At The Ballpark: Rutschman in the GCL, Robert and Madrigal in Charlotte, and Vaughn in Winston-Salem

Nick Madrigal takes a break during BP, July 7, 2019, Futures Game, Progressive Field, Cleveland, OH. Photo credit - Scott Greene, @Scotty_Ballgame on Twitter

Rutschman’s Final GCL Game; Bradenton, FL

On July 26, 2019, I attended a Gulf Coast League Orioles vs Gulf Coast League Pirates game in Bradenton, FL. It was the first ever Gulf Coast League (GCL) game I have attended. The GCL Orioles are the Rookie Ball affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, and the GCL Pirates are, of course, the Rookie Ball affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

The GCL Orioles’ roster was headlined by Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson. Adley Rutschman is widely regarded as the best draft prospect since Bryce Harper in 2010. Rutschman, a switch hitting catcher, was drafted 1st overall in the 2019 MLB Draft. He is the Orioles’ top ranked prospect, per Prospects1500, and is ranked 6th in all of baseball by MLBPipeline. He is also ranked as the best catching prospect in all of baseball by MLBPipeline. With high expectations heading into this season with Oregon State, he managed to exceed them. He slashed .411/.575/.751 with 17 HR in 57 games with the Beavers. That is an OPS of 1.327! His incredible performance earned him the prestigious Golden Spikes and Dick Howser Awards. He signed with the O’s for a record $8.1 million. After training in Sarasota for about a month, the 21-year-old phenom was assigned to the GCL Team. He homered in his very first game.

Henderson is ranked 16th in the Orioles system (Prospects1500) and 7th according to MLBPipeline. He was chosen 42nd overall, the first pick of the 2nd round, in the 2019 MLB Draft. He was viewed as a first round talent, yet ended up with the O’s to begin the 2nd round. Henderson is a three-sport athlete who had a baseball commitment to Auburn. In his Senior year, he slashed .559/.641/1.255 with 11 HR with 32 SB in 32 games with Morgan Academy (Selma, AL). The 18-year-old won Alabama Gatorade player of the year honors this year. He caught the attention of the Orioles, who signed him for an above-slot bonus. He is starting to find his footing in the GCL.

The GCL Pirates roster was headlined by Quinn Priester and Sammy Siani. Priester is the Pirates’ 6th best prospect per MLBPipeline (Pirates updated Top 50 on Prospects1500 is coming soon). He was chosen 18th overall in the 2019 MLB Draft. His fastball can reach 97 mph, and his curveball is very nasty; it averages at 80 mph with great movement. Priester was named the 2019 Gatorade Illinois high school player of the year. The 18-year-old RHP has been dominant in his five games with the GCL Pirates, sporting a WHIP of 1.15, an ERA of 2.25, and 24 Ks in 20.0 IP. Siani is the Pirates’ 7th best prospect per MLBPipeline. He was selected 37th overall in the 2019 MLB Draft. He is a great hitter, and has great arm. His brother Michael Siani was drafted in the 4th round of the 2018 MLB Draft by the Cincinnati Reds, and has had a tremendous career so far. Sammy is adjusting well to the GCL so far.

I drove to the GCL Orioles game in Sarasota the day before, but it was unfortunately rained out. It was supposed to be Rutschman’s second career start at catcher, and his fifth and final start in the GCL. However, because of the rainout, the O’s pushed Rutschman’s final GCL start back a day. Luckily, I was staying overnight in the area, and was able to go to the game the following day in Bradenton. The game was played at Pirate City Training Complex, the Pirates’ Spring Training practice fields. They are located about three miles from the main Spring Training stadium, Lecom Park. The game was free to attend, as are all GCL games. 

I arrived early enough to see GCL Pirates batting practice. After Pirates BP, the Orioles’ bus arrived. The players made their way to the field, and Rutschman was among the bunch. There were only 3 fans there when he got to the dugout, and he signed autographs and took pictures with all of them. He was very generous. Next, the GCL Orioles took the field to practice infield drills. After a few cycles through the drills, Rutschman walked to the bullpen to warm up the starting pitcher. Here are some stills I took of him:

In the first inning, Henderson batted second and grounded out. Rutschman batted third and struck out on three pitches. In the bottom half of the inning, Siani leadoff with a triple on the first pitch he saw. Fun fact, Siani has played 22 games of professional baseball so far, and has more triples (2) than doubles (1) and home runs (0). It was a nice shot by Siani, and he flew quickly around the bases. He was easily safe at third. Here is a video of his triple that I took:

Although the Pirates stranded Siani at third in the first inning, they got some runs in the bottom of the second. They had a three-run rally that included a Siani RBI Single. They brought nine batters to the plate in the 2nd, and caused the O’s to start warming up the bullpen early. Rutschman leadoff the 4th inning for the O’s. He grounded out on the first pitch he saw. In the bottom of the 4th, Siani added another RBI via a sac fly.

