After driving through a downpour, multiple traffic jams and an EZPass gate that would not lift, I made it to Mahoning Valley to check out the short-season Jamestown Jammers play their second game of the year.
Let’s do this Power Rankings style: the 7 players who impressed me most on Tuesday night. This is not a ranking of the prospects as a whole, simply a small-sample-size look at one game and various musings.
1. Catcher Jin-De Jhang destroyed two pitches thrown from Scrappers pitchers. Leading off the 5th inning, Jhang blasted a pitch from Caleb Hamrick about 380 feet over the right-center field fence. The outfield is pretty expansive at Eastwood Field, so Jhang really had to drive one for his first home run of the season. Later, Jhang mashed a pitch off a Mahoning Valley reliever very foul, but still long and high.
Jhang is built like a tree stump: listed as 5-foot-11 but probably shorter, sporting thick arms and legs that supply him with plenty of power. There’s a reason he is batting cleanup for the Jammers. The 20-year-old Taiwan native was also a solid backstop, letting only one pitch past him that I saw. The home run was Jhang’s only hit Tuesday night, but it follows a 2-for-4 day at the plate Monday to get his New York-Penn league career off to a good start.
2. Starting pitcher Colten Brewer made his first New York-Penn League start, but you wouldn’t know it from the results: five shutout innings, allowing just five hits and generating eight groundouts to zero flyouts.
“It’s a huge jump, it’s a different atmosphere,” Brewer said. Brewer said Tuesday’s crowd of 2,082 was the largest he has ever pitched in front of, with the two thousand including his father behind home plate.
The Pirates’ directive for him is to pitch to contact with fastballs, showing in Brewer getting just two strikeouts and one walk. The tall Texan pitched through traffic and a bit of wildness early, then settled in to a groove in which his fastball sat 93 mph and touched 95 mph. A scout watching Brewer called him a “live arm,” and his 6-foot-4 frame fits right into the Pirates’ glut of projectable high school right-handers.
3. The speed of left fielder Jeff Roy in his first professional game was not a surprise. I clocked him at 4.0 seconds from home to first base, which easily puts him at a 70 for pure speed. He is a shorter player at 5-foot-9, so his goal will be to create havoc on the basepaths.
“That’s the biggest asset of my game is my speed,” Roy said, adding that his goal this season is to get on base as much as possible. That includes showing a couple bunt attempts as he did Tuesday night. Roy stole 30 bases in 30 attempts for Rhode Island this season before the Pirates selected him in the 18th round.
4. The other player who created trouble on the bases was right fielder Elvis Escobar. Hamrick struck him out his first two at-bats, but Escobar blooped an opposite-field single off reliever Alexis Paredes in the 6th. That’s when the fun began. Paredes and Czech catcher Martin Cervenka were all out of sorts. Three pitches got away from Cervenka, Escobar’s speed no doubt on Paredes’ mind, and Escobar took the next base all three times. He got credit for two steals, then scored Jamestown’s third run on a passed ball. Despite demonstrating his wheels on the bases, Escobar did not show the best closing speed on a fly ball to right field and he struck out twice. It was a tough night overall for Jammers hitters, getting only four hits after 14 on Monday. Though the hits were enough in a 3-0 victory.
5. One unexpected surprise I had was watching 22-year-old outfielder Jesus Vasquez take batting practice. He went 2-for-4 Monday night, then knocked the most hard-hit balls of any player I saw in BP. Vasquez also has one of the most muscular, solidly built upper bodies on the team, which plays a big part in his ability to drive the ball. Age 22 is old for the level, and Vasquez is repeating the New York-Penn League this season after having plate patience issues last year. If he can improve in that area this year, he will likely be one of the team’s best hitters this season.
6. Another player who is old for the level is 22-year-old shortstop Michael Fransoso, who is turning 23 in July. That’s not really his fault, though, as he was drafted in the 27th round this year out of the University of Maine. The left-handed-hitting Fransoso smacked a hard line drive the opposite way then demonstrated some smooth glove work at short.
7. The biggest disappointment Tuesday night was center fielder Harold Ramirez (Prospect No. 19), though he came off a 2-for-5 Monday night. Ramirez is larger (5-foot-11) than his Latin prospect counterpart Escobar (5-foot-9, 165), and keep in mind both were born on Sept. 6, 1994 to make them co-youngest players on the team.
The Colombian native struck out twice and made Jamestown’s only fielding error, misplaying a ball rolling to him in center field. Ramirez could not pick it up as a runner was rounding second, and he got to third base easily. There’s not much need for concern with either Ramirez or Escobar, even though both whiffed on some bad pitches at the plate. Both are the team’s youngest players at 18 years old. The young players lack discipline in spots, one scout told me, but short-season ball is the place to work them out.