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MLB Rising Stars: Tyler Freeman tears it up; Taj Bradley shines in Triple-A debut

Like some minor-leaguers, The Athletic’s writers of “This Week in Minor League Baseball” took a break last week from regular-season action to tend to the festivities surrounding the MLB All-Star Game. We didn’t slack off, though. We flooded the pages with so much content, I can barely link it all here. Anyway, we’re back, and we’ll be here through the end of the minor-league season. Off we go!

Who showed out this weekend

• Middle infielder Tyler Freeman may not be a member of the Guardians organization come the Aug. 2 trade deadline. Or maybe he will be. It’s hard to tell right now, a week out from decision time, what direction the team will take. But there’s little doubt at this point that Freeman could be a good chip for the Guardians in a potential trade.

Cleveland’s No. 7 prospect entering the season, Freeman has re-established himself as a successful contact hitter after missing the end of last season and the start of this season while recovering from surgery to repair a labrum tear in his left shoulder, his second such operation. Freeman was 9 for 14 over the weekend for Triple-A Columbus. Despite a 2-for-24 skid in a six-game series against the Brewers’ Triple-A team in early July, Freeman has batted .331 with a .401 OBP and as many walks (12) as strikeouts in his last 30 games . Freeman had a .227 average, a .348 OBP, 10 walks and 16 strikeouts in the 30 games leading into his current streak. The resurgence is a promising development for the 23-year-old, whom the Guardians added to their 40-man roster in November.

Freeman, a second-rounder in 2017, may not be expected to hit for much power but he showed some pop against Toledo.

Will Benson, Cleveland’s top pick in 2016, also had a strong weekend, bolstering his July numbers with an 8-for-17 performance that included a double and a homer. Benson has 30 hits since June 26 and is tied for second-most among all Triple-A hitters with teammate Will Brennan, Rockies outfielder Wynton Bernard, Angels third baseman Jose Rojas and Red Sox catcher Ronaldo Hernandez.

• Diamondbacks outfield prospect Jorge Barrosa, who is batting .342 in July, led all full-season minor leaguers with a 10-hit weekend in the Double-A Texas League. short stop Javier Rivasa member of the Pirates’ 2019-20 international signing class who received a $600,000 bonus, collected 11 hits in 17 at-bats between Thursday and Monday.

Darius Vines, a right-handed pitching prospect and former high school quarterback, has begun to establish himself as a veritable strike thrower in his last two months in Double A. He threw strikes nearly 71 percent of the time in his June outings and 68 percent of the time so far in July. Vines dominated in his most recent outing from him, holding the Rays’ affiliate to one hit and one walk while striking out 10 batters and giving up no runs in six innings. He drew 21 swings-and-misses, tied for his season high. Vines’ pitch count was elevated, his 92 pitches matching the second-highest total of his season, but only 25 offerings were called balls.

In six starts since giving up seven runs in back-to-back June outings, Vines have given up only 18 hits, 11 walks and six earned runs. He has struck out 41 opponents in his last 35 2/3 innings.

• There are only seven minor-league pitchers with more strikeouts on the season than Vines’ 114. Two of them put together impressive performances over the weekend, increasing their K totals as they went. On the heels of a Futures Game appearance in which his command of him wobbled, Giants prospect Kyle Harrison he threw three scoreless, no-hit innings against the Double-A Bowie Baysox. He got all nine outs via strikeout and issued one walk, to his first batter, on Saturday. And about a month after punching out a dozen members of the Astros’ Double-A affiliate, Diamondbacks right-hander Brandon Pfaadt filled up the strike zone in six innings against the A’s Texas League team and struck out 11 batters. He threw 71 percent strikes and generated 17 swings-and-misses. Pfaadt gave up five hits and a walk but kept Midland off the board, giving him his first scoreless outing since May 25. Pfaadt leads the minors with 136 strikeouts; Harrison is third with 128.

• Rays pitching prospect Taj Bradley did not appear fazed by his new surroundings when he made his Triple-A debut on Sunday. Bradley struck out eight batters in five scoreless innings for the Durham Bulls. He pitched around a little bit of traffic, including a Richie Martin double that started the fifth inning for the Orioles’ affiliate, and never let anyone advance to third base. At one point, a changeup got away from him but the pitch fooled the batter anyway. Start the clip below around the 24-second mark to watch Kelvin Gutierrez tie himself up.

A few more notable performances:

• Left-handed parents christmas candle gave up three hits and one walk while striking out 10 batters in seven innings against the High-A Dayton Dragons.

Chayce McDermott, the Astros’ fourth-round pick last year, threw three scoreless, no-hit innings with two walks against the Rays’ High-A team. Like Harrison did in his near-perfect outing, McDermott picked up all of his outs via strikeout.

• Opponents have had a hard time squaring up Cubs right-hander louis devers since his promotion to the High-A Midwest League earlier this month. The 22-year-old has given up only one run and eight hits in four outings. In his latest start from him, he gave up neither. The only damage against him in six innings was two hit batters and one walk.

Transactions of notes

Bradley was one of several Futures Game participants who changed levels after the minor-league break. yankees prospect Jason Dominguez moved to High-A Hudson Valley, a promotion he learned about right before he left for Los Angeles. Cincinnati’s young rising star Elly Cruz was sent to Double-A Chattanooga, his fourth level since coming to the United States last year. Nationals infielder Darren Baker made the climb up to Double A as well, joining Harrisburg on Friday. Brewers outfield prospect jackson chouriomeanwhile, made it up to the High-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers on Sunday.

Other notable moves included:

• The other Max Muncyaka Oakland’s top pick from last year’s draft, was promoted to High-A Lansing from Low-A Stockton.

• Left hander Colton Gordon, whom the Astros drafted out of Central Florida in the eighth round last year, will soon make his full-season affiliate debut. He was assigned to the Low-A Fayetteville Woodpeckers after throwing 13 innings in the Florida Complex league across six outings (five starts). The start of Gordon’s pro career was delayed by a Tommy John surgery he had last May.

• Dominican shortstop Kevin Madethe Cubs’ No. 12 prospect, made the move to High-A South Bend, 115 games after the teenager made his stateside debut with Low-A Myrtle Beach in late May 2021.

• Nationals’ infielder Omar Meregildo capped his time with High-A Wilmington before the break with three homers in three days, then kicked off his Double-A tenure on Friday with a 3-for-4 night to stretch his home run binge to four games. Meregildo, 24, first signed with the Nationals in 2014. He made a brief stop with the Senators late last season but has primarily played full-season ball at the A-level since 2018.

In other Nats’ news, catcher Israel Pineda accompanied Baker on the move to Harrisburg, displacing catcher Drew Miles, who was sent down to the High-A Wilmington.

• Marlins outfield prospect and Vanderbilt product JJ Bledaythe No. 4 pick of the 2019 draft, made it to the major leagues on Saturday after a two-hit night for Triple-A Jupiter upon his return from the break.

Yhoswar Garcia hasn’t played much for the Phillies since signing for $2.5 million as an 18-year-old free agent in 2020, and it’s unlikely he’ll get much more time this year. A severe ankle sprain has hampered him since late May. He was moved to the 60-day injured list on Friday.

• On a lighter note:

Plays that wow

*Extreme announcer voice* DAVID. FLETCHER. The tip of the cap goes to Jake Palomaki, too. I have started it all.

To quote a Twitter reply, hang it in the Louvre. Isiah Gilliam’s casual reaction to this nuke should be immortalized:

Gilliam’s casualness is rivaled here by Dodgers prospect Andy Pages.

odds and ends

The Dominican Summer League put on an All-Star Game on Sunday at the Padres’ international outpost in San Cristobal, a province located about an hour south of the Dominican Republic’s capital city Santo Domingo. The Angels’ randy de jesus and Diamondbacks’ Santiago Ramirez were named MVP of their respective leagues. Ramirez threw a perfect first inning for the National League squad. De Jesús was 2-for-2, including a three-run homer in the sixth to pad the American League’s lead. The game, which featured uniforms similar to the ones used by MLB all-stars in Los Angeles last week, ended in a 6-6 tie.

A head-scratcher.

And a head-wringer.

(Photo by Tyler Freeman: Joe Camporeale / USA Today)

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