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Nick Loftin hitting everything super hard

This Week in the Minors: Columbia dominance continues, Nick Loftin heating back up

‘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, May 2 to Sunday, May 7

AAA Omaha Storm Chasers (12-19)

schedule | roster

Omaha hosted the Louisville Bats (CIN), but only came away with two wins. The Bats muscled out 14 homers in the series.

Nick Loftin was on fire again this week, after a few series with a colder bat. Against the Bats, Loftin doubled twice and homered twice, along with five singles to round out a 9-hit week. He only struck out three times. In Maikel Garcia’s absence, Loftin is back on full-time duty at third base.

Right fielder Tyler Gentry was all about extra bases, with three doubles and a triple among his seven hits. He also made a couple of great catches.

In just three games, catcher Jakson Reetz socked two dingers. CF Dairon Blanco went 5-for-11 and stole four bases.

Bullpen notes:

  • Congrats to righty Jonah Dipoto and lefty Walter Pennington, who both made their Triple-A debuts in the series.
  • Jackson Kowar collected his first career save in Friday’s win, and didn’t allow a run in either of his relief appearances.
  • Nick Wittgren pitched three innings in two appearances, and did not allow any runs. Wittgren has surrendered one run all season, in 12 games.

AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals (15-12)

schedule | roster

The Naturals hosted the Wichita Wind Surge (MIN) and won five out of the six games. They’re in third place now, just two games out of first place, and their upcoming opponent (Arkansas) is the team in second place.

The team got a boost from two fantastic starts in a row. Righty Alec Marsh started the front half of a double-header Friday with six innings. He struck out nine, walked just one, and allowed one run on three hits. It was Marsh’s best start of the season so far.

On Saturday, left-hander Anthony Veneziano struck out six and walked nobody in six shutout innings. He allowed five hits, but all were singles. It was Veneziano’s third W in a row.

The offense was led by right fielder Jorge Bonifacio, who went 9-for-21 with two homers and a double, and nine RBI. Center fielder John Rave doubled twice among his eight-hit week to come up with a neat, tidy slash line of .400/.500/.500/1.000 on the week.

Jeison Guzmán piled up nine hits in the series, bringing his season line to .296/.400/.507 in 21 games played. On defense, he has put in time at shortstop, third base, left field, and center.

Shortstop Tyler Tolbert went 6-for-17 with a triple and a double, and two steals. He also made this catch:

Adv-A Quad Cities River Bandits (10-16)

schedule | roster

It was a tough week for the River Bandits, who dropped all but one game in their series against the Great Lakes Loons (LAD).

The lone win was built on a foundation of six shutout innings from RHP Chandler Champlain. He struck out seven and walked two, and allowed just one hit.

Another great start for QC in the series was Noah Cameron’s performance on Tuesday, wherein the lefty struck out 11 in five one-run innings. He allowed just two hits and three walks. The 11 Ks were one shy of a career best, set last May.

Shortstop Jack Pineda hit his first two career homers this week, part of a 7-for-21 effort. Pineda was drafted out of Baylor last summer. He stole two bases and walked four times.

LF/2B Javier Vaz went 6-for-22 in the series, and has hit safely in nine straight games. Catcher Carter Jensen drew eight walks in the series to come away with a .400 OBP despite just two hits (one of which was a homer).

Third baseman Cayden Wallace stole three bases and doubled twice as part of a 6-for-25 performance in the series.

Single-A Columbia Fireflies (17-10)

schedule | roster

The Fireflies won four out of six against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (CHC) to continue their recent success. That gives Columbia a 2.5 game lead in the division, with the Pelicans in second place.

Right-hander David Sandlin started the series with five shutuout innings on Tuesday. Sandlin struck out eight and did not walk anyone, and allowed just four singles. The six-game series format means the Tuesday starter also starts the Sunday game, and Sandlin was a little more wobbly in that one, surrendering two runs on eight hits in four innings.

Ben Kudrna pitched his best game of the season on Thursday, with six shutout innings. He struck out six, walked three, and kept his pitch total at 85. Shane Panzini rounded out the best starts of the week with a one-run, five-strikeout performance that went six innings on Saturday. For the first time this season, the right-handed Panzini did not issue any walks.

Notes on bullpen excellence:

  • It’s only three outings and five innings, but RHP Mack Anglin has not issued a walk this season, nor allowed any runs.
  • LHP Cooper McKeehan added four innings in two games to his streak with no earned runs. In his last six outings, McKeehan has struck out eight and walked just one.
  • Righty Samuel Valerio has pitched in six games totaling eight innings, and has not allowed any runs yet. He has 14 strikeouts and four walks.
  • Steven Zobac appeared in one game, adding five strikeouts in three innings. On the season, he has struck out 23 and walked just one in 11 innings, with a 0.00 ERA.

At the plate, outfielder Jean Ramirez splashed out with 11 hits, including a double and a triple. He attempted five stolen bases but was caught thrice.

Center fielder Erick Peña may be turning things around from a sluggish start to the season. Peña went 6-for-17 with two homers, and five walks. He struck out six times, the lowest of any series yet this year. He also stole three bases.

Third baseman Brennon McNair reached base in every game he played, with four walks and four hits. In addition to reaching bases, he also stole three of them, bringing his season total to six steals.

The team leader for walks in the series was first baseman Brett Squires, who drew seven of them in addition to going 4-for-14 with a double. The 23-year-old has reached base in just about every game this year, in the everyday role at first base.