Calm, Quiet Days Foreshadow Future Aurora Hopefuls

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Updated: August 5, 2019

All The News Fit For The Front Range

Calm, Quiet Days Foreshadow Future Aurora Hopefuls

by Francis Ferry, NLN baseball beat writer

 

June 8, 2029: Asheville, North Carolina – Last season, as the Baseball world descended upon this beautiful spot in the Appalachian’s, Hurricane John worked it’s way along the eastern seaboard and wreaked havoc on the 2028 draft – a draft forever known for it’s black-outs and hand-written notes passed about denoting selections, then it will be about the likes of Robbie Wiggins, Torcall Penrose or Stewart Arundale. The 2029 edition will be remembered for being the exact opposite – streamlined, efficient, and for the Aurora Borealis, filled with more question marks and more than a couple of guys opting out of signing with the one-time destination franchise – and you can look no further than the Aurora back account and it’s college freshmen balance for that problem.

 

Tojeira leads Yuma’s ‘Draft a Team’ 2029 Class

But the draft did come, it did happen, and despite lacking a first round pick (part of the price of prying Bob Burns from San Antonio in last season’s failed attempt to get back to the PEC), the Borealis did have four 2nd round selections, and as luck would have it, a shortened 1st round and Supplemental round, those four picks were not to horribly down the road from Yuma’s (always Yuma) #1 selection, SP Jose Tojeira. “There certainly were some interesting selections in that first round,” Aurora GM Will Topham said as he headed to the Asheville Regional Airport to hope the team jet back to The Front Range. “You had to figure Tojeira would go high, as Pablo Garza – and John Ross, top of our board, gives Kalamazoo a bright looking 1-2 punch with Wiggins.” the GM referring to the Badgers top selection last year “It was also interesting to see teams drafting for need – when was the last time a pair of catchers were drafted in the first round?” The answer to that was last season when Ewan Carne (AMS), Foppe Ros (HAV) and Jose Castillo (DUL) were all drafted in the bottom 4th of round 1. “For half a second we thought Bruce Schneider (RF taken by West Virginia at 22nd) was going to make it to our first pick at 33 – and he was the top hitter on our list.”

 

Can Simmons’ develop fast enough to make a real difference for Aurora?

But, he didn’t, and thus when Aurora’s first selection came, the 4th in round 2 (thanks, San Antonio), they selected what most folks thought around The Front Range – and infielder, and more importantly, a 3B, in taking David Simmons (from Woodland, CA – just a bit west of Sacramento), out of Barbe HS. Ay, there’s the rub – a high school kid – one many expect might opt for college (rumor is he has a few offers on the table). Aurora needs something in the system that resembles a future replacement for Mike Britt, but this kid is raw. Aurora Head Scout, Jon Donohue loves the kid – but did I say he was raw? His career numbers won’t blow you away, but he has hit 16 and 15 HR the past two seasons (he was 3rd in the WC in HR and RBI this year – to teammate Scotty Weeks, drafted by Duluth in the 3rd round) and was 7th in WC average at .251 in 2029. He’s not a speed guy, and he’ll need to really improve his defense (5 errors in 26 games), but the potential with the bat, with power to all fields, is something the Borealis need to replace in the more immediate future. As the fair and outside observer, I’d say this is a pick that is not serving Aurora’s needs quite as much as the team would like – and that’s because of his age. This marks the first time since 2015, when Aurora selected ‘Massacre’ Jimenez #1, that the Borealis have taken a high school kid with their first selection – be it a #1 or #2 pick. Simmons was a 2-time All-Star and was the Western Conference Finals MVP this season, with 3 HR and 6 RBI over 10 games – despite hitting just .222.

 

Moran’s tough luck injury will delay his start – will it slow him upon his return?

Moving down the round, with the 41st pick in the second round, Aurora stayed in the infield, but once more made a pick that seems to smell a bit controversial. They chose the college guy – red-shirt sophomore Hector Moran out of Stanford, who has two things going against him – as far as I am concerned. One, the Lindenhurst (NY) native has intimated in his social media feeds that he was simply testing the waters by entering the draft, and is really more interested in going back to school for his fourth academic year studying Accelerated Race Relations and Integrated Technologies. Secondly, he fractured his knee cap in an ugly play as he slid into second and got tangled with a diving for the ball Memphis 2B Alfonso Gonzales (the 20th overall selection by Fargo). He will miss at least another 7 weeks of playing time, which puts him at best being set to play as the Surf and Snow reaches their All-Star Game – missing half the Short A season. Hector is in many respects a Simmons-lite: decent power to all fields. His red-shirt freshmen year he hit for a .514 SLG with 8 HR and he was on pace to top that this year, where he slashed his way to a .273/.327/.591 in just 11 games. He has decent speed, but he won’t be stealing 20 bases anytime soon, and he has pretty good defensive skills – an excellent glove and accurate arm, if not the strongest in the world. Like Simmons before, he needs some work, but he’s a bit more polished, older, and a more ML ready infielder. If he signs – a Big If, he’ll continue rehabbing at the Grand Junction Spring Training site before heading to Mokule’ia.

 

Around Baseball there’s differing opinions on Yamada – starting with will he stay?

