Continuing from part 1.
Caroline County Channel Cats:
The Channel Cats have the 4th worst record in the CBL and are currently 14 games back in their division, so there are few bright spots on this team. But first baseman Luke Maile is having an outstanding season, but outside of him, there is little to be excited about. Except for starting pitcher Johnny ‘Critter’ Bell.
Bell is having an outstanding rookie season, posting a 2.16 ERA in 14 appearances, 12 of those starts. This success comes as a slight surprise, as he did receive a September call-up last season and struggled in 2 starts, only pitching 8.2 innings, giving up 5 home runs, and a 2.42 WHIP. He was also demoted back to AAA after only 4 appearances, despite only struggling in one of those. But since returning to the Channel Cats he has dominated, and is currently the teams only starting pitcher with a winning record at 5-4. At only age 23, Critter and his devastating change-up could become a mainstay at the top of this Channel Cats rotation.
Caroline County has the 5th ranked minor league system, but that was bolstered by the addition of the sixth overall prospect, Eugene Vazquez. They do have any other solid prospects, but two that have had good seasons so far this year are single-A center fielder Glen Harris and triple-A starting pitcher Ryan Castellani.
Glen Harris has been apart of the Channel Cat organization since the inaugural draft in 2014. Up until this season he never saw consistent playing time, but this year he’s played in a majority of his teams games, starting 51 total so far. His numbers have been so good that he was selected to the Midwest League All-Star Game this year. Despite his .206 batting average, he has hit 10 home runs which leads his team. Despite being slightly older, 22, and still only in single-A, but he boasts good BB% and K% numbers, especially for his power. If he can continue this, he certainly will be looked at for a promotion for next season.
Castellani came to the organization in the 2016-2017 offseason, from Syracuse. With the team, he’s been with double and triple-A, putting up solid numbers through out, with his total triple-A numbers at 3.01 ERA in 28 starts. He currently leads his team, the Columbus Clippers, in ERA, wins, and is in 2nd in strikeouts. This led to his selection to the Pacific Coast League (PCL) All-Star team, and his winning of the PCL Pitcher of the Month in May, going 2-2 with a 3.50 ERA, including a 10 strikeout game on Sunday the 26th. At 23, and seemingly in control of triple-A hitters, he should be the Channel Cats next call-up should there be an injury to the CBL rotation, and 3 pitch repertoire should be good enough to hold CBL hitters at bay.
Another team that has seen it’s fair share of turnover since changing regimes. Right fielder Gregory Polanco, who could be regarded as a superstar, is not among the talks for Most Valuable Player, despite being arguably the best defensive player in the league and batting third most of the season. Pitchers Matt ‘Old Man’ Belisle and second baseman Jonathan Schoop are two that could have the case made for most underrated.
The recently turned 39-year-old Belisle has turned back the clock. In his sex CBL seasons, only twice has he been given the chance to be a starter, the last time coming in the 2017 season, where he went 9-9 with a 3.31 ERA. This season though, after starting as a reliever, he was added to the rotation in May and has pitched fantastic since then. Now 8-1 with a 2.93 ERA, Belisle is the ace of this staff and a leader on this team. While nothing he does is flashy, he does get results, good enough to get a 2 year extension, worth $6,210,000 million a year, with a player option for the second year. If he continues winning at this point, he would have to be in consideration for the Bob Feller Best Pitcher Award at the end of the season.
Currently the 12th ranked farm system, but on the rise with their most recent trade bringing in #1 overall prospect Don Smith, among others. While many of their top prospects coming to the organization this season, some of their lower touted prospects have put up very good seasons and are showing upside, including single-A closer Kameron Uter and double-A first baseman Nick Longhi.
Uter, who was drafted in the inaugural draft in the 109th round, has put up amazing numbers over the years, including a 0.97 ERA in 2016, but this year, he made the jump from single-A to double-A, which he struggled with last season, and he has had an incredibly low ERA, low enough to earn a selection to the Southern League All-Star Game. At double-A he has a 2.10 ERA with 12 saves, and with a blazing 101 MPH fastball, and a CBL level forkball, Uter is on the rise, and could be looking at a September call-up, and possible spot in the bullpen for next season.
