Sacramento River Cats v. Las Vegas 51s – Game Notes from April 22, 2016
It was overcast for much of the day here in Sacramento, with scattered showers dropping plenty of much needed rain. However, the baseball Gods decided that a game needed to be played tonight, providing excellent weather for tonight’s game, the Sacramento River Cats (Triple-A affiliate for the San Francisco Giants) versus the Las Vegas 51s (New York Mets).
For the River Cats –
Clayton Blackburn was the starting pitcher tonight for the River Cats. He is a notable prospect with a realistic chance of making the big league club in the future, with a real possibility of making a spot start or more if injuries ever plague the Giants starting rotation this season. The 23-year old right-hander shows a high 80s – low 90s fastball, touching 91 in the first inning on a nice strikeout of MLB veteran Matt Reynolds, and features above-average breaking stuff. He always had excellent control and command of his pitches, despite having an 0-1 W-L with an 4.35 ERA and 1.55 WHIP to start this season, he has only surrendered two walks on nine strikeouts in 10.1 innings pitched. Blackburn looked sharp to start the game tonight, retiring the first six batters he saw with relative ease. He ran into trouble in the 3rd inning as he gave up a single and walk to the first two hitters, but then got a fielder’s choice play at third base for the first out of the inning and then got second baseman [Dilson] Herrera to hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning and get out of the jam. Blackburn also showed a little glove, snaring a sharply hit ball back up-the-middle on him and starting a 1-6-3 double play in the 4th inning. Showing he can be very economical with his pitches, through 4 innings, his pitch count was 43 pitches, 31 strikes and just 12 balls. Blackburn got into trouble again in the 6th inning, giving up a first pitch double to Ty Kelly, then catch a tough break when the opposing starting pitcher Sean Gilmartin laid down a perfect pop out bunt that everyone thought was going to go foul, but after hitting the ground didn’t move and stayed fair for a base hit. Herrera than lobbed a hit into shallow right for a single, scoring the first run of the night for the 51s. Blackburn got lucky on a bunt attempt by Reynolds that went for a 2-5-3 double play. After a walk to Roger Bernadina, his first of the night, Blackburn got out of the jam on a nice backhanded snag by second baseman Juan Ciriaco on a sharply hit ball by Travis Taijeron for an unassisted putout. Blackburn again proving to be very efficient, as after a six pitch 7th inning, his pitch count is 72 pitches with 53 strikes and 19 balls. After a breezy 8th inning, Blackburn was allowed to go back out to start the 9th and get a complete game. However, after going to a full-count on the first batter and getting him to ground out to short, Blackburn was pulled, ending a fabulous pitching performance by him.
Blackburn’s final line: 8.1 IP, 5 Hs, 1 R/1 ER, 2 BBs, 2 SOs, on 95 pitches with 65 strikes, and most importantly, picking up the W!
Final assessment – Blackburn has excellent control and command of his pitches, as he threw just 30 balls on the night. However, his fastball isn’t over-powering and relies a lot of his defense making plays behind him as he will put the ball in play a lot. He only got two strikeouts on the night, as I believe the home plate ump was squeezing him a bit, but he kept the ball down and got a lot of ground ball outs. He has the stuff to be an innings-eating back-end starter in the majors, or at the very least a super long-arm who spot starts from time-to-time. If he keeps pitching like he did tonight, it will be hard for the Giants to ignore him whenever the next injury or spot start is needed in their starting rotation.
Side note – Welcome back, Mac Williamson! After spending a week with the parent ballclub, in his first game back with the River Cats, Williamson decided to take his anger of getting spent back down to Triple-A on the baseball as he hammered two home runs tonight. Williamson was consistent with his homers as well, as both went an estimated distance of 417 feet, and his exit velocity off the bat was 108 MPH on his first dinger and 109 MPH on the second.
For the 51s –
Dilson Herrera is supposed to be the future second baseman for the Mets, and the thought was that perhaps this would be the season he would nail down that position. The Mets let postseason hero Daniel Murphy walk in free agency and Herrera would assume his role as the starting second baseman. However, he couldn’t quite nail down the position early on in spring training, causing the Mets to trade away starting pitcher Jon Niese to the Pittsburgh Pirates for second baseman Neil Walker. At 22-years old, there is still time for Herrera to keep developing, so I wanted to keep on eye on him tonight. He didn’t waste much time though at the plate in his first at-bat, grounding out on the second pitch he saw. He flashed a nice glove, making a nice running catch behind first base and up the foul line on a softly hit ball from River Cats outfielder [Mac] Williamson. Herrera was again hacking in his second at-bat, hitting into an inning ending double-play on the third pitch he saw, killing a nice little rally the 51s had going against Blackburn. Just as I was complementing Herrera on his gloves, he makes an error on a high-chopper that crossed him up, leaving him indecisive on whether to charge the ball or play the high-hop. He played the hop, bare-heading the ball nicely, but then threw wildly to first base, pulling the first baseman off the bag, allowing the runner to be safe on the play. The official scorer ruled the play an error as Herrera stopped charging the ball on the play, but honestly, i felt it could have gone either way, so I won’t ding him for it. In his third at-bat, again first pitch swinging, Herrera fought off and blooped a single into right for an RBI single. In his final at-bat of the night, Herrera worked the count full before ultimately fouling out to the catcher. Herrera’s night was done after the 8th inning on a double-switch.
Final assessment – Herrera has the tools to be a major leaguer if he can develop a little more patients at the plate, but not sure if its as a starter. He could be more than serviceable, however, as a super-utility infielder.
Another once highly-touted prospect featured tonight was center fielder Brandon Nimmo. Nimmo is suppose to be a cog in what the Mets hope to be a stellar outfield featuring Nimmo and rising star Michael Conforto. However, Nimmo star has also fallen a bit, as some other prospect evaluators feel that Nimmo will be more of a 4th outfielder at the next level than a regular starter. The 23-year old starts this season in Triple-A after starting last season in Double-A Birmingham before getting bumped up to Vegas toward the latter part of the season. Coming into the game batting just .217 in this young season, Nimmo didn’t waste much time at the plate as well in his first at-bat, as he saw just three pitches, swinging at all of them, before grounding out to third base. His defensive is sound and flashed good arm strength, getting the ball back into the infield quickly on a double that sailed over his head hit by River Cats outfielder Jarrett Parker. Nimmo had no shot of catching it and had a little trouble playing the ball off the wall, but he recovered nicely and throw a strike to the cut-off man, keeping Parker to a double. Nimmo almost ended his night early in his second at-bat, as he was first-pitch swinging again but this time fouled the pitch off the top of his foot. After jumping around in some pain, he promptly swung at the next pitch, hitting it hard grounder to second for a putout. Again, not a fan of seeing many pitches, Nimmo was first-pitch swinging in his third at-bat, going opposite field with it and actually hitting it nicely for what looked to be a sure double. However, [Jarrett] Parker made a nice play on the ball, getting back on it quickly and making a leaping grab for the out.
Final assessment – Nimmo will most likely spent this entire season in Triple-A as he is currently being blocked at the major league level by Yoenis Cespedes and Curtis Granderson, well-established veterans as the Mets make a strong push toward the postseason. However, Cespedes can opt-out of his newly signed contract after the season and Granderson is on the decline of his career, so room for Nimmo could be opening up soon. He’ll need this season in Triple-A to continue his development and hopefully he can make the strides he needs to prove that he is worthy of being considered for a starting outfield spot for next season.