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Around the Minors: Opening Week

Sights and sounds from action across Minor League Baseball
A Wisconsin coach takes a photo with his family and Timber Rattler mascots Whiffer and Fang. (Ricky Bassman/
April 10, 2022

April 10

April 10

Call him Mr. 6,000
Jim Weber took the microphone as the voice of the Mud Hens in 1975 and hasn’t put it down since.

The Toledo native and International League Hall of Famer broadcast his 6,000th consecutive game for Triple-A Toledo, nearly 47 years to the day when first took to the airwaves on April 12, 1975. Over the years, Weber has called games when the Mud Hens were an affiliate of the Phillies (1974-75), Guardians (1976-77), Twins (1978-1986) and then finally its modern-day parent club Tigers (1987-present). He’s gotten his own bobblehead, met famous Mud Hens fanatic Jamie Farr and was there to call countless classic moments, like Mike Hessman’s record-breaking 433rd Minor League home run in 2005.

“Jim has been an iconic part of Mud Hens baseball for almost 50 years. To call 6,000 consecutive games could very well be something the baseball world never sees again,” said Toledo Mud Hens vice president and general manager Erik Ibsen.

The Mud Hens gave him quite the game to call too as Josh Lester sent everyone home happy with a walk-off home run in a 2-1 victory.

Stormin' Gorman
Holding a good player down is possible for only so long. Triple-A Gwinnett found that out the hard way when Memphis' Nolan Gorman left the yard twice in his club's 6-3 loss.'s No. 32 overall prospect temporarily knotted the score at 1-1 with a solo shot in the second inning. His second solo tater of the game brought the Redbirds within three runs in the eighth, but they got no closer.

The ninth multihomer game of Gorman's career also marked his second straight two-hit performance, lifting his average up to .235 after he opened the year hitless in his first nine at-bats.

“It’s been good getting back in the swing of things and competing against good teams and good players,” Gorman told after the game.

The 21-year-old established career highs with 25 homers and 75 RBIs while batting .279/.333/.481 in 113 games with Double-A Springfield and Memphis last season.

(H)udson (H)askin (H)omers
When power potential becomes reality, it can be a beautiful thing. Such was the case for No. 16 Orioles prospect Hudson Haskins, who is more than halfway to the five home runs he hit during his professional debut last season after launching three in the Baysox 11-6 win.

Playing in just his third game with Double-A Bowie, the 23-year-old went deep off three different Richmond pitchers, connecting on solo shots in the fourth and sixth innings before completing the trifecta with a two-run homer in the seventh. The four-RBI performance matched a career high for Haskin, who batted .276 with a .787 OPS, five homers and 42 RBIs in 83 games with Single-A Delmarva and High-A Aberdeen in 2021.

"After I hit the first one, I was like, ‘Okay, great, let me stay locked into the game and try and hit something hard and help the team,’” Haskin told after the game. “When I hit the second one, I was like ‘Wow, that's that's crazy.’"

Selected in the secound round of the 2020 Draft out of Tulane, the New York City-born outfielder is off to a tremendous start this season. Through three games, Haskin is 7-for-12 with six extra-base hits, including a three-double effort on Opening Night.

This Bud's for you
Sitting directly behind home plate and in the first row will cost you. Generally speaking, the incresed price would be monetary, but for a lucky -- or unlucky -- gentleman at Double-A Springfield's matchup with Northwest Arkansas on Saturday, it also cost him a beverage.

With two on and two outs in the bottom of the first, Springfield DH Chandler Redmond chopped a foul back directly behind home. Even with the protective screen in place, the ball made a bee line for the beer resting on the inside and top of the padded fence, scoring a direct hit. The gentleman's brew flew up and into his face, providing him with one of the more unique ways to sip his beverage.

No word on if Chandler got the next round...

April 9

Jack on the attack
MLB's No. 17 overall prospect Jack Leiter showed off his full arsenal in Double-A Frisco’s 8-7 win over Arkansas, touching 97 mph on his 70-grade fastball and generating several swings-and-misses from his 60-grade curveball and other breaking pitches. The 2021 No. 2 overall Draft pick worked around a few bouts of shaky command to strike out seven of the 12 batters he faced across three innings, allowing two walks, one hit and one run on 60 pitches (33 strikes).

"It felt really good. It was a long time coming," Leiter told "Sort of anxiety built up to first time competing for real, it's been a long time. It felt good to get that one out of the way. We got the win, which is most important of all."