With the 46th pick overall, Aurora selected CL Washichi Yamada out of Chuo University. Yamada is not your prototypical guy for Aurora – he is not overpowering – scouts have him toping out at 92 mph and he offsets his reasonable fastball with a knuckle curve – that he must have excellent control over as he walked a grand total of 6 batters in his 76 college IP, and allowed only a single HR while sporting a 1.16 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP during his 3-years at Chuo. He had the lowest BB/9 (0.50) and the best K/BB ratio (18) in the PL. He will definitely need to be able to keep hitters off balance with the placement of his pitches, as scouts question the quality of pitches and the movement they have – even the curve. He’s definitely a guy Aurora is drafting for his performance record and not so much his perceived talent. He was a 2-time college All-Star and finished 2nd in the Reliever of the Year voting. Although he’s drafted as a closer, and had 44 saves in his three college seasons (his 15 were 2nd in the PL this year), I’d suspect he’ll be used, ultimately, in a set-up role – should he sign. Yamada, like the two guys who proceeded him, are seriously considering returning to school for the 2030 season. Rumor also is he’s expecting a much larger compensation package than those selected before him.

 

Aurora’s financial woes are dipping fingers into every aspect of the teams recovery – even the draft.

With their 4th selection of the second round, and the 54th pick overall, Aurora went back to high school for SP Carl Huntsman, from San Buenaventura in southern California, who attended East Rutherford HS. Yet another top selection that is expected to go back to school – and word is out that Aurora does not have the budget space to offer the young pitcher what he expects (a whopping $2.2M) – so we should see Huntsman take up one of the offers from the many colleges seeking his services. For the record, Huntsman was drafted to likely be turned into a closer as he has potentially devastating fastball and curves that he does well to keep down in the zone, enticing hitters into grounding out at a rate of 60% the past two seasons. As a junior, he was the Eastern Conference Reliever of the year, before they moved him into a starters role this season. It’s safe to say we will be watching his progress over the next three seasons, wherever he may wind up in college.

 

Bates might surprise folks as being better than he looks on paper.

Moving on to the 3rd round, the Borealis continued their unconventional draft with another high school kid – but this one, at least, is excited about beginning his pro career. SP Greg Bates, out of James River HS is a young arm that features what scouts believe will be four above average pitches: the traditional collection of a fastball, curve, slider and change. He has done well in high school, showing good control – a 0.88 WHIP and 267 K in 235 IP (10.2/9, though you never know when that’s a product of level of play) – stats that are reflected by his leading the EC in IP and placing 3rd in K, 3rd in BB/9 and 4th in K/BB. The Independence, Missouri native doesn’t project to be a top of the rotation guy, but with some solid growth, he may well join the ranks of Aurora’s young arms – Henry Cluett, Armando Batista, and Pedro Morales, as they move towards their time on The Front Range. Bates was a 2-time HS All-Star and will be moving into the rotation at Mokule’ia.

 

Wherever his position ends up – bet on him to be on the cusp in a few seasons.

With the 104th selection, in the 4th round, Aurora made one of their more intriguing picks – selecting who they saw as one of the best catching prospects in the draft – who may actually end-up playing more 1B. Dubliner Daragh Samms isn’t a decorated player in any way – unlike those picked before him, but he has the potential to be one of the guys from this years draft to rise high through the system. Out of Meiji University, Samms played only his last two years, managing a .246 average with 10 HR and 26 RBI in 49 games. Although a plodding man on the bases, it’s Daragh’s versatility as a catcher and a 1B that will likely see him rise through the Organization – one that is starved for production at both positions. Scouts like his upper-cut and potential for power that he shows. He’s not likely to hit .300 in his career, but with proper instruction and work, he could well see himself into the Big Leagues. Playing exclusively 1B this year, Samms committed just 2 errors. With Aurora drafting two 1B in the latter rounds (12th rounder Adrian Silva, and 15th rounder Randall Sykes) it’s a safe bet that he will get the bulk of his playing time behind the plate with the Oceanic.

 

If Cox continues growing at the pace he has, expect some promising results.

Aurora stayed with college players in the 5th round, as with the 140th pick they took OF Will Cox out of Indiana. Cox, who hails from Dallas, is a speedy, excellent defensive outfielder who can play all three spots equally well – though he played well over 90% of his innings in RF, where he committed just a single error this past season. He was an All-Star this season, hitting .284 with 14 HR and 32 RBI. He did finish second to 2nd overall pick Garza in runs scored in 2029. Cox is a 4-year starter who showed tremendous growth over those 4-seasons. Like the hitters before him, he shows a decent amount of power, but needing to work on his contact to strikeout less. Will is rumored to be a tough sign, but the team expects him to not break the bank with his ask. Aurora now has an interesting collection of young outfielders at Short A, so how they manage the playing time for Will Cox and the others will be one of the early storylines in the Hawaiian League.

 

So there you have it. Not a single ‘Big Name Star’ in the bunch. A number of guys who’s thoughts may not be so much about pro ball as it is about an education – does that say something, ultimately, about their talent? We shall see. What these players seek in signing compensation and how they ultimately perform is for the future to tell, but for now, it’s a quiet time for an Organization that suddenly is starved for big news and bigger success. As the tell-it-like-it-is reporter I am, I’ll tell you that this draft class does not instill excitement in this reporter’s heart. Check out the Aurora Storealis Blog for Ray’s comments on the rest of the draft.