Reno Aces waiting for call to pennant race
August 31, 2018
SAN FRANCISCO — Predicting the September call-up is like looking into a crystal ball.
Major League Baseball managers and their staffs assess players from their minor-league system, wondering who may help the most, especially down the stretch.
The Diamondbacks, who are leading the National League West, are no different from any other pennant contender.
"We're walking through the process right now," said Arizona manager Torey Lovullo before the D-backs opened a three-game series against the Giants on Monday. "We have some no brainers … those (who) obviously deserve the call-up and perform at this level."
Teams will begin pulling up key players Saturday, but Arizona called up Reno first baseman Christian Walker on Tuesday. Walker — one of Reno's top hitters with a .299 batting average, 18 home runs and 71 RBIs — has had his taste of life in the majors for the past two years since he arrived in Reno. Lovullo said his staff relies on input from Mike Bell, the D-backs' director of Player Development, Reno manager Greg Gross and Aces pitching coach Gil Heredia.
"Every single time a group of players come up from the Triple-A, they're prepared," Lovullo pointed out. "That's a credit to that entire staff."
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During the season Lovullo and his coaches have seen a number of Aces' players come and go. Some have played well, while others still needed additional work at the Triple-A level. With Reno out of this season's postseason, the timing couldn't be better for both Arizona and the Aces for the call-ups.
"We don't want to miss out on any needs we have," the second-year manager said. "We'll look at position players."
One thing is certain. Luvullo said the call-ups can't wait after the Aces players leave Reno after their final game on Labor Day and head elsewhere. Luvullo also didn't rule out bringing up another catcher that would give Arizona four on its roster. Nothing is definite until the call-up.
Speaking of the crystal ball, no one can predict who will be leaving Reno for the Valley of the Gods this weekend, yet Reno relief pitchers Silvino Bracho and Braden Shipley were called up last season and may have the edge to be on the Diamondbacks' roster for the remainder of this season. They each bring major league experience as does reliever Jimmy Sherfy. Starting right-handed pitcher Matt Koch has bounced back and forth between Reno and the D-backs, where he went 5-4 in 15 games. Koch could see a bullpen role for Arizona if called up.
Second baseman Chris Owings played 90 games for Arizona but struggled with his batting average before the D-backs optioned him to Reno in early August. For the past month, he has been hitting a respectable .286 with 11 RBI and could return to Phoenix. Owings and the previously named Aces are all on the D-backs' 40-man roster as is outfielder Socrates Brito, who played in eight games for Arizona this season and the rest for Reno, where he's hitting .318. Not only was Brito a PCL All-Star, but the PCL's field managers named him June's Player of the Month. Second baseman Idelmaro Vargas, who set a Reno record with a 35-game hitting streak this summer, also has a good chance of being called up although the D-backs have many infielders vying for playing time. He's currently batting .311, but last year with Arizona, he hit .308 in 12 games.
Current Arizona players who competed for Reno earlier in their careers also offered advice for those who may be called up to the D-backs for the final stretch.
"Whoever gets a call-up, come to work hard," said infielder Ketel Marte, who split his time in 2017 between Arizona and Reno. Marte hit a sizzling .338 with 23 doubles, seven triples, six home runs and 41 RBI in 70 games for the Aces.
"They need to do whatever they have to do," he added.
Marte said the called-up players need to make an impression and once the season ends, he said they must work hard during the off-season to be stronger for 2019. Although Marte has played the entire season for Arizona, he still keeps tabs on his friends such as Socrates Brito and Walker and their year at Reno. He also followed Vargas' hitting streak. Marte offered additional advice to the Aces' players.
"Work hard, and you'll be here a long time," he said.
Pitcher Archie Bradley was a Reno favorite when he competed for the Aces in 2016. Two years ago, the Oklahoma native was 5-1 with a 1.99 ERA and 47 strikeouts in seven starts for Reno before his final call-up to the D-backs. Bradley was also named Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Week for May 16-23, 2016.
"The players helped us last year with the wildcard," Bradley said, adding many Triple-A players have major-league talent. "They'll give us a break, help with the arm."
Bradley, who keeps in touch with a fair share of Reno players via Twitter, said they'll definitely fill in during the final month and help Arizona.
A popular Reno infielder who last saw action at Greater Nevada Field four seasons ago is Arizona shortstop Nick Ahmed. During his final year at Reno in 2014, he batted .312 with 26 doubles, four home runs, 47 RBI and 14 stolen bases in 104 games.
"Most of the guys called up will experience our playoff race and help us like a pitcher coming in and getting an out for us," Ahmed said.
With Arizona in a logjam at the top of the NL West with Los Angeles and Colorado, Ahmed said the additional players may be help in a pinch-hitting role or start a game.
Outfielder David Peralta spent part of the 2016 summer rehabbing at Reno. His advice to any player being called up is to play tough with the new opportunity but have fun.
"Give 100 percent and dedicate every moment to learning something … learn something every day," he said. "Everything is important for their career."
Peralta has been following Reno's season, and he says many players from the Aces will be able to help Arizona. He declined to name any players, but he said the veterans will be welcoming and make them feel comfortable in the clubhouse.
"They will come to play," he said.