By Todd Johnson
Yesterday marked the beginning of the second-half for most short season teams. For the Eugene Emeralds, it’s a fresh start with about half the roster turning over the past two to three weeks. Now, college level draft picks abound. When the 2018 season began on June 15, the majority of the roster was manned by 18 to 19-year-old prospects.
As a result, it was a tough first half for the Ems as they went 14-24. The Ems struggled to hit consistently in the first half. They were last in Northwest League team batting with a .216 average. That’s not a typo. .216. Hopefully, the college draft picks can get the bats going now that the season has reset itself.
While the outfield largely remains the same as the first half with Fernando Kelli, Nelson Velasquez, and Jonathan Sierra, most of the infield turned over along with several new pitchers and a new catcher. Let’s take a look at just the new players who are going to try and help Eugene in the second half get back to the playoffs for the third straight year
Catcher: Brennon Kaleiwahea is a non-drafted free-agent out of Tennessee Tech. He stabilized the catching position with his excellent receiving skills as soon as he was activated.
Tyler Durna – He is an outstanding defender and can hit in spurts. Hopefully, he can get something going consistently in the second half. Right now, he is in up mode as he is closing in on .270 from a low of .230.
Jake Slaughter – He came out of LSU after his sophomore year and has struggled so far in Eugene. He’s got good size at 6’3”, but it could take a while for him to adjust. He came out of LSU after his sophomore year and just needs more experience.
Luke Reynolds – Right now, he’s killing it in Eugene hitting over .300 in just a week. He could be the center of the lineup. Then again, I wonder how long he will stay as South Bend could also use a bat in their playoff hunt.
Grant Fennell – A non-drafted free agent out of the University of Nevada, Fennell hit over .350 at Mesa. He’s been at Eugene about a week and has played all over the field. I look forward to seeing more of him and where he might play.
Levi Jordan – He ought to feel pretty close to home as the University of Washington shortstop looks to get things going. He arrived almost a week ago and has only gotten in a few games to date
All four of these college pitchers have made a couple of starts of 2-3 innings apiece. Although, Mort did make a 4 inning one last week. Like last year’s draft pick starters, we won’t get a really good look at these guys until next year when they have no restrictions at South Bend. I really like the Casey pick and hope to see more of him soon. He’s decent sized at 6’2” and his delivery really comes over the top putting the baseball on a steep downhill plane which is to his advantage. Thompson might be the most intriguing as he is converting to a starting role with a fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s. In watching him last night, he looked good throwing his fastball on a steep downhill plane that was hard to square up. His secondaries are a work in progress.
Bullpen: Riley McCauley, Ethan Roberts, Cam Sanders, and Carlos Vega
Part of me was hoping that Roberts and Vega might be moved to starting roles, but for now let them throw in the bullpen and get their work in this year before they are sent to South Bend next year.
Now, with a full complement of 35 players, Eugene should be much improved from their 14-24 first half. I am interested to see how well the new pitchers can do in spite of their inning limits. As for the hitters, they should breathe some life into the Ems lineup for a team that struggled to hit. The Emeralds started the second half last night in Eugene against Salem-Keizer, the Giants short season affiliate. The Ems lost 4-3 in extra innings but managed to scrap out 10 hits (.263). It’s a start.