Using an "opener" is now a regular feature of the Tampa Bay pitching rotation, and occasionally this role -- in which a reliever precedes the usual starter for a frame -- is part of the Rays' Minor League development program as well.The only time, though, that Montgomery left-hander Génesis Cabrera
Using an "opener" is now a regular feature of the Tampa Bay pitching rotation, and occasionally this role -- in which a reliever precedes the usual starter for a frame -- is part of the Rays' Minor League development program as well.
The only time, though, that Montgomery left-hander Génesis Cabrera hadn't taken the mound first this season was during his one-inning scoreless stint in the Southern League All-Star Game.
Then came the shakiest outing of Cabrera's career, the 21-year-old issuing bases-loaded walks to the last three batters he faced in a frightful third inning at Chattanooga.
"He needed to refocus," Montgomery pitching coach R.C. Lichtenstein said. "We want our starters to experience working behind an opener anyway, and this was a good opportunity to that. It worked out."
Entering with the two outs in the second inning and a runner at third base, Cabrera retired the first eight batters he faced against Mississippi and ended up allowing two runs on six hits over 6 1/3 inning on July 21.
After walking six in 2 2/3 innings against Chattanooga, a more aggressive and focused Cabrera issued just two free passes to the M-Braves while fanning seven to bring his second-best strikeout total in the Southern League to 115 in 106 1/3 innings.
Cabrera, ranked as Tampa Bay's No. 22 prospect, has a fastball that reaches 97 mph and a slider with bite. The key pitch in the development of the Dominican Republic native is the changeup, though.
"He threw 16 to 18 against Mississippi and they were good," Lichtenstein said. "That's part of what we wanted to see. It was a good game for him all around."
Cabrera's numbers through 20 appearances weren't all that impressive even after his bounce-back outing, with his ERA at 4.40 to go with a 6-6 record. Sometimes numbers don't tell the whole story, though.
Cabrera had 12 strikeouts and no walks over seven scoreless innings in one start and eight innings allowing four hits and no runs in another outing, both in June.
At his best, Cabrera is very good. He's also far from a finished product right now.
"He's relied up to this point on stuff alone," Montgomery manager Brady Williams said. "Obviously, he throws hard. Pretty good slider. His changeup is a work in progress.
"For him to continue to be a starter moving forward, he's going to have to really utilize his changeup better to keep hitters off his fastball because everything is hard right now. When his changeup is really good, he's really tough to hit.
"If he can commit to his changeup and make it a weapon for him, he can stay a starter and then the sky will be the limit for him. The question is whether he's going to start or relieve [in the Majors]. I think he can start as long as he continues to develop that changeup."
Cabrera spent the second half with Montgomery last season, and a promotion to Triple-A Durham might have been expected this year after the All-Star break.
"I think he heard some noise and it might have affected him," Lichtenstein said. "He needed to refocus. We're not here to get to Durham. We're here to get prepared for the Major Leagues."
Another appearance behind an opener is likely for Cabrera, but it won't become a regular thing.
"We don't want any of our pitchers to think that they have to have a certain role to be successful," Lichtenstein said. "The key is to be comfortable with the uncomfortable."
In briefSpeed and power:
No player has led the Southern League in both homers and stolen bases since the circuit's debut in 1964. That could change this year. Paced by Biloxi center fielder Corey Ray
, the top three players in stolen bases also have impressive home run totals. Ray leads the circuit with 32 steals and 20 home runs. Tennessee second baseman Trent Giambrone
and Jacksonville outfielder Monte Harrison
, each with 22 steals, have 16 and 13 homers, respectively. Ray, ranked as Milwaukee's No. 6 prospect, was on a tear in both homers and steals, going deep eight times and swiping 11 bases during a 14-game stretch beginning July 10.Breakout season:
When Nathaniel Lowe hit his 11th homer in 37 games for Montgomery on July 23, it gave the former Mississippi State standout 21 for the year between Class A Advanced Charlotte and the Biscuits. That was three times the first baseman's total last year with Class A Bowling Green and Charlotte. Lowe, up to No. 14 in the Tampa Bay prospect rankings, has turned heads at the plate after being overshadowed until this season by younger brother Josh, Tampa Bay's first-round pick in the 2016 Draft and No. 9 prospect. The 13th-round pick had a .331/.427/.614 slash line and 35 RBIs with Montgomery after going .356/.424/.607 with 44 RBIs in 51 games for Charlotte.No luck at all:
Jackson right-hander Taylor Widener
, who leads the Southern League with 130 strikeouts in 101 1/3 innings, hadn't picked up a victory since June 13 despite a 2.75 ERA for the season. Widener's record was 4-5 with 10 no-decisions and he lost to Tennessee on July 7 despite striking out 13 and allowing just three hits over seven innings. Arizona's No. 4 prospect has a WHIP of 1.02 and opponents are batting .194 against him. Widener, 24, was acquired by the D-backs from the Yankees at the start of Spring Training in the three-way trade that also included Tampa Bay.All or nothing:
Pensacola center fielder Jose Siri
continues to hit homers in bunches, connecting four times in the Blue Wahoos' five-game home sweep of Jacksonville. Cincinnati's No. 7 prospect has eight homers since being promoted from Class A Advanced Daytona, and three of them came in consecutive games shortly after he joined Pensacola on June 22. Siri, who just turned 23, has a .243/.315/.557 line and 21 RBIs in 31 games with the Blue Wahoos after hitting .261/.280/.395 over 30 games for Daytona, where the native of the Dominican Republic began the season on the disabled list.
Guy Curtright is a contributor to MiLB.com.