By Jason Patterson / Jacksonville Suns
→4th of July celebrations served as the highlight of this past week around the Southern League. Despite abundant weather issues, all five games went off without a hitch. Red, white and blue uniforms alongside annual fireworks displays at all ten ballparks across the weekend provided the patriotic exclamation point.
→Birmingham has come to the life, rising atop in the North very rapidly to begin the second half. The Barons speed game, pitching depth and solid defense have propelled the club to a league best four game winning streak and generated a two game division advantage.
→With their prospect-laden roster somewhat pillaged by the Minnesota Twins organization following an impressive first half run, Chattanooga is attempting to put the pieces back together. The Lookouts have lost five in a row and notched only a single second half win through the first 9 games.
→Biloxi remains out front in a South Division that boast all five teams bunched up within one and one-half games heading into the second full week following the All-Star break.
→Shuckers have a number of reasons for celebration beyond their first half crown and first place status. On Friday, the club welcomed a record 6,231 fans through the gates for their inaugural Independence weekend contest, then followed up with MGM Park’s first on-field wedding July 4. It’s high times in a year of firsts on the Gulf for the Southern League’s newest franchise and their fans.
Southern League Spotlight…
This week’s spotlight rests on the 2015 Futures Game. Rosters for this yearly display of minor league talent were announced in late June with the Southern League well represented.
Current and former players Blake Snell (MTG), Kyle Schwarber (TEN), Richie Shaffer (TB), and Kyle Waldrop (PNS) will compete for the U.S. Team; while Jose Berrios (CHT), Frankie Montas (BIR), Orlando Arcia (BLX), Max Kepler (CHT), Ketel Marte (JXN), Sacrates Brito (MOB) and Yorman Rodriguez (PNS) occupy the World Team’s roster.
In a nod to his professionalism and development, Southern League umpire, J.J. January will also be making the Cincinnati trip to join in the MLB All-Star week festivities as a part of the Futures Game umpiring crew.
The game will be held on Sunday at 3:00 pm ET at Great American Ballpark and will be carried live on MLB Network.
The Southern League will also be well represented at the Pan-American games later this month. Current and former players such as Dan Vogelbach and Albert Almora (Smokies), Brian Ellington (Suns) and Jake Barrett (Mobile) will dot rosters in the event which runs July 11-19 in Toronto.
-Rankings listed this week provided via MLB.com-
Birmingham– First Baseman Danny Hayes and catcher Rob Brantly have driven in five runs apiece across the past five games for the White Sox farm club.
Christan Marrero and Courtney Hawkins (#8) have provided the power. Hawkins has homered and scored five runs across a five game stretch, while Marrero is 13-for-32 with a trio of homers and eight runs driven in across the past ten.
While no single pitcher has put together an eye-popping performance, the Barons staff has not allowed more than a single run in an individual game through the first five days of July.
Jacksonville– The Suns received stellar outings from both Austin Brice (#14) and Trevor Williams (#5) this past week. Brice worked eight shutout innings last Monday afternoon, striking out thirteen batters in the process. Williams went six scoreless in a 3-0 shutout of the Lookouts on Independence Day.
The emergence of these key arms coupled with the arrival of highly regarded Marlins infield prospect J.T. Riddle (#18) (9-for-30 with a HR, 5 RBI and 5 Runs scored in his eight game Double-A stint) have provided a much needed early second half lift for the defending champs.
Montgomery– Rays pitching prospect Jacob Faria struck out a career-high fourteen batters across seven no-hit frames on Saturday night for the Biscuits. The twenty-one year old’s final line: 7.0 IP, 0ER, 3BB, 14K. Saturday’s game stood as the fourth time in Faria’s last six starts that the right-hander went seven innings without allowing a run, dating back to his time in the Florida State League. Patrick Leonard (#25) joined Fraria in sweeping Southern League weekly honors with 2 homers, six runs driven in and a .438 average across his most recent clip of ten games.
Mobile– Zack Godley made his Double-A debut on July 1st. The right-hander delivered five shutout innings, allowing just a pair Jackson Generals hits in the contest.
Zach Borenstein has three home runs and twelve runs batted in across the past ten games. The Diamondbacks outfield prospect has also logged twelve hits and scored eight times in the same stretch.
Biloxi– Nick Ramirez and Victor Roache (#13) both went deep to secure a victory for the Brewers farm club in the 10-9 shootout with the Biscuits on Sunday night. Both blasts plated three runs each, as the combo drove home eight of the Shuckers ten runs in the contest.
Chattanooga– Reigning Player of the Week, Miguel Sano, (#2) received the call up to Minnesota on July 1st, leaving the Southern League with his record-tying four double performance last week as perhaps a final Double-A memory last week.
Jose Berrios (#3) also received a promotion, the Southern League’s wins leader has changed to a New York state address with the Twins relocating him to Triple-A Rochester.
-Weekly honors handed down by the league office each Monday at Noon-
▪ Player of the Week: Patrick Leonard (Rays), IF, Montgomery
▪ Pitcher of the Week: Jake Faria (Rays), RHP, Montgomery
*Montgomery joins Biloxi as the only clubs to sweep the weekly award this season*
Series To Focus On…
Tennessee Smokies vs Birmingham Barons
July 6 – July 9 (Barons lead series 2-0)
Three games remain in this series between two North Division post-season hopefuls. Birmingham is on fire to begin the second half, while Tennessee has been one of the more consistent playoff contenders in record years.
The Barons on a 2-0 advantage, having used the first two contests as an extension of their previously highlighted four game winning streak. Tennessee is now required to win all three remaining games to claim the series.
With Chattanooga fading a bit, the second half division title in the North seems up for grabs. Though Montgomery and Jackson will certainly have their say, early indications are this series just might preview the battle for the remaining playoff spot across the season’s last sixty games.
A Look At The Standings…