From the middle of July through the end of July I spent nearly two weeks in Florida watching the Daytona Tortugas and Pensacola Blue Wahoos play baseball games. I ran into all kinds of problems when it comes to technology playing nice, but I did see some good baseball performances from several players on the trip.
Most Impressive Hitter
It would be tough for me to pick someone besides Aristides Aquino here. He went 8-15 with two doubles, a triple and a home run while I was there. It wasn’t just the production that stood out for me though, it was the difference that I saw from the time I last saw him play. Aquino has always been touted for his tools, and he had been on an absolute tear before I arrived, but I wasn’t sure if he was just feeling it for a while or if he had truly started showing improvements. It didn’t take long to figure out which one of those things happened to be true. The adjustments he was making at the plate, even within the same at-bat, just weren’t things I had seen from him in the past. He was more patient and the offensive tools were showing up far more frequently as a result.
Most Impressive Pitcher
Daytona’s bullpen had a duo of dominant pitchers going while I came through town, but every time that I see Ariel Hernandez pitch it’s just unlike watching other guys throw at the minor league level. He pitched in two games, tossing 2.2 innings out of the bullpen without allowing a run and striking out two batters. He was sitting at 97 MPH with his fastball and touched higher. That wasn’t even his best pitch, which was his incredible mid-to-upper 80’s curveball. Between the two stops this season in Dayton and Daytona he’s posted a 2.40 ERA in 56.1 innings with 33 walks and 66 strikeouts. You’d like to see him cut down on the walks, but he’s made enormous strides in that area. The lowest walk he has posted since 2010 was 8.4 walks per 9-innings pitched. This season it’s down to 5.3, and it’s even better in Daytona at 4.7 batters per 9-innings. (honorable mention to Jimmy Herget, who I haven’t written about just yet anywhere, but who has been dominant and looked every bit as good as his numbers suggest).
Most Surprising Player
Angelo Gumbs may be having one of the better turnarounds you’re going to see in minor league baseball this year. The former 2nd round pick of the Yankees (2010) is now in his 4th season in the Florida State League. His OPS in the past seasons has been .567, .599 and .437 as he’s come through the league. When I saw him in spring training, it was clear the Reds were impressed by what he had been showing, and by the time I arrived in Daytona he was performing quite well with a .300/.336/.455 line, good for a .791 OPS (in a league where the OPS is .678). The now 23-year-old hit well while I was in town, going 5-15 with a walk, triple and a home run. While he’s certainly a tad older than you would prefer to see for the level, the tools he shows are real and he could just be a late bloomer who has figured out the thing that’s been holding him back.
You may have noticed that all of the players mentioned here were from the Daytona squad. It just happened to work out that way. Sal Romano was rather impressive when I came through Pensacola. For the season he’s posting a 3.87 ERA in 128.0 innings with 32 walks and 119 strikeouts while being one of the youngest pitchers in the league. He’s one of the hardest throwers among the starting pitchers in the system, but it was his use of his change up that was most impressive to me as it’s been a pitch in the past that he didn’t go to often. He was showing confidence in using it along with his fastball on that particular day.
Beau Amaral hit just .246/.318/.370 with Pensacola before getting called up to Triple-A Louisville earlier this month (where he’s hit better, and just won the International League Player of the Week) – but his glove in center field is just outstanding. The guy makes all of the plays, and while he’s got speed, he’s not going to be confused with a true burner out there. He makes up for that with outstanding reads and excellent routes and just tracks down anything. However, what made everything even better was his return to Pensacola while I was in town. In May the outfielder was experiencing something in his arm and it began to swell up. He would see a doctor and find out that he had blood clots and would need Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery to remove one of his ribs that was pushing on a vein and causing serious problems, ones that could have been life threatening if not taken care of. Amaral would miss nearly two months before going on a rehab stint with Billings, returning to Pensacola on July 20th. He was batting leadoff and the first pitch that he swung at he took over the fence for a solo home run. He also made an incredibly defensive play later in the game.