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AFL Report - Week 6: Rafters Play for AFL Championship

Minnesota Twins prospects finished their AFL regular season with the Salt River Rafters in the best way they could, by helping their team win the East Division and a spot in the circuit’s championship game.
Image courtesy of Linwood Ferguson (photo of Jaylin Davis)
(This report includes the games played through 11/18 and the end of the AFL season)

The Rafters went just 1-3 in their final four games, but that was enough thanks to their prior efforts. The Twins hitters had a solid week as they combined for a .374/.412/.438 slash line, and one continued his encouraging upward trend to finish his season strong. The pitchers didn’t fare quite as well, as they combined for a 6.00 ERA and 2.00 WHIP in nine innings pitched.

To find out how all the Twins prospects finished their AFL campaigns and how the championship game went for the Rafters, keep reading!

(links provided to each player’s overall AFL stats by clicking their name)

Griffin Jax: 1 start, 4.0 IP, 6 H, 3 BB, 2 ER, 2 K; 3.86 ERA, 1.52 WHIP (overall).

Jax put an end to his AFL season by starting Thursday’s 4-2 loss against the Glendale Desert Dogs after the Rafters had already punched their ticket to the championship game. After Salt River scored two in the top of the first, he gave those runs back with a rough inning of his own. The leadoff man singled and came around to score on a triple before another single tied the game. After another single and a mound visit he got a grounder to keep the game knotted after one.

From there he was able to work around any baserunners, holding Glendale scoreless for the rest of his outing. He allowed a single and a walk in the second but got a double play ball to quash it. In the third he navigated around a one-out single with another ground ball and a K. In his final frame he walked a batter, but he was then cut-down trying to steal second base, so he faced just three hitters. On the game he threw 72 pitches, with 43 going for strikes.

I’d say it was a mixed bag for Jax in the AFL as he walked a lot of batters and his WHIP wasn’t great for a starting pitcher, but he also didn’t give up a lot of earned runs. His 21 innings pitched ranked fourth on the team and his 3.86 ERA ranked third among the six pitchers who made starts for Salt River. I wouldn’t say his performance upped his stock any, but he’s pitched so little as a professional to this point there’s still plenty to work on and improve.

Travis Blankenhorn: 2 games, 4-for-8, 2 R, BB, 3 K; .224/.352/.241 (overall).

The (super?) utility man got in two of his teams four games on the week, again playing the outfield in Tuesday’s loss to the Scottsdale Scorpions, and was back at second base in their division clinching win against Glendale on Wednesday.

Batting ninth and playing in left against the Scorpions, Blankenhorn helped start a two-out rally for the Rafters in the seventh inning with the game still tied at zero. His single put a runner into scoring position for the top of their order, and his teammate brought them both in with a triple for 2-0 lead. It went downhill from there for Salt River and one of Blankenhorn’s organizational teammates as they ended up losing 4-2 and postponing their division title hopes for another day. He finished 1-for-4 while striking out three times.

They were able to take care of the division on Wednesday, with Blankenhorn taking the leadoff spot in the lineup. He led off the bottom of the first for the Rafters with a bunt single, drew a walk in the third, singled in the fifth, reached on an error in the seventh, and singled in the eighth to be a model of that spot in the batting order. He scored the go-ahead run in the seventh inning and his team held on to punch their ticket to the AFL Championship with a 4-3 win.

The most noteworthy aspect of Blankenhorn’s time in the AFL, for me, was the time he spent playing in the outfield on Tommy Watkin’s squad. I’d expect he gets some more run there during the 2019 minor league season, and due to his overall athleticism, he could turn into a nice super-utility type in the future if the Twins pursue that any further. You would like to see a slugging percentage that outpaces an on-base percentage by .100 points instead of the other way around in AFL play, but the uptick in walks and relative lack of strikeouts was a good sign. The overall slash numbers weren’t there by any stretch, but he also had some big games in other ways that don’t necessarily stand out statistically.

Hector Lujan: 2 appearances, 2.0 IP, 2 H, 2 R (0 earned), BB, 2 K; 5.59 ERA, 1.86 WHIP (overall).

The righthander made his first appearance of the week in Monday’s 5-4 loss to Peoria, and unfortunately he contributed to the negative effort, but it wasn’t all his fault. After the Javelina’s had tied it at three in the bottom of the ninth (foreshadowing the championship game), Lujan was summoned for the bottom of the tenth with Salt River now up by one. The runner starting the frame on second base moved to third on a fly ball for the first out then scampered home after a wild pitch to tie the game once again. After a single and a strikeout, the final batter of the game send a line drive into center field and it was misplayed, allowing that runner to score all the way from first. Despite no earned runs allowed, Lujan was saddled with a blown save and a loss.

