Newcomers make good first impression
from Bill Hass, with Bill on Baseball, at www.gsohoppers.com:
The Miami Marlins decided that their top three picks from this year’s draft were ready for bigger things.
And Tuesday night, the youngsters looked like they were.
Center fielder Connor Scott, shortstop Osiris Johnson and catcher Will Banfield, who were all playing high school baseball back in May, made their debuts with the Hoppers something to remember in a rain-shortened 8–1 win over West Virginia.
Scott and Banfield are 18 years old and Johnson is 17. They were all promoted from the Gulf Coast League and arrived at First National Bank Field Tuesday afternoon. They found themselves in the starting lineup, where they will remain, other than an occasional day off, the last 25 games of the season.
“They’re going to play every day,” said manager Todd Pratt. “This will be the lineup for the rest of the season. They traveled today and did a great job handling it. They looked very good on Day One.”
Scott, the ?1 pick, had a perfect night with a double, single and two walks in four trips to the plate. He scored a run and picked up an RBI on a bases-loaded walk. Johnson, picked in the second round, went 0-for-3 but reached on an error and scored a run. Banfield, chosen as a “competitive balance” pick between early rounds, went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts but hit one ball right on the nose that was caught in left field. More importantly, he handled himself well behind the plate.
The three had bonded closely in the GCL, but the promotions caught them by surprise, particularly since they bypassed short-season Batavia and came to the Hoppers.
“I was taking a nap and Osiris woke me up and said ‘we’re going to Greensboro,’” Banfield said. “So we packed some stuff and threw it in the truck. We drove halfway and spent Monday night at St. Simons (in Georgia), then drove the rest of the way today. It’s pretty sweet that all three of us are going to experience this together.”
Johnson and Banfield arrived a little before Scott, who flew in Tuesday. They met the coaches, introduced themselves to their new teammates and got ready to play right away.
None said they felt particularly nervous about their first game, playing under the lights and before a crowd (no one comes to the GCL games, which are all day games). Scott, put in an unfamiliar role in the leadoff spot, told himself to stay loose and not feel any pressure. Facing Power right-hander Sergio Cubilete, he delivered a double off the right-field wall on the second pitch he saw.
“He threw me a first-pitch changeup,” Scott said, “then a fastball over the fat part of the plate that I turned on.”
Thomas Jones followed with a double that scored Scott and sparked the Hoppers to a five-run inning.
“He hit that fastball really well and got us off to a great start,” Pratt said. “He’ll be the leadoff hitter the rest of the season.’’
Although Johnson didn’t get a hit, he showed some speed scoring from first base on a double by Isael Soto. In the field, he started a double play and demonstrated a strong arm.
“I tried to clear my mind before the game and told myself ‘it’s just another baseball game,’” Johnson said. “I was a little bit too free-swinging tonight and I’ve got to be more patient and stay on the ball better.”
Pratt said Johnson had some good at-bats and made good decisions in the field.
Banfield had the toughest job, catching a pitcher he just met against hitters he had never seen. The Hoppers’ Daniel Castano made things smooth by throwing strikes and staying out of trouble. Castano did have to extract himself from a no-out, bases-loaded situation in the third inning, but he did that with a strikeout and a double play.
“Before the game we talked and went over what his tendencies are, what he likes to throw in certain situations, what his strikeout pitch is, things like that,” Banfield said. “We went over the game plan with the coaches, then I caught him in warmups and was able to see what how he throws. I was catching a good arm and we shut them down as a battery.”
Pratt liked the way Banfield “was quiet behind the plate and carried himself well.”
Pitching coach Mark DiFelice said he was impressed with Banfield’s receiving.
“He’s learning on the fly and he’ll have to adapt to all the different kinds of pitchers we have,” DiFelice said. “He absorbed the game plan well.”
Castano, who hadn’t pitched in 10 days because of rainouts, used his two-seam fastball to attack hitters and stayed with it most of the game. He threw 67 pitches, 47 for strikes, as he notched his fourth win with the Hoppers.
First baseman Will Allen had a big night with four RBIs, two coming on a long home run in the fifth inning. Soto continued his torrid hitting with two hits and two RBIs that raised his team-leading total to 49. In his last 10 games, Soto is hitting .424 with 15 RBIs.
“It started with a game in Lexington (on July 8) when he had five RBIs,” Pratt said. “He’s been really good with runners in scoring position. When we’ve needed a big hit, he’s been there.”
Marcos Rivera had two hits, scored twice and made a couple of sparkling defensive plays at third base.
The teams play the second game of the series Wednesday at 7 p.m. Sean Guenther will start for the Hoppers.
NOTES: Another new Hoppers face is catcher J.D. Osborne, who will also help at first base … Infielder Luis Pintor, a mainstay of last season’s playoff team, is back after spending most of the year in Jupiter … Pitcher Ethan Clark, who was here part of last year, is also back … Gone to Jupiter are outfielder Tristan Pompey, catcher Michael Hernandez and pitcher Steven Farnworth … Infielder Bubba Hollins was sent to Batavia and infielder Rodrigo Ayarza was released … A pre-game storm delayed the start of the game by 45 minutes … Vivid lightning caused the umpires to take the teams off the field after the top of the sixth inning … A second heavy rain clinched the decision to call it.