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D-backs Farm Rumblings: Kevin Cron can not be stopped

Kevin Cron (Photo:Getty Images)

Reno third baseman Kevin Cron is posting “hey, big club, look at me” kind of numbers in the Pacific Coast League this year. The former TCU Horned Frog is near the top of the leaderboard in all kinds of categories across minor league baseball.

That’s the good news. The bad news is Reno’s pitching staff — one that has always been affected by playing at altitude in a hitters’ league — is really struggling.

Here’s this week’s look at everything that’s going on in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ minor league system.

Reno Aces (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)

For the week: 2-4
For the season: 16-27 (4th place in Pacific Northern Division; 6.0 games behind Fresno)

Cron can flat-out hit the baseball. He hit 27 home runs as a senior at Mountain Pointe High in Ahwatukee. He’s had four straight minor league seasons with at least 22 home runs, and that streak is about to hit five in a row. Cron hit five more long balls last week, giving him 19 on the season — the most of any player in the minors this year. Cron’s RBI total of 54 is good enough for the second-highