Status Update 5/26: Super Hero Night Heroics Requested

TaylorWidener_2_DannyParker
Taylor Widener may as well wear a cape: The right-hander leads the Southern League with 70 strikeouts in 10 starts, and the Generals are 8-2 in games where he has pitched. (Photo credit: Danny Parker)

On Friday evening, the Generals collected their 28th win in 2018, staying right in the hunt for the North Division’s First Half title with a 5-2 victory over Birmingham. It was a strong example of the formula they’ve used of late to win games: strong starting pitching, veteran hitting, and clean defense. Even while missing six of their position players, the Generals have soldiered their way to the third-best record in the league, bouncing back from a 6-16 mark in late April and early May to 7-3 over their past ten games. It’s not easy to do that when:

*Both of your Opening Day catchers are hurt.

*Your second baseman–the league leader in hits and doubles–is hurt.

*You’re missing your RBI-happy third baseman.

*Two of your Opening Day outfielders–who each led the league in steals–are down.

Not only have the Generals found ways to accomplish their nightly missions–they’ve done it with a variety of personnel that might make a Cirque de Soleil crew gasp. Here are a few of their super heroes:

Querecuto-Cribbs-CreditJohnSewell
Generals third baseman Juniel Querecuto (Photo credit: John Sewell)

*JUNIEL QUERECUTO: A former Montgomery Biscuit (2015/2016), he’s had a tremendous start to the year and has become a stabilizing force at third base in Marty Herum’s absence. He’s the Southern League leader in batting average, and he’s the top General in OPS and stolen bases as well. Beyond his ability to play three different infield positions at an above-average level, Querecuto also sports the best line-drive rate in the league according to FanGraphs.com, stroking 28.5% of his hits on frozen ropes. Querecuto has as good a case for a spot in June 19’s Southern League All-Star Game as any other third baseman in the league.

*TAYLOR WIDENER: Arriving in Arizona in February after being traded from the New York Yankees, Widener has done nothing but make opponents eat strikes. According to FanGraphs.com, Widener’s got the highest difference between strikeout percentage (36%) and walk percentage (8%) in the league, at 28%. What’s that mean? He the guy who’s most likely to ring you up, and you’ve got the smallest chance of getting on base for free. Widener’s fastball-slider-changeup mix has been toxic for hits, too–Widener is one of only three pitchers holding opposing hitters to a batting average beneath .200. If he keeps this up, there’s a chance he’ll see Triple-A Reno competition before the year is out.

Gabe Speier pitching 2017 2
Generals left-hander Gabe Speier (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

*GABE SPEIER: Quietly earning the Diamondbacks’ Double-A Pitcher of the Month in April, Speier has continued to prove a reliable left-handed option for the Generals. What Speier does well sometimes is difficult to see, but consider this: Speier keeps the ball on the ground, and he’s rarely allowed hard contact. Speier has allowed fewer than 10% of hits against him to be line drives, and his 64% ground ball rate is among the league’s best. Speier may be a long shot to earn a spot in the Southern League’s All-Star Game because of a lack of stand-out statistics and a few rough outings in late May. That being said, he’s a guy who can be an important piece on a Southern League Championship team–the Generals will likely feature a sure-handed Speier if they get that far.

 

 

Advertisements

Status Update on the Generals 5/22: A Week In Florida Does A Body Good

Donatella-Young dominant
Justin Donatella and Alex Young set the tone for the Generals’ rotation in Pensacola, where the squad went 5-0 and gave up just 4 runs over five games. (Photo Credits: Kyle Carter/Cody Cunningham)

Two weeks into the 2018 season, the Jackson Generals’ starting rotation looked rock solid. The Generals starters–which included three of the Diamondbacks’ top 30 prospects in Jon Duplantier, Alex Young, and Taylor Widener–were in the midst of helping the team net series wins over Birmingham and Chattanooga. Shelley Duncan’s crew was en route to a franchise-best 15-2 start to the season, and the pitching staff’s 2.64 ERA in April was far and away the league’s best mark.

These seasons, however, are long, and streaky, as the team soon found.

Injuries to the team’s catchers certainly impacted the Generals’ arms. After losing Alberto Rosario and Matt Jones, the Generals rotation seemed to destabilize, as their ERA skyrocketed and they lost 10 of their next 13 games. It didn’t help that the team’s best reliever, Colin Poche, was plucked from the staff to complete a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays. Combined with a rash of injuries to the Generals’ offense, the pitching staff’s woes produced a lousy record that had only been temporarily hidden by an uptick in early-season runs scored. At the close of Jackson’s series with Mississippi on May 18, the Generals had not won a series since April 23. Things needed to change.

Whether it was simply the Floridian sunshine, a scuffling opponent, or something entirely unmeasurable, the Generals were able to hit the ground running in Pensacola. Justin Donatella set the tone in game one by working through a rough 2-run first inning and finishing seven innings without allowing another run. The Generals trailed by two at the time, but the Pensacola bullpen capsized over the final two innings, allowing Jackson to steal a 3-2 victory after 5 walks, a hit, an error, and a hit batsman in the span of six outs. The game was suspended due to rain just after the go-ahead run crossed home for Jackson, but Gabe Speier managed to earn the save when play resumed on Friday.

