Rayder Ascanio, Taylor Ward Show Improvement

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.Rayder Ascanio has long been known as a defensive whiz with a light bat. On Thursday evening, the 21-year-old Mariners shortstop prospect took steps toward changing that reputation.

Ascanio went 4-for-5 and finished a triple shy of the cycle to lead high Class A Modesto to a 12-6 win over Inland Empire (Angels). Ascanio was inserted into the leadoff spot minutes before the game when Braden Bishop was scratched with general soreness, and set the tone for a 16-hit attack.

The four hits tied a career-high for Ascanio, who entered with a .242 career batting average and .648 OPS.

“You can tell he’s gotten bigger,” Modesto manager Mitch Canham said. “He’s starting to control the zone a lot better, control his emotions and his swings in games. He’s maturing from what I’ve seen.”

Ascanio looked the part of a masher throughout the night.

He laced a hard single to open the game and smashed a long solo home run to right-center in the third inning. He drilled a fastball for a double down the right-field line in the fifth, and finished with a bloop single against rehabbing Angels closer Cam Bedrosian in the sixth.

Ascanio also showcased his defensive chops when he came across the bag at second base on a slow chopper, made a quick transfer and fired a bullet to first base in time for an out.

“You can tell the days he brings energy and makes big-time plays,” Canham said. “He’s still very young and he’s still developing his craft. He’s continually putting in good work and controlling himself.”

Inland Empire catcher Taylor Ward, the Angels No. 6 prospect, went 1-for-3 with a walk at the plate and threw out 2 of 5 basestealers. He posted a 2.08-second pop time to nab Ascanio at second base in the first inning, but also threw a two-hopper to the bag on one occasion and released another tailing throw into center field for an error.

Defense has been an area of focus for Ward, who was drafted No. 26 overall in 2015 with a solid defensive reputation but drew scathing reviews from evaluators on his receiving, blocking, and game awareness in his first full professional season last year.

“(Angels catching coordinator) Jose Molina did a lot of work with him,” Inland Empire manager Chad Tracy said. “It’s night and day better. He looks better receiving the ball, he’s blocking the ball as good as I’ve ever seen him block it, and on the intangible stuff—his leadership, his game-calling, his energy—he’s made leaps and bounds.”

Ward has allowed two passed balls in 24 games after allowing 19 in 90 games last season. He has also thrown out 43.3 percent of basestealers.

• Modesto outfielder Kyle Lewis, the Mariners No. 1 prospect, sat out his third consecutive game with a bruised knee. Lewis tore his ACL in a grisly home-plate collision last year and spent nearly a year recovering. He made his season debut on June 11 but left after banging into the center-field wall while making a catch. Lewis served as the designated hitter the next day, but has been out since with his surgically-repaired knee sore and bruised.

• Inland Empire center fielder Troy Montgomery, the Angels No. 31 prospect, made a pair of highlight-reel catches in center field. He sprinted and dove into the right-center gap to make his first catch, and made a sliding grab in left-center for the other.

• Modesto righthander Matt Festa, the Mariners seventh-round pick last year, struck out the side in the ninth to seal the victory. Festa sat 94-96 mph with his fastball and got strike three swinging through his fastball on all three batters. He also featured an 86 mph cutter and 80 mph changeup.

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