Tuesday in Upper Minors: Strong Nights from Collin McHugh and Rafael Montero and Cesar Puello Homers

AAA: @ Las Vegas 51s 3, Round Rock Express (TEX) 2 

McHugh Vegas HeadThe 51s scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth when Reese Havens singled, went to second on a Josh Satin groundout and then pinch-runner Brian Bixler came home on a throwing error on the Round Rock catcher.

Havens, for what it’s worth, lined up at second while Wilmer Flores DHed. Now 26, Havens is hitting .276/.358/.362 in 21 games with three extra-base hits. After striking out in 29% of his plate appearances last year in AA, Havens has cut that down to 13% this year with eight walks and nine strikeouts. The extra contact has come at the expense of his power – after a .136 isolated slugging percentage last year in Binghamton, he’s down to .081 this year in AAA. The odds of his being a productive MLB player – extremely slim.

Collin McHugh was the real story of the game for the 51s: 7 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K. McHugh has run a 2.98 ERA to go along with a 4.4 K/BB rate (31 K/7 BB) in 42.1 innings this year. That’s a 18% strikeout rate and a 4% walk rate. Last year, in 21.1 innings, in the big leagues, he fanned 17% of opposing batters, walked 8% and gave up 27 hits and five homeruns in 21.1 IP. The Mets have needs in the rotation: Dillon Gee owns an ERA over six and Shaun Marcum raises him an ERA over seven. Even if it’s not to replace one of those two, it seems likely that McHugh will get another chance to prove his savvy, control (and short fastball) play in the big leagues and not just AAA at some point in 2013. One of my mottos: “Pitchers break – it’s what they do.”

 

AA: @ Trenton Thunder (NYY) 5, Binghamton Mets 1

The two best things going for the B-Mets, Rafael Montero and RF Cesar Puello were at it again for the AA squad.

Montero through six innings: 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K. He allowed a walk and a pair of singles in the seventh to allow two runs, and then Josh Edgin gave up a walk and a run-scoring triple to yield one of the runners Montero bequeathed him in a four-run frame. Montero’s final line: 6.1 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 8 K. He threw 73% of his pitches (68 of 93) for strikes. In 40.2 innings this year, Montero has fanned 48 and walked six for a K/BB of eight, which is almost off the charts.

Longtime Trenton writer Jed Weisberger was impressed. He tweeted: “Must say Rafael Montero is the most impressive pitcher I have seen in the Eastern League this year so far. Such an easy motion. Command cool.” His note from early in the game: “Montero displaying smooth, easy delivery. Hits edges well. Fastball 91-92. Superb command. Scoreless in Trenton after 1.” That all sounds about right. Montero has an average fastball that plays up because he can spot up. Such an ordinary offering – in terms of velocity – puts significant pressure on the development of his secondary offerings, first and foremost, his slider.

The B-Mets’ offense, held to just three hits, was quiet again. Puello accounted for all of the team’s scoring with a solo homer to left, his second long ball of the season. He’s now hit safely in 14 straight games, the longest active streak in AA and the second-longest of his career behind a 15-gamer he had with the Gnats in 2010.  He’s now sitting at .286/.353/.455 in 22 games in AA at age 22. It’s worth pointing out that Puello’s days in centerfield really seem to be done. He played right while Darrell Ceciliani played center. Puello has not played an inning in center this year. Last year, the average for MLB rightfielders (.262/.327/.434) was barely more productive than centerfielders (.265/.330/.418). This year, and it’s still early, CF actually have a one point advantage in on-base percentage and a nine point slugging advantage over their counterparts in right. Rightfielder’s slugging in 2013 has fallen behind 1B, LF, CF, 3B and C (!). Again, it’s early, but what’s going on here?

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