Last Weigh-In: 5/8: Best Start in Team History
Overall Record: 38-32 (2nd in South Division)
Last 10 games: 2-8
Pitching Staff: Leads Southern League in strikeouts with 672 in 611 innings pitched (next team has 631)
Pensacola will be represented on the position player front by infielder Travis Blankenhorn, catcher Caleb Hamilton, and outfielder Jaylin Davis. They were joined by pitchers Brusdar Graterol, Griffin Jax, and Ryan Mason. Unfortunately, due to the injuries alluded to above, none of the pitchers selected are going to participate in the game, but it is still quite the honor to be selected by your peers.
Leading into the Southern League All-Star break, with the assist from their PR man Daniel Venn and senior writer Bill Vilona, I was able to catch up with Blue Wahoos manager Ramon Borrego, and players Jaylin Davis and Caleb Hamilton as they prepared for the festivities. I’ve always thought the minor league All-Star Games are unique experiences for the players and wanted to get their thoughts on what this game means to them and how their seasons have played out so far.
Davis is definitely proud to be there and is participating in the home run derby as I write this. On being selected to the game he said, “It’s definitely an honor. This season, for me working on new things, it kind of worked out.” Asked about what he has adjusted in his game, if anything, that led to this point, he praised the coaching staff and new minor league coordinators. “We sat down in spring training, worked on staying more [on my legs] and stopping my head from bouncing a lot, so I feel like I am seeing the ball a lot better at the plate because of it.”
Borrego echoed those sentiments when talking about the improvements Davis has made in his walk rate (ranks third in the league in walks). “With Jaylin, it’s all about pitch recognition. (Hitting coach) Steve Singleton has been doing a really good job with him mixing daily work and different drills to situations we’re going to face. [Jaylin] isn’t chasing as much and he’s worked on getting more walks. Steve has been a big part of that.”
For my personal interest, I also asked Jaylin what his favorite part about playing the game of baseball has been in his life, and his answer is similar to what I experienced playing and writing here at Twins Daily. “Just where the game has taken me. I have met a lot of new guys that I still keep in touch with to this day. So just traveling a lot and meeting a lot of new people. I think that’s the biggest thing I have loved about playing baseball.”
Joining Davis in the Home Run Derby and in the starting lineup of tomorrow night’s game is infielder Travis Blankenhorn, who, like Davis, has also improved upon many aspects of his game so far in the 2019 season. Borrego pointed out similar developments for Blankenhorn since joining the team in late April. “For me, the difference [for Travis] has been pitch recognition. This is one of the parts of his game he’s really worked on and it’s showed. Now, he’s totally comfortable facing left-handed pitchers and this is what has taken him to the next level. He is hunting better pitches and his plate discipline is way better, so it gives him the chance to do more damage.”
Catcher Caleb Hamilton is participating in his first All-Star Game, and this fact wasn’t lost on him when asked what it meant for him to be selected. “It’s always an honor to get selected for any team like that at any level. It’s pretty cool! This is not something I have experienced so I am pretty excited!”
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Hamilton also was not a catcher when he first joined the Minnesota Twins organization, so I was curious what the biggest thing he’s learned about the position has been. He showed his appreciation for the effort and responsibility of the spot by saying, “Taking control of the whole pitching staff. You’re the general behind the plate, involved in every play. You make decisions based off counts, the score, who is up to bat, who is on the mound. So, taking the responsibility of being that guy out there that everyone can trust. That is the biggest part of being behind the plate. Guys have to trust you and you have to trust them.”
In addition to those catching responsibilities, Hamilton has also played first base and third base for Pensacola this year, along with some outfield in the past. That versatility is an important trait for his manager, who pointed out “When you have a guy like Caleb, he can play around. He can play first, he can play third, the outfield, he can catch. He is one of the leaders behind the plate because he takes such pride in that position and watches every detail. Even in the catcher’s and pitcher’s meetings. He brings a lot of ideas and that is a good thing. To have a guy like Caleb is fantastic. You can use him in any time in any position. A guy like him is invaluable.”