One-upping himself
Christian Encarnacion-Strand had a debut for the ages on Friday, going 4-for-5 with two homers and nine RBIs for High-A Cedar Rapids. And then he kept it going for Game 2. The Twins' No. 29 prospect crushed another long ball as he went 5-for-5 with five RBIs and a stolen base. With just one ground out, Encarnacion-Strand is batting .900 through the first two games!

Return of the MacK
MacKenzie Gore has had a long road to get to this point in his career. A mix of mechanical issues and struggles at higher levels of competition have resulted in Gore’s slide from ending 2020 as the No. 3 prospect in baseball to his current ranking of No. 86 on Pipeline’s Top 100 prospect list. On Saturday, Gore looked like the dominant left-hander the Padres have expected him to be.

In his season debut, the left-hander threw five scoreless innings with seven strikeouts, allowing two hits in Triple-A El Paso’s 3-1 loss to Round Rock. Gore missed bats while filling up the zone, tossing 43 of his 63 pitches for strikes and registering 11 swings-and-misses.

“Good outings always help. We were confident going in, we’ve done a lot of work and we threw the ball well in [Spring Training],” Gore told after his start.

April 8

New level. Same Rodriguez.
Making his Triple-A debut, Grayson Rodriguez shook off some early rust for a dominant outing with Norfolk. MLB Pipeline's No. 1 pitching prospect worked around a hit and a walk with seven strikeouts over four scoreless frames. Rodriguez, who features a 70-grade fastball and changeup, issued a free pass to start the game before recording 10 straight outs. The Orioles' No. 2 prospect is currently without battery mate and No. 1 prospect Adley Rutschman, who was added to Tides' injured list on Friday. Baseball's No. 2 overall prospect suffered a right triceps strain during Spring Training and will be looking to return to Major League roster spot contention once healthy.

Starting spreading the news...
Rachel Balkovec made history when she took the field, becoming the first female manager in affiliated baseball history. After 10 years of coaching, including a 2021 stint as the Yankees' Rookie-level Florida Complex League hitting coach, Balkovec was named the skipper of Single-A Tampa in January.

“I'm definitely aware [of my impact],” Balkovec said Friday morning. “Thankfully, I've had about 10 years to prepare for something like this. So, it's been ongoing throughout the years of all young women reaching out, overwhelmingly reaching out, girl dads reaching out.

“I'm definitely highly aware of it and it definitely drives my action, pretty much every day, honestly.”

After making history, Balkovec led her team to victory. Down 3-1 in the fifth, the Tarpons put up a three-spot on a triple by Antonio Gomez and never looked back. Balkovec and Tampa topped Lakeland, 9-6.

April 7

The ultimate seventh-inning stretch
Triple-A Salt Lake muscled its way to a 10-run frame in the seventh en route to a 14-1 rout of Tacoma. Although the inning started innocently enough with a strikeout by Andrew Velazquez, the Angels farmhand came through with a bases-clearing double later in the frame. The veteran infielder plated five runs on the night, matching a career high he set with Triple-A Durham on Opening Day in 2019. Velazquez also parked his first homer of the season in the first inning, a two-run shot to right-center field.

The Bees' other big blow in the seventh was provided by Magneuris Sierra, who belted his first homer of the year -- a three-run shot to right-center field.

Doubling up on souvenirs
It really seemed to be 2-for-Thursday in the Minors. Not only did Kansas City's Nick Pratto and Baltimore's Yusniel Diaz crank two home runs, but Boston farmhand Ryan Fitzgerald and Tampa Bay prospect Jim Haley joined in the multiple tater party.

Triple-A Worcester shortstop Fitzgerald is batting .636 through three games. He led off the 8-4 loss to Jacksonville with his second long ball of the season and then added a two-run shot to right in the fifth. Out of the No. 9 spot in the Triple-A Durham lineup, first baseman Haley belted a two-run homer to left in the third and another two-run dinger to left in the sixth in a 6-3 win over Nashville.

Double duty
After going yard in the first game of Triple-A Omaha's doubleheader against Jacksonville, Nick Pratto did likewise in the nightcap. The third-ranked Royals prospect (No. 62 overall) clubbed his first of the season to left field in the third inning to account for all the Storm Chasers' scoring in a 5-3 loss. In the third frame of the second game, he teed off once again to right-center en route to Omaha's 6-2 win. They were his first two hits of the season.

Pratto opened some eyes in 2021, when he was selected for the Futures Game. He mashed 36 homers and plated 98 runs across 124 games between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Omaha last year.