In his second appearance of the week, Lujan was the first pitcher summoned in relief of Griffin Jax in Thursday’s loss to Glendale. Out for the start of the fifth, Lujan delivered a one-two-three inning, punctuating the effort with a strikeout for the third out. Back out for the sixth he got a ground out but followed it up with a walk and resulting in an end to his AFL season.

Lujan could definitely take his time in the AFL as a learning experience as he faced stiffer competition than he ever had to this point in his minor league career. He was put into a tough spot in some games and things just didn’t go his way. He’s been very good in Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers the past two seasons, and he’ll see if he can continue that trend in Double A next year.

Jaylin Davis: 2 games, 2-for-8, R, 2B (2), RBI, K; .279/.323/.311 (overall).

To close out his AFL season, Davis also appeared in two games on the week and continued a positive second half of the schedule.

In Monday’s loss to Peoria he batted seventh in the lineup and finished 1-for-4. His one-out double in the seventh led to him scoring the go-ahead run before the Javelina’s tied it in the ninth and win it in the tenth. It was his second double in the league.

In their win on Wednesday against Glendale Davis again finished 1-for-4 while slotted sixth in the batting order. He was responsible for getting the Rafters on the scoreboard in the fourth inning, when his single drove in a runner to tie the game at one. Salt River made it interesting again in the bottom of the ninth, but the defense cut a tying runner down at home before finishing off the Desert Dogs and clinching their division.

It was a tale of two halves for Davis in the AFL, as in the first three weeks of the season he combined to go 7-for-32 (.219) with one walk compared to an alarming fifteen strikeouts in eight games. But he then finished the final three weeks by going 10-for-29 (.345) with two doubles and two walks while only striking out six times in seven games. Like Blankenhorn, his OBP outpaced his slugging percentage and the overall numbers aren’t necessarily apparent, but the adjustments made by him were.

Devin Smeltzer: 1 appearance, 0.1 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, BB; 5.87 ERA, 2.35 WHIP (overall).

Smeltzer got just one appearance in the season’s final week and it’s probably one he’d like to forget before starting his offseason routine.

It came in Monday’s extra-inning loss to the Javelina’s where he was the first man out of the bullpen after the Rafter’s starter went the first five innings. Salt River had a 2-0 lead at the time, and Smeltzer was greeted by a bunt that went for a single on his first pitch and maybe threw him off a little bit. He followed that by issuing a walk before a double tied the game at two. A single to the next batter brought an end to his outing in which he was charged with a blown save.

Like his fellow reliever Lujan, Smeltzer can reflect on his time in the AFL as a great learning experience as he continues a transition into relief pitching. He got knocked around a little bit with a WHIP of 2.35 in only 7.2 innings but should have a good idea on what he can and can’t do against the more advanced hitters he might continue to face at Double A in 2019.

Adam Bray: 2 appearances, 2.2 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 3 K; 2.63 ERA, 1.10 WHIP (overall).

The reliever’s first appearance of the week came in Tuesday’s loss to Scottsdale, and it was of the multiple inning variety. With the game tied at zero in the fifth inning, he was summoned from the bullpen with two outs and a runner in scoring position. He got his man to end the threat and back out for the sixth he delivered a one-two-three inning including a pair of strikeouts. With his pitch count still low he again came out for the seventh and got the first man out (five in a row) before a couple of singles brought on another pitching change. That pitcher gave up a double to score both of the runners Bray was responsible for, so his line looks a little worse than it was. In total he went 1 2/3, allowing two runs on two hits while striking out two.

In Thursday’s loss to the Desert Dogs Bray finished the game for the Rafters, again coming in from the bullpen in the middle of the inning. This time it was after Glendale had already scored two runs on a triple to take a 4-2 lead. With no outs and a runner on third, Bray got a ground out, strikeout, and a tapper back to him on the mound to keep the score as it was and finish his AFL season with a clean outing.

Bray was the best performing of the Twins relievers sent to Arizona by far and one of the better one’s on the Rafters staff. His 13 2/3 innings pitched ranked second among his bullpen peers and his 2.63 ERA third. He went 1-0 in his 10 appearance and was also one of three relievers on the team to pick up a save. I’d expect the Minnesota native to get a crack at Double A to start next season.

