While the middle of the country continues to battle snow in late April, heavy rains that have ducks on the pond, literally, the high school that I teach at has gotten so much rain in the last few days that ducks have been enjoying themselves on the water that has pooled in various areas on the infield, there is baseball being played around the country at the professional ranks.
The beginning of the season is always high energy, multiple guys getting their chances to prove themselves to the organization all while battling the elements. If you remember the number of rainouts and snow days at the big league level this time last year we are not quite on pace for that stretch but mother nature sure is making herself known to start the year.
As for the University of Louisville Cardinal 9, the longer the tenure for Coach Mac, the greater the volume of players in the professional ranks. Yes, he does a tremendous job recruiting top talent, particularly in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana to go along with the homegrown talent, but his ability to develop players is incredible. The culture that he set the day he walked through the doors at 3015 S 3rd St, is one of hard work, perseverance, and brotherhood.
The brotherhood aspect pulls the other two along, not that those traits aren’t important, especially for an individual, but baseball is that one game where the individual performance will dictate the outcome for an entire team of guys. Coach McDonell pulls guys together, keeps them accountable and fosters growth in an ever-evolving culture of “me” guys. It is no wonder this years team, like almost all of his other teams, are right there in the conversation for Omaha and a National Championship. The established mentality of Louisville baseball follows guys into pro ball.
-Adam Engel continues to shine on the defensive side of the game. Last year he was a finalist for the prestigious Rawlings Gold Glove Award. His defensive prowess has earned him playing time in a White Sox outfield that is continuing to get more and more crowded as the young players the Sox are developing make their way to the bigs. So far the Cincinnati, Ohio native is slashing .171/.227/.520 with 7 hits in 41 at-bats, including two doubles, one home run and three RBI’s.
-Matt Koch has had a rough go of things to start off the 2019 season for the Arizona Diamondbacks. On Opening Day against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Koch along with starter Zack Greinke was tagged for four home runs as the Dodgers bludgeoned Arizona pitching setting opening day records in the process. Due to his tough start, the Diamondbacks Designated Koch for Assignment on April 28th. Until that point in 9 games, he was 0-0 with a 9.15 ERA, 1.60 WHIP and 9 strikeouts in 20.2 innings.
-Nick Burdi had been pitching well out of the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen after recovering from Tommy John Surgery, in a terrible turn of events though, Burdi went down with what looked to be a horrific injury after throwing a pitch against the Diamondbacks on April 22. Recent medical evaluations have reported that it is not as damaging as initially thought and it appears that the Pirates will be proceeding gingerly with him to ensure he comes back healthy. Through April, Burdi is 2-1 with a 9.35 ERA, has 17 strikeouts in 8.2 innings and a 1.62 WHIP in 11 games.
-Adam Duvall is starting the year with the Gwinnett Stripers of the International League and at the plate is off to a hot start. He struggled for playing time last year with Atlanta after being traded from the Reds late in the season and with a loaded outfield, the Braves decided the best move was for him to work at the AAA level. Through 25 games, Duvall is slashing .312/.393/1.081 including 8 home runs, 2 triples, 7 doubles, 21 RBI’s and 12 walks compared to 17 strikeouts. Numbers like this will eventually force the hand of the Braves to either trade him or bring him up. It will be interesting to watch.
-Chad Green was the silent steady type amongst the shining stars in the Yankee’s bullpen. April 2019 did not go according to script and amidst all of the injury and turmoil in the Bronx, Green was optioned to AAA to work on his command and feel. They know he can get the job done, now it’s just time to get it done. Before being optioned to Scranton, Green was 0-2, had 7 strikeouts in 7.2 innings, but had an ERA of 16.43 and a WHIP of 2.48.
-Josh Rogers has had a taste of both the Big Leagues and AAA this year for the Orioles. The talented lefty is 1-1 with an 8.69 ERA and 13 strikeouts for Norfolk and does not have a decision for Baltimore while posting a 12.27 ERA to accompany 1 strikeout in 3.2 innings of work.
-Nick Solak continues to play well as he moves through the Ray’s system. He continues to adjust to the pitching in the International League and after the first month of the season 2 home runs, 4 doubles, and 8 RBI’s while hitting .250 with an OPS of .749.
-Will Smith is playing at a high level for a team that is loaded with talent at the Major League Level. There is a log jam to the top but he does have a couple of things going for him, 1) he plays a position that is always in need a solid defender and strong bat, 2) he can play multiple positions and 3) the Dodgers could use him as a trade asset down the road. In 17 games this year, Smith is hitting .271 has an OPS of .914 with 3 home runs, 1 triple, 3 doubles, 12 RBI’s and 1 stolen base.
-Cole Sturgeon has played well this spring for Pawtucket. He had a pretty strong Spring Training with the Red Sox and if he continues to play well at the AAA level he has a chance to get to break into the Major Leagues this season. At the end of April, Sturgeon has 2 doubles, 1 home run, 2 RBI’s and is slugging .400 with an OPS of .741.
