Minor League Roundup: Norris Ups The Ante

Today’s roundup features brilliance from an unrelated Norris, a lefty finding a new Lane, Joey Gallo getting off the schneid, a forgotten Cubs prospect, a Royals stud on fire, a Mariners prospect bending the rules of time, and a scorching Pirates shortstop.

MINOR LEAGUE HOME RUN RACE
Player Home Runs
Joey Gallo 40
Kris Bryant 40
Matt Olson 35
Peter O’Brien 34

No-Hitter Alert

Finally, a normal no-hitter. After last week, when there was an 11-inning no-hitter, nine innings of no-hit ball that wasn’t good enough for the win, and a no-no started that in Durham and finished in Rochester, it’s nice to have something more vanilla.

Virgil Vasquez, a righthander with Double-A New Britain was the author this time, spinning a seven-inning masterpiece in the second half of his team’s doubleheader with Harrisburg. He’s 32 years old, has pitched 61 innings in the major leagues, 1,282 in in the minors, didn’t pitch in 2011 or 2012 and went five years between shutouts.

On Saturday, however, none of that mattered. An error from, of all people, Jorge Polanco kept him from a perfect game, but he used eight groundouts, 11 flyouts and two punchouts to pitch his way into history.

International League • AAA

Daniel Norris (Photo by Cliff Welch).Daniel Norris, lhp, Buffalo (Blue Jays): How do you follow up an 11-strikeout performance in your Triple-A debut? If you’re Daniel Norris, you whiff 13 your next time out. After a surprising and stunning opening act with the Bisons, Norris fanned 13 Lehigh Valley IronPigs in his second start. If you’re counting, that means 13 of the 17 outs he recorded on Friday were via strikeout. His defense must have been very bored. In fact, while Norris was in the game, just three defenders touched the ball: Right fielder Cole Gillespie, center fielder Kevin Pillar and second baseman Ryan Goins (on a caught stealing). The only time the first baseman touched the ball was to complete a strikeout.

Pacific Coast League • AAA

Jason Lane, lhp, El Paso (Padres): Even back in Triple-A, Lane’s story is still one of the coolest in the minor leagues. He’s 37 years old, a big league vet of 3,662 at-bats, played parts of three seasons in the Independent Atlantic League, and is now both pitching and hitting with El Paso. He made his MLB debut as a pitcher earlier this year against Atlanta, spinning six innings of one-run ball against Atlanta toward the end of last month. On Saturday, he tossed another gem, this time eight innings of six-hit ball with one run (unearned) on his ledger. He struck out two and walked nobody. Oh, and he also was 1-for-3 at the plate.

Eastern League • AA

Clayton Blackburn, rhp, Richmond (Giants): Kyle Crick gets most of the headlines because of his mid-90s fastball, but Blackburn, a 21-year-old Texan, is having the better season. After getting torched by Portland in his previous outing (his worst of the season), Blackburn came back with a vengeance on Saturday. Against the Sea Dogs once again, Blackburn pitched eight shutout innings, allowed three hits and walked nobody with 11 strikeouts mixed in. It was his second double-digit strikeout performance of the year. His delivery is easy and fluid, and he fills the strike zone with a solid four-pitch mix, including a fastball that typically sits between 87-90 mph.

Southern League • AA

Addison Russell (Photo by Tony Farlow).Addison Russell, ss, Tennessee (Cubs): His eight-game hitting streak was snapped on Friday, but he got right back to hitting again on Saturday. Against Pensacola, the newest Cubs wunderkind collected two hits—including a double—and scored three times. He’s hitting .299/.351/.519 with Tennessee. Can you imagine how well he’d perform if he went to Triple-A Iowa and Manny Ramirez got his hands on him?

Texas League • AA

Joey Gallo, 3b, Frisco (Rangers): It seemed like an eternity since Gallo had homered—but it had been just four games. That’s how spoiled we’ve become with his season. He’s been in a funk lately, but on Saturday clubbed his 39th homer and followed it with his 40th Sunday to tie Kris Bryant for the minor league lead—and Bryant’s out indefinitely with a toe injury. Gallo slumped badly in August, hitting just .191/.283/.362, so it’s hard to forget he’s just 20 years old and in Double-A. Much like other youngsters at the high levels, it’d be foolish to lower Gallo’s stock.

Florida State League • Hi A

Dan VogelbachDan Vogelbach, 1b, Daytona (Cubs):  With Bryant lighting it up and the infusion of talent in the Cubs’ system at the trade deadline, Vogelbach has gotten a bit lost in the shuffle. Not this weekend. Against Tampa, the powerful 21-year-old collected six hits in 11 at-bats on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, including three doubles. He also scored three times over the first two games of the weekend. He’s been in a funk this month, but overall has hit .271/.359/.428 with 13 homers and 69 RBIs in his first full season in high Class A after a cameo at the level last year.

Carolina League • Hi A

Raul Mondesi, ss, Wilmington (Royals): Just as with Gallo above, Mondesi this month is showing exactly why it’s silly to give up on talented prospects playing in levels filled with much more experienced players. While his eight-game hitting streak ended Sunday, Mondesi was 2-for-5 on Saturday with a double, a triple and an RBI against Winston-Salem. The triple set up the winning rally in the 10th inning of the Blue Rocks’ victory. A day prior, his homer off of Tyler Danish broke the righthander’s 25-inning scoreless streak. So, facing a guy a who hadn’t allowed a run in nearly three full games, in a park that had seen just 36 homers all year, Mondesi took one out. Pretty special for an 18-year-old in the Carolina League, although on Sunday he was removed by manager Darryl Kennedy after one at-bat after failing to run out a ground ball.

California League • Hi A

gaby-guerrero-2013-pgGabriel Guerrero, of, High Desert (Mariners): Guerrero had quite a weekend, hitting his 13th, 15th and 16th homers. His 14th? That came on Aug. 8. Because of the way baseball keeps score, all stats in suspended games revert to the day of the originally scheduled game. Thus, the first homer he physically hit this weekend actually counted on Aug. 3, the last time High Desert and Inland Empire crossed paths. No matter what the calendar says, Guerrero had a fine weekend, and he’s among the most exciting prospects in Seattle’s system.

South Atlantic League • Lo A

JaCoby Jones, ss, West Virginia (Pirates): Since July 1, Jones has been on some sort of fire. During that span he’s hitting .331/.376/.624 with eight doubles and 14 home runs. The homer total gives him the second most in that period, behind only Inland Empire’s Dennis Raben, who’s 26. Jones, the Pirates’ third-rounder in 2013 out of Louisiana State, collected five hits this weekend, including a 3-for-5 effort on Saturday with his 22nd homer of the season. His longballs and RBIs (69) lead all Pirates minor leaguers.

Midwest League • Lo A

Mike Papi, of, Lake County (Indians): Cleveland’s competitive balance pick did some damage this weekend, going 6-for-12. With his pro debut delayed by that pesky thing called the College World Series, Papi started a little bit slowly but has turned it on this month, slashing .271/.333/.375 with low Class A Lake County. He projects as a selective hitter with the potential for plus power.