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(Rock) Cats vs. (Sea) Dogs

June 27, 2010

For the first time since moving here to Connecticut I was able to take advantage of the fact that there is a AA team just ten minutes down the road from my apartment. The New Britain Rock Cats, Minnesota’s AA affiliate, play their games at New Britain Stadium which is just about as basic a minor league ballpark that you can find. I’ve always found minor league stadiums at the lower levels to be kind of overly simplistic, in a way. There really is just nothing to them at all. But, the lack of high facility costs is part of what allows these teams to be so cost affordable to the masses, and in particular to families, so I see the appeal to maintaining such simplicity.

Last night, the Rock Cats had a scheduled game against the Portland Sea Dogs, Boston’s AA affiliate. Naturally I was excited when I saw that one of the Red Sox’s top pitching prospects, Casey Kelly, was scheduled to start for the Sea Dogs. Drafted in the first round of the 2008 Draft, Kelly has quickly emerged as one of the more talked about prospects in Boston’s system. He split time between shortstop and the mound between the end of that 2008 campaign and the entire 2009 season. Yet, this year he has been able to focus solely on pitching, something the organization feels would allow him to reach the Majors much quicker. In his first season at AA Kelly has struggled so far, posting a 1-3 record, 5.05 ERA, and increases in his walks/9.0 innings (3.3, up from 1.5 last season) and hits/9.0 innings (11.2, up from 6.2 last season). His strikeouts/9.0 innings have increased while moving up a level (8.4, up from 7.0 last season).

Despite being young, he’ll turn 21 this coming October, Kelly does seem to have a pretty solid feel for pitching after watching him throw last night. He showed good command of multiple pitches and had solid readings on the scoreboard pitch speed display, when it was functioning of course. He was a bit inconsistent at times, however, which is likely more a sign that he’s still getting used to AA ball rather than an immaturity. Over 5 innings of work he didn’t walk a batter but did hit one. He was charged with two wild pitches which really should have been ruled passed balls by Sea Dogs catcher Luis Exposito – who’s defense was not at all impressive. Kelly did strikeout six but was hit for five runs (four earned) as the Rock Cats were able to both find the gaps and take advantage of a number of defensive miscues by the Sea Dogs.

Opposing Kelly on the mound for New Britain was Deolis Guerra, one of the key pieces Minnesota received from the Mets in the Johan Santana trade. I had been hoping to see Kyle Gibson pitch, considering he’s one of the Twins’ top pitching prospects but his turn in the rotation had been the night before. Guerra hasn’t fared much better than Kelly this season, posting a 1-6 record with a 4.32 ERA. He has split time between AA and AAA. The 6’5” right hander looked solid over the first 6 innings of his outing but the wheels completely fell off in the 7th. Two quick baserunners and Guerra’s confidence seemed to completely elude him. He’d walk the bases loaded before allowing two runs to score, in part due to poor defense behind him. He’d leave the game only to watch his replacement allow two inherited runners and two additional runners to score, thus blowing any chance at earning a win.

Twins outfield prospect Ben Revere impressed despite going 0 for 5. He showed solid range for a center fielder with a decent arm. He’s aggressive at the plate, which can be both beneficial or a detriment depending on how you look at the situation. He’ll reportedly be taking part in the All Star Futures Game in a few weeks which is a good honor. Speaking of Futures Games, the MVP of the game a few years ago, outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin, had a great day for the Sea Dogs. The center fielder went 3 for 4 with a double and 3 runs scored, was aggressive on the basepaths, and showed good range in the outfield. Unfortunately Sox shortstop prospect Jose Iglesias was unable to play due to an injury. The Rock Cats shortstop, Chris Cates, is a mere 5’3” and looked like he belonged more with the tee-ball teams in the stands than on the field. However, for someone as diminutive as he is, he did show some good athletic ability in the field.

All in all it was a good time attending the game. Portland would end up winning 8-5 thanks that the 6 runs they scored in the 7th inning. The box score, if curious, can be found here. Defensively, it was evident that we were at a AA game and not a higher level as there were a total of 6 errors in the game and at least two other plays that should have been ruled errors. On paper it should have been more of a pitching duel but poor defense can negate that almost instantaneously. But, between the cost, close proximity, and the fact that it’s baseball it’s safe to say I’ll be going again before too long. In fact, I’ve already got tickets to another game coming up in July against New Hampshire, Toronto’s AA affiliate. Let’s just hope that they don’t promote Kyle Drabek up to AAA before the game gets here. Maybe I’ll luck out and see him pitch too.

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