The O’s got on the board in the 5th inning. Eddison Rojas leadoff the inning with a single, Andrew Martinez walked, and Trevor Kehe walked. With the bases loaded, Henderson kept the line moving with an RBI Single to LF. After a pitching change, Rutschman got an RBI on a force out at third. The O’s got one more run in the 5th on a Harris Yett sac fly. In the bottom of the 6th, Siani drew a walk. It was his third time on base during the game. The O’s scored 3 more runs in the top of the 7th during a rally that was started by a Rutschman four-pitch walk. He was pinch-run for, and his outing was complete. The O’s cut the lead to 7-6 at the end of 7.

In the top of the 8th, Henderson was hit by a pitch. He was okay, and remained in the game. The next batter was Christopher Burgess, who hit a pinch-hit, go-ahead two-run homer. The O’s lead 8-7 going into the bottom of the 8th. With bases loaded and two outs, Kaleb Foster was hit by a pitch. The Pirates tied it 8-8, and the game entered the 9th inning.

The O’s had two runners on base and only one out, but were unable to capitalize. They headed into the bottom of the 9th tied at 8. Jasiah Dixon walked, Norkis Marcos singled, moving Dixon to third, and Dylan Shockey hit a walk off sac fly. The GCL Pirates beat the GCL Orioles 9-8. The Pirates had 13 hits and the O’s had 10. Each team committed 3 errors.

This was Rutschman’s 5th and final GCL appearance. He went 0-3 with 1 BB and 1 RBI. I was surprised by how few fans attended his final GCL Game. Although there was no official attendance taken, there were about 10 fans at the game to see and meet the Orioles’ Number 1 Pick. Rutschman’s time in the GCL was successful and complete. After the game, he caught a flight north to Aberdeen, MD, where he was promoted to. The Aberdeen IronBirds are the Class A Short Season affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. He debuted the very next day as a designated hitter. There were 4,403 people in attendance for his Aberdeen debut. Pictures online showed many fans lined up down the wall trying to meet Rutschman. 

The GCL Game was so awesome. The access fans have to meet the players pregame and then watch them during the game was incredible. It had a very laid back vibe to it. I am definitely looking forward to attending another GCL Game. It was really cool to see Adley Rutschman’s final GCL Game, especially as an Orioles fan from South FL. It was very special to be able to meet him pregame, and then get an up close view of the field during the game. I am glad I got t0 see him just before his promotion to MD, and am still surprised by how few people attended the game considering he was playing. Also, special shoutout and thank you to my Mom for taking me to the game. My Dad, who is a huge baseball fan, usually is the one who takes me to games; however, since he was at a work conference, my Mom, who is not a baseball fan, drove me an hour south to give me the opportunity to meet Adley Rutschman, and watch him play. It was definitely one of my favorite games I have ever been to!

Madrigal’s First AAA Game; Charlotte, NC

This week, I attended two baseball games in North Carolina. On August 1, 2019, I attended a Durham Bulls vs Charlotte Knights game in Charlotte, NC, and on August 3, 2019, I attended a Carolina Mudcats vs Winston-Salem Dash game in Winston-Salem, NC. The game in Charlotte was the first ever Triple-A game I have attended. The Charlotte Knights are the Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, and the Durham Bulls are the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. The teams both play in the International League.

The Charlotte Knights roster was headlined by Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal, and Zack Collins. Madrigal made his AAA Debut at this game, which was cool to see. Madrigal is the White Sox’s 5th best prospect per Prospects1500, and is ranked 43rd in all of baseball by MLBPipeline. He was chosen 4th overall in the 2018 MLB Draft. The 22-year-old righty out of Oregon State is slashing .301/.366/.404 with 31 SB across three levels this season. He has only struck out 11 times in 366 AB this season, an amazingly low percentage. Robert is the White Sox’s No. 1 overall prospect per Prospects1500, and is ranked 5th in all of baseball by MLBPipeline. The 22-year-old righty from Havana, Cuba, is having an incredible season. Robert is slashing .349/.403/.638 with 23 HR and 34 SB over three levels this season. His OPS is over 1.000! The Durham Bulls roster was headlined by MLB rehabber Daniel Robertson and solid prospect Lucius Fox. One of the Rays best prospects, Jesus Sanchez, was unfortunately not at the game because he was traded to the Marlins the day before.

