Twins AFL Report - Week 6: Rafters Win AFL Championship, Lewis Named League MVP
Image courtesy of William Parmeter (photo of Royce Lewis)(links to each players overall AFL stats provided by clicking their name)
Royce Lewis: 3 games, 4-for-12, 2 R, 2B, 3 RBI, 2 K, SB; .353/.411/.565 (overall)
Lewis got the start in center field in Monday’s 11-7 win over Glendale and after reaching base on a fielders choice in the top of the first, proceeded to steal his fifth base before being stranded on second. In the third inning with the Desert Dogs up 2-0, Lewis got the Rafters on the board with an RBI single before his teammates added four more to go up 5-2. Glendale took back the lead 7-5 going into the ninth inning however, but Lewis again sparked his team with an RBI double to make it 7-6 before they tacked on five more for the final of 11-7. It was another fantastic performance for Lewis, but it wasn’t the best one in this game from Twins prospects —we’ll get to that later.
After a few days of rest, Lewis was back in center field on Thursday against the Mesa Solar Sox and batting third in the lineup. He singled in his first at-bat of the game, but both teams were woefully deficient on offense throughout as this one ended in a 0-0 tie. The teams combined to go 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position, left 18 men on base, and struck out 18 times versus just two walks.
Finishing out the regular season on Friday against Peoria, Lewis made the start at another new position in the AFL, but you’ll be pleased to learn it was at shortstop. He also batted cleanup in this abbreviated seven inning game and delivered an RBI single in the fifth inning that made the score 5-1 Rafters. As the shortstop, Lewis committed a fielding error on the first batted ball of the game and had only one other opportunity for the rest of it. He had this to say afterwards, as the Rafters still had one more game to go on Saturday:
Lewis ended his impressive AFL season by being named the league’s MVP, adding further hardware to his mantle from an impressive fall campaign. He was named the hitter of the week once and also took home the MVP award during the Fall Stars Game where he hit a home run. He paced the league in hits (30) and runs scored (21) while also ranking top three in doubles (9), RBI (20), total bases (48), batting average (.353), slugging percentage (.565), and OPS (.975).
If you have found yourself unimpressed with Lewis after the regular minor league season in which he admittedly struggled, my advice now is to get over it. This was the most outstanding showing by a Minnesota Twins prospect in the Arizona Fall League since I’ve been recapping it in this fashion as a blogger, which was long before your favorite website Twins Daily came into existence. Get excited, because no matter what position Lewis shows up in the majors at, he’s going to be an impact player. Don’t just take my word for it either:
Dakota Chalmers: 1 start, 3.2 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 K; 1-2, 5.09 ERA, 1.64 WHIP (overall)
Chalmers made his final start of regular season play in Monday’s win over the Desert Dogs, finishing 3 2/3 innings. He allowed single runs in each of the first and second frames on RBI doubles before tossing a scoreless third inning after his offense gave him a 5-2 lead. Back out for the fourth a solo home run cut the lead to two and he walked a batter before picking up a strikeout to end his day. He mixed in four total strikeouts that pushed his total on the season to 25 in 17 2/3 innings to lead the Rafters staff. He threw 71 pitches on the game, with 42 going for strikes (59%).
There was both good-to-great and bad-to-worse outings on Chalmers ledger during the AFL season, but after throwing just 34 2/3 innings in 2018 in his return from Tommy John surgery it’s hard to view his AFL performance as anything but positive. He showed a consistent high-90’s fastball and swing and miss breaking ball, and when he had command of them was dominant. That’s nothing new in relation to his prospect profile, but it was a solid step toward the 2020 season which will tell a lot more as he distances himself further from his surgery.
Ben Rortvedt: Did not play; .111/.200/.111 (overall)
While a knee injury Rortvedt had been playing with during the latter portion of the 2019 season ultimately put an end to his time in the AFL. Before that he had continued to showcase his defensive chops as a catcher while also bringing an improved bat. He’ll be ready to go when pitchers and catchers report to spring training and after reaching Double-A in 2019 will be looking to solidify his place near the top of the minor league depth chart among Twins catchers.
