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Hoy Jun Park, Diego Castillo and Oswaldo Cabrera. Photo by Matt Kardos

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Patriots Notebook: Where Things Stand After Three Games in Somerset

Content Plan: Before I get started with actual content, I wanted to kind of lay out a very, very generic outline for my coverage game plan for the time being. The 2021 minor league season has brought a unique schedule alignment that we haven’t seen before. All teams play six-game series against a given opponent from Tuesday-Sunday, with Monday serving as a universal day off. With that in mind, moving forward for the rest of the season, I am going to do a notebook each Thursday night or pre-game Friday evening at the midpoint of each series and then follow that with a full series wrap-up on that Sunday, or the off-day on Monday.

Those notebooks will feature small tidbits, stats, quotes and any other relevant information that has come to light over the first three games of a series. You’ll get the idea from the content to follow. We like to stay away from full game recaps here at Pinstriped Prospects, so I’ll be bringing you “Thoughts and Observations” on those other nights. That content will be just that – anything that I thought stood out in a game, I will point it out and break it down from a prospect perspective.

Features or in-depth stories are going to be hard to come by this season because of limited access to coaches and players, all of which is facilitated via Zoom. Sometimes those chats turn into relevant features, but an obvious level of creativity and observation is going to have to be sprinkled in here. We as media are still trying to figure out the best ways to bring you informative and unique content in a time when that task has never been made more difficult. We appreciate your patience as we figure out the best way to give you the information that we believe you are looking for.

Alright, so…..the notebook…HERE . WE . GO.

Photo by Matt Kardos

Where things stand: After opening the season 2-0 and never trailing at any point over that stretch, the Patriots dropped their first game of the season to Harrisburg on Thursday night after allowing the Senators to take a 3-2 eighth inning lead on a Cole Freeman RBI single. Outfielder Rhett Wiseman cranked his second homer in as many nights out to right field in the ninth to give the Nationals Double-A affiliate an ultimate 5-2 victory. At 2-1 overall, Somerset is currently tied for first place in the division with the Portland Sea Dogs in the very, very premature period of the season  when it is far too early to pay any attention to standings.

Pitching in: The strength of this Patriots team on paper heading into the season was the pitching staff and they have lived up to the billing thus far. After three games, the Somerset pitching staff has allowed the fewest hits (10), runs (6), WHIP (0.74) and BAA (.108) in the entire Double-A Northeast League.

Carlos Espinal. Photo by Matt Kardos

“The pitching staff that we have is so close to one another, and just this team in general,” said Wednesday night’s starter Shawn Semple. “A lot of us have played together throughout the years and it’s just good, especially after the two years of not playing and getting back here, getting to Somerset, we just wanted to come here and do what we know that we can do and that’s punch dudes out, fill-up the zone, and change speeds on them.”

Semple added, “That’s what this whole pitching staff does – we do feed off of one another, but it’s not in a way like ‘I don’t want to do bad,’ it’s more like ‘I want to deal with these guys.’ These guys that we have here are top-notch and we’ve proven that we belong here and it’s just good to show everyone what we have to do and that we do it.”

Ebb and Flo: The obvious position player that everybody wants to talk about here is center fielder Estevan Florial. Not too long ago Florial was the top-overall prospect in the organization, but most evaluators around the game now seem to regard him as a fringe top-10. The 23-year old has started the first three games of the season in centerfield while batting in the leadoff spot. 

Estevan Florial. Photo by Matt KardosJust two pitches into the season, Florial launched a leadoff homer over the right field wall before most fans even settled into their seats on opening night. Quite an emphatic and impressive way to ring in a new era of baseball in Somerset. Since that leadoff at-bat on Tuesday, it has been a mixed bag of results for Florial; he has doubled with authority twice but has also struck-out five times in 12 total at-bats.

Florial opened Thursday night’s contest with a double into the right field corner and was nearly thrown out after he appeared to ease up a bit when pulling into second base. Most definitely a play that became closer than it needed to be.

“Every moment is a teachable moment for our guys, especially early in the season,” said manager Julio Mosquera. “It’s something that we talked about; he’s getting to know outfielders arms and he kind of misread the outfielders arm there and thought that he was going to make it a lot easier than that. We talked about it and he was honest about it.”

Diego Castillo. Photo by Matt Kardos

Diego es en fuego: Infielder Diego Castillo, playing in the upper-levels of the minor league system for the first time, is off to a torrid start with a team-best five hits over the first three games of the campaign, good for a .455 average.

“I’ve been working a lot on my swings,” said Castillo. “I’m swinging at strikes all of the time and I always like to be under control in my at-bats. I’m just trying to get a good pitch to hit and when the pitcher throws it to me, I swing it.”

The 23-year old versatile infielder spent the last two seasons before the Covid-19 shutdown at High-A where he combined to slash .254/.308/.327 with six homers and 84 RBI between the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Power certainly isn’t his calling card, but making good contact to get on base is the goal so that he can utilize his solid speed; over that two year stretch, Castillo swiped 24 bags in 31 attempts.

On Deck: Somerset resumes the second half of their series with Harrisburg on Friday night. Right-hander Janson Junk is on the bump for the Patriots for his season debut. The 25-year old Junk was a 22nd round pick by the Yankees back in 2017 and has already pitched at every level from Low-A all the way up to Triple-A in his three seasons in the system. Junk is looking to bounce back from a tough 2019 season that saw him go 4-7 with a 5.54 ERA in 22 appearances/14 starts over three levels.

“I’m expecting to see from him what I saw in spring training,” said Mosquera. “He was one of the guys that really, really attacked the zone and mixed his pitches really good. He kept the pace of the game going.”

Following Junk in the rotation will be Glenn Otto on Saturday night and a rematch of Luis Gil and Tim Cate from the opener is the matchup in the Mother’s Day series finale on Sunday. Following an off day on Monday, Somerset packs their bags and hits the road for the first time this season as they head to New Hampshire and then Harford for 12 games. The team will return home on May 25th to welcome in New Hampshire.

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