The Charlotte Knights stadium, BB&T Ballpark, is very nice. From the seats, fans get a beautiful view of Uptown Charlotte. There were plenty of good food options, and great access to the players for fans attempting to get autographs.

It was Seinfeld Night at the ballpark. A special guest was in attendance for the game, John O’Hurley. He is known for his role as J. Peterman on Seinfeld, as well as other gigs such as Family Feud. The Knights had a t-shirt giveaway for the first 2,000 fans. They handed out shirts that said “Knights” in the Seinfeld font. O’Hurley met with just about every fan in the stadium, signing autographs and taking photos. He also stuck around for a pregame on-field interview, to throw the first pitch, and do a wonderful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. Yada, yada, yada, the fans really enjoyed his presence.

First Pitch was set for 7:04pm, the Charlotte area code; however, the weather was uncooperative. Two thunderstorms collided above Uptown Charlotte, bringing downpour and lighting onto BB&T Ballpark. The tarp was wisely rolled onto the field before the rain began, and the game entered a weather delay. After a two and a half hour delay, the storms passed and the players took the field. Madrigal, who would be making his AAA debut in less than 30 min, signed his first AAA autographs for the fans who waited out the rain. Luis Robert also came over to sign for the fans. First pitch was finally at 9:31pm.

Sadly, due to the long rain delay, I could only stay for one inning. In the top of the first, Robertson grounded out. In the bottom of the first, Robert led off with a ground out. Then, in his first AAA AB, Madrigal grounded out. That was all I was able to see, unfortunately. 

After I left, Madrigal recorded his first AAA hit, an RBI Single to RF. Luis Robert made an unbelievable catch that got tons of attention online. Zack Collins, Dalton Kelly, Michael Perez, Kevin Padlo, and Daniel Palka all homered. Kelly finished 3 for 4, a triple away from the cycle. The Bulls beat the Knights 7-6. 8,441 people attended the Thursday Night game on Seinfeld Night, a great crowd. Each team recorded 10 hits. Someone who did not record a hit was Luis Robert. He went 0 for 5; his first hitless game since July 21, 2019 (9 games). Although his hitting streak ended, he picked up right where he left off as he homered in the very next game, and went 3 for 5 with an RBI Double in the game after that. I am looking forward to coming back to Charlotte, and hopefully seeing a full game of baseball!

Vaughn’s 4th Class A-Advanced Game; Winston-Salem, NC

Two days later, I drove two hours north to Winston-Salem (WS) to see the Dash take on the Mudcats. The Winston-Salem Dash are the Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, and the Carolina Mudcats are the Class-A Advanced affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. The teams both play in the Carolina League. Although I have been to a plethora of Florida State League games, this was my first Carolina League game. It was very interesting to see a Class-A Advanced game in a new atmosphere.

The Dash’s roster was headlined by Andrew Vaughn, Steele Walker, and Jonathan Stiever. Vaughn is the White Sox’s 2nd best prospect per Prospects1500, and ranked 23rd in all of baseball by MLBPipeline. The 21-year-old power hitting 1B out of Cal was selected 3rd overall in the 2019 MLB Draft. As a sophomore, he won the Golden Spikes Award in 2018. The Golden Spikes is a very prestigious award that is the NCAA Baseball equivalence of the Heisman Trophy. After 3 games in Rookie Ball, he was promoted to Kannapolis, the Class A Full Season affiliate of the White Sox. In 23 games, he slashed .253/.388/.410 with 2 HR. He was then promoted to WS, where he homered in his very first game. Walker is the White Sox’s 6th best prospect per Prospects1500, and was chosen 46th overall in the 2018 MLB Draft. The 23-year-old lefty out of the University of Oklahoma is slashing .299/.374/.475 with 8 HR and 10 SB across two levels this season. Additionally, on the Monday following the game, he was named the Carolina League Player of the Week for the second time this season. In the six games he played this week, he went 13 for 23, with 4 BB, 1 HR, 3 doubles, 1 triple, and 5 RBIs.

The Mudcats’ roster was headlined by Brice Turang, Tristen Lutz, and Aaron Ashby. Turang is the Brewers’ best prospect per Prospects1500, and is ranked 81st in all of baseball by MLBPipeline. He was selected 21st overall in the 2018 MLB Draft. The 19-year-old left-handed hitter from Corona, CA, is slashing .267/.369/.359 with 27 SB across two levels this season. Lutz is the Brewers’ 8th best prospect per Prospects1500, and was chosen 34th overall in the 2017 MLB Draft. The 20-year-old righty from Arlington, TX, is slashing .247/.333/.394 with 10 HR in 102 games with Carolina.

