With the school year over and not much coaching work to do before August, I found myself looking to and able to get away for a bit just to relax in the stands somewhere, and Somerset got the nod. But notice that the title above is "my week WITH Somerset" not "my week IN Somerset." That’s because I decided to watch three games in Somerset and then three on the road in Reading. I felt that would be more fun, but also give me a better sense of the players. For orientation, since this is long, the first sections are more about the games, followed at the end by some impressions of some of the individual players.
THE HOME SERIES
The Somerset Patriots play in the Eastern League, which awards a playoff berth to the first-half winner in each division (the Northeast and Southwest) and the second-half winner in each. With three games to go the Patriots were tied with the Hartford Yard Goats at 42-24, meaning whichever team won at least two of the three would get a berth, so this would be as close to playoff baseball as you can get this time of year. And as a bonus, Aroldis Chapman was present for some rehab competition.
Fri, June 24, Vasquez vs. Baird. Yankee prospect Vasquez for Somerset entered with a 2.36 ERA, .203 BA against, 1.11 WHIP, 49.2 IP, 18 BB, 49 SO. But his opponent Baird entered with a 3.00 ERA, .197 BA against, 0.94 WHIP, 33 !P, 24 H, 7 BB, 39 SO.
Vasquez’s fastball had good life, but he had poor command, leaving too many pitches over the plate, and fell behind 3-0 after five. Then with two outs in the bottom of the fifth Gasper (1B) got a first-pitch fastball up and in and drove it well out of the park. That seemed to surprise Baird. His next pitch, to Beltre (RF), was a center-cut fastball at the top of the zone that got hit about 410’ to dead center for another homer, and the game was close, Patriots trailing 2-3. Unfortunately Vasquez gave up another run in the sixth, so when Chapman entered the game in the seventh he trailed 2-4.
The most noticeable aspect of Chapman’s appearance at first was how much slower his fastball was than Vasquez’s. Also, Chapman had poor control. His first pitch was in the dirt, second pitch was a neck-high fastball at 94mph that the guy swung at. Batter chased two more out of the zone for a strikeout. Next hitter was Tovar, who led the league in hits. First pitch FB up and in was pulled for a line drive double off the fence in left. Two pitches later Chapman caught the kid taking a secondary on his first move, picking him off. Next pitch was a slider that got the rolled over grounder to third.
Ernst gave up a run in the eighth, Myatt a clean ninth, but Patriots lost 2-5, meaning they needed to win both remaining games to get the playoff berth.
Sat, June 25, Will Warren vs. Nick Bush. Warren entered with a 3.92 ERA, .264 BA against, 1.31 WHIP. Bush entered with a 3.55 ERA, .255 BA against, 1.15 WHIP.
Patriots scored first in the third on a Volpe double and Dunham single. Then in the fourth they extended it to 2-0 on a Bastidas home run, big fly to CF. Warren was able to work around some hits and walks, changing speeds and locations well to go 5.1 scoreless. Emmanuel Ramirez, a 27-yo minor league veteran who signed a FA deal with the Yanks in January, relieved and struck out four of five he faced. Jennings coughed up one on back to back doubles in the eighth, but Coleman came in and got the third out after a HBP. Then Coleman worked around a double in the ninth to close it out, striking out Jimmy Herron for a 2-1 Patriots win.
Sun, June 26, Luis Medina vs. Noah Davis. Many Yankee fans know Medina, who entered with 3.38 ERA, .177 BA against, 1.19 WHIP. He was facing Hartford for the second time in the week (always a tough task shutting down guys two times in a row). His opponent Davis is considered one of the Rockies’ top pitching prospects; but he has struggled this year, so hopes for a Patriots win were high.
