Chris Flexen Shines in Double-A Debut

June 7th. Chris Flexen threw a five-hit shutout in his Double-A debut for the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, striking out six and not walking a batter. He starred for Binghamton as the Rumble Ponies won the second game of a doubleheader, 3-0,  against the Richmond Flying Squirrels after losing the first game.

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Flexen, at 6′-3″, is a commanding presence on the mound. 

Flexen needed only 83 pitches to complete his seven-inning shutout. His pitches ranged from 74 mph (curveball) to 94 mph (four-seam fastball), with 63 of his pitches being strikes. His fastball had good movement low in the strike zone, resulting in 11 ground ball outs, with very few balls being hit hard against him.

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Colton Plaia and Flexen celebrate their team’s 3-0 win against the Richmond Flying Squirrels. 

Flexen, a 14th-round selection in the 2012 amateur draft, entered the season as the 22nd prospect in the Mets organization, according to Baseball America.  His repertoire agains the Flying Squirrels included a fastball, slider, and curve. Tonight was only his fourth start of the season, as he had been rehabbing a knee injury for the first six weeks of the season.

Before his promotion to Binghamton, Flexen had started three games in a rehab stint at St. Lucie, going 0-0 with a 2.13 E.R.A. Flexen spent all of 2016 in St. Lucie, winning 10 games and striking out 95 hitters in 125 innings.

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Former major league All-Star pitcher Al Downing threw out the first pitch of the doubleheader. The Rumble Ponies lost the opener, 8-2.

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Arcadia Publishing Has Huge Sale Going on Now–45% Off!

Go to the Arcadia Publishing web site to sign up for great deals for books on your favorite sport! 45% off sale going right now for Father’s Day! The following books are available with a few clicks on the keyboard:

Spring Training with the Washington Nationals, now available for $13.72 (regular price is $24.95)

Spring Training with the Mets in Port St. Lucie, now available for $13.72 (regular price is $24.95)

Images of Modern America: Around Binghamton, now available for $12.64 (regular price is $22.99)

Golf in Broome County, now available for $12.64 (regular price is $22.99)

Click here to go to Arcadia’s web site and find books authored by Jim Maggiore. (The sale price will be reflected after you put the book(s) in your cart.)

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Richmond Visits Binghamton for the Only Time this Week (June 6-8)

The Richmond Flying Squirrels come into Binghamton in last place in the Western Division of the Eastern League, with a 22-33 record. Though the team has a large number of prospects ranked within the top 30 for the San Francisco organization, the team has been hampered by disappointing pitching.

Here’s a quick review of the team’s top tier of prospects, with their organizational ranking in parenthesis. (Note: These rankings are based on Baseball America, with much of the material based on Baseball America’s 2016 Prospect Handbook.)

Andrew Suarez (5): The 24-year-old southpaw returns for his second season with Richmond. Last year he went 7-7 with a 3.95 E.R.A. in 19 starts. He was signed for a little over $1M after being drafted in the second round in the 2015 amateur draft after his senior season at the University of Miami. Suarez has excellent control, as entering this season he had walked only 34 batters in 183 minor league innings.  His fastball sites in the 89-93 mph range, making him a left-handed prospect version of Seth Lugo. Suarez has pitched well thus far, despite holding a 3-4 record. He has an E.R.A. of 2.98 in 60 innings.

Sam Coonrod (11): The 6’-2” right hander was a fifth round pick in the 2014 amateur draft and returns for a second tour of duty with Richmond. In 13 starts last year he went 4-3 for the Flying Squirrels, posting a 3.03 E.R.A., allowing 59 hits in 77 innings. His fastball ranges from 90-94 mph and has good downward movement the lower he throws it. His second best pitch is his slider, while his changeup is still developing. Coonrod has struck out 46 hitters in 41 innings for Richmond thus far, but has struggled overall, posting a 1-6 record and a 5.06 E.R.A.

Reyes Moronta (12): The 24-year-old right hander was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2010, but did not pitch in organized leagues until 2014. Last year he used his outstanding fastball (he has touched 100 mph with it) to strike out 93 batters in 59 innings at San Jose (High A). He assumed closer duties for San Jose after Rodolfo Martinez was promoted to Richmond. Moronta has saved 5 games this season, striking out 26 hitters in 18 innings.

