The Norfolk Tides used four home runs to overmatch Lehigh Valley on Thursday night for their sixth consecutive win, an 8-6 decision. The victory improved Norfolk to 29-12, a mark that paces the International League South division.
While the parent Baltimore Orioles have been winning with Buck ball, the Tides have done it largely thanks to a cast of minor league veterans trying to make another push toward a return to the big leagues.
First baseman Travis Ishikawa gave the Tides an early lead with a three-run blast in the bottom of the first inning on Thursday and he would later add a solo shot to his night. Ishikawa, who has better than three years of major league service time, produced a .757 OPS across 94 games for the Brewers a season ago, but finds himself back in Triple-A this season. So far, Ishikawa looks like a guy who doesn’t plan on staying long. His pair of moonshots gave him five on the season and pushed his slugging percentage up to .504 on the year.
While Ishikawa has produced, he’s not been the best Norfolk has to offer. Third baseman Danny Valencia finished third in the 2010 Rookie of the year balloting for the Twins, but struggled mightily over the next two seasons. Though he’s never had big power numbers in the past, the now 28-year-old swatted his 11th home run of the year as part of Norfolk’s 15 hit attack. Valencia is off to a tremendous start to the season, posting a .312 average and 25 extra-base hits leading to a slugging percentage above .600 so far. This is a guy who has a career minor league slugging percentage of just .468.
Jason Pridie has shocked everyone with his early power display. The former second round pick has amassed eight home runs for the Tides and has a .325 average and .971 OPS through the first 36 games. Couple him with former International League MVP Russ Canzler, who is off to a .294/.419/.503 start to the year and is showing the versatility of playing both infield and outfield positions, including spending some time at second base for the Tides.
The Orioles do have a strong collection of prospects, but few of them have made it up to Triple-A at this point. Infielder Jonathan Schoop and outfielder L.J. Hoes have both seen extensive playing time with the Tides this season and both have had some success, with Hoes putting up particularly strong numbers.
But Norfolk has built their record on the backs of a handful of hitters like Valencia and Iskikawa, who are looking to get their big league careers back on track, and by guys like Canzler and Pridie, who, despite strong minor league track records, are still looking for their first real shot at being full-time major leaguers.