Medina walked the leadoff batter and later walked another, but with two on and two out he got top prospect Schunk down 0-2 and induced a pop up for the third out. Davis came out throwing four different pitches, looking sharp and working around a Dunham single to keep the game scoreless. And that’s how it remained. Medina settled in giving up nothing but a sharp single in the third as he dominated through the sixth. Davis gave up deep shots to Lockridge and to Perkins, but each died just in front of the wall, and so he matched Medina. Aroldis Chapman entered the seventh with a scoreless game. Again his fastball, 94-5, was nothing compared to Medina’s 100, and his command was only a little better than the day before. But the first two kids seemed anxious to get their swings against him and chased. First batter still hit a hard liner for an out, next batter struck out swinging at a fastball in the dirt, and then Schunk flew out for the third out. Still scoreless.
Seventh inning with Davis still pitching Rosario HBP and Bastidas BB to start it, ending Davis’s outing. Reliever Stephen Jones struck out Duran and got Bell on a fly ball. Gasper walked to load the bases with two out. Then Volpe was HBP to bring in a run and Dunham cleared the bases with a double to left for a big 4-0 lead.
Top of the eighth, Josh Maciejewski relieving Chapman, the leadoff hitter rolled a lazy grounder to short that Volpe promptly threw about twelve feet above first baseman Gasper’s head. Then Magic melted down giving up a double, single, and walk to go with a wild pitch. Leading 4-2, men on first and second, Espinal relieved. A sac bunt moved the tie runner into scoring position, but a pop out to Volpe meant two down. Next pitch, though, resulted in a line drive double to plate two, game tied. A strikeout following kept it knotted. And it stayed that way into extras.
Top of the tenth Espinal still pitching Hartford bunted the dreaded Manfred Man to third and the next batter walked. Then Tovar hit a hard grounder to Oliver Dunn at third. He fielded it cleanly for what should have been a fairly easy inning-ending 6-4-3, except Bastidas threw the turn into the dirt wide of the bag at first. Espinal got Herron to fly out, but he still trailed 4-5 on the earned run (really stupid -- official scorers should have the option to give the error on a DP).
Last chance, bottom of the tenth, touted Rockies prospect Gavin Hollowell entered for the save. He quickly jumped ahead of Volpe 1-2. Then he left one over the plate that Volpe blasted for a no-doubter over the left-center fence. Patriots punch their ticket as first-half champs in true 2022 Yankee fashion with the come-from-behind walk-off.
HIT THE ROAD
June 28, Reading. Domingo German with the rehab start against Noah Skirrow, who entered with a 3.59 ERA, .247 BA against, 1.29 WHIP. In his previous 7.2 IP Skirrow had 15 strikeouts.
German had a pretty solid fastball but a very good curve that he threw often and located well. He allowed only a single and a double in 3.1 IP, being pulled after he topped 40 pitches. No walks, three strikeouts. He left with the 1-0 lead, courtesy of a third-inning single by Beltre followed by a two-out double by Volpe to drive him in.
Mitch Spence, the starter who got bumped for German, relieved in the fourth and got two quick outs to take a 1-0 lead into the fifth. Leadoff hitter Castillo doubled to CF, and Rijo attempted to bunt him to third. Spence fielded cleanly, then threw to first base, where nobody resided. Gasper had come in on the bunt and Bastidas had not been expecting a bunt and so had been playing near the bag at second to hold the runner, so that he couldn’t get to first in time. He chased down Spence’s wild throw, but not before Rijo had run all the way to third. A soft hit over second brought him in. Then Spence threw wildly on a pickoff attempt to put the runner on second. Two outs later a double plated him to make it 1-3, Reading leading. Spence had no command in this outing.
Bottom of the sixth Lockridge got beaned at the plate. He left under his own power but seemed dazed. He’ll probably miss some time just as concussion precaution even if he seems fine.
Skirrow appears to be primarily a control pitcher who was really hitting his spots all day. He went seven. Five hits, one walk was all Somerset could manage, plating the one run. But finally they faced a reliever, who struck out Volpe on four pitches. But then he walked Dunham, and then Breaux, and after a WP he walked Dunn to load the bases with one out. Next reliever faced Jeisson Rosario, who worked a five-pitch walk, taking two close pitches that would have made many guys swing, to plate a second run. Only one out, bases juiced, down by one, Bastidas drilled the second pitch hard toward the right of second, where the second baseman snagged it and promptly threw to first catching Rosario unable to get back in time for the double play. And that would be the last good chance, as in the ninth Gasper grounded out to third and Beltre and Bell each struck out. 2-3 final, tough start to second half.