Rodolfo Martinez (#14): The 6’-2” right hander was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2013 and has hit triple digits with his fastball. He returns for his second stint in Double-A, after going 0-3 with a 6.65 E.R.A. for Richmond last season. Before his mid-season promotion to Richmond last year, Martinez dominated the California League (High A), posting an astounding 0.88 E.R.A. with 21 saves.  Martinez is struggling thus far with Richmond, as he comes into Binghamton with a 5.63 E.R.A.

CJ Hinojosa (#16): The 5’-10” shortstop, who was drafted in the 11th round out of the University of Texas in the 2015 draft, returns for his second season in Double-A. In 226 at-bats last season he hit .248 with 3 home runs for the Flying Squirrels. Scouts currently project him as utility infielder in the majors.  Hinojosa comes into the series with Binghamton hitting .226 in 84 at-bats.

Cory Taylor (#20): The 6’-2” right hander was drafted in the 8th round in the 2015 draft, out of Dallas Baptist University. He started two games for Richmond last season, going 1-0 with a 0.75 E.R.A. At this stage he is primarily a sinker (90-94 mph) and slider (82-84 mph) pitcher, with his changeup being a work in progress. Taylor is off to a bit of a slow start this year, going 2-4 with a 4.84 E.R.A. as of this writing.

Matt Gage (#28): The 6’-4” left hander was drafted out of Siena College in the 10th round of the 2014 draft. He spent all of 2016 with Richmond, going 9-7 with a 3.38 E.R.A. The southpaw has a full repertoire of pitches, including a fastball, curve, slider, changeup, and cutter. He is the prototypical “crafty lefty,” as he maxes out at 92 mph on the radar gun. He comes into the series with Binghamton with a 2-4 record and a 3.68 E.R.A. with 51 innings under his belt.

Miguel Gomez (#30): The 5’-10” third baseman was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2011 and was added to San Francisco’s 40-man roster in the offseason. He has hit .314 in 1,205 minor-league at-bats. He comes into Binghamton with a .319 batting average, 5 homers and 37 runs batted in.

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Lugo Shows He’s Ready to Return to the Show

Seth Lugo pitched superbly in his second rehab start for the Rumble Ponies, as he and his new teammates beat the Portland Sea Dogs, 5-1, in the first game of a double header on Saturday, June 3rd.

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Lugo was finishing all his pitches against Portland, showing no ill effects from the partial ligament tear in his elbow that occurred in spring training. 

The only run Lugo gave up was a fourth-inning homer to Rafael Devers, a top prospect in the Boston organization. Ironically, before Devers launched his home run to left centerfield, Lugo had made him look foolish on two curveballs. Devers had swung and missed mightily at both and had corkscrewed himself into the ground on the second curveball. But Devers was ready when Lugo then tried to sneak a fastball by him, as he hit the 93 mph offering from Lugo over 380 feet to put Portland on the board. The only other difficulty in the game for Lugo came in the sixth inning when he allowed three straight singles to Danny Mars, Tzu-Wei Lin, and Rafael Devers. Lugo escaped without allowing a run as Mars made the second out of the inning when he was thrown out trying to stretch his single into a double. Lugo struck out Nick Longhi to close out the inning and then went on to strike out the side in the seventh to close out his complete game.

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Lugo and his catcher, Tomas Nido, left, sat next to each other in the dugout. Here they discuss some pitch sequences. 

Lugo did not walk a batter and struck out eight, mixing in a variety of off-speed pitches throughout the game. Of his 94 pitches, approximately 60% were fastballs and 20-25% were curveballs. After establishing his fastball in the first three innings, Lugo kept the Portland hitters off balance by increasing the frequency with which he threw off-speed pitches in the second half of the game. Lugo did not throw his first curveball until the fourth inning, but it became a big weapon for him during the final four innings.

Lugo’s fastball sat in the 88-92 range and touched 94 mph; his big-breaking curve ranged from 73-75 mph.  He exhibited excellent control and command throughout the game and showed he is ready to return to the big leagues. In his earlier start with the Rumble Ponies, Lugo lacked a bit of command, as he left more than a few pitches up in the zone, though he only allowed three runs in six innings.

