Southern notes: Rays' McCarthy on the rise

First baseman shows patience and surprising speed with Biscuits

Joe McCarthy has a .306/.414/.472 slash line through 93 games in his Double-A debut with Montgomery. (Joshua Tjiong/MiLB.com)

By Guy Curtright / Special to MiLB.com | July 27, 2017 10:20 AM ET

Joe McCarthy's last college season couldn't have had a worse start, with the University of Virginia standout sidelined following back surgery.

"The timing was terrible," said the Montgomery Biscuits outfielder/first baseman. "I knew I'd miss a lot of time."

In contrast, McCarthy's second full professional year couldn't have begun better -- or more surprisingly.

Given a start in Tampa Bay's first Grapefruit League game, the Rays' No. 17 prospect walked his first two times up, doubled his third and then smacked a homer in his fourth at-bat against the Boston Red Sox.

"I couldn't believe it," McCarthy said. "I'd just got there and hadn't had live BP yet before they told me I'd be starting. Then I run into one. It was unreal."

The homer came against a Double-A pitcher, not a Major Leaguer, but it showed that McCarthy's back issues were a thing of the past and that the Rays had made a wise move not shying away from him in the 2015 Draft.

"It took a while, but I feel like I'm the player I was before," McCarthy said.

The 23-year-old left-handed hitter and thrower is getting the best of Double-A pitching -- just like he did against college staffs while being named ACC Freshman of the Year before his back started to bother him.

McCarthy ranks in the top 10 in most Southern League offensive categories, posting a .306/.414/.472 line through 93 games for the Biscuits. The native of Scranton, Pennsylvania -- who earned Southern League Player of the Week honors Monday -- has 27 doubles among his 39 extra-base hits, 59 runs scored, 59 walks, 42 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 19 attempts.

Video: Biscuits' McCarthy blasts two-run shot

His father set the University of South Carolina record for walks with 71 in 1981, but don't read too much into that.

"I actually didn't know," McCarthy said. "He was my hitting coach, but he never stressed walks. I think being patient just came naturally to me."

A gap-to-gap hitter, McCarthy's five homers aren't as many as you might expect from someone who is 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds. His stolen base total, though, is more notable.

"I think part of the reason is surprise," said the former high school running back. "It's been fun while it lasted, but you can't keep a secret too long."

McCarthy was just an outfielder at Virginia, but he's played more at first base this season than in the outfield.

"When they told me to bring my first baseman's glove two years ago, I didn't even have one," he said. "At first, I had no hope of catching a ground ball. But I've worked hard at playing first and I've gotten a lot better at it."

Despite the disappointment of the back surgery, McCarthy's junior season at Virginia ended well. The Cavaliers, runner-up the previous year, got revenge against Vanderbilt and won their first College World Series title.

McCarthy didn't have much of a role, hitting .196 after finally making it back to the lineup. The Rays, though, remembered what McCarthy had done when healthy and called his name in the fifth round.

Some might have termed it a reach, but it looks like the gamble is paying off.

In brief

No letup: Pensacola third baseman Nick Senzel, ranked No. 11 on MLB.com's Top 100 list, is putting up numbers in the Double-A Southern League as good or better than he did in the Class A Advanced Florida State League. Cincinnati's No. 1 prospect had a .309/.367/.464 line in his first 29 games for the Blue Wahoos after going .301/.371/.476 in 62 games with Daytona. Senzel, 22, has a combined 34 doubles, two triples, seven homers, 47 RBIs and 58 runs scored. He was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 Draft out of the University of Tennessee.

Rough stretch: Felix Jorge pitched well in his initial start back with Chattanooga after his first two Major League outings with the Minnesota Twins, but the right-hander struggled in his next two. He gave up 19 hits and 12 runs over seven combined innings in a no-decision against Jacksonville and a loss to Mobile. Jorge, 23, is 8-2 but his ERA jumped from 3.14 to 4.01. The Twins' No. 7 prospect got a win in his MLB debut at Kansas City but allowed 14 hits and nine runs over 7 2/3 combined innings in his two big league starts.

Batting race: Kevin Medrano, whose batting average is tied for the best among qualified hitters in the Southern League, was promoted from Jackson to Triple-A Reno by Arizona. The left-handed-hitting middle infielder had a .321 average in 70 games, while Jacksonville outfielder Braxton Lee was also at .321 through 90 games. Medrano, 27, was up with Reno briefly earlier this season and split 2016 between the Southern and Pacific Coast Leagues. He was an 18th-round pick by Arizona in 2012 out of Missouri State.

Dual success: Tennessee right-hander James Pugliese isn't a regular starter or finisher, but he has excelled in any role given him by the Smokies. He was 7-2 with a 0.82 ERA in five spot starts and 24 relief appearances, posting a 1.02 WHIP and .182 opponents' batting average. Pugliese, 24, also had a save in his one opportunity. He was taken in the 18th round of the 2011 Draft by the Chicago Cubs out of Mercer County Community College in New Jersey.

Guy Curtright is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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