June 29, Boyle vs. Eastman. Boyle is more of a finesse guy, who left a few over, including a two-run shot in the fourth. He was ok for 6 IP, three runs. The Phils recently demoted Colton Eastman from AAA, and he seems to have taken it to heart. He had a 4.93 ERA in AAA, but since dropping to AA the 25-yo. has pitched four games, 25 IP, 1.80 ERA. He threw a sinking FB, very good curve, and change. Somerset didn’t get much in the air and had trouble getting solid contact as he shut them down until the sixth. Then Dunham mashed a HR to RF for the only run off of him. Breaux hit the next one pretty deep to left center, but just short of the track. That was it. Eastman went seven to exit with Somerset trailing 1-4. In the ninth Perkins led off with a single and Bastidas doubled him to make it 2-4. After a Gasper fly Beltre singled over the 2b bag to put runners on the corners and the lead run to the plate. But Burt struck out and Volpe grounded out to third, although the ball was struck pretty well.
June 30, Vasquez vs. Lindow. On the first pitch Vasquez gave up a grounder up the middle to one of the Phils’ top prospects, Johan Rojas. Rojas quickly showed one of the key reasons he is a top prospect as he stole second base. Catcher Duran had no chance even with a perfect throw, which of course he didn’t make. Rojas, age 21, now has stolen 34 bags in 35 attempts this season. But Vasquez pitched around it.
Second inning first pitch was bunted almost perfectly down the third base line. Duran got out quickly and fired a perfect strike to first base just in time, except Bell playing at 1B just clanked it and dropped it. They gave a single because it took a great play by Duran even to get it there; but it should have been an out. The next batter hit a lazy fly to right that Rosario started racing in on and then the ball carried over his head for a double that should have been an out. I’m guessing Rosario lost it in the sun early and just couldn’t recover. Second and third nobody out they conceded the run on the weak grounder to second base, runner moving to third. Vasquez bore down for the strikeout. Then on a 1-2 he threw a sharp slider down and away that Duran couldn’t handle, and so the WP plated a second run.
As the innings rolled by it looked as though Vasquez, who dominated through seven, perhaps would be victimized by the two runs that should not have been. Somerset scratched across only one run against Lindow even though he didn’t look like he had much. Bell got him for a HR with two out in the fifth.
Finally against a reliever in the eighth Volpe led off with a 1-2 count double to the right center gap, and after a Dunham fly out to right that was too shallow for Volpe to advance, Rosario brought him in on a single looped over SS to tie the game. Bastidas lined a single through 34 to move him over to second with two out, but then Rosario committed the dreaded third-out caught stealing at third. But at least the game was tied and Vasquez was off the hook for another undeserved loss.
In the top of the ninth the Patriots managed a bunch of singles and walks, some steals, and a wild pitch to score four. Carson Coleman allowed only a single, facing four batters to close out the Patriots’ first win of the second half.
THE MEN and THE BOYS
Aroldis Chapman looks healthy, but not good. I know it was only a couple of rehab outings, but he needs to be in low leverage situations until he starts throwing better.
Domingo German, by contrast, looks about as sharp as last season. As mentioned above, his curve was tight and commanded.
Randy Vasquez looks the best of the Somerset pitching prospects in that he seems farthest progressed toward hopefully being a NY starter in the future. No need to rush him, but he should get some AAA action this year.
Luis Medina has continued to improve somewhat. The Yankees obviously have worked to make his delivery more consistent, resulting in better control and command. His fastball stands out as he throws an easy 99-100 as Sevy did. And he pairs that with his nasty curve/slurve. But that’s still it. Now, I’d like to hope that he fell back into his old two-pitch habit because the game I saw was important to the team. But I’ve seen him do it too many times to do more than hope. His change, which was developing at times last season, was nearly absent. He can blow away AA hitters with only two pitches, but in mlb he’s a reliever unless he is willing to work consistently on that third pitch.