The key to how well Lugo pitches in the majors will be how well he commands his pitches. He will need to keep his fastball low in the zone and his big-breaking curve on the corners of the plate. Against Portland he showed he is healthy enough to bring his game to the major leagues.

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Lugo was focused throughout the game, being carefu to watch the action on the field, but not be distracted by watching the X-Pogo Stunt Team that performed between innings. 

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Player Profile: Tyler Pill

Tyler Pill becomes the latest pitcher (Adam Wilk, Rafael Montero, and Tom Milone have preceded him) to fill the fifth spot in the rotation for the Mets tomorrow, as he gets a start against the Milwaukee Brewers at Citi Field. When he takes the mound, he’ll have all the baseball fans in the Binghamton area rooting for him in a big way. During his lengthy stay in Binghamton, Pill gained a boatload of fans for his actions on and off the field. Pill holds the franchise record for all-time wins at Binghamton, as since 2013 he has won 26 times for the city. In 2014 he won his last 9 decisions to help propel Binghamton to the Eastern League championship. In 2015 he started the season 6-0 and posted a 2.08 E.R.A. before getting a promotion to Las Vegas.  After starting this season with two outstanding starts for Binghamotn, Pill found himself in Vegas and now, a little over a month later, he finds himself at Citi Field.

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Tyler Pill, on the right, is all smiles at the Binghamton’s Welcome Home dinner this April. First baseman Matt Oberste is on his right. 

As impressive as Tyler has been on the mound, however, he has been even more impressive off of it. During his Binghamton sojourns he constantly had a smile on his face and always had time to engage in conversation with fans. During spring training he would call out to Binghamton-area fans who visited the backfields of St. Lucie before they would even call out to him. As a personality, he reminds you of David Wright—just about the perfect ambassador for being a professional ballplayer.

On the mound, think Seth Lugo, but with a fastball that is a 2-3 miles slower. Pill throws an assortment of pitches (fastball, slider, curve, changeup), with his biggest strength being his command. His success for Binghamton and Las Vegas this year can be traced to his walking a little over two batters per game and keeping hitters from squaring up the ball.  Going back further into the Mets memory banks for pitchers with similar “under the radar” profiles, the names of Yusmeiro Petit, Dillon Gee, and Collin McHugh come to mind. All are still pitching in the big leagues and have been successful. Pill is another one of those under the radar guys who has the ability to surprise a lot of people.

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Pill catches up with his parents before a game last August. 

Here’s hoping the surprise stops tomorrow and Pill becomes the Seth Lugo/Robert Gsellman of 2017.

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Seth Lugo Solid in Rehab Appearance for the Binghamton Rumble Ponies

By Jim Maggiore

Seth Lugo turned in a solid effort against the Hartford Yard Goats on Sunday, May 28th, as he limited the Yard Goats to three runs on eight hits, while he struck out seven and walked two. After pitching superbly for the first three innings, Lugo faltered in the fourth inning as he left some pitches up and over the middle of the plate. In addition to giving up three hits in the fourth, Lugo also walked two batters, enabling the Yard Goats to score three times. The Yard Goats, the Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, beat the Rumble Ponies, 3-2.

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Lugo throws a warm-up pitch before the third inning on May 28th.

Through the first three innings Lugo gave up only two hits and struck out three as he threw his 90-91 mph fastball approximately 50% of the time. In the fourth inning he started going to his secondary pitches at an increased rate and it took most of the inning for him to gain command of his curveball and changeup. In his final two innings, Lugo broke off some excellent, big-breaking curveballs to keep Harford’s hitters off balance.

I charted his pitches during the game and my tally had Lugo throwing 80 pitches; approximately 25% of those were curves while 55-60% were fastballs. Lugo also sprinkled in sliders and changeups to complete his repertoire. Lugo touched 94 on the stadium radar gun two times and his slowest pitch of the evening came on a 73 mph curveball.  In an ideal world, Lugo would probably get one more rehab start, to stretch him out to 100 pitches and give him some more time to develop full command of his secondary pitches. But let’s remember that these are not ideal times for the New York Mets. They need pitching help now.