The Dash’s stadium is one of the newest in the Carolina League. Formerly the Warthogs, the Dash changed their name when they got their new ballpark in 2009. Here is the clever reasoning behind their new name: Winston DASH Salem. The stadium was constructed by the same company who built the ballpark in Charlotte. It is also called BB&T Ballpark. I liked the ballpark in WS even better than the one in Charlotte. It was absolutely gorgeous, and I think it was even better than some of the FL Spring Training stadiums. The fans were really into the game, and the concession choices were terrific. We purchased a BB&T Park concessions staple, the Cheesy Pig Dog. Since its debut in 2016, it has become so popular that they sell t-shirts with an illustration of it in the Team Store. It was a hot dog topped with pulled pork, mac and cheese, and shredded cheese. It was delicious.

The Dash scored early and often in the first two innings. Walker lead off with a single, Mitch Roman singled, Vaughn walked, and Craig Dedelow doubled in two runs. Carlos Perez then hit a sac fly, scoring Vaughn. In the second inning, with two outs, Walker drew a walk and then Roman homered. The Dash lead 6-0 after two. 

The Dash’s starting pitcher, Konnor Pilkington, allowed 0 hits and just 1 walk through the first four innings of the game. Pilkington is the White Sox’s 23rd best prospect per Prospects1500, and was chosen 81st overall in the 2018 MLB Draft. The 21-year-old LHP out of Mississippi State has a WHIP of 1.30 and 113 Ks in 104.0 IP across two levels this season. He is really starting to hit his stride with the Dash.

Pilkington’s No-No ended in the 5th, as he allowed three singles and a walk. The final of the three singles was a 2 RBI Single by the Brewers’ top prospect, Turang, to put Carolina on the board. Pilkington got back into his groove and finished strong with a 1-2-3 6th inning. He had a wonderful pitching performance, as his stat line would indicate: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 2 R, 2 ER, 7 K. He was very effective on the mound, and looked like he had great command the whole game.

In the 7th inning, Wyatt Burns came in to pitch for Pilkington. He threw a perfect inning, striking out 2. In the bottom half of the inning, Phil Bickford struck out the first two batters. Next, Walker drew an impressive 7-pitch walk. He then stole 2nd base, his 10th SB of the season. Bickford then struck out Roman, ending the inning. In the top of the 8th, Burns came back out to pitch but was not as effective. He allowed a single each to Zack Clark and Turang, and then an RBI Single to Mario Feliciano. Feliciano is the Brewers’ 9th best prospect per Prospects 1500, and was chosen 75th overall in the 2016 MLB Draft. The 20-year-old power hitting righty catcher from Puerto Rico is slashing .272/.322/.470 with a league leading 17 HR in 104 games for Carolina. The Mudcats got one more run on a sac fly, and finished the top of the inning down 6-4. In the bottom of the 8th, Vaughn flew out in his final AB of the game.

Bennett Sousa came in to pitch the top of the ninth for WS. He struck out the first batter, but then allowed a double to Wes Rogers. Sousa was unfazed, however, as he struck out the next two batters, stranding Turang in the on deck circle, and winning the game. The Winston-Salem Dash defeated the Carolina Mudcats 6-4. The game started at 4:03pm, and lasted 2 hours and 35 min. The Dash got a big crowd for this game: 6,223. Postgame, Dash starting pitcher Konnor Pilkington was interviewed on the field about his terrific pitching performance. He was named Player of the Game, and it was well earned as he pitched very well. I had such a great time at the game, and can’t wait to come back to WS for another game!

Hello, my name is Bailey Srebnik. I am the Social Media Manager for Prospects1500, and I am also the Florida State League correspondent and Tampa Bay Rays co-correspondent. I am a junior in High School, residing in the Ft Lauderdale area. Living in FL, I enjoy going to Spring Training games each season. I also attend many MiLB games each year, mainly in the Florida State League. I root for the Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays, Miami Marlins, and Daytona Tortugas. I am currently in 4 deep dynasty baseball leagues, which is fun. Being a person who enjoys math, I’m also really into the sabermetrics. I find it fascinating. When it comes to music, I am a big fan of Oasis and The Killers. You can find me on Twitter at @xwOBAiley. Thank you for reading.

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