Will Warren is a guy I hadn’t heard anything about. I see he was an eighth round choice in last season’s draft. None of his pitches stand out, but he threw at least four distinct pitches, all solid, mixing, changing speeds and locating pretty well. If this outing was indicative, then he’s a guy to keep an eye on as one who may be more than the sum of his parts. Possible backend mlb starter material. Could move up quickly as he seems mature although only 23.
Coleman has a good cutting FB, slow curve, hard 4-seam, and slider. Odd for a bullpen guy to throw so many pitches. But he is a guy who could make it, as could Myatt, recently off the IL. Espinal might be a third worth mentioning. The most surprising pen arm was Emmanuel Ramirez, who is about to turn 28 but may at last have found enough to start knocking on the door. I doubt he makes it with NY, but I could see him maybe getting a look from a thinner system next season if he keeps throwing as he is.
The position players of course begin with Volpe. I don’t like comparing guys with famous players, especially HOFers, but he reminds me a lot of young Jeter in a number of ways: very mature hitter (Volpe at 21 looks more advanced than anyone else on a team where the other strong hitters are at least two years older), very sure hands, always seems to be thinking on the field, and a very good opportunistic base runner. I think his bat to ball skill isn’t on Jeter’s level, but he is likely to develop more game power. His range at short is limited, being probably a bit worse than Jeter there, but just as Jeter he makes almost every play he can reach; so he’ll stick at short unless a better fielder like Peraza proves that he is a starter. And in that case I predict Volpe will adjust to 2B fairly easily. He looks like a solid mlb starter and very possibly a future star.
Elijah Dunham is a strongly built LHB who could make a career hitting balls to RF in NY. He is a reasonably solid corner OF. Too often he doesn’t get the best jump, but he sticks with it and usually makes the play even if he has to leave his feet. That gives fans the impression that he is a better defender than he is. But he’s a 50 OF whose bat probably will good enough to start in mlb.
After that you have a drop off. Lockridge is a fine outfielder, good runner and good athlete. He seemed to be pressing a bit and was hitting into some bad luck. Then some bad luck hit him in the form of a beaning. Most likely future is fourth OF, depending how the bat develops. If I were advising him, I’d tell him to beg for some innings at 2B, where he played in college, and at 3B, trying to develop the versatility teams seek on the bench.
Breaux appears to have improved his receiving, framing better, although that isn’t the easiest thing to see from the stands. He’s quieter back there, working well with finesse guys like Boyle. That said, he’s improved from quite bad to eh. His transfer on his throws also has improved, but again from very bad to slightly subpar. He has a strong arm, though. If the power bat continues to develop, he stands a chance to play some mlb. Unfortunately I predict the bat won’t play at positions other than catcher, and he may not become a good enough defensive catcher to tolerate because while he is a good hitter, he’s not Piazza.
Bastidas is a nice player, but a dark horse. Could possibly make it at 2B. Still young. Mickey Gasper has a nice swing from each side of the plate, but not a starting mlb 1B bat. And he doesn’t catch much and so probably is poor at it.
One guy I didn’t know anything about who caught my eye a bit was Jeisson Rosario. Lefty with pretty good speed whom the Yankees apparently grabbed off the waiver wire from Boston back in March. He’s too thin, not much power. But he has a very good eye. He takes pitches that fool other hitters, and yet he isn’t passive, taking some good swings at strikes. If he fills out a bit over the next couple of years while retaining CF speed, he could be surprise nobody is expecting anything from, except whatever Yankee scout(s) recommended plucking him off the wire. At any rate it’s good to have some guys like that in the system.
This was long, I know. It would have been a lot shorter except that I thought the playoff berth story was interesting, and a friend of mine begged me to write a bit about each game. It also helped that the Yankee game was postponed, giving me time to knock this out. Hope some of you enjoy it.