The week ahead in minor league baseball features a prospect-laden series in West Virginia and an all-star game.
Series to Watch at the Park
Hagerstown at West Virginia (Aug. 4-6): Starting Monday night, you can check out this Sally League matchup for a trove of top prospects, headlined by dynamic righthander Lucas Giolito, who’ll take the ball on Tuesday opposite Dovydas Neverauskas. Giolito and his lethal three-pitch mix haven’t always been consistent this season, but his strikeouts are third in the system and his 2.17 ERA would top Nats minor leaguers if he had enough innings to qualify. Numbers aside, upper-90s gas, a hammer curve and a solid changeup should be enough to make you watch.
Beyond Giolito, the Suns also boast shortstop Wilmer Difo and outfielder Rafael Bautista, two of the fastest and most efficient base-burglars in the minors. Combined, the pair have stolen 96 bases (60 for Bautista and 36 for Difo) and have been caught just nine times apiece. Each player is also batting better than .280 and on-basing better than .340. Difo has 25 doubles and 10 homers and plays solid defense at both up-the-middle positions on the infield.
If that’s not enough, Hagerstown also has third baseman Drew Ward, our No. 17 Washington prospect entering the year, RHP Jake Johansen (No. 8). RHP Nick Pivetta (No. 22) and LHP Brett Mooneyham (No. 25). Neither Mooneyham nor Pivetta nor Johansen will pitch in this series, however.
On the other side, West Virginia brings three very fine position prospects, including a catcher, an infielder and outfielder.
Now that he’s back and healthy, Austin Meadows, our No. 4 prospect in a stacked Pirates system entering the year, is hitting the way everyone thought (albeit with less power) he would when he cracked top 100 lists this offseason. In 19 games since returning from a hamstring injury, Meadows has hit .304/.342/.348 with three doubles. He also plays a solid center field. At shortstop, there’s JaCoby Jones, who is coming off a month in which he hit .336/.379/.602 with eight of his 16 homers this season.
There’s also Reese McGuire, who hasn’t hit as expected this year, but is drawing raves for his work behind the plate, catching 42 percent of runners trying to steal. He ranked No. 8 on our Pirates prospects list entering the season.
MILB.TV Series Of The Week
Augusta Greenjackets at Greenville Drive (Aug. 4-6): Augusta, the Giants' low Class A affiliate, hasn't seen its season go as planned. The GreenJackets began the year with the club's 2013 first-round pick (Christian Arroyo) and second-round pick (Ryder Jones) sharing the infield. Arroyo was quickly demoted after hitting .203/.226/.271 while facing questions about his defense as well. Jones stuck around longer, but he was also sent to short-season Salem Keizer after he hit .214/.267/.334 in 90 games in Augusta. So why is this the series of the week? Even without Jones and Arroyo, Augusta has a fascinating pitching staff, with some solid starters (Luis Ysla leads the way) and maybe the hardest-throwing reliever in the minors in Ray Black. Black frequently tops 100 mph and we've heard reports of 103 mph this summer. And Greenville has rising star Manuel Margot in center field and Wendell Rijo and Tzu-Wei Lin at second and short.
It isn’t a promotion, per se, but the Northwest League all-star game is Tuesday, and that’s pretty cool in and of itself. To be played in Eugene’s PK Park, home of the Pac-12’s Oregon Ducks, the game will also feature plenty of promotions. Local band Medium Troy will perform, and the first 1,000 fans through the gates will get a Silipint Pint cup, which the press release bills as “practically indestructible.” We’ll see about that, cup. There will also be a two-hour autograph session with the all-stars, among them top prospects Franklin Barreto and Jairo Labourt from Vancouver and Franchy Cordero from the home Emeralds.
Besides, who wouldn’t want to spend a summer’s afternoon in Oregon, where the weather will be a high of 88 degrees on Tuesday. If you’re up for food after the game, I (Josh, not JJ) recommend The Jail, a teriyaki joint that is cheap, quick and doesn’t skimp on the portions. Well worth the purchase.