The last 10 days have been good ones in the life of Hudson Valley right-hander Jeff Ames
On Aug. 14, Tampa Bay's No. 18 prospect represented the American League in the New York-Penn League All-Star Game in Niles, Ohio. Though he allowed a run in his lone inning of work and ultimately tasted defeat for the first time this season, he came away with positive feelings about the outing.
"It's the first Minor League All-Star team I've made, so I was really excited about it," said Ames, selected by the Rays in the first round (42nd overall) of the 2011 Draft. "I was playing with a lot of really, really good players, so it was a really good experience."
Just four days later, Ames and his Hudson Valley teammates had the opportunity to play at Fenway Park, taking on the Lowell Spinners in the first game of the Futures at Fenway doubleheader on Aug. 18.
It was the second trip to Fenway for the native of Vancouver, Wash., who visited as a 14-year-old when he played in the Babe Ruth World Series in nearby Quincy, Mass. It was the first time he had stepped on the field there as a player, however, and while he appreciated the experience, he immediately knew he wanted more.
"There were a lot of fans," he said of the crowd, which was officially announced at 8,907. "But my first thought was, I want to know what it's like to have it be a totally full, packed house."
Ames didn't disappoint the fans in attendance, following starter and Rays No. 4 prospect Taylor Guerrieri into the game in the fourth inning for his first relief appearance of the season. He was nearly perfect, striking out four Spinners, including 2012 first-rounder Deven Marrero, and allowing just one hit in three innings.
The 21-year-old right-hander picked up the win to run his record to 4-0 on the season. He is averaging 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings, ranks third in the New York-Penn League with a 1.58 ERA and has not allowed a home run in 51 1/3 innings.
The adrenaline of pitching on such a big stage, even in a regular-season game, has the potential to force a young player off his game. The approach Ames employed at Fenway, however, was no different from the one he has followed to compile those numbers.
"I was just trying to throw all my pitches over for strikes, throw down in the zone and let my defense work," he said.
Ames' repertoire includes a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, circle changeup and slider. The fastball sits in the low-90s, occasionally touching 94-95, and he is focused on commanding both side of the plate with all four pitches. The one offering that represents the biggest question mark is his changeup.
His Prospect Watch page at MLB.com notes that the pitch "lags behind, and that will be the key to whether he starts or relieves in the future."
That isn't news to Ames, who places the need to harness his changeup alongside pitch command on the list of things that require his immediate attention.
"That's definitely the pitch I need to command more consistently, because coming up through everything, I really haven't had to throw it," he said. "I've thrown more fastball-slider or fastball-curveball when I was younger, so I never really threw a changeup a whole lot. I've always known how to throw it, but it's probably my pitch that I throw the least, so I really need to work on that.
"It's an important pitch to have."
Saturday night not-so-special: Aberdeen fell to 0-9 on Saturdays this season with a 4-1 loss at Connecticut on Aug. 18. The two nearest misses occurred July 21, when Hudson Valley scored three times in the top of the ninth to escape with a 4-3 win, and Aug. 4, when State College scored once in the bottom of the ninth for a 3-2, walk-off victory. The IronBirds have two Saturday games remaining, both against the Renegades.
A tale of two champions: The first team eliminated from playoff contention this season was the defending-champion Staten Island Yankees. The first team to clinch a playoff spot was the Tri-City ValleyCats, the 2010 champs.
Staying power: Saxon Butler was promoted to Class A Charleston this month and has not played for Staten Island since Aug. 1, but he continues to lead the New York-Penn League with 10 home runs. He also led the league in RBIs until Monday, when he was passed by Williamsport's Chris Serritella.
Youth movement: Eleven days after Luis Heredia celebrated his 18th birthday, leaving the NYPL devoid of 17-year-olds, Cleveland promoted 17-year-old Dorssys Paulino to Mahoning Valley on Aug. 21. The organization's No. 12 prospect hit .355 with six home runs and nine stolen bases in the Arizona League this summer. He turns 18 on Nov. 21.