Yusniel Díaz has had something of a long and winding road since he headlined the return in the Orioles' 2018 trade with the Dodgers for Manny Machado. Baltimore's No. 26 prospect showed his swing was healthy in a two-homer game for Triple-A Norfolk. Diaz belted a solo shot to left field to kick off the scoring in the bottom of the first inning, then smacked a three-run shot to left in the seventh.

Although the Tides fell to the Charlotte Knights, 13-7, Diaz has five hits (three for extra bases) and six RBIs through his first three games this season.

The news wasn't all bad
Although the Iowa-Buffalo game was rained out, Triple-A Bisons' scheduled starter Casey Lawrence made sure the day wasn't a complete loss for a fan at Sahlen Field. The 34-year-old right-hander showed off his arm by throwing a ball into the stands.

April 6

Don't fence him in
Estevan Florial certainly started off the season on the right foot, or actually his left. The No. 30 Yankees prospect mashed a three-run homer to right field in the eighth inning of Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's 5-0 victory over host Syracuse.

In the second game of the season, Florial parked a solo shot, also to right and again in the eighth, in the RailRiders' 5-3 win over the Mets.

Gobbling up the attention
Two days, two critters. Hot on the heels of the unscheduled slithering visitor at Opening Night's Reno-Las Vegas game came another unexpected visitor as Triple-A Buffalo hosted Iowa. As the Bisons later told's Ben Hill on Twitter, "Sahlen Field debut for this guy... didn't seem to appreciate it when we asked to see his ticket."

Making things happen
It comes as little surprise to Rays fans what Vidal Bruján can do on the basepaths.

Tampa Bay's No. 4 prospect dropped a single into left field in the first inning of Triple-A Durham's 9-4 win over host Nashville. He stole second base and then third in short order on his three-hit, three-run night.

Twice as nice
Ryan Kreidler blasted two solo homers during a perfect day at the plate for Triple-A Toledo. The Tigers' No. 7 prospect accounted for the Mud Hens' first two runs of the game in a 6-3 loss to Rochester. Kreidler has gone 4-for-7 to start the season, with three of his hits going for extra bases.

The 24-year-old broke out last year in his first full season, with 22 homers and 23 doubles with 15 stolen bases between Double-A and Triple-A. Kreidler excelled after his callup to Toledo in August. In 41 Triple-A games, the shortstop had a .304/.407/.519 slash line with a .926 OPS, seven homers, eight doubles, 22 RBIs and 24 walks.

April 5

Snake, D-backs affiliate ... we get it!
As Arizona's Triple-A affiliate Reno pointed out, it's not a Minor League season until there's a critter of some sort on the field. The Aces fell to the Aviators, 3-2, at Las Vegas Ballpark, but should get some kind of recognition for pointing out the first unscheduled animal visit of the season.

Rules were made to be ... tested in the Minors
Major League Baseball utilizes the Minors as a testing ground for trying out new ideas designed to improve the pace of play, create more action on the field and reduce player injuries. This year's experimental rules include larger bases, a pitch timer, an automated strike zone and defensive-positioning guidelines. Read up on all of them here.

In the meantime, Akron -- Cleveland's Double-A affiliate -- showed off what the new bases look like, both in reality and with a little PhotoShop help on Twitter.

Let the slugging commence
The first homer of the 2022 season belongs to Blue Jays prospect Josh Palacios of the Triple-A Bisons!

With one out and one on in the bottom of the first inning, Buffalo's center fielder parked the ball over the wall in right-center at Sahlen Field. The Bisons went on to defeat the I-Cubs, 3-2.

See you at the ballpark!
No matter what your affiliation, the opening of the 2022 season is cause for celebration!

Start the season with an MiLB.TV subscription
MiLB.TV is back for the 2022 season and it comes at a perfect time for fans, prospect enthusiasts and those eager to get a look at some of the new experimental rules.

Minor League Baseball's live streaming service added three teams to its broadcast roster for 2022. The Vancouver Canadians, the Toronto Blue Jays' High-A affiliate and MiLB's only franchise north of the border, the Visalia Rawhide (Single-A, D-backs) and St. Lucie Mets (Single-A, Mets) begin broadcasting home games on MiLB.TV, with St. Lucie joining Bradenton to boost coverage in the Florida State League.

MiLB.TV returns at the yearly price of $49.99, offering fans thousands of games live and on-demand -- from Opening Day's first pitch to the final out of the season. Fans can expect to see more than 6,500 games streamed in 2022, and 95 percent of them will be offered in HD. Full archives of games are available on-demand for subscribers, who also have the option of signing up on a monthly basis for $12.99. Full story »