The first half of the 2008 season is in the books for the Montgomery Biscuits.
Following a 2-1 loss to the Mobile BayBears on Sunday, the Biscuits head into the second half with a 34-36 record, six games back in the Southern League South division.
As a team, the Biscuits rank in the middle of the pack of the Southern League in most offensive statistics, including walks (third), runs scored (fourth) OPS (fifth), slugging percentage (sixth) and home runs (seventh).
The club, back-to-back reigning league champions, is hitting .267/.351/.381 while scoring 277 runs through the first 70 games of the season.
Rhyne Hughes, currently on the seven-day disabled list, is the only Biscuits regular with an OPS of .800, posting a line of .278/.352/.462 with five home runs and 19 RBIs in 158 at-bats. Hughes was one of the leading hitters for the Vero Beach Devil Rays in 2007, earning an invitation to the Florida State All-Star game. After batting .329/.392/.515 with 12 homers at Vero Beach, he received a promotion to Montgomery, where he continued to produce at the plate. Hughes has been out of the lineup since June 9 with a left hamstring strain, but has been one of the more consistent offensive players for Montgomery in the first half.
Gabriel Martinez, one of only nine players in the Southern League to reach double digits in home runs at the midway point, is batting .255/.337/.421 with a club-best 10 homers and 44 RBIs. (Matt LaPorta, by the way, has a first-half OPS of 1.023 and is leading the circuit with 19 homers, perhaps silencing those who criticized the Milwaukee Brewers’ decision to select him so early in the 2007 draft out of the University of Florida). Martinez, the Biscuits’ primary DH and number three hitter, needs to improve his approach at the plate—55 strikeouts, only 25 walks—but projects to hit for a lot of power.
Outfielder Rashad Eldridge also enjoyed a solid first half, batting .301/.396/.369 in 67 games. Eldridge, who ranks seventh in the Southern League in hits (75), has the highest on-base percentage on the Biscuits and is tied for the club lead with 40 runs scored. His .396 OBP, in fact, is good for 14th in the league. The Biscuits’ center fielder, in his first year in the Tampa Bay organization, is also among leaders in stolen bases (13) as well, though he has been gunned down attempting to steal seven times. The nine-year minor league veteran, who spent last season at Double-A in the Minnesota Twins’ organization, has a history of getting thrown out to much on the base paths (80-for-125, 45 outs caught stealing), which has held him back in the past. With 36 career home runs, it is clear that he is never going to hit for a lot of power, which is why he needs to become a better overall base runner if he wishes to realistically latch on as a fourth outfielder with a big league team one day. Regardless, the 26-year-old has been a nice player in Montgomery this spring.
The Biscuits played without Eldridge on Sunday, however, and he could miss up to a month with an oblique injury.
Pitching wise, the Biscuits are being led by the dynamic duo of Wade Davis and Jake McGee, two of the flagship pitching prospects in the Rays’ farm system.
Davis, the lanky right-hander, is 6-4 with a 3.47 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 14 starts. In 80.1 innings pitched, he has surrendered 34 earned runs on 73 hits while limiting opponents to a .250 batting average. Equally impressive, he has continued to miss bats, posting a 58-to-29 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the first half. When his command is on, Davis becomes a dominant force on the mound, which is why he is regarded as one of the premier right-handed pitching prospects in the minor leagues. This was the case on Friday night, when he scattered four hits in seven shutout innings in a no-decision against Mobile.
Many scouts believe that McGee, who has a higher ceiling than Davis, is the better long-term prospect of the pair. The 22-year-old has struggled a bit at times, but has offered glimpses of his tremendous potential so far. He has enjoyed some success as well, though, posting a 6-4 record with a 3.47 ERA while limiting hitters to a .227 batting average and registering a 62-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The southpaw, who has overpowered hitters at lower levels in the past with his excellent mid-90s fastball, had some control issues in his latest outing, walking five in 4.1 innings in a no-decision on Thursday night. When he can locate his pitches—he has struggled to get his breaking pitches over for strikes over much of his minor league career —he is a difficult pitcher to face. Still, McGee is currently tied for 12th in the Southern League in strikeouts and ranks in the top 20 with 1.29 WHIP.
James Houser received a lucky break in spring training, when his 50-game suspension for testing positive for an unnamed performance-enhancing substance came to an abrupt end. Tampa Bay added the local product to its 40-man roster, protecting him from minor league rules, thus ending his ban from the minors prematurely. He still had around half of the suspension left to be served, but instead has enjoyed a nice start on the hill for the Biscuits, finishing the first half with a 2-1 record, 2.08 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in13 starts. In 65.0 innings the former Sarasota High School standout has surrendered 30 runs, 28 earned, on 69 hits while registering a 47-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Houser earned his second win on Saturday, scattering five hits and five runs—only one of which was earned, due to an ugly, error-filled sixth inning, in which the Biscuits nearly blew a seven-run lead—in 5.2 innings. He finished the game with a season-best seven strikeouts.
The Biscuits’ relief corps will get a nice boost after the break with the addition of Eduardo Morlan, one of the Rays’ top relief pitching prospects who has spent most of the first three months rehabbing a shoulder injury at the Naimoli Complex in St. Petersburg. Before going down, Morlan struggled in his first six appearances, allowing 10 earned runs in 6.2 innings pitched. He should ease his way back into the Biscuits’ closer role with time, though he has not pitched since returning to the roster on Friday. Morlan, the minor leaguer included in the package that brought Jason Barlett and Matt Garza to Tampa Bay, has an overpowering fastball and the potential to become a late-innings reliever at the major league level in the future.
Since earning a promotion from Vero Beach, right-hander Ryan Reid has earned two saves in as many opportunities, scattering two hits in his first 9.0 innings at the Double-A level. Reid’s height—5’ 11—is working against him and he does not have lights-out stuff, but it is hard to argue with the numbers. In 21 appearances with the Devil Rays, the 23-year-old was one of the strongest closers in the Florida State League, allowing only one earned run in 31.0 innings pitched while limiting hitters to a .136 batting average. The James Madison product also picked up eights saves, going 3-0 with a stellar 45-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. For his success, he was named Tampa Bay’s Minor League Pitcher of the Month for May.
It should be interesting to see if he can maintain that success in the second half at Montgomery.
The Week of Rocco: Rocco Mediate played well at the U.S. Open all week, and will look to capture the title in an 18-hole playoff on Monday with Tiger Woods. Tiger, who forced the playoff with a clutch birdie putt on 18 on Sunday, is clearly the favorite going into the day. Still, Mediate has greater odds of winning the championship than another Rocco—Baldelli, the former Tampa Bay star center fielder—has at making a full comeback to the big leagues in 2008. Baldelli, set to begin a rehab assignment with Vero Beach, is currently on the 60-day disabled list with a mitochondrial disorder. He is expected to DH in three games this week.
To contact Tyler Hissey, send an email to TylerHissey@gmail.com.