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TWitM: The Minors are back!

For the first time since September 2019, we have Minors updates!

A baseball player in white pants and a white top that reads “Storm Chasers #14” stands in the on-deck circle near a dugout, holding a bat near his waist and looking pensively off to the right.
Edward Olivares is swinging a hot bat as Omaha’s leadoff hitter.
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 Tuesday, May 4 through Sunday, May 9.

Since the last time we had a TWitM column, the whole landscape of minor league baseball has changed. MLB took over the system, made brutal cuts to dozens of towns and cities, and realigned all the leagues.

Omaha and Northwest Arkansas survived the takeover as the Triple-A and Double-A Royals affiliates, but this year we have new Single-A teams: the High-A Quad Cities River Bandits, and the Low-A Columbia Fireflies.

Among the many changes that have come along with the realignment, there is a new schedule format. All minors games will be played in six-game series. Each of the Royals affiliates and their league-mates will play from Tuesday through Sunday, and have every Monday off.

With that framework in mind, let’s get to the good stuff!

AAA Omaha Storm Chasers (4-2)

schedule | roster

The first opponent for the Chasers was the St. Paul Saints, the former indy league team that is now Minnesota’s Triple-A team. Outfielder Edward Olivares is off to a hot start, hitting .417/.500/.625 with a homer and a triple among his 10 hits. He also stole two bases, and split playing time evenly between left field and center.

Joining Olivares with 10 hits apiece are outfield prospect Kyle Isbel and corner infielder Kelvin Gutierrez.

On the mound, Omaha tabbed prospect Jackson Kowar as the opening day starter, and he did not disappoint in his Triple-A debut. That night, he struck out 9 in 5 13 shutout innings. Of the eight balls the Saints put in play, six were ground balls, and the other two were harmless flyouts.

Kowar’s Sunday start began a little rocky, with three hits and a walk in the first inning alone. After that, he started to settle in, eventually finding quite a groove. He wound up with five Ks in 5 innings.

(For more from Kowar, read the interview Clint Scoles did with him after that Sunday start!)

Triple-A debuts: Kowar; relievers Collin Snider, Jace Vines, Grant Gavin, and Andres Sotillet; SPs Carlos Hernandez and Ronald Bolaños (though they had both appeared in the Majors before!). Outfielder Anderson Miller; infielders Gabriel Cancel, Kevin Merrell, and Emmanuel Rivera; catcher Freddy Fermin. Isbel, Olivares, and catcher Meibrys Viloria have played in the Majors, but never Triple-A before this week.

AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals (2-4)

schedule | roster

The Naturals opened their season against a familiar opponent in the Arkansas Travelers, the Mariners’ AA squad. Right-hander Jonathan Bowlan made his Double-A debut on Wednesday, and struck out 10 (!) in five shutout frames. He walked just one and allowed four hits.

The next day, lefty Marcelo Martinez had a great start of his own, striking out 9 in five innings, with just a solo home run and a single surrendered.

At the plate, catcher MJ Melendez socked two dingers and walked four times in his four games.

Outfielders Dairon Blanco and Brewer Hicklen lead the league in stolen bases, with five and four, respectively.

Bobby Witt, Jr. went 4-for-20 with two stolen bases, two walks, and seven strikeouts.

Double-A debuts: Hicklen; Melendez, Witt, and fellow catcher Tyler Cropley; infielders Clay Dungan, Dennicher Carrasco, Nick Pratto, and Brhet Bewley.

Almost the entire pitching staff is new to this level! Left-handers Marcelo Martinez, Derrick Adams, and Josh Dye; right-handers Yefri Del Rosario, Dylan Coleman, Collin Snider (yes, he made debuts at two levels this week), Andres Nunez, Alec Marsh, Bowlan, Jon Heasley, Stephen Woods, and Peyton Gray.

High-A Quad Cities River Bandits (3-2)

schedule | roster

The River Bandits opened their season with a rain-shortened series against the South Bend Cubs. Lefty Angel Zerpa took the mound on opening day, and pitched a solid game in his High-A debut: 5 IP, 1 R, 7 K, 0 BB.

Asa Lacy had a dominant first two innings, then let things get away. He walked five batters in the third inning before being pulled, allowing four runs in 2 13 innings despite five strikeouts and just one hit.

High-A debuts: again, basically everyone! Infielders Nick Loftin, Nathan Eaton, Jeison Guzman, Michael Massey, Vinnie Pasquantino, and Jimmy Govern (although Govern skipped up to Omaha for six games in 2019). Outfielders Tyler Gentry, John Rave, Eric Cole, and Logan Porter all made their A+ debuts this week, as did catcher William Hancock.

Low-A Columbia Fireflies (3-3)

schedule | roster

Columbia’s season started with a series at Augusta, the Low-A affiliate of Atlanta. In their first game, Cruz Noriega pitched an immaculate inning for the Fireflies! That’s three strikeouts in nine pitches, and is fantastically rare.

RHP Adrian Alcantara piled up 10 strikeouts in 5 23 innings across two appearances.

Catcher/first baseman Felix Familia went 6-for-12 with three runs scored in his three games.

Among hitters, the only player with previous Single-A experience is infielder Rubendy Jaquez. Everyone else on the roster made their full-season debuts this week. And among pitchers, lefty Emilio Marquez is the grizzled veteran of the group, having appeared in one game for former affiliate Lexington in 2019. All other pitchers are new to the level.

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Did you go to any minor league games this week? Who stood out to you? What was the biggest change for you in the ballpark experience since the Before Times?