Longhi, who signed a minor league deal with the organization in 2014, has slowly risen through the ranks, really breaking out in 2018. In 2018 he hit 38 home runs and had 102 runs batted in, and saw over 3.8 pitches per at-bat. This year at double-A his power numbers are lower, but he’s still on pace for 22 home runs, while batting .300. He seems like he could be ready for the next level, and may be in the CBL next season, with the Knights or another team.
Colorado Gold Sox:
Another team last in their division, only they are almost already out of the race, and are well on their way to the first overall pick next amateur draft. This being said, it’s clear there are no stars on their team, and even fewer that can be seen as bright spots for the organization. This being said, two that could be brought up are setup reliever Jhan Marinez and left fielder Dwight Smith Jr. Smith Jr. is following up his strong rookie season with an even better sophomore season, putting an end to the sophomore slump theory. But Marinez is the real story.
Marinez, a lifelong minor-leaguer with only 5 total innings at the major league level before this season, in which he gave up 5 earned runs, was given a chance with the Gold Sox this season, due to their very limited options. This season he has used his 2 pitches, a 97 MPH fastball and a devastating slider, to make hitters look silly on his way to a 12.9 K/9 rate, and a 2.86 ERA. If he keeps this up the 30-year-old Dominican pitcher could be a valuable trade asset for the rebuilding franchise, or become a dominant closer for them.
While they are on a rebuild, they are in desperate need of the first overall pick as they only have the 10th rated farm system. Despite this, do they do have several top-level prospects, including two young starting pitchers, Jim ‘Village Idiot’ Clarridge and Stu ‘Bulldozer’ Mercado. But they have several prospects, not seen as having as high of ceilings, but they are certainly producing in the minors, like double-A corner outfielder Julio E. Lugo and starting pitcher Jackson Gillis.
Despite being the #9 ranked prospect in all of CBL, the ‘Village Idiot’ is underrated. Although he went down for 2-3 months on Monday, with a strained forearm, Clarridge is the next real deal. The two-time runner-up for the NAIA Golden Arm Award was highly touted out of Mississippi University, and although he did take some time to adjust to the higher level of competition, he did only pitch in 17.2 innings last year in professional baseball. Starting this year at double-A he mowed down hitters in his 14 games started, with a 10.4 K/9 rate, a 2.29 ERA, and threw a complete game, which he lost. But he was so dominant, he had to be moved to triple-A, where he gave up just 1 run and 5 hits in his first two starts, combining for 12 strikeouts. Sadly he was injured in his third start, but should he pick up where he left off, keep your eye on him to be a future ace for Colorado. Or, if they choose to, they may seek a trade package even greater than what Mahoning Valley got for their young ace, Mike ‘Chump’ Piper, as Clarridge is younger and has dominated even more than Piper did.
Lugo was a minor league free agent signing in 2018, and has done well between single-A and double-A this season. A three-time winner of a Glove Wizard Award, his bat has been talked about more so than ever this year. Between the two levels he has batted .276 with 4 home runs, but he has actually hit better in triple-A. If he can continue hitting at a high level, couple that with his excellent defense, he may see some playing time for the Gold Sox in September.
Gillis has spent the entire season with the Donora Ducks, the double-A affiliate of the Gold Sox, and while his numbers don’t jump off the page, when you dig deeper you can see how dominant the young left hander has been. He’s posted a 2.69 FIP, with a 9.9 K/9 rate. While he does have good velocity, up to 99 MPH, a lot of his success comes from his diverse repertoire, including a fastball, slider, change-up, forkball and circle change. He also does well to keep the ball on the ground, and walks less than a batter a game. Watch the young lefty as he continues to reach his ceiling, as he could be scary for years with his ability to throw 5 different pitches to get a batter out.
Link to part 3.