Lugo showed no ill effects from his elbow injury, as his velocity and pitching mechanics looked just fine. Chances are excellent his next appearance will be in a New York Mets uniform, as a logical progression would be for him to add another 15-20 pitches in his next outing, which would set him up to return to the Mets rotation. Much of Lugo’s success in his call-up to the Mets last season (5-2 2.67 E.R.A. in 64 innings pitched) was due to his ability to “pitch to contact” and command the strike zone, and in five of his six innings agains Hartford he did just that.

As for the game, Ryan Castellani, the sixth-rated prospect in the Rockies organization, outpitched Lugo, as he held the Rumble Ponies to one run in eight innings and did not walk a batter. It was an exciting game, as the Rumble Ponies scored a run in the ninth and had the tying run thrown out at the plate on the final play of the game.

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After an error by Ryan McMahon, the second baseman, manager Luis Rojas waved Stuart home from second, but McMahon quickly retrieved the baseball and thew Stuart out at home to end the game.

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Binghamton hosts the Hartford Yard Goats for Memorial Day Weekend

The Hartford Yard Goats, the Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies come to Rumbletown this weekend with a 21-24 record, which puts them in fifth place in the Eastern Division of the Eastern League, three spots behind Binghamton.

Hartford comes to town with six of its players ranked within the top 30 prospects in the organization, according to Baseball America (respective ranking shown in parenthesis):

Ryan Castellani (#6): This right-handed power pitcher only turned 21 on April 1st. He signed for a 1.1M bonus after being drafted out of high school in the second round of the 2014 draft.  He primarily throws three pitches—a fastball, slider and changeup, with his fastball registering in the 93-95 mph range. In 47 innings this year, he has struck out 46 hitters, posting a 3-4 record with a 5.94 E.R.A.

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Castellani throws a changeup against the Rumble Ponies on May 28th.

Ryan McMahon (#9): Back for his second season with Hartford, the 1B-3B is finding Eastern League pitching much more to his liking the second time around. The 2013 second-round draft pick is currently hitting .325, with 6 home runs and 29 RBIs.

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McMahon stays inside the ball. 

Dom Nunez (#12): The lefty-hitting catcher has had a slow offensive start to the season, as he brings a .198 batting average in 96 at-bats into the Memorial Day weekend. Nunez was drafted in the 6th round in the 2013 amateur draft out of Elk Grove High School in California. At this point in his development, Nunez’s defensive skills surpass his offensive talents; he threw out 43% of runners attempting to steal in the California League last year.  

Yency Almonte (#17): The 6’3” right-handed pitcher will turn 23 next week (June 4th). Almonte was drafted in the 17th round by the Angels in the 2012 amateur draft. The Rockies traded Tommy Kahnle for him after the 2016 season and the Rockies have been impressed with his start to the Double-A season, as he is 2-0 with a 1.37 E.R.A. in 26 innings. Almonte has an excellent fastball and can touch 98 mph; his changeup and slider are less effective, but show promise. After adding 25 pounds to his frame, Almonte saw a dramatic increase in his fastball velocity last season.

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Almonte delivers against the Rumble Ponies on May 27th, 2017.

Sam Howard (#18): The 6’3” lefthander is back for his second stay with Hartford, as last year he won 5 games and posted a 3.99 E.R.A. in 90 innings. He has excelled for Hartford thus far, entering the weekend with 1.67 E.R.A in 32 innings. Howard was drafted in the 3rd round out of Georgia Southern in the 2014 amateur draft. He relies on a fastball and changeup; his third pitch is his slider. His fastball sits in the 92-93 mph range.

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Howard in action in 2016.

Parker French (#25): The 6’2” right hander is coming off a solid season in the California League, where he posted an 8-9 record with a 2.85 E.R.A. and struck out 109 batters in 155 innings. The 24-year-old has gotten off to a rough start in his first season at Double-A, coming into the weekend with a 3-4 record and 5.03 E.R.A. His repertoire includes a two-seam (88-89 mph) and four seam (92-93 mph) fastball, slider and changeup. French was drafted in the fifth round of the 2015 draft after completing his senior season at the University of Texas.

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