-Kyle Funkhouser was the opening day starter for the Toledo Mudhens and while he has missed a lot of bats, collecting 25 strikeouts in 17.2 innings he has also been hit hard giving up 15 earned runs in 6 starts. Some may attribute that to the new ball they are using at AAA this year but Funk’s also has 18 walks and a 1.68 WHIP. If the former 1st round pick can control the walks he will have a great shot at being in Detroit before long.
-Corey Ray was the Milwaukee Brewers Minor League Player of the Year in 2018 and they rewarded him with an ample amount of time in the outfield during Spring Training and starting him this season in AAA. The Brewers have a strong farm system and a star-studded outfield at the moment. Ray was placed on the 7 day Injured List on April 17th but leading up to that he was struggling with 8 hits in 47 at-bats and 24 strikeouts while hitting below the Mendoza line at .170. It is still early and once he is back from injury I fully expect Ray to get back to his dominant ways.
-Derek Self is performing well in the Fresno bullpen. In 8 games in April, Self went 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and had 14 strikeouts in 16 innings of work.
-Dean Kiekhefer’s signed a minor league deal with the Oakland Athletics and they have started him at AAA and placed him on the Injured List.
-Kyle McGrath may play for the one of the most interestingly named minor league teams in recent memory. The Yard Goats, while odd kind of makes sense, but the Amarillo Sod Poodles just may be one of the weirdest baseball team names I’ve ever come across. After pitching well at the AAA level, McGrath was moved down to AA last week. So far this season across the two levels, McGrath is 2-0 and posting a 0.77 ERA, with 6 strikeouts in 11.2 innings and a 0.94 WHIP.
-Zack Burdi has been recovering well after Tommy John Surgery and is making his way back up the ladder and could potentially be with the White Sox before the All-Star break this year if everything goes smoothly. He is currently in Birmingham after pitching 3 innings and picking up 6 strikeouts.
-Brendan McKay is continuing to work towards being one of a couple players who pitches and hits at the Major League level. While he has struggled at the plate in April against AA pitching, hitting .200 with 1 double and 6 RBI’s, he is dominating on the mound. For the Biscuits, McKay started 4 games and totaled 33 strikeouts in 18.2 innings with an ERA of 2.41 and WHIP of 0.86. Multiple scouts and other media outlets project him as a middle of the rotation type of guy at the big league level. If he continues to dominate hitters like he has we could be seeing him on the mound in Tropicana Field in the very near future.
-Drew Ellis has racked up a number of strikeouts, 21, against Southern League pitching but is still slashing .237/.348/.653 with 4 doubles and 5 RBI’s in 19 games.
-Grant Kay is on the 7-day injured list to start the season for the Montgomery Biscuits.
-Lincoln Henzman is sticking with his new role as a starter in professional baseball after he racked up national hardware as a closer for the Cards. In 4 starts this year for the Winston-Salem Dash, Henzman is 1-0 with a 3.75 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and 2 strikeouts in 12 innings of work.
-Devin Hairston has not had a strong start to the season. The slick-fielding infielder has just 10 hits in 23 games for the Mudcats with 1 double and 2 RBI’s.
-Blake Tiberi played well for the St. Lucie Mets in April slashing .280/.375/.753 with 8 doubles, 10 RBI’s, 3 stolen bases and a strong 13 walks to only 10 strikeouts.
-Colby Fitch is struggling to adjust to the pitching in the Florida State League. For the Threshers, Fitch is batting .179 with 2 doubles and 3 RBI’s in just 12 games. It is a small sample size at this point though.
-Devin Mann enjoyed a strong April for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes after he totaled 24 hits in 25 games, including 6 doubles, 4 home runs and 17 RBI’s to go along with 14 walks and a stolen base. Going into May his slash line is .264/.355/.816
– Austin Conway joins Henzman in Winston-Salem after starting the year in Kannapolis. In 6 games out of the bullpen, Conway has 3 saves in 3 tries and has 13 strikeouts in 6 innings to go along with a 1.50 ERA and 1.50 WHIP.
-Kade McClure is back from injury and starting strong for the Intimidators. In 4 starts, McClure is 1-0 and in 18.2 innings totaled 15 strikeouts to accompany a 4.34 ERA and 1.55 WHIP.
-Josh Stowers was placed on the 7-day injured list on April 24th but before then he was slashing .313 /.403/.791 with 5 doubles and 5 stolen bases in 18 games.
-Riley Thompson is off to a hot start for the South Bend Cubs. In 4 starts he is 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA and 1.16 WHIP including 16 strikeouts in 19 innings.
-Adam Wolf’s April was not fantastic. He ended the month with a 9.56 ERA and 1.94 WHIP while posting a 1-2 record and accumulating 19 strikeouts in 16 innings.
-Liam Jenkins has not pitched in a game that counts yet this year and is currently assigned to the AZL Indians.
*-Sam Bordner has not been assigned a team yet for the Miami Marlins.