Donatella’s determination proved critical to the Generals’ victory, and the rest of the staff seemed to base their marching orders off the Californian’s efforts. Alex Young followed  by delivering eight shutout innings in Game 2, and Taylor Widener fired eleven strikeouts in a series-clinching victory in Game 3, giving the Generals their first series win since April 23. Ryan Atkinson and Jon Duplantier would join their brethren with six-inning shutout efforts each, as Jackson clamped down late in the series on a scuffling Pensacola offense.

The rotation finished the series 4-0 with an 0.62 ERA, throwing 34.0 of the 43.0 innings worked over the five-game set (with game 5 shortened due to a rain delay and travel concerns). In the sweep, the Generals climbed within 1.5 games of first-place Chattanooga in the North Division, sidling up to the Lookouts entering the final 25 games of the season’s First Half. If the Generals can manage to get similarly strong performances down the stretch from their rotation, they will be in position to vie for the First Half crown. They’ll begin the stretch run with a five-game visit from the Birmingham Barons–whom they swept in mid-April–before a day off and a trip to Montgomery. With any luck, Doug Drabek’s staff can be as formidable as any unit in the league by the time June rolls in.

Status Update on the Generals: 5/12/18 – Some Weeks, You Just Can’t Win

Jamie Westbrook Shelley Duncan look 3B
“Skipper, this has been a pretty rough week. What can we do?” / “Same thing we do every night, Westy: Try to score more runs than the other guys.” (Photo Credit: Cody Cunningham)

Life can be a preposterously unfair thing. On April 24, you might wake up on top of the Minor League Baseball world, off to the best start in franchise history at 15-2. And yet, you could very well wake up 18 days later and find yourself scuffling through a six-game skid.

Yep, sounds like baseball. Streaks happen when you play every day.

As they arrive home to take on the Mississippi Braves on May 12, the Jackson Generals are mired in a 2-8 opening to the month of May, having fallen 2.5 games behind Chattanooga in the standings after being swept out of East Tennessee in a five-game set.

The biggest reason? Injuries. Five Generals position players–infielder Marty Herum, catchers Matt Jones and Alberto Rosario, and outfielders Jay Gonzalez and Ben DeLuzio–have landed on the disabled list since the Generals’ 15-2 start, and losing more than half of your starting lineup always stings.  Herum and Gonzalez have had the worst of the luck, as each one has already been placed on the DL twice in the 2018 campaign.

In their auspicious April, the Generals went 17-7, scored 5.6 runs per game, held a .793 OPS, kept opponents to a .218 batting average, and allowed 2.64 earned runs per game.

In their migraine-inducing May–which has featured just eight total at-bats from the five injured players–the Generals are 2-8, scoring 4.2 runs per game, holding a .711 OPS and allowing opponents to hit .289 against them while giving up 5.56 earned runs per game. If you’re defense-minded, Jackson’s may has upset you as well: they’ve made five errors in the past four games alone, costing themselves 4 runs in the process. (This, after a month of April in which they made 12 errors total.)

One thing that hasn’t come along as quickly as many hoped: the work of the Generals’ starting rotation. In their last 10 games, they have allowed 35 earned runs in 48 innings, an ERA of 6.56. Three of the starters–Jon Duplantier, Taylor Widener, and Alex Young–are ranked in MLBPipeline.com’s Top 30 Arizona Diamondbacks prospects. It’s still early in the year, and Widener and Duplantier are pitching their first full seasons at this level.  Young looks a bit more comfortable, having won four times and thrown the most innings of anybody in the rotation thus far. But nobody will argue that a 6.56 ERA will do the Generals no favors, especially when hamstrung by a banged-up lineup.

Here are the Generals’ best performers in their ten May games (30+ AB or 5.0 IP):

*INF Kevin Medrano –  .941 OPS, 16 H, 4 D, 6 RBI, 2 BB

*INF Juniel Querecuto – .900 OPS, 13 H, 5 D, 3 RBI, 3 BB, 2 SB

*UTL Jose Vinicio – .707 OPS, 12 H, 3 D, 1 T, 3 RBI

*LF Jamie Westbrook –   .882 OPS, 11 H, 6 D, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 2 BB

*LHP Kirby Bellow – 0.00 ERA, 5.0 IP, 7 K, 1.00 WHIP, .111 BAA

*RHP Joel Payamps – 3.00 ERA, 6.0 IP, 2 K, 1.00 WHIP, .227 AVG

Last time this squad played Mississippi (in late April), they dropped a 3-2 series, but Querecuto–the active Southern League Leader in batting average, currently at .382–went 9-for-20 against M-Braves pitching. On the hill against Mississippi, Duplantier was one of five Generals pitchers to work 2.0+ innings and not allow an earned run, joined in that category by lefty Gabe Speier and right-handers Yoan Lopez, Mason McCullough, and Joel Payamps.

