If you were lucky enough to have a Gulfstream IV to jet around to any minor league game in the country on Sunday, it would have been a wise choice to head to the low Class A Wisconsin-Quad Cities game.
OK, you needed to pack a jacket, hand warmers and maybe a flask, as it was 35 degrees with a 18 mph wind that didn’t make it feel all that comfortable. But it would be worth the chill to watch Quad Cities shortstop Carlos Correa (Astros), the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft, hit a pair of home runs. In the same game, Victor Roache, the Brewers’ first-round pick in 2012, hit a home run in his pro debut.
For Correa, the two-home run game was just another strong day in what has been a very impressive April for the multi-tooled shortstop. He slammed the first pitch he saw in the first inning on Sunday for a home run to left center field. Seven innings later, he hit a long fly ball that carried over the left-field wall. In between he also singled and walked, raising his batting average 51 points to .256, and it’s hard to find much to complain about Correa’s early work. He has walked 10 times, which explains his .396 on-base percentage, and he’s slugging .535.
It was a much bigger day for Roache. Considered one of the best power hitters in the 2012 draft when the college season began last year, the Georgia Southern outfielder broke his wrist early in the season. It was a pretty nasty break and it meant that the Brewers had to trust their doctors and Roache’s drive when they picked him--he didn’t get to swing a bat in game action until the instructional league after the 2012 season. He then missed further time this spring with a hamstring strain, forcing him to wait until Sunday for his first official pro game.
Roache’s home run was a long drive. It hit off the scoreboard that sits above the outfield wall in left field. Power is Roache’s calling card--he doesn’t have many other plus tools, but before the wrist injury, he hit 30 home runs with the detuned BBCOR bats in 2011, so he’s shown he can make baseballs disappear.
Gerrit Cole, rhp, Pirates: Pirates fans may be clamoring for a Cole callup, but the 2011 top overall pick has shown this April that he needs some more time in Triple-A.
Cole has great stuff, but when he gets ahead of Triple-A hitters, he has yet to figure out how to finish them off. His odd April continued on Sunday. He was lifted early from each of his first two starts for Indianapolis when he topped 30 pitches in an inning. He bounced back to throw a successful start against Toledo last week (6 1/3 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 5 SO), but on Sunday the same problems resurfaced.
Cole once again had a 30-plus pitch inning which forced him to leave a scoreless game after four innings. This time it was a 34-pitch fourth in which he wriggled out of a bases-loaded jam against Louisville. Cole struggled to throw any of his secondary pitches for strikes, and while he possesses some of the best velocity in the minors (93-97 mph on the stadium gun on Sunday), his fastball is fouled off more often than it’s swung at and missed. On Sunday, 25 of the 49 strikes Cole threw were foul balls. In his second start of the season, 20 of the 42 strikes he threw were fouled off.
Cole has done a very good job of damage control, but with five walks in four innings on Sunday, he now has 25 baserunners allowed in just 16 innings this year. Things were going fine for Cole as he started the fourth. He got Mike Hessman to ground out and Henry Rodriguez to fly out to get two outs on nine pitches.
But Emmanuel Burriss then made Cole’s life miserable. The shortstop began the at-bat by fouling off four straight pitches. After a ball, he fouled off another pitch. Another ball, then another foul ball. Burriss couldn’t get around on Cole’s fastball, but he could spoil it enough to stay alive, and Cole couldn’t locate his curveball or slider well enough to strike out Burriss. Eventually Cole missed the zone with back-to-back fastballs to walk Burriss on the 10th pitch of the at-bat. Denis Phipps followed with a five-pitch walk. Nevin Ashley walked as well in a seven-pitch at-bat.
So after being up 0-2 on Burriss with two outs in the fourth, 22 pitches later, Cole found himself with the bases loaded. He managed to get out of the inning without any runs scoring thanks to a great catch by left fielder Jerry Sands on a lineout by pitcher Yohan Pina, but once again Cole’s inability to finish off batters left him with a high pitch count and a quicker than planned trip to the showers.
The Bats also took advantage of the Cole-Tony Sanchez battery for six steals in six attempts. Basestealers are eight of nine against Cole this year. That’s the most steals allowed in the International League. Some of that falls to Sanchez, who ranks dead last in the IL with 14 steals allowed in 17 attempts. But some of it also falls on Cole. He does a good job of varying his times to the plate and has a decent pickoff move for a righthander, but Cole isn’t the quickest to home. Catchers have thrown out just 6 of 26 basestealers with Cole on the mound in his pro career.
Cole’s raw stuff is worthy of high grades, but while some other prospects are being held back in Triple-A largely to manipulate service time, that isn’t the case right now with Cole.
Other Weekend Notables
• Rafael DePaula, rhp, Yankees: DePaula’s on-again/off-again domination of the low Class A South Atlantic League was on again on Sunday. He held Hickory scoreless for five innings as he struck out 10. It’s the second time DePaula has struck out 10 or more in four starts for Charleston. In his other two outings he’s allowed five runs and 12 baserunners in eight innings.
• Nate Karns, rhp, Nationals: There are plenty of reasons to be wary of Karns’ long-term chances of success. He’s a 25-year-old just reaching Double-A, and this is the first year as a pro that he hasn’t been pitching under limitations brought about by shoulder surgery in 2010. But when the righthander is dominating like he did on Saturday, it’s easier to focus on his nasty stuff. Karns struck out 13 Altoona batters while allowing just three baserunners in seven innings for Harrisburg. Karns has now faced Altoona in back-to-back starts. Over 12 innings against the Curve, he’s allowed one run, five hits and two walks while striking out 21.
• Nick Williams, lf, Rangers: It’s easy to get overlooked in low Class A Hickory’s lineup, but on a team that includes Nomar Mazarra, Luis Marte, Joey Gallo, Jorge Alfaro and Lewis Brinson, it’s been Williams who has had the breakout April. Williams homered twice on Friday to up his season total to seven, second best in the minors behind Stockton’s Max Muncy. He finished off his weekend with a pair of two-for-four days.