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This Week in the Minors: the second half begins

Northwest Arkansas is off to a 4-2 start in the season's second half; Wilmington and Lexington are not faring as well. Several players rehabbed this week: Alex Gordon at two levels; Kris Medlen with Omaha; and Raul Mondesi as he completes his PED suspension.

Alex Gordon and Hunter Dozier having some kind of moment in the Omaha dugout.
Alex Gordon and Hunter Dozier having some kind of moment in the Omaha dugout.
Minda Haas Kuhlmann

This is our weekly look at notable performances from all over the system, from big-name prospects and less heralded guys alike. Today's column covers games from Monday, June 20 through Sunday, June 26.

AAA Omaha Storm Chasers (32-43)

schedule | roster

The Storm Chasers hosted two games of Alex Gordon's rehab assignment this week. He drew three walks and hit three singles, and struck out twice. RHP Kris Medlen also rehabbed with Omaha, throwing 69 pitches in 4.2 innings. He struck out five and walked one, and allowed one run on two hits.

Third baseman Hunter Dozier had a nice week, with seven hits including three doubles in seven games. Perhaps more impressively, he drew seven walks against just four strikeouts.

Tony Cruz doubled twice and hit a home run as part of his 7-for-21 week. Cruz is a veteran catcher, but this week he played first base three times, and DH three times. Parker Morin (age 24, batting .163/.262/.217 -- no, that SLG is not a typo) has caught the majority of Omaha's games this month, with Luis Villegas up from Wilmington to back him up.

Right-hander Brooks Pounders was moved to the Omaha bullpen a little over a month ago. In his one outing this week, he faced 11 batters in three innings, and struck out seven of them. The next night, righty Alec Mills picked up his second 'W' in as many starts -- ever -- at the Triple-A level.

AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals (33-43 overall; 4-2 in second half)

schedule | roster

Center fielder Bubba Starling did not do much to bolster his sluggish season numbers this week, adding just three hits. One of those was his 5th homer of the season, and his line now stands at .186/.251/.327 through 60 games. Elsewhere in important Starling updates, he caught this fish:

All star break=Fishing!

A photo posted by Bubba Starling (@bubbastar10) on


First baseman/designated hitter Frank Schwindel led the Northwest Arkansas offense with his 10-hit week, including a pair of doubles and three (!) home runs. He also only struck out twice, in 25 plate appearances. Fellow 1B/DH Ryan O'Hearn continued to also mix in some time in left field, and also had a solid week at the plate. O'Hearn homered twice and doubled four times in 31 PA.

Also with nine hits was third baseman Mauricio Ramos. Ramos played a lot of first base for the Naturals early in the season, prior to O'Hearn's promotion which created a crowd there. Ramos has played third almost exclusively since May 1.

Lefty starter Eric Skoglund struck out five and walked none in a seven-inning victory on Friday. By Game Score, Friday's start was tied for his best outing of the season at 72. Right-hander Pedro Fernandez went deep on Tuesday, lasting 7.2 innings with five Ks, two one walk, four hits, and two runs surrendered. He followed that up with just 3.1 innings on Sunday, allowing six hits and three runs.

Right-handed reliever Aroni Nina started the season with Omaha, but was injured after just two outings. He has returned to game action, but was moved to Northwest Arkansas.

A-Adv. Wilmington Blue Rocks (28-45 overall; 1-3 in second half)

schedule | roster

The Carolina League all star game was on Tuesday, shortening this week to four games for the Blue Rocks.

First baseman Samir Duenez, who just turned 20 on June 11, was promoted to Wilmington over the break. He had played 210 games for Lexington across three seasons, and improved at the plate each year.

Shortstop Raul Mondesi is playing again, officially as a rehab assignment as he finishes out his 50-game drug suspension. Tod Palmer of the Kansas City Star explained how a rehab assignment works for a minor leaguer:

If there are no rainouts for the Naturals, Mondesi will be eligible to return to Northwest Arkansas on July 4, but he is allowed to begin a rehab assignment 10 days early because he’s on the Royals’ 40-man roster.

"It’s never good to miss time, miss at-bats, miss repetition, but, at the same time, mentally it’s probably put some things in perspective for him," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said.

Minor-leaguers not protected on the parent club’s 40-man roster aren’t permitted such rehab assignments, though Mondesi will not be paid during the rehab stint.

RHP Corey Ray had perhaps his best start of the season on Friday, pitching six innings and letting in just one run. He did walk three, but limited the damage by allowing just two hits and striking out four. Since Ray was promoted to Wilmington a month ago, he has averaged more innings per start than he did to start the season in Lexington.

Read more here:

A Lexington Legends (25-48 overall; 0-4 in second half)

schedule | roster

Lexington hosted the South Atlantic League all star game on Tuesday, so they only had four regular games. First baseman Brandon Dulin has rejoined the Legends after missing two months due to a collapsed lung. Dulin spent nine days in Intensive Care, and yet is somehow still a) alive and b) playing professional baseball.

Second baseman DJ Burt hit in each of his games played this week to extend his hit streak to 10 games. Six of those 10 have been multi-hit games. Burt, a 4th-round pick from the 2014 draft, is hitting .252/.336/.345 on the season.

* * * * * *

It is, all of a sudden, late June. It is no longer "early" for guys who are struggling at new levels. With someone like Bubba Starling, what would you do at this point in a season? Would a demotion do any good? Would it be actively harmful?

Bonus question: what is the conversation between Alex Gordon and Hunter Dozier in the photo up there?