AFL Report - Week 5: Air Force Ace
Image courtesy of Linwood Ferguson (photo of Griffin Jax)(This report includes the games played through 11/11)
The standout of the week was a pitcher hailing from the Air Force Academy, who may have earned an “Ace” moniker for his start on Friday if striking out opposing hitters in a baseball game was treated the same as downing enemy fighter jets in dogfights.
The Minnesota Twins pitching prospects in the AFL combined for a 3.96 ERA and 1.65 WHIP on the week while allowing four earned runs on eight hits and seven walks allowed and striking out twelve. Their two hitters finished just 3-for-18, slashing .167/.286/.222 with two RBI, but reversing a trend by walking more times (3) than they struck out (2) on the week.
Keep reading to discover how each of the Twins prospects performed in the penultimate week of the AFL season!
(links provided to each player’s overall AFL stats by clicking their name)
Griffin Jax: 1 start, 5.0 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, 1 ER, 5 K; 3.71 ERA, 1.35 WHIP (overall).
Jax got the starting nod for his team on Friday as they faced off against the Mesa Solar Sox on the road and it was all about how he finished this one, putting together his longest and most impressive start of the AFL season.
Mesa got their first at-bat against Jax started with a single from Detroit Tigers top prospect Daz Cameron who promptly stole second base to put himself in scoring position. A double a few batters later brought him in to tie the game at one, but that would be all the Solar Sox would muster against Jax on the game.
He retired the next seven hitters in a row and 14 of the final 17 in his game after giving up that double, going hitless along the way with only two walks and a hit-by-pitch allowed. On the game he finished five innings, exiting the game with Salt River up 2-1. He threw 78 pitches in the outing with 44 going for strikes. 12 of those were of the swinging variety and he struck out five on the game, including Cameron twice and as his final out of the day to get some revenge. Unfortunately, Salt River went on to lose this one 5-4 after his solid outing.
The next night during the AFL’s Military Appreciation Game, Jax was interviewed about what has gone on in his minor league career as he was an active duty member of the Air Force after he was drafted. Listening to the full interview (7 ½ minutes long) is worth it!
Travis Blankenhorn: 3 games, 0-for-11, 2 BB, K, SB; .196/.317/.236 (overall).
The infielder played in three games on the week with his first two starts coming at second base, and his final one coming in the outfield.
In Tuesday’s 3-2 win over the Scottsdale Scorpions Blankenhorn batted seventh in the lineup and finished 0-for-3. In the seventh inning with the score tied at two he drew a one-out walk and got into scoring position by stealing his third base of the year. He got as far as third base, but his teammates weren’t able to bring him all the way home to take the lead. In the eighth inning he helped do so in a different way, by being in the batter’s box when a wild pitch brought in the go-ahead run.
The next day in an 8-7 loss to Peoria, Blankenhorn was slotted fifth in Tommy Watkin’s lineup, but it was just one of those days. He finished 0-for-5 with four of those outs coming on ground balls and was the only Rafters starter not to pick up a hit on the game.
To end his week on Saturday he batted sixth and found himself playing left field for the second time in the AFL in a 7-2 loss to Mesa. He finished this one 0-for-3 with a strikeout but did draw a walk in the sixth inning when Salt River finally got on the scoreboard (he reached third base). The notable thing in this one, was Blankenhorn flashing some leather out in left:
Along with any further experience in the outfield, he’ll look to get back to his hitting ways in the season’s final week!
Hector Lujan: 2 appearances, 2.0 IP, 2 H, 2 R (1 earned), 2 BB, 3 K; 7.04 ERA, 1.96 WHIP (overall).
Lujan’s first appearance of week five came in Monday’s 4-3 extra-inning victory against the Surprise Saguaros. He got the extra-inning and made it a little interesting, loading the bases with nobody out after a couple of walks, but buckled down and got the next three hitters without allowing a run to put his team in position to walk it off. When they did in the bottom half of the tenth, Lujan was credited with his first AFL win (1-0). His fastest pitch of the outing registered at 95.5 MPH per the Gameday gun.
He wouldn’t pitch again until Friday when he and Adam Bray backed up Jax’s start against the Solar Sox. He came on for the bottom of the seventh with the score now tied at two, and he left with his team down by a pair. A leadoff double was followed by a single before he picked up a strikeout (Cameron’s third of the game), but a wild pitch play that also included a throwing error on Lujan allowed both runners to score. Perhaps a little ticked off, he got back to business and struck out the next two hitters to end his game. In total he was charged with two runs (one earned) along with picking up three K’s.
Jaylin Davis: 2 games, 3-for-7, R, 2B (1), 2 RBI, BB, K; .283/.321/.302 (overall).
The outfielder played in two games on the week, manning right field in Monday’s win versus Surprise and Wednesday’s loss against Peoria.
In their extra-inning affair with the Saguaros, Davis picked up a sharp groundout in the bottom of the second to get the Rafters on the scoreboard and added another RBI with his first AFL double in the fourth when they were able to tie the game at three. He added a single to lead off the seventh to finish the game 2-for-4.
On Wednesday Salt River scored first and led 7-5 going into the eighth inning with Davis doing his part, but the bullpen couldn’t hold the lead in the loss. Davis led off the fourth with a single and scored on a double from the next hitter that made it 5-4 Javelinas and followed that up by reaching base on a throwing error by the shortstop that allowed a run to score and gave the Rafters the lead in the fifth. In his final at-bat in the seventh he drew a two-out walk before Peoria took the game in the final two innings.
Devin Smeltzer: 1 appearance, 0.1 IP, 2 H, 2 R (1 earned) 2 BB; 3.80 ERA, 1.97 WHIP (overall).
After appearing in the Fall Stars Game last week, Smeltzer got in only one appearance, with it coming in Wednesday’s loss to Peoria. It was a bummer for him as well, as he contributed to his team losing their late two-run lead. Out front 7-5 going into the eighth, Smeltzer came on and promptly allowed a home run to the leadoff man. That was followed by a single, a sacrifice bunt, and two walks to load the bases before he was pulled. The Javelina’s went on to tie the game on an error a few batters later and ultimately took the lead in the ninth.
Adam Bray: 2 appearances, 2.0 IP, 2 H, BB, 4 K; 1.64 ERA, 1.18 WHIP (overall).
The Minnesota native got in on two games on the week, partnering with Lujan out of the bullpen on both Monday and Friday.
In the win against Surprise he was the first reliever summoned to start the sixth with the game tied at three and made quick work of the Saguaros hitters. He retired them one-two-three, punctuating his outing with a strikeout on a full count fastball up in the zone.
On Friday Bray relieved Jax for the sixth inning with the score 2-1 Rafters but left his starter with a no-decision after the first batter he faced doubled into center field and came around to score on a single a few batters later. He would be charged with his second blown save in the AFL but on the positive side, he recorded all three of his outs via strikeout and 19 of his 28 pitches went for strikes.
Other AFL and Minor League Links:
- Baseball America released their Top 10 Twins Prospect list for 2019 on Monday with former Pioneer Press beat writer Mike Berardino again taking the reins and chatting about it yesterday. His full article is behind their paywall, but you can also see how he ranked them and join the discussion about it here on Twins Daily.
- Also included in Berardino’s chat, was an update on the status of outfielder Luke Raley. He left the game in the sixth inning way back on October 15th, and we now know that was due to a strained throwing shoulder (his left).
- Another of the Twins M.I.A. prospects also had quite a big week, but it obviously wasn’t on a baseball field.
Brent Rooker got married to his longtime girlfriend on Saturday, so as someone who just recently got engaged himself, congratulations to the happy couple!
- Along with their Top 10 list, Baseball America has also been unveiling their Top 20 prospects in each league of the minors. Again, you’ll run into paywall blockades if you attempt to go further into each specific list but Royce Lewis is highlighted as the number one guy in each of the Midwest and Florida State League entries, and I’d imagine Alex Kirilloff isn’t far behind. Ryan Pressly trade acquisition Gilberto Celestino also tops the list for the New York-Penn League.
Please feel free to ask questions about the AFL and the players who are there!
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