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TWitM: Bubba Starling can’t be stopped

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This Week in the Minors: Starling’s renaissance continues; Wilmington claims first-half championship; injury updates on Lynch and Isbel.

Bubba Starling making it look easy in Omaha’s center field
Minda Haas Kuhlmann

‘This Week in the Minors’ is our weekly look at notable performances from all over the system, from big-name prospects and less heralded guys alike. The mission is to answer this simple question: “Who had a good week?”

Today, we’ll cover results from Monday, June 3 through Sunday, June 9.

AAA Omaha Storm Chasers (31-33)

schedule | roster

Webster’s Dictionary defines “Bubba Starling” as an outfielder who is hitting a whole bunch, plays spectacular defense, and is still in Omaha. Starling went 11-for-24 this week. He also cut down an El Paso baserunner who was foolish enough to run on his arm in a one-run game in the 9th. Do they not have scouts?

If you have, take some time to watch Saturday’s game. It had everything, and concluded with an Omaha walkoff victory.

The weirdest moment: In the 6th inning, Jorge Bonifacio appeared to hit a home run. As far as anyone in the press box could tell, the ball bounced off the top of the wall and over. TrackMan had it at 410 feet, and the wall is 402 feet. Seemed solid. But THEN, the El Paso center fielder argued, convinced the umpires to convene and talk about it (can they even do that?), and they overturned the homer and called it a triple. After this long delay, El Paso decided to change pitchers. Another long delay while that happened. The new Chihuahuas pitcher promptly balked, sending Bonifacio home anyway. Baseball is hideous and yet, here we are.

Whether the “opener” is a future MLB strategy for the Royals is yet to be determined, but Omaha has embraced it in full force. Not only is that an adjustment for the openers, but the regular starters who follow them have to buy in as well. Omaha lefty Jake Kalish has excelled in this role, having really solid games behind “opens” from both Josh Staumont and Kyle Zimmer.

Richard Lovelady still has not given up a run in Omaha this season.

AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals (28-34, eliminated)

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Outfield prospect Khalil Lee put together an all-around solid week. Lee piled up eight hits, scored nine runs, walked six times, and stole four bases. Among his hits were a double, a triple, and two homers.

Anderson Miller and Nick Heath rounded out the good hitting for Naturals outfielders. Miller went 8-for-26 with two doubles and a triple. Heath was 7-for-23 with a double and a triple, as well as four walks and five stolen bases. That brings his season total to 37, an absurd number bested only by Johnny Davis in the Mexican League, who has 38.

Here’s some nifty defense from shortstop Taylor Featherston:

Also, how did the batter-runner not stab first baseman Travis Jones with his bat fragment?

Left-hander J.C. Cloney went six innings in his start this week, allowing seven hits but just one run. He struck out five and did not walk anyone - but he did plunk three (!) batters.

Brady Singer struggled mightily in his start this week, just his second one at the Double-A level. The jump from High-A is a brutal one, but Singer is noted for his baseball IQ and will likely adjust. Please refrain from panic.

A-Adv. Wilmington Blue Rocks (40-22, clinched first half title)

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In an extra-inning game Saturday night, Wilmington finished eliminating all their Northern divisional foes and claimed a spot in the playoffs. If this video does not make you smile, who even are you?

On Friday, Kris Bubic made his third start for Wilmington since his promotion, and it was a good one. Bubic struck out 10 in six shutout innings of work, walked just one, and scattered six hits.

We have been commanded to not worry about Daniel Lynch, who hasn’t pitched since he was pulled from his June 1 start after just 1 13 innings. STOP THAT WORRYING.

Speaking of injuries, the team got some rough news on center fielder Kyle Isbel:


Low-A Lexington Legends (33-29, 0.5 games back)

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Lexington won every game (!) since the last time we checked in on them. That moved them up from third place to second, and knocking at the door of Charleston (NYY).

Center fielder Michael Gigliotti did a bit of everything this week: 10 hits, including two doubles and his first homer of the season; two walks; hit by pitches twice; three stolen bases. Gigs has now stolen 25 bases on the season, tops in the South Atlantic League.

Third baseman Nathan Eaton cranked out one dozen hits this week, making this writer crave one dozen donuts, but also adding eight RBI to Lexington’s run column for the week. Eaton homered once, his third of the season, doubled twice, and stole a pair of bags.

Some pitching performances that helped keep the W’s flowing:

  • Righty Jonathan Bowlan was great twice this week. Monday, he allowed one run on two hits in seven innings. He struck out four and walked nobody. Saturday, one run scored on five hits in six innings. Bowlan struck out six and again issued no walks.
  • RHP Jon Heasley struck out five and walked zero in six innings on Thursday. He allowed one run, via solo homer, on six hits.
  • Friday, lefty Evan Steele went five innings with no earned runs allowed, five strikeouts, and one walk.
  • From the ‘pen, righty Daniel James contributed two scoreless innings twice, allowing a total of just one hit and one walk. He struck out five in his four total innings.
  • LHP Austin Lambright pitched three no-hit, shutout innings across two appearances. He walked one and struck out five.

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Did you go to any Minor League games this week? Who stood out to you? Any wacky ballpark promotions?