by Ryan Christoffersen / A’s Farm Beloit Correspondent
The Beloit Snappers split a rain-shortened two-game series against the West Michigan Whitecaps, Detroit’s Midwest League affiliate, last week at Pohlman Field in Beloit. The Snappers then went on to sweep the South Bend Cubs, Chicago’s Class-A affiliate, in a three-game set that concluded on Monday.
The Whitecaps entered the series with the best record in all of minor league baseball. A sparkling 2.64 ERA and 19 shutouts are far and away the best from any team this season in the Midwest League. In terms of top prospects, the standout is outfielder Derek Hill, who ranks as the #8 prospect in the Tigers organization according to MLB Pipeline. A 1st-round pick in 2014, Hill spent most of the season on the disabled list before returning to action late last month.
South Bend has been a solid team, staying above .500 during most of the season. The Cubs recently lost their top prospect, RHP Dylan Cease, to the White Sox organization in the Jose Quintana trade. But they do have an athletic, high-upside outfielder in D.J. Wilson, who ranks as the #6 prospect in the Cubs organization according to MiLB Pipeline.
Game #1: West Michigan 6 – Beloit 3
*After three rather uneventful innings on Wednesday, things started to get a little crazy in Beloit. As the skies grew darker, a tornado siren suddenly went off while the Snappers were warming up, which halted the game. The contest would not resume until the next day as a major thunderstorm with tornado potential rolled through south-central Wisconsin. A lightning bolt actually struck one of the left field light poles, which knocked out a number of lights as well as the scoreboard, and Pohlman Field had to go without a scoreboard the next day.
*When the game resumed in the top of the 4th inning on Thursday, RHP Mitchell Jordan took the hill for the Snappers. It was clearly not his day, as he gave up 6 earned runs while getting just two outs in the top of the 4th inning. Jordan, the A’s 10th-round pick in 2016, has struggled to miss bats this season, giving up a lot of hard contact.
*RHP Heath Bowers righted the ship for Beloit, throwing 3 ⅓ scoreless innings in relief. What was most encouraging to see from Bowers is how he attacked the strike zone, throwing 33 of his 47 pitches for strikes. As good as his 1.96 ERA in 55 innings might look, the 30 walks he has given up show that he has constantly been walking a tightrope. If Bowers is going to succeed going forward, he’ll need to start issuing fewer free passes.
Game #2: Beloit 2 – West Michigan 0
*In this 7-inning game, a safety squeeze bunt from shortstop Jesus Lopez and an RBI double from first baseman Miguel Mercedes accounted for all the Snappers’ scoring.
*RHP Matt Milburn, a 29th-round pick by the A’s in 2016, pitched 5 ⅔ scoreless innings to earn his 6th win for the Snappers. While Milburn is sporting a respectable 3.92 ERA, his peripherals suggest that he has been much better than that. His FIP sits at 2.90 and his xFIP at 3.12. Meanwhile, his K/9 is a solid 9.34 and he has a very good swinging strike rate of 13.1%.
*RHP Sam Sheehan, the A’s 31st-round pick last year, shut the door on the Whitecaps. He allowed just 1 hit and struck out 2 in 1 ⅓ scoreless innings to earn his 4th save. Sheehan now has superb 1.57 ERA in 28 ⅔ innings this season for the Snappers.
Game #3: Beloit 6 – South Bend 3
*RHP Xavier Altamirano had a quality start in his second straight outing, putting up a pitching line of 6 IP/4 H/2 ER/1 BB/6 K.
*Center fielder and leadoff hitter Mike Martin went 3 for 4 while scoring a pair of runs for the Snappers.
*First baseman Kyle Nowlin, Oakland’s 21st-round pick in 2016, went 2 for 3 with a walk and 2 RBIs for Beloit.
*Catcher Collin Theroux, the 32nd-round pick by the A’s last year, threw out both runners who tried to steal. For the season, he has thrown out nearly 48% of attempted steals, which is an impressive number for any catcher. The 23-year-old possesses a cannon of a throwing arm and is not afraid to show it off. It’s definitely something that opposing teams need to be wary of coming into a series.
Game #4: Beloit 6 – South Bend 0
*Beloit batters hit 3 home runs off of Cubs starter LHP Manuel Rondon. Third baseman Trace Loehr hit his 3rd home run in the 1st inning, designated hitter Kyle Nowlin clubbed his 8th, also in the 1st, and second baseman J.C Rodriguez slugged his 2nd home run on the season in the 4th.
*Loehr went 2 for 4 to continue his hot hitting in the second half. By the end of the series with South Bend, Loehr was batting .340 with a .553 slugging percentage in 26 games in the second half.
*Nowlin reached base in all 4 plate appearances, continuing his own second-half hot streak. By the end of the South Bend series, Nowlin was slashing .326/.426/.500 in the second half.
*Despite having to warm up multiple times due to rainy conditions, LHP Zack Erwin threw 4 scoreless innings of 2-hit ball.
*RHP Seth Martinez was spectacular in relief of Erwin. Working at a brisk pace, the A’s 17th-round pick in 2016 did not allow a baserunner over 5 perfect innings while striking out 3. Martinez’s successful outing can be attributed to his solid fastball command and a sweeping slider, which helped him induce a lot of weak contact.
Game #5: Beloit 7 – South Bend 6
*The Snappers pitchers with the three worst ERAs on the current staff combined to help Beloit win the final game of the set on Monday and sweep the series from South Bend. LHP Kyle Twomey (5.93 ERA), RHP Mitchell Jordan (6.04 ERA) and RHP Jesus Zambrano (5.36 ERA) weren’t particularly sharp, allowing a lot of hard contact and scattering 16 hits while allowing 6 runs, 5 earned. But they buckled down to get out of some sticky situations, and some impressive defensive plays behind them helped to bail them out as well.
*Beloit threw out three South Bend runners at home plate in the game. A great throw by left fielder J.C. Rodriguez to the plate got the first runner, while a tremendous relay from center fielder JaVon Shelby to shortstop Trace Loehr to catcher Collin Theroux nailed the second, and second baseman Josh Vidales made a magnificent bare-handed pick up and then fired home a bullet to nab the third runner.
*With the score tied at 6-6 and one out in the bottom of the 9th inning, up stepped left fielder J.C. Rodriguez. Full name: Jean Carlo Rodriguez. Extra innings were looming over what was already a long and wacky game. But on a 1-1 pitch, Rodriguez smacked his third home run of the year, a line drive over the left field wall, to cap off a wild win and complete the sweep.
A’s Prospect of the Home Stand:
First Baseman Kyle Nowlin
(7 for 13 / Home Run / 3 Walks / 3 RBIs)
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