Luke Raley: 3 games, 3-for-10, R, HR, 5 RBI, BB, 2 K; .244/.312/.439 (overall)
After an impressive week 5 showing, Raley continued his emergence in the first game of week 6 with a 2-for-4 effort at the plate that out-shined his MVP teammate as alluded to above. His two hits included a two-RBI single in the third that made it 5-2 at the time, then his three-run home run in the ninth punctuated a six-run inning for the Rafters as they went back ahead for good 11-7. He also drew a walk in the sixth inning with the score tied at five, but while attempting to score the go-ahead run from third on a grounder he was thrown out at home.
In Thursday’s 0-0 pitching duel with Mesa, Raley batted sixth in the lineup and was in right field. He finished 0-for-3 with a strikeout but reached base in the ninth when he was hit by a pitch.
Closing out the regular season on Friday against the Javelinas Raley batted fifth behind Lewis and also finished 1-for-3. His single led off the second inning against top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley and the inning ended with him stranded on third.
After missing several months of the minor league season due to an ankle injury, the AFL was mostly about making up time for Raley. It took him some time to get going but when he did, he was a force in the Rafters lineup. Over his final 10 games he had at least one hit in eight of them, and they included two doubles, three home runs, and eight RBI. His OPS in that time frame was over 1.000 as he slashed .333/.400/.639. Eligible for the Rule 5 draft in December, I expect Raley will get protected and should debut with the Twins at some point during the 2020 season.
Moises Gomez: 1 appearance, 1.0 IP, 2 ER, 4 BB, K; 0-1, 6.55 ERA, 2.09 WHIP (overall)
Gomez saw his final action of the AFL season in Monday’s victory over Glendale, but it didn’t end as he probably would have liked. Coming on in relief of Chalmers in the fourth inning, Gomez inherited a runner in scoring position and walked his first batter before getting a ground out to keep his team up by two runs. Back out for the fifth inning Gomez got the first two hitters before trouble began to brew. He would walk the next three hitters to load the bases and end his outing. Two of those runners ended up coming around to score after his exit, to tie the game at five.
After a fantastic minor league season that saw him come in third in Twins Daily’s MiLB Relief Pitcher of the Year voting, Gomez got a nice reward and challenge by being sent to the AFL after spending less than half of the year in Fort Myers. While his 15 strikeouts in 11 total innings was nice, he also allowed runs in six of nine appearances and gave up nine free passes. I’d project he’ll start the 2020 season back with the Miracle, but if he shows improved command could again find himself promoted midsummer.
Jovani Moran: 1 appearance, 1.0 IP, 2 K; 0-1, 7.00 ERA, 2.11 WHIP (overall)
Moran’s final appearance of the AFL season came in Wednesday’s 6-5 loss to Glendale when he entered the game to start the eighth inning with the Desert Dogs up 6-4. The left-hander delivered a one-two-three inning, striking out two in the process to end his season on a high note. He needed just twelve pitches and got both of those K’s on 94 MPH fastballs that hitters swung through near the top of the zone.
Moran’s showing in the AFL was very similar to Gomez’s, in that he racked up strikeouts (14 in nine total innings) but also gave up walks and runs in bunches. His final outing this week was the first on the season that he did not issue at least one walk. Moran pitched with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos for all of the 2019 season but did miss a few months during the summer with two separate trips to the injured list. He made up some innings in the AFL, but I’d expect him to be back with Pensacola at the start of the 2020 season looking to rediscover his magic from 2018.
Zach Neff: 2 appearances, 2.1 IP, H; 1-0, 1 Save, 1.38 ERA, 0.54 WHIP (overall)
Neff was called upon two more times in the season’s final week, appearing in Monday’s win over the Desert Dogs and Thursday’s tie against the Solar Sox.
