Red Sox relief prospect Ty Buttrey came up in one of the discussions about trade talks. As luck would have it, I could drop Mrs Ash at Logan Airport today and head down I-95 in time for the last game in Pawtucket before their All-Star Break. So I did. The pretext is scouting a trade candidate, but of course I am not a scout. I'll tell you what I saw, and offer some opinions, and hopefully keep the two straight, one from another.
Even better luck: the Yankees AAA affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre was the opponent, and their #2 prospect, Justus Sheffield, was the starting pitcher. And a ranked prospect also closed the game for them. So there's more to tell.
The PawSox starter, Fernando Rodriguez, doesn't show up in MLB.com's top-30 for the Red Sox. The righthander's fastball touches 92, but his out-pitch seems to be offspeed. My seat was not located anywhere I can even pretend to tell you whether any of the pitchers use a curve, slider, straight change, or something exotic. From my angle down the first-base line, I could pretty easily tell when something off-speed was being delivered by Rodriguez (with the radar display to confirm or disprove my guess), but of course the batter has a tougher challenge. It was my impression he was getting away with deception, which possibly stops working so well at the major league level. If someone were to tell me we were thinking of using one of our trade chips to acquire him, I'd be disappointed. Then again, perhaps I wasn't seeing him at his best: he seemed to be working annoyingly slowly, and then had to come out of the game barely into the third inning. I haven't looked for an announced reason, but a blister would be my guess. Anyway he gave up a run in the second inning on a homer. He struck out 5 in just 2.1 innings, which sounds nice, but as I said, I'm skeptical.
Sheffield, by contrast, was solidly in command for the first four innings or so. His fastball sat consistently at 94 and it was his out pitch, something good to see. If this lefty's rapid pace was any indication, he pitched with confidence. I was less able to guess his pitches quickly as they came out of his hand. The first hit he gave up, in the fourth, was just a squibber toward the third baseman who didn't even bother to attempt a throw. However, Sheffield weakened in the fifth, but managed to wriggle out of two-baserunner trouble with some apparently nasty stuff to get the last two batters out. But it got worse for him in the sixth - I noticed his fastball was around 91 - and a visit to the mound didn't seem to do any wonders, although the fastball ticked back up to 93. He was gone after another batter or two reached base and a run scored. His pitch count by that point had ballooned to 89, whereas it had stood at only 42 after 3 full innings. His pitching line was a fairly pedestrian 5.1 innings with 5 hits plus two walks and one run, earned. But he struck out 7 in that time, and I'm here to tell you, he looks like the real deal to me. Those first 4 or 5 innings indicate to me that there's something to work with if he's called up. He's high ranked, and there's no way I would expect to pry him loose from the Yankees with any conceivable deadline deal, which someone on the forums here floated recently.
Back to the PawSox. 26th ranked Williams Jerez came on in relief of Rodriguez. He's a multi-innings left-handed reliever this season and served in that long-relief capacity of necessity today. He finished that third inning and went two more, surrendering a two-run blast in the top of the fifth. His fastball sits at 96 and he struck out five, so he's got a live arm and overall I was impressed enough to believe the ranking (which is a matter of taste, when it comes to relievers). He's 26 years old so his time is now, if ever.
Righty Kyle Martin pitched the next two innings for Pawtucket. His 94-MPH fastball helped account for 4 Ks to surround a hit and a walk. He's not ranked, where I looked, although I thought he had good swing-and-miss stuff. But he's 27 and got his cup of coffee last July - apparently he's organizational depth at this point.
Robby Scott, 28 years old, pitched the eighth. He was with the big club all last year, but I don't know his story in 2018 and he is at AAA. With only a 90 MPH heater, he's a sidearming lefty junkballer in today's world. He did more than OK today, striking out all three of the batters he faced, twice swinging, once looking, but my impression today before looking him up was smoke and mirrors in that inning.
Ty Buttrey took over in the ninth, to keep the deficit to only 1 run, and I thought he lived up to his billing. His fastball clocked 97. The right-hander's got a somewhat high leg kick, which worried me that it might indicate control trouble, but he likewise retired all three batters faced - although only one was a strikeout, neither ball put in play was much trouble - requiring merely an efficient 8 pitches.
OK, I'm out of chronological order now, because the Yankees RailRiders were offering up relievers too, today. 28-year old righty Tommy Kahnle took over from Sheffield in the sixth, and retired the two batters he faced to escape further damage. I didn't think to mark down his fastball speed - he's Tommy Kahnle.
They brought in another portsider in Stephen Tarpley to pitch the seventh and eighth. He had a 93 MPH fastball and his off-speed stuff seemed to be effective. He did give up a run, which he might be kicking himself over - after a leadoff double, followed by a sac bunt (questionable strategy to me, behind by 2 runs, but it worked out), Tarpley seemingly foiled the strategy by striking out the next batter. But then while working toward the eventual third out, he uncorked a wild pitch, and then failed to hustle to the plate to receive any throw that the catcher, who had retrieved the ball, might have wanted to make. Don't they go over this in spring training (said, every fan ever )?
The ninth inning was handled by 15th-ranked Cody Carroll. Like his Sox counterpart, I felt he lived up to his billing, with a fastball in the 96-97 range. The righty started off the inning with a bit of chin-music to PawSox catcher Dan Butler, and as a consequence or not, the home team went down meekly, 1-2-3.
As an aside, they play baseball differently in the minors. No pinch hitter by Pawtucket, for any of their number 7-8-9 batters coming up with a 3-2 deficit to overcome in the ninth. I have seen this annoying strategic non-feature and others, over the years. Minor league ball is strictly about developing prospects, not about winning individual games.
So, you haven't heard me say much yet about the position players. Frankly, not much jumped out at me, for good or for ill. Ivan DeJesus Jr at second base for Pawtucket made a poor attempt at a grounder up the middle. It was scored a hit, and rightly so because even if he had come up with it, it would have required a stellar throw to nip the runner, if possible. But he flubbed it so that the question never came up. For Scranton/WB, right fielder Billy McKinney made a nice diving catch.
The Yankees farmhands had only 5 hits in total, with Tyler Austin accounting for 2 of them. Six Sox batters shared the hit total evenly. As previously alluded to, homers accounted for all three Yankee runs, the two-run shot being by Austin and the solo job by Bruce Caldwell. Both of these guys are 26 and neither of them shows up in the MLB rankings for the Yanks.
One last note. Lots of people criticize McCoy Stadium, but I like the place. It's an older park, and I suppose would be uncomfortable in the rare cases they sell out, but today's attendance of 5639 was hardly bursting at the seams and concession stands were convenient and spacious and well-staffed, and I enjoyed a craft brew and a good sausage-and-peppers-and-onions on a roll, and it was a beautiful sunny 84-degree day and the grandstand roof offered shade if you wanted it, so what's not to like? Well, too many Yankee fans, but that was just for this series. Oh, and I want to tell you, instead of the usual mascot race between innings, they had an eyeball race. It's sponsored by a local vision clinic, and you get to watch a green, blue, and brown eye race from first base to third. A wonderfully weird spin on a classic.
So that was my afternoon. Was yours as good?