If you could pick one minor league game to watch yesterday, you couldn't have done better than to have taken in the Double-A Chattanooga-Mobile game.
It wasn't like we couldn't see this one coming. On the mound for Mobile was righthander Archie Bradley, while Chattanooga started 2011 first-round lefthander Chris Reed. Reed had been erratic all season while Bradley has been one of the best pitchers in the minors. But on Wednesday, it was Reed who bested Bradley.
Reed held Mobile to three hits in seven scoreless innings of work. That comes on the heels of five scoreless innings in his previous outing as he's lowered his ERA by more than a run to 4.34 in two starts. Bradley was very good himself, but he lost the strike zone momentarily in the third inning. Bradley walked Reed, followed that up by giving up a single, then walked Ozzie Martinez.
Bradley almost got out of trouble as he struck out Joc Pederson for the second out of the inning, but he then walked Yasiel Puig to drive in Reed, which was the only run of the game. Bradley gave up scattered singles throughout the night, but he ended up allowing one run in eight innings, walking three (all in the third inning) while striking out seven.
It was Bradley's first loss of the season. It was the third run he's allowed in six Double-A starts.
On the other hand, if you could pick one game to avoid, the Tacoma-Colorado Springs game would have been a good one to skip. If you like offense, there was a lot of it, but the novelty of seeing runs score wears off when you're sitting through a seven-run sixth of a game where Tacoma has a 24-run lead.
Tacoma turned off the offense after the sixth, holding a runner at third on a potentially run-scoring single in the seventh. But the bats did more than enough in six innings. Dustin Ackley went 5-for-6 with a home run as he tries to rebuild his career in Triple-A. Abraham Almonte went 6-for-6 (all singles) with a walk. Brad Miller went 3-for-7 with his first Triple-A home run. As a team, Tacoma had 30 hits.
There was a bright spot in an awful game for Colorado Springs. Catcher/outfielder Matt McBride hit his 11th home run of the season. McBride has hit all 11 home runs this month.
Ariel Pena, rhp, Brewers: Pena was added to the 2012 Futures Game just before the game because the Rockies' Edwar Cabrera was promoted to the big leagues. He may have wished he could have missed the call, as Pena gave up seven hits, a walk and a sacrifice fly to the nine batters he faced. It was about as bad as any pitcher has ever been in the Futures Game.
But even as he was shellacked in Kansas City last July, Pena showed good stuff, with a 94-95 mph fastball and a decent changeup. He was later dealt to the Brewers in last summer's Zack Greinke trade. Jean Segura was the cornerstone, but Pena was a useful part of the deal as well, and he's shown this month that he's better than his first shot at a national stage indicated. Pitching for Double-A Huntsville, Pena allowed one run in six innings, giving up five hits while walking four and striking out eight.
It was a solid outing, but it was notable because it's what Pena has been doing every time he takes the mound. Pena hasn't given up more than two runs in a start since April 16. He's given up one run or less in five of his last six starts, compiling a 1.11 ERA in his six starts this month.
Matt Purke, lhp, Nationals: When the Nationals drafted Purke in the third round in 2011, they knew that they were getting a potential first-round talent with some questions about his health. They paid him first-round money (a $2.275 million big league deal) then shut him down for the rest of 2011.
Purke hasn't exactly been a picture of health since then. He threw only 15 innings last year before having his scar tissue in his shoulder cleaned up. He then missed all of April as he continued to recover. Purke finally returned to action yesterday, throwing four innings for low Class A Hagerstown, allowing two runs and seven hits while striking out six. Purke isn't expected to spend too much time in Hagerstown. Once he gets back into midseason form, he's expected to be promoted.
Anthony Ranaudo, rhp, Red Sox: Ranaudo doesn't fit the normal criteria for a breakout prospect. This isn't a player coming out of nowhere to have a great season, a la Gregory Polanco or Dan Straily in 2012.
So maybe it's more accurate to call Ranaudo the welcome-back prospect of 2013. Once considered in the running to be the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft, Ranaudo has spent most of the past four seasons trying to regain the form that saw him dominate college ball in 2009.
It's taken quite a while, but Ranaudo is back to what he once was. His fastball is consistently 92-95 and touches 97 mph. His curveball gives him a second plus pitch. Combine that with the excellent angle he gets on his fastball and he's proven too much for the rest of the Double-A Eastern League. His ERA now stands at 1.48. Maybe more impressively, it's never climbed above 2.00 in 10 starts this season.
Ranaudo worked seven scoreless innings on Wednesday against New Hampshire, needing only 78 pitches as he was perfect in six of the seven innings. It's the best start of a season that has seen plenty of excellent ones. The Red Sox are suddenly flush with upper-level starting pitching prospects, which should serve them very well if they need to make a deadline deal.