The Rundown: Rice Cooking in AFL, Dodgers Pen, New Rays Ballpark, More Notes

We ran a piece a while back about a hot catcher in the Cubs system named Ian Rice, which was notable because it went up prior to the promotions of either Willson Contreras or Victor Caratini. That’s not meant to toot anyone’s horn, though Todd Johnson did a great job on it. Rather, it’s a testament to just how deep the Cubs were, and still are, at the position.

Rice has continued to toil in relative obscurity, but he’s opening some eyes with his play in the Arizona Fall League. He’s gone 6-for-12 over his last four games and now boasts a .400 average with an 1.120 OPS for the Mesa Solar Sox.

At the risk of getting a little too speculative, Rice’s continued maturation could make Caratini even more expendable than Willson Contreras already has. Caratini has the chops to be a starting catcher for someone, so keeping him in Chicago is only suppressing his own development and his value to the Cubs. They could trade him as part of a deal to improve other areas of the roster and run with a more traditional backup.

That would clear space for Rice to move up to AAA, where he’d be waiting in the wings should he be needed. Looking at his batting averages for Myrtle Beach (.238) and Tennessee (.230) might not excite you, but OBP numbers that consistently run about 120 points higher tell you this young man has an excellent plate approach.

And he hit 17 homers in AA just a year after hitting 15 across both A-ball levels in 2016. If the 24-year-old can continue to develop that power stroke while maintaining his keen eye, he could provide great value to the Cubs in the near future, one way or the other.

Dodgers relievers surrender runs

With his team leading 3-1 in the top of the 5th inning of Game 2, manager Dave Roberts went to his bullpen. Just a reminder, we’re talking about the World Series here. So the Dodgers were facing an Astros lineup with tons of talent up and down, which is to say they’d be wise not to give Houston too many looks at the same guy.

So Kenta Maeda comes on in relief of Rich Hill and he gets four outs with only one hit. Tony Watson then comes on to get two outs and complete the 6th inning. Ross Stripling walks the first batter he faces, so Brandon Morrow finished the 7th. His stuff looked sick, but Morrow wasn’t missing bats quite like he had been against the D-backs and Cubs. As such, a double by Alex Bregman to lead off the 8th signaled the end of Morrow’s night.

I know many of you watched the game or know the outcome, but I’m going to ask you to eschew as much prior knowledge as you can for this exercise. I want you to pretend you’re Dave Roberts for just a moment and tell me what move you’re making in that situation.

You went with Kenley Jansen, didn’t you? Of course you did, because the dude is the best closer in baseball right now and you need to preserve that lead for six outs. Thing is, he could only so so for three. Carlos Correa singled to pull the Astros to within one and give the Dodgers ‘pen its first blemish in three full games’ worth of innings, but all was well.

I mean, surely Jansen would shut things down in the 9th. But Marwin Gonzalez(!) had other ideas, driving an 0-2 cutter over the wall to lead off the final frame and eventually push the game to extras. Jansen completed the inning, but Josh Fields and Brandon McCarthy would go on to allow three more homers in the next two innings in what finished as a 7-6 Houston win.

A silly headline in USA Today claimed that, “micromanaging backfires at the worst possible time” for the Dodgers, but we know better than to believe that. The simple fact of the matter is that the Astros are really, really good and that the Dodgers had gone 27 innings of relief without allowing a run. While something was bound to give, Roberts made the right calls Tuesday night.

Seeing LA tear through postseason lineups in the latter third of games as though hitters were no more substantial than wet toilet paper has me salivating at the idea of the Cubs getting two more high-leverage relievers.

More news and notes

  • The Rays have been trying to get a new stadium for a while and it now appears they’ve settled on a location. Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan announced Tuesday that a site in Ybor City, which is actually in Tampa rather than St. Pete, was amenable to all parties involved.
  • Giancarlo Stanton has apparently not yet met with the Marlins’ new ownership group, though a powwow is imminent. They’ll get together after the World Series, at which point we should learn a little more about the slugger’s future.
  • The Phillies are reportedly planning to hire AAA manager Dusty Wathan as their skipper.
  • The Myrtle Beach Pelicans have announced their 2018 schedule, so get your spring and summer trips planned now. I have said this many times here, but they’ve got a great ballpark and there’s a lot to do in the area. Even if you’re not well-versed on the Cubs’ minor league system, I guarantee you’ll have fun down there.
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