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Nick Loftin making noise in Omaha

This Week in the Minors: Nick Loftin making a case; a six-strikeout debut among tons of great pitching at Columbia

‘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?”

This Week in the Minors: Tuesday, April 11 to Sunday, April 16

AAA Omaha Storm Chasers (7-6)

schedule | roster

The Storm Chasers only got to play four of their six-game set against the Iowa Cubs, and the teams split the shortened series 2-2. It was a high-scoring series on both sides, with Omaha scoring 27 and Iowa totaling 37 runs.

Nick Loftin has played exclusively third base for Omaha this season, after mixing in time at second base, shortstop, center field, and left field over the past two years. This week, he homered twice and doubled twice, part of an 8-hit attack overall. On the season so far, Loftin is slashing .302/.326/.628.

After getting off to a cold start at the plate, catcher Freddy Fermin’s bat has woken up. In three games this week, he went 6-for-11 with a homer and two doubles.

Samad Taylor has mostly played second base this season, with some center field games sprinkled in as well. On the season, he has put together a line of .317/.354/.517. In the Iowa series, he added five hits, including a homer and a double, and two stolen bases.

RHP Nick Wittgren has been solid out of the Chasers bullpen, and he added two more scoreless innings in this series. On the season, Wittgren has struck out eight batters in 7 23 innings, with just three hits and one run allowed.

AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals (4-5)

schedule | roster

Northwest Arkansas went to Wichita for a series against the Wind Surge (MIN), which they split 3-3.

Lots of Naturals were productive at the plate, but none moreso than second baseman Peyton Wilson. In six games, Wilson piled up 13 (!) hits that included four doubles and a homer. The 23-year-old is playing at double-A for the first time after spending all of 2022 with Quad Cities.

Old Friend Jorge Bonifacio went 9-for-23 with two homers, a double, and a triple in the series.

Outfielder John Rave put up the extremely neat line of .400/.500/.600 this week, on the strength of four walks and eight hits, which included a triple and two doubles. Rave also stole two bases. Catcher Luca Tresh had two home runs* and also hit a triple, as part of a 5-for-18 effort. He also drew four walks and ended up with seven RBI.

*one of them was an inside-the-parker. Standing up.

Some bullpen notes:

  • LHP Christian Chamberlain struck out eight in four shutout innings, split into two appearances of two innings each
  • Righties Steven Cruz and Will Klein, along with lefty Walter Pennington, have yet to give up any earned runs this season. The trio has combined for 11 innings with 17 strikeouts and seven walks.

Adv-A Quad Cities River Bandits (3-5)

schedule | roster

The River Bandits won their road series against the Cedar Rapids Kernels (MIN) three games to two. The final scheduled game was postponed due to wet grounds, with no makeup date announced yet.

Top prospect Gavin Cross had a hit in each of the five games of the series, with two doubles and a triple among those. Cross had also hit in the two games prior to the series, giving him a 7-game streak.

Bettering that streak by one game is third baseman Cayden Wallace, who went 6-for-16 in the Kernels series with two triples and five walks. He only struck out three times and was plunked once, and stole a base. All told, Wallace is hitting .321/.457/.464 on the young 2023 season, his first at the high-A level.

In the first high-A start of his career, 22-year-old righty Mason Barnett pitched six innings, with one earned run allowed on just two hits. He struck out six and walked three.

By game score, lefty Noah Cameron had the best start in the organization this week. His eight strikeouts in five shutout innings, with just one hit and one walk allowed, was good for a game score of 70. Across three levels last season, Cameron maintained a strikeout per nine innings rate of 13.6, and is at 14.0 in two starts this year.

Another River Bandit with eight Ks in a game was right-hander Luinder Avila, who came in with two outs in the fifth, and pitched the rest of the way in the Quad Cities win.

Single-A Columbia Fireflies (3-4)

schedule | roster

In an improvement over last week, Columbia only had one rainout, and they successfully made that game up in a doubleheader. The Fireflies split their road series 3-3 with the Charleston RiverDogs (TBR) and will start a series at home tonight.

First baseman Brett Squires was on base for half of the series, drawing four walks and getting hit by two pitches to complement his four hits, in 20 plate appearances. The Royals signed Squires, 23, as an undrafted free agent last July, following his collegiate career at Oklahoma.

Outfielder Jean Ramirez went 8-for-21 with a double, and stole two bases. Last season in 57 games for Columbia, Ramirez stole 37 bases, far and away the most on the team.

Starting in all six games was shortstop Daniel Vazquez, who hit seven singles and walked thrice. Vazquez just turned 19 in December, and is playing his first full minors season - he joined Columbia in mid-May of last season.

Right-handed reliever Steven Zobac did something very cool in his first pro outing: six batters faced, six strikeouts! Zobac was a 4th-round pick out of UC Berkley last summer.

In the starting rotation, several pitchers had impressive games. Frank Mozzicato got things rolling on Tuesday with five shutout innings, in which he struck out seven and walked three, and allowed just one hit. Righty Shane Panzini followed with five shutout, 1-hit innings of his own on Wednesday, though he did it was just two strikeouts.

On Friday, David Sandlin lit up the RiverDogs to the tune of nine strikeouts in five innings, where just one run scored on a solo home runs. In two starts this season, the 22-year-old right-hander has struck out 17 batters.

Mauricio Veliz started his full-season career with a solid start on Saturday, striking out five batters in four shutout innings. Veliz, 20, signed with the Royals in 2019 and has been in the Dominican Summer League and the Arizona Complex League until now.

Did you go to any games this week? Who did you see, and how did they look?