Minor Matters: Raging Bulls
Fernando Perez, the Rays’ seventh round pick in 2004, is having some issues adjusting to his first season of Triple-A ball, but Saturday he showed flashes of what he’s capable of, finishing just a double shy of the cycle as the Durham Bulls earned their sixth win in eight games. The dinger was the first of the season for the 25-year-old outfielder, who put himself on the map last year with a breakout, although injury-shortened season at Double-A in which he experienced a power spike. He’s been inconsistent so far this year, and he’s definitely whiffing too much (at least one in five straight games), but Perez has a chance to carve out a career as an extra outfielder because of his speed and gap power.
Veteran Chris Richard is making a play to get back to the Show. He launched a pair of dingers Saturday, becoming the first Bull this season to produce a five-RBI day in the process, to continue a serious roll. The 33-year-old, who played four seasons in the bigs, last appearing there in 2003 with the Rockies, is coming off a fine Triple-A campaign in 2007. After a sluggish start this year, he’s taking it to the next level, going 15-for-30 on the Durham homestand with three dingers and ten RBI. Richard’s got some pop, but of course, so does the current first baseman in Tampa Bay. Still, Richard is proving that he could supply some power off a major league bench as an extra corner infielder/outfielder.
One vet who does not look ready to get back to the majors is Tomo Ohka. Currently toiling for the Charlotte Knights (the White Sox’s Triple-A affiliate), Ohka has been battered in three of his last four starts, dropping to 0-7, 6.12 for the year. In 50 IP, he’s given up 66 hits and 20 walks. Uh, yeah. As bad as Ohka was in his ten starts for the Jays last year, he’s been even worse in the minors. Of course, who knows what that means. Last season, Ohka was actually better in the majors than he was in the minors, and that’s not saying much. Frankly, it’s about time the 32-year-old chose another occupation.
The Rays may soon need to free up some space for outfielder Justin Ruggiano. After he put up a big year at Triple-A in 2007, showing a very nice power-speed combo, he made his major league debut. This year, he’s already earned a bit of PT in Tampa when B.J. Upton was hurting, but he has taken things to a whole new level down in the minors. The 26-year-old is 9-for-20 during his current five-game hit streak, scoring seven runs and driving in eight with a double and homer. For the year, Ruggiano is up to .360 with 20 RBI in 21 games and 75 at bats. This guy is ready for a crack at the majors.
As if Tampa didn’t have enough options, minor league veteran Jeremy Cummings is suddenly looking like he’s finally ready to take on the majors. The 31-year-old righty, originally a 21st round pick of the Cardinals way back in 1999, has been toiling at Triple-A for years. Now in his first season in the Rays organization, he’s 2-0, 1.64 through his first two starts, with just six hits allowed in 11 IP. On Saturday, pitching on just three days rest, he tossed an impressive five innings for the W. Could we have a Jim Morris, Part Two on our hands in Tampa Bay?
Remember Ben Hendrickson? The one-time Brewer pitching prospect who got battered in each of his big league trials is now in the Ray organization, and so far, it’s been a smart pickup by Tampa Bay. Hendrickson is still just 27, so who knows? The lightbulb may still come on for him at some point. He’s certainly getting the job done at Durham this year, notwithstanding some serious control issues. He’s almost always had some challenges with walks, but this year, it’s real bad. Still, how can you ignore a starter who is holding the opposition to a .175 BAA? That’s worth tracking, I’d say.
Should the Rays need some help in middle relief, it looks like Calvin Medlock is ready. A 39th round pick by Cincy in 2002, the 25-year-old righty came to the Rays last year in the Jorge Cantu deal, and it’s another smart move by Tampa Bay as this kid appears to have some upside. Through 11 appearances, he’s 1-1, 1.50 with just ten hits allowed in 18 IP. The control is a problem (ten walks), but believe it or not, it’s actually an improvement over his Triple-A debut last season.
Okay, so Grant Balfour didn’t win a job in the Rays’ pen. But he’s gone down to Triple-A Durham, grabbed the closer job, and run with it. On Saturday, pitching in a non-save situation, he gave up his first run of the season. The 30-year-old Aussie is 1-0, 0.49 with six saves and he’s been touched for just five hits in 18 1/3 IP while fanning 29. No, those aren’t Nintendo numbers. I have always been a big fan of Balfour, and while he flopped in the majors last year, these results warrant another shot for him.