When asked what has led to his success this season, Hamilton again touted his work ethic and the little things beyond the diamond. “I put a lot of work in every off season. Whether it’s eating well or lifting a lot and making sure my body is ready and also just focusing on one or two things in my swing that I can really hone down on and improve. You need a swing that is going to last you 140 games, not just a couple months. So fine tuning those little details whether it’s behind the plate or at the plate swinging, it makes a huge difference.”
Borrego also had plenty of good things to say about his other All-Stars and even though his pitchers would not be participating in the game, he knows they deserve to be there. On Brusdar Graterol and what he expected to see in the games he started, Borrego said, “Brusdar is still young, but he has really matured. Is a guy with a bulldog mentality. As a manager that is one thing you’re looking for from a starting pitcher. Brusdar gave us a really solid first month. When he was healthy, I looked at him and thought he can really pitch in the big leagues this year.”
On what led to Graterol’s success before hitting the shelf, Borrego added, “He’s a really hard worker and his mentality really changed from last year. His command was better. He can [locate] the fastball east and west, north and south. Really can execute with his breaking pitch. Major change was that mentality to the point he sometimes gets too comfortable. But he now knows how to locate better with the fastball and [how it] moves.”
Along with Graterol, Griffin Jax was also one of the Southern League leaders in ERA before missing some time, and on what helped Jax achieve that success Borrego said, “[Griffin] is a hard worker and someone who worries about every detail to get better, wants to be successful every outing. For me it’s how he’s mixed his pitches. The way he has started his pitches and how he manages the game has been the difference.”
The Blue Wahoos' one relief pitcher selection was closer Ryan Mason who ranked seventh in the Southern League in saves before also hitting the injured list. Borrego was really disappointed for Mason as he was a big part of his bullpen and he knew him well. “That was a really tough loss. I had Mason last year in Fort Myers. I know he’s a tough guy. You give him the ball and he wants to give you the absolute best every time. He has a lot of trust in himself, and when you [do that], you will compete at a high level. He knows he has one of the best changeups in the league.”
To sum up his thoughts on all of his players selected to the All-Star game, Borrego closed with, “To me, they are all leaders. They take care of business every day and all of them have been performing at a high level.”
The Pensacola Blue Wahoos All-Stars and the rest of the team will look to continue and improve upon their success in the second half of the season, which they kick off on the road in Jacksonville on Thursday.
Batting League Leaders (through games completed on 6/16)
- Jaylin Davis ranks third in the Southern League in walks with 36 along with placing seventh in OPS (.840) and home runs (10) on the season.
- Travis Blankenhorn, despite starting his season in the Florida State League, ranks fourth in the circuit in home runs (11), seventh in batting average (.294), third in slugging with (.507), and eighth in the league in OPS (.831).
Pitching League Leaders
- Right-hander Jorge Alcala ranks number eight in the league in strikeouts on the season, with 71 in 67 innings pitched.
- Reliever Ryan Mason, before his trip to the injured list, racked up enough saves (7) to tie for fourth in the Southern League. He had begun his season with 16.1 scoreless outings before his injury started to manifest, racking up 23 strikeouts (12.67/9IP) in the process against just two walks.
- Southern League All Star Game final rosters and South Division starting lineup. Jaylin Davis gets the start at DH, while Travis Blankenhorn will man second base.
- The winner of the Southern League Home Run Derby was Jeffrey Baez of the Jackson Generals, who clubbed 26 bombs in the contest. Davis managed to club eight home runs on his turn but was unable to advance. Blankenhorn got two of them out of the park but it was not for a lack of trying:
Every few weeks during the season I’ll be looking back at what happened for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos and welcome any input our readers may have on what you would like to see in these posts. I consider this space a work-in-progress that will evolve as the season wears on, so please leave a comment and discuss the Blue Wahoos performance thus far!
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