As the rain clouds glided ominously close to Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers on Monday, the Dunedin Blue Jays prepared to face Top 50 right-handed pitching prospect Kohl Stewart. The Fort Myers Miracle hurler was returning from the disabled list after arm problems and was looking to start racking up some strikeouts which have been notably absent during his first few years of professional ball. Opposing him on the mound was Murphy Smith, a 27-year-old righty who joined the Blue Jays this year after being released by the Athletics in the offseason. The matchup seemed heavily tilted in Stewart's favour, although the Dunedin lineup contained a fair bit more fire power than the Miracle.
The game got underway after a slightly delayed start due to the weather in the area but eventually leadoff hitter Roemon Fields stepped in against the aforementioned Stewart, the fourth overall pick in 2013. The righty features the four main pitches although scouts don't believe any of them will ever be well above average creating a ceiling of a mid-line starter right off the bat. It was clear early on that Stewart didn't have it as he struggled to top 90 mph with his fastball and exhibited almost no feel for any of his breaking pitches. Hitters were dodging bounced changeups and gopher-killing curveballs all night from Stewart and somehow the pitcher from Houston was able to escape the first two innings only giving up a single to L.B. Dantzler and a walk to Mitch Nay (which is seen below) thanks in large part to some strong infield defence by Fort Myers.
On the other side of the ball, Smith was around the strike zone consistently with his mediocre stuff keeping his fielders active all night long. Highly-rated shortstop prospect Dawel Lugo made an athletic play to his left to end the first inning still in the process of proving that he can stay at the position as he climbs through the minor league system. The first run of the game came for Fort Myers with Blue Jays catcher Jorge Saez unable to throw out Niko Goodrum as he ran wild on the base paths, eventually scoring on a sac fly to right field. Old friend Marcus Knecht struck out to end the second and keep the damage to one run.
The third is where Stewart's bad stuff really caught up to him with a walk to Dickie Joe Thon followed by a single to Roemon Fields putting the pressure on. A ground out by Dawel Lugo (video below) moved the runners over before L.B. Dantzler was hammered with a pitch by Stewart that left the designated hitter in a rather large amount of pain.
With the bases loaded, Matt Dean hit a ground ball to third baseman Niko Goodrum who carelessly threw the ball away going for the force out at second base scoring two runs (video below). That brought an end to the Kohl Stewart's much-anticipated start, as he may have also been on a pitch limit after returning from his injury. The righty was charged with only one earned run thanks to all the defensive mishaps behind him in the third inning. The frame continued with Goodrum later making another poor play on a Derrick Loveless grounder that brought the score to 4-0.
The Miracle relievers did a good job to stymie the Dunedin bats and the game moved along at a steady pace. In the sixth inning, Murphy Smith left the game and Alberto Tirado, the 16th ranked Blue Jays prospect according to Bluebird Banter, came into the game. The radar gun was quickly lit up by the Dominican's fastball reaching 97 mph consistently with solid command, which is something he's lacked during his time with the organization. Tirado's off-speed stuff wasn't too strong in his first inning of work, but his second frame out on the mound was better in terms of secondary offerings. Goodrum led off the seventh inning and Tirado pounded a multitude of hard fastballs around the zone, with a high-90's offering finally being turned on by the talented Miracle hitter after he had adjusted to the speed. After this pitch selection mistake, Tirado started throwing a hard slider with late movement to keep hitters from keying up his heater. With Goodrum still on first, Tirado made a poor pick off attempt in the dirt to Matt Dean which advanced the runner but the righty got out of it with some major league fastballs against the overmatched Fort Myers hitters.
In the eighth inning, which was to be Tirado's third and final frame, the reliever worked around a Knecht single to retire Fort Myers and close out his evening with a line of 3.0 IP, three hits, and two strikeouts with no runs allowed. His third offering, the changeup, wasn't thrown much although there may have been one or two of them tossed in there to keep the lefties honest.
Sidearm closer Wil Browning came in for the D-Jays to finish off the game throwing a very deceptive low-90's fastball although he lacked any strong secondary pitches. A Niko Goodrum HBP (he was all over the box score in this one) was the only damage done as the ninth ended rather smoothly and Browning picked up his save.
Overall the team looked solid if unspectacular on the offensive side of the ball. Mitch Nay made some solid contact in good at-bats but ended with a few ground ball outs to show for it, while his corner-mate in Matt Dean had an equally unlucky night with a well-hit fly ball out early in the game coming down just short of the left field wall. While Dawel Lugo looked good on the defensive side of the ball, the young short stop didn't impress with the bat. He also appeared to be looking slightly larger in stature than what pictures of him a few years ago used to show. L.B Dantzler looked okay at the plate, but the man without a clear position is going to have to be better than that if he hopes to see Double-AA anytime soon. Lastly, Roemon Fields looked good in the outfield showing great speed and defensive instincts although he didn't get to use his wheels much on the base paths.
In an extremely limited look, I'd have to say I'm most excited about Alberto Tirado after his appearance made him look like a man among boys. The left side of the infield still looks the most promising in terms of position players with both Dean and Lugo appearing most likely to make the step up successfully to New Hampshire when their time comes either later this year or next.