Kris Bryant and is offensive onslaught, have been the story of the minor leagues since the start of the 2014 season, and Monday night was no exception. The Tennessee Smokies third baseman and Cubs prospect took part in his first career home run derby, and won, launching 16 home runs out of historic Engel Stadium. Although it pales in comparisons to the gawdy totals put up at the annual Major League Home Run Derby, 16 home runs in Engel Stadium is no small feet. The park, which was in operation from 1930-1999, is reminiscent of the old spacious Polo Grounds, with a center field wall that extends 471 feet from home plate and 26 feet in the air. Mobile First-baseman and D’backs prospect Jon Griffin finished second in the derby with 13 fence-clearing drives.
Long balls ruled the next day as well in Chatanooga, as the North Division defeated the South Division in the annual Double-A Southern League All Star Contest. Center fielder Mycal Jones got things started with a solo shot in the top of the third that gave the South an early 1-0 lead. The South expanded their lead to 4-0 before right fielder Josh Richmond answered modestly back with a seeing-eye single to score Jason Rogers in the bottom of the fourth. The two teams then traded blows in the sixth, right-fielder Tyler Motter homering for the South in the top half of the inning, left-fielder Scott Schebler going deep for the north in the bottom half. An RBI single by third baseman Sean Jamieson in the top of the eighth brought the South’s lead to 6-2. The north tried to put up one last fight in the ninth, with O’Koyea Dickinson plating two on a homer, but ultimately came up short.
The South won 6-4 and Montgomery’s Taylor Motter, who went 3-3 with a home run and two runs scored, earned “Star of Star” honors.
Regular season play resumed for the Southern League Thursday afternoon, and Tennessee outfielder Rubie Silva wasted no time getting started. He went three for four with a home run in his first game, a 4-3 win over Chatanooga, before homering again and collecting another pair of hits in Friday’s 5-4 victory against the same team. Silva is now up to a .255/.301/.404 line with five home runs and 34 RBIs on the season. The 24 year old Cuban native has had much more offensive success in past seasons, so this may be the first signs of a turnaround.
Nick Ramirez of the Huntsville Stars needed only one game to get two long balls. He homered twice and drove in six as Huntsville trounced Pensacola 11-1. The shots brought the 24 year old Brewers’ prospect’s home run total up to 13 and his OPS to .831. Milwaukee has been waiting for the first baseman to start hitting since they drafted him in the fourth round in 2011; it appears he finally is.
On the other side of the ball, Justin Nicolino of Jacksonville fired a gem Saturday afternoon to earn his seventh win of the season. He threw a complete game shutout over Birmingham, striking out four and surrendering only five hits. The outing lowered Nicolino’s ERA to 3.04, but did little to raise his low strikeout-rate. The 22 year old Marlins starter has never been much for whiffs, but a K/9 of 3.8 is record-settingly low for a top prospect. Nicolino came over to Miami in the infamous Jose Reyes-Mark Buehrle-Heath Bell trade with Toronto and currently ranks 67th on MLB.com’s top 100 prospect list.