In Monday’s contest Neff was summoned with two outs in the fifth inning after Gomez had loaded the bases with three consecutive walks. He allowed a two-run single to the first batter he faced that tied the game at five, but then got a lineout to end the inning. Starting clean in the sixth inning, Neff delivered a one-two-three frame, getting two ground outs and an infield pop out on thirteen pitches. He was charged with a blown save for giving up the game-tying hit in the fifth.
In Thursday’s scoreless tie, Neff was called upon for the eighth inning and again delivered a one-two-three outing, getting each batter to pop out in the infield and requiring only five pitches to do so.
That was the theme for Neff during the AFL season, recording outs in uber-efficient fashion and limiting baserunners. His 0.54 WHIP in league play ranked second on his team, and he recorded 12 strikeouts compared to just one walk in nine appearances and 13 innings pitched. He’s certainly raised his profile with his performance against the top competition of the AFL and will look to continue that into the 2020 season. Perhaps with a bump to Double-A to start the year on the merits of his AFL showing.
AFL Championship Game
As the East division champions for the second year in a row, the Salt River Rafters had one more game to play on Saturday for all the marbles in the AFL Championship against the West division winning Surprise Saguaros.
On the mound to start the game for the Rafters was the Twins very own Dakota Chalmers, and he came out in the first inning determined to give his team his best effort. He needed 24 pitches and had full counts to three of the four hitters in the opening frame, but after walking the first hitter of the game he came back to finish off the next three with strikeouts. In the second he again walked the leadoff man, this time on four pitches, but needed just six more in the inning to get the three outs and keep the game scoreless. In the bottom of the third a leadoff walk would finally catch up to him as that batter stole second base and then came around to score on a single and early 1-0 lead for Surprise. After that single Chalmers was lifted and finished with a line of one earned run on one hit and three walks in 2 1/3 innings, along with striking out three.
The Rafters lineup picked him up in the top of the fourth however, as they erupted for five runs of their own to put the game out of reach. Royce Lewis led off the inning but grounded out before a hit batter, wild pitch, and single tied the game at one. Luke Raley and Colton Welker then drew walks to load the bases, and two batters later with two outs, Marlins outfield prospect Jerar Encarnacion broke it open with a grand slam and 5-1 lead that would stand until the end.
Lewis tallied two hits in five at-bats on the game, including a double in the seventh inning and single to lead off the ninth. After that double in the seventh, Lewis got caught in a rundown between home and third on a comebacker to the pitcher for the inning's second out, but it would not matter. Lewis played third base and batted second in the lineup for the game.
Luke Raley started the game in left field and batted fifth in the lineup, finishing 0-for-2 with a run scored and a walk. He was also hit by a pitch in the second inning. Raley was on third base when Encarnacion blasted the game-winning grand slam.
Reliever Zach Neff also got into the game in the bottom of the eighth inning, when he was brought on to face the left-handed hitting top of the Saguaros lineup with two outs. He allowed a double on a 3-2 breaking ball that he left over the heart of the plate but got the next hitter to chase a fastball out of the zone for an easy ground ball to first.
The Rafters then took care of business in the ninth to bring home the hardware!
Congratulations to all of the Minnesota Twins prospects, and those of the Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays, Colorado Rockies, and Arizona Diamondbacks on a great season and thanks for following along during the AFL season with me!
Other AFL and Minor League Links:
-MLB Pipelines AFL Championship Game recap.
-The Rafters home complex, Salt River Fields, was home to the automated ball-strike (ABS) system throughout AFL play, and MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo spoke with several players and prospects, including Royce Lewis, on how the system fared during the season.
-Pensacola Blue Wahoos Senior Writer Bill Vilona on Royce Lewis and winning the AFL MVP award.
-Vilona also caught up with Twins pitcher Devin Smeltzer to recap his dream season that started with the Blue Wahoos.
-MLB.com’s Jim Callis details eight players who stood out during the AFL Championship Game.
-The Athletic’s Dan Hayes caught up with Royce Lewis to talk about his so-called struggles during the minor league season, his success in the AFL, and what he’ll be doing during the offseason (paywall).
Please feel free to ask questions about the AFL and the players who are there!
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