Lost in the promotional shuffle of TNT Tuesdays (tallboys and tacos), Wackie Weenie & Wine Down Wednesdays (self-explanatory), and Thirsty Thursday ($1 beers), the Lake Elsinore Storm also happen to field a pretty good ball club. After defeating the Lancaster JetHawks on Monday, the Storm (20-12) now lead the California League’s South Division by two games and have won 10 of their last 11.
While the offense-crippling home park does no favors for the offense, the pitching staff have cozied up to their home digs quite nicely. What’s more, with the Padres shuffling the rehabbing Chase Headley, Carlos Quentin, and Casey Kelly through town for the next several games, Lake Elsinore is the temporary destination spot for fans who want a more intimate ballpark experience with noted Major Leaguers.
Speaking of intimate, Monday’s contest boasted a pitching match-up between organizational Top 10’s, as the JetHawks’s Lance McCullers took on the Storm’s Joe Ross. Between that and a lineup full of top prospects like Carlos Correa, Teoscar Hernandez, Hunter Renfroe, and Rio Ruiz, we’re talking third date material for prospect lovers.
Perhaps turned off by dropping temperatures and a wind that may have mussed a perfectly sculpted hair helmet, Quentin took the night off. As Headley occupied the DH spot, this was probably a wise decision. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess how the rigors of left field (or the cold or the wind or the tide) might affect Quentin’s balky knees, so why risk it?
In any case, the night off for Quentin didn’t seem to slow the Storm offense. After Ross breezed through a 1-2-3 first, newly-acquired second baseman Benji Gonzalez laced a double to right and Headley followed with a laser double of his own off a 93-MPH fastball, resulting in the first run of the ballgame. While pitting a 20-year-old pitcher against the Padres’ best all-around player is hardly fair, the second inning was a disaster of McCullers’ making. After getting a lead ground out, the inning progressed as followed:
After 50 pitches, only 24 of which were strikes, McCullers – and the pitching duel many scouts were chatting about pregame – was gone.
Things went a little bit smoother for Ross, who cruised through the first few innings with little incident. While McCullers danced around the zone all night, Ross was far more efficient; throwing 54 of his 76 pitches (71%) for strikes, recording four strikeouts and allowing no walks. If there’s any critique to be made about Ross’ performance, it’s that his reluctance to work outside the zone allowed the JetHawks to get back in the game.
While Lancaster only scattered 6 hits off of Ross, 3 were for extra bases. However, a lot of the damage on the scoreboard resulted on balls hit no further than the infield dirt. In the 4th, a leadoff bunt single by Hernandez yielded a run after Correa tripled him home; Danry Vasquez led off the 5th with a double, then came around on two consecutive soft ground outs; a bloop single by Hernandez, a swinging bunt from Correa, and three consecutive ground outs resulted in a final run to finish Ross’ night.
Notes & Observations:
Hunter Renfroe is seeing and swinging through a good deal of breaking balls.
I’ve now been to five Storm games and, despite winning all five, Renfroe hasn’t really squared up more than a couple pitches. What’s more, I’m noticing a healthy diet of off-speed pitches, and results that match what Chris Rodriguez of Baseball Prospectus noticed in April:
#Padres Hunter Renfroe hasn't put a bat on any breaking stuff these two games I've seen him. Just doesn't seem to pick it up well.
— Chris Rodriguez (@chrisrod13) April 13, 2014
The result has been 45 strikeouts in 141 plate appearances (31.9% of the time), and while he’s recently seen his strikeout rate dip below the 25% mark over the past 10 games, the swing-and-miss will always be a part of his game. Now that the book appears to be out on Renfroe, pitchers are using the soft stuff to pitch backwards and get ahead, while getting him to expand and chase out of the zone.
A good example of this was last Wednesday, when Hunter came up with the winning run on second with two outs in the ninth. After receiving a steady stream of off-speed stuff all evening, Visalia’s Enrique Burgos pumped three straight 95-MPH fastballs, all belt-high or above, getting Renfroe to swing through all three.
While the power, speed, and approach still make Renfroe an offensive weapon, there is still a good deal of swing-and-miss to his game as his pitch recognition and timing continues to be a work in progress.
Carlos Correa appears to be pretty good at baseball.
Remember once upon a time, when Keith Law had the Padres taking Carlos Correa seventh overall in the 2012 draft? Well, it would have been nice had it come true. Correa was responsible for all three outs in the first, ranging to both sides and picking tricky hops at will. He’s not the smoothest shortstop, but he’s athletic and mature enough where you can imagine it might stick. Following an infield fly where Ruiz appeared to be upset after he was called off and collided with his catcher, Correa pulled Ruiz aside and talked him down to make sure cooler heads prevailed.
If defense and leadership isn’t your thing, Correa also went 3-for-4 at the plate with an RBI triple in the 5th that he chopped no more than a foot in front of the plate, just over the bag into the corner, and just plain outran the entire defense.
Chase Headley seems fine.
Breathe a sigh of relief and put away your bubble wrap. Well, at least for the moment. Headley made it through his rehab outing – turning on big league heat, starting-and-stopping, and running the bases – with both groins intact. You have three more chances to see him, and the next test should be how he handles 3-4 plate appearances and an entire night in the field.
If that isn’t enough incentive, just remember that these Future Friars are battling for first place in a talented California League, and likely to see the addition of yet another top prospect – starting pitcher, Max Fried – before the month is done.