The M-Braves have six of MLBPipeline.com’s Top 30 Atlanta Braves prospects on their team, including starting pitchers Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint, and Bryse Wilson. They also feature former Mariners prospect Alex Jackson behind the plate, joined by left fielder Travis Demeritte and bullpen arm Josh Graham. Mississippi is managed by Chris Maloney, and the former St. Louis Cardinals third base coach has them off to a 15-20 start (4-6 in May).

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE JACKSON GENERALS, you can:

-Log on to JacksonGeneralsBaseball.com

-Call 731.988.5299

-Check out our SoundCloud archive with manager Shelley Duncan – SoundCloud.com/JacksonGenerals

-Follow us on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram: “at”JacksonGenerals or Facebook.com/JacksonGenerals

Status Update on the Generals: 5/1/2018

Duplantier-2-CreditJohnSewell 960
Generals right-hander Jon Duplantier, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ No. 1 prospect, has won his first two starts at Double-A, striking out 14 batters in 10.0 innings. (Photo Credit: John Sewell)

It’s official: If you’re a Generals fan–and by reading this, you are, whether you know it or not–you’ve never seen a start to the season quite like the Generals had in 2018. First year manager Shelley Duncan guided the club to a Minor League Baseball-best 15-2 mark in their first 17 games, helped by an impressive nine-game winning streak. Jackson had the nation’s top team!

How does a squad with no position players ranked in Arizona’s top 30 prospects shoot to the top of Minor League Baseball?

Continue reading

Status Update on the Generals: 4/13/18

TaylorWidener_3_DannyParker
Right-hander Taylor Widener struck out eight batters in his five-inning start vs. Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Danny Parker – @TheDannyParker on Twitter/Instagram)

The 2018 Jackson Generals are off to a hot start, beginning their first campaign under manager Shelley Duncan with a 6-1 record. In their opening series against the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, the Generals tore the cover off the ball offensively in their first two contests, scoring a total of 21 runs across 32 hits in a pair of wins. Over the three contests that followed, Jackson went 2-1 despite scoring only six runs. The West Tennessee bunch pulled off back-to-back walk-off wins against the Jumbo Shrimp to improve to 4-1, helped by 14 consecutive scoreless innings from their bullpen over the last four games of the series. Continue reading

Jared Miller Overcomes Rough Start To 2017, Earns 40-Man Roster Spot

Miller_Jared
2017 Generals reliever Jared Miller overcame a scuffling April, dropping his ERA almost 5.00 points over the next two months. (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

At six-foot-seven, Jared Miller is decidedly big. And in 2018, the 2017 Jackson General may reach an even greater height: big-league reliever.

After completing a 2017 campaign that featured a 2.93 ERA in 70.2 innings between Jackson and Triple-A Reno, Arizona made the 24-year-old Miller the youngest pitcher on their 40-man roster in November. As a consequence of that early Christmas present, the former Vanderbilt Commodore will get the chance to prove himself worthy of a Major League look in 2018 Spring Training.

“I was at home [in Indianapolis], hanging out. I think the 40-man deadline was around seven o’clock that night,” Miller said of getting the news. “I was expecting to be added, but I didn’t get a call until pretty close to that deadline, so you kind of get anxious and start to wonder if they have different plans or what’s going on. But then I got the call from [Diamondbacks vice president of player development] Mike Bell, and the good news followed that.”

April, The Cruelest Month

Believe it or not, Miller’s 2017 season began at Jackson in choppy seas. His second outing of the year saw him give up three earned runs in one inning of work against Birmingham, as the Generals’ bullpen allowed the Barons to rally from a two-run deficit for the win.

Miller knuckled down for three straight scoreless appearances thereafter, but a nightmarish April 20 outing against Montgomery gave spectators some pause. Who was this imposter, the guy giving up seven earned runs in one third of an inning? Where was the real Jared Miller?

Continue reading

Brad Keller Rides Strong 2017 Second Half to Rule 5 Draft, Trade

Keller 960 (2)
Brad Keller was one of two Generals selected in the December 2017 MLB Rule 5 Draft. (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

It’s not real until it is. That’s how 2017 Jackson Generals pitcher Brad Keller felt about his Rule 5 Draft selection on Thursday.

“Some people were telling me it might happen, and I didn’t really believe it,” the 22-year-old Keller said. “I thought that would be a pretty cool situation if it did happen, but I didn’t put too much thought into it. My agent kind of downplayed it, saying ‘It’s like, 50-50, we’ll see, it should be interesting.’ And I was like, alright, whatever.”

Sitting at the breakfast table in his Atlanta area home, the six-foot-five right-hander saw a familiar name drafted early: 2017 Generals outfielder Victor Reyes went first overall to the Detroit Tigers. Still, no strong premonitions for Keller.

Continue reading