AFL Championship Game:

With the Salt River Rafters crowned the East Division winners of the AFL, they faced off against the West winning Peoria Javelina’s in the title game on Saturday. Unfortunately, none of the Twins prospects appeared in the game, and hopefully that’s only because Tommy Watkins didn’t want to seem like he was playing favorites… (I kid) Maybe he should have though, as his team couldn’t quite close it out.

The Rafters took an early 2-0 lead thanks to a pair of RBI singles while their starter, Jordan Yamamoto of the Miami Marlins, kept Peoria at bay for four innings. The first run came courtesy of Miami Marlins’ prospect Monte Harrison in the second, and they took a 2-0 lead in the fourth thanks to the Washington Nationals’ Daniel Johnson.

Salt River took that 2-0 lead all the way into the bottom of the ninth inning, then things turned the other way for Peoria. A leadoff walk, double, and a wild pitch brought in the first run of the game for the Javelinas and with nobody out they had the tying run on third base before an RBI single brought the game into extra innings.

It was the bottom of the tenth when Peoria walked it off in dramatic fashion. With one out, Atlanta Braves prospect Braxton Davidson stepped into the batter’s box, and did this:



Along with an epic bat flip, Davidson also injured himself rounding the bases so instead of being able to celebrate with this teammates on the field and in the clubhouse, he was carted off to the hospital. Originally feared to be a broken foot, it luckily appears that is not the case.

Congrats to the Peoria Javelina’s, and thank you for following the Twins prospects in the AFL with me!


Please feel free to ask questions about the AFL and the players who were there!

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4 Comments

And thank YOU for writing the report, Steve. Very informative to read about what the Twins' prospects did in the AFL this year.

    • ashburyjohn, Steve Lein, USAFChief and 4 others like this

Thanks a lot for keeping us up to date on the AFL, Steve.

 

Expect Tommy Watkins may be second guessing his decision to not use Bray in the 10th inning of the championship game.Had he, they may still be playing.And yes I will say it again, I hate that bloody extra inning rule of putting a guy on second base.

 

Must disagree a bit about your comments on Jax, namely that you end with a so-so judgement of his time in the AFL.He hasn't pitched at a level higher than Hi-A and all the players in the league were at that level or higher.Add to that the limited professional innings he has pitched together with the vastly greater experience of everyone in the league and I believe he did very well.I continue to see a track in which we see Jax being a solid middle of the rotation starter for the Twins for many years, perhaps as soon as late 2020.

    • Steve Lein, glunn and RaymondLuxuryYacht like this

 

Thanks a lot for keeping us up to date on the AFL, Steve.

 

Expect Tommy Watkins may be second guessing his decision to not use Bray in the 10th inning of the championship game.Had he, they may still be playing.And yes I will say it again, I hate that bloody extra inning rule of putting a guy on second base.

 

Must disagree a bit about your comments on Jax, namely that you end with a so-so judgement of his time in the AFL.He hasn't pitched at a level higher than Hi-A and all the players in the league were at that level or higher.Add to that the limited professional innings he has pitched together with the vastly greater experience of everyone in the league and I believe he did very well.I continue to see a track in which we see Jax being a solid middle of the rotation starter for the Twins for many years, perhaps as soon as late 2020.

 

Thanks Roger!

 

I don't disagree with your statements on Jax. I see the same things. All I was really trying to say is his AFL performance doesn't really say much of anything due to the things both you and I reference. If he had been dominant, it would have I think. But if he had struggled, it wouldn't have changed anything for me for the reasons we both reference.

 

And just as a note, the MiLB extra-inning rule does not apply for post-season play, and in the AFL title game a runner did not start the 10th on second base. It certainly affects pitchers negatively though and I also hate the rule in general.

    • rdehring likes this

 

Thanks Roger!

 

I don't disagree with your statements on Jax. I see the same things. All I was really trying to say is his AFL performance doesn't really say much of anything due to the things both you and I reference. If he had been dominant, it would have I think. But if he had struggled, it wouldn't have changed anything for me for the reasons we both reference.

 

And just as a note, the MiLB extra-inning rule does not apply for post-season play, and in the AFL title game a runner did not start the 10th on second base. It certainly affects pitchers negatively though and I also hate the rule in general.

Didn't realize that, Steve.Hadn't checked the log to see what happened in the extra innings.  


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