the average player in the Midwest League.
Lake Bachar, SP – Fort Wayne TinCaps (Single-A)
7.0 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 0 BB, 7 K
Bachar was pulled from his last start after throwing seven perfect innings. While Jose Galindo ended up one out short of the combined perfecto, it was a still an incredible outing for Bachar, who was coming off a game where he allowed seven runs in five innings. The Padres fifth round pick in 2016 has thrown just 34 innings this year and is coming off a shoulder injury which kept him sidelined until July.
Nate Easley, IF – Fort Wayne TinCaps (Single-A)
12 for 29, 3 2B, 4 R, 6 RBI, 4 BB, 10 K, 2 SB
Son of former major leaguer Damion Easley, Nate Easley has caught fire for Fort Wayne, OPSing 1.017 last week, despite having a .711 OPS on the year. A Swiss Army knife of sorts, Easley played second base and both corner outfield spots last week, and seems like he has a utility guy type of profile – 5’10”, 170 lbs, and a 23rd round pick out of college in 2016. As of right now, however, the 21-year-old is one of the hottest hitters on a playoff-bound TinCaps team, and hopes to utilize his .350 OBP to spark things for the Fort Wayne offense.
Hudson Potts, 3B – Fort Wayne TinCaps (Single-A)
14 for 28 (.500), 2 HR, 1 2B, 7 R, 6 RBI, 2 BB, 4 K
If Easley is on fire, then I’m not sure I’m equipped with superlatives to describe how Potts is playing right now. While Fort Wayne will definitely feel the loss of the newly-promoted Fernando Tatis Jr., it’s a huge boon for them to be able to rely on the resurgent third baseman in the middle of their lineup. While he started off the year slowly (hitting just .223/.261/.367 from April to July, the 18-year-old first round pick from a year ago has blossomed in August into a baseball-destroying machine (.380/.429/634 in 18 games).
Fernando Tatis Jr., SS – Fort Wayne TinCaps (Single-A)
7 for 17 (.412), 5 2B, 5 R, 3 RBI, 7 BB, 5 K, 1 SB
Guess we should also mention the most exciting player in the system, who was recently promoted to Double-A San Antonio. Not much more needs to be said about the 18-year-old phenom, but his improvement from the beginning of the year has been stated over and over again, so here’s a chart tracking his strikeout and walk rates by month since the beginning of the season. Feel free to print it out and show it to your friends.
Jalen Washington, C – Tri-City Dust Devils (Low-A)
7 for 19 (.368), 1 3B, 4 2B, 1 R, 2 RBI, 0 BB, 1 K
While lacking the marquee prospect names that Fort Wayne and San Antonio has, the Dust Devils have had producers from all over this past week, including Washington, a 29th round pick from this year’s draft. While his hitting line still sits at an unimpressive .190/.275/.310, the former Ohio State Buckeye has thrown out 34% of would-be base stealers this season, and has helped the Dust Devils pitching staff lead the Northwest League in strikeouts.
Tirso Ornelas, OF – AZL Padres 2 (Rookie)
8 for 21 (.381), 2 HR, 2 3B, 1 2B, 8 R, 7 RBI, 2 BB, 3 K
Tirso Ornelas is my dude, and it was great to see him finally get off the schneid, hitting his first two homers of the AZL season in the same game. It’s rare that he struck out more than he walked, but a 2:3 BB:K ration isn’t anything to worry about. He’s been playing center field, though scouts seem to think he’s more of a corner outfielder, and the idea of his big 6’4″ frame filling out into a slugger with excellent plate discipline is tantalizing.
Esteury Ruiz, 2B – AZL Padres (Rookie)
9 for 20 (.450), 1 3B, 3 2B, 6 R, 1 RBI, 0 BB, 3 K, 5 SB
I sometimes stay up late at night doing the numbers research and then filling in the write-ups sometime in the morning/afternoon of the following day, and I had to double check Ruiz’ output twice, just to make sure that I didn’t make a mistake. Yep, he had five stolen bases, and almost half of his hits were for extra bases. Ruiz is the real deal, and with the Padres being so aggressive with their prospects, I’d expect the 18-year-old to get a chance at full season ball in 2018.