Here’s what the RailRiders lineup looked like a little more than two weeks ago at the start of a quick homestand against Rochester on June 13:
- Tyler Wade, shortstop
- Dustin Fowler, center field
- Greg Bird, designated hitter
- Tyler Austin, first base
- Clint Frazier, left field
- Gleyber Torres, third base
- Kyle Higashioka, catcher
- Mason Williams, right field
- Donovan Solano, second base
Caleb Smith was the starting pitcher. Chance Adams, Luis Cessa, J.P. Feyereisen, Domingo German, J.R. Graham, Ben Heller, Tyler Jones, Brady Lail, Tommy Layne, Joe Mantiply, Bryan Mitchell, Tyler Webb and Matt Wotherspoon were on the staff. Eddy Rodriguez, Ji-Man Choi, Cito Culver and Mark Payton were on the bench.
The RailRiders faced Chris Heston, of MLB no-hitter fame, that night, and knocked him around for six hits and four runs in 2.1 innings. They battered the bullpen for nine more hits. Fowler doubled and tripled. Austin doubled twice. Solano and Higashioka also doubled, and Williams tripled.
Here’s the RailRiders lineup from the last game I covered, the second game of Wednesday’s doubleheader against Syracuse:
- Mason Williams, center field
- Jake Cave, right field
- Clint Frazier, designated hitter
- Ji-Man Choi, first base
- Cito Culver, shortstop
- Mark Payton, left field
- Billy Fleming, second base
- Abiatal Avelino, third base
- Eddy Rodriguez, catcher
Matt Wotherspoon started (Smith picked up the completion of the first game, so technically it was his day to start). On the staff: Adams, Dan Camarena, Nestor Cortes, Feyereisen, Graham, Heller, Jonathan Holder, Jones, Lail, Layne, Mantiply and Mitchell. On the bench: Wilkin Castillo, Solano, Chris Carter and Fowler. Holder and Carter had yet to report to SWB, and Fowler was in call-up lingo, so he couldn’t play.
The RailRiders won that game, too, 3-1, despite starting seven different players from that June 13 game.
Wade is up in New York. Torres needed Tommy John and is out for the season. Fowler got the call, then horrifically injured his knee in his first game before even getting an AB, and now he’s out for the season. Austin is in New York and hurt. Bird is still sidelined with his bad ankle and Higashioka is on the disabled list with a bad back. Between Wade and Fowler, the RailRiders lost 176 hits, 35 doubles, 11 triples, 18 home runs, 68 RBIs and 37 stolen bases. The normal 1-2 punch at the top of the SWB lineup scored 108 of the team’s 390 runs.
Roster moves are common in minor league baseball. But the RailRiders have made 59 transactions since June 13.
For the month of June, they’re at 73 transactions. They made 17 moves in April, and 54 in May.
Yet, the RailRiders are 14-5 since that game against Rochester and are a half-game behind Lehigh Valley — and tied in the loss column — for first place in the International League North. They’ve swept two of the three doubleheaders they’ve played over this stretch and have outscored opponents, 103-69.
For the most part, the transactions haven’t impacted the starting rotation too much, and that’s been key over this stretch. The RailRiders know what they’re going to get from Smith, Adams and Mitchell, and Lail’s been pretty good in his last three outings. Guys like Domingo Acevedo and Adonis Rosa have contributed wins, and the RailRiders still hold a team 3.53 ERA — second best in the International League.
The pitching staff should give the lineup time to adjust. Frazier, Choi and Miguel Andujar will have to hold down the middle of the lineup. Choi’s off to a good start with that — he’s batting .314 (11 for 35) over his last 10 games while smashing four of his six home runs. Cave (1.054 OPS in June), Culver (.916) and Solano (.804) will have to build off their big Junes. And Williams’ DFA means they’ll have to figure out who their leadoff man is. Payton led off Thursday, but went 0 for 4.
The team will also likely need another outfielder. Carlos Vidal was reinstated from the Low-A Charleston disabled list and transferred to SWB on Thursday, but the 21-year-old has yet to play a game above High-A Tampa. The RailRiders were finding time for Fowler, Frazier, Williams, Cave and Wade/Austin in the outfield, and only Frazier and Cave remain. Payton will get his share of the at-bats, but there’s plenty of playing time available. My take: Billy McKinney makes some sense. He’s already played 269 games at the Double-A level and had a monster June at Trenton (.333/.400/.571). He’s probably due for a promotion. Or, the RailRiders could play Frazier, Cave and Payton every day, and then call up Mike Ford and rotate Ford and Choi between first base and designated hitter. Ford’s had a big June, too (.270/.400/.528), and he raked when he was with SWB for nine games in May.
This is a resilient bunch of players. They want to win. They love being the champs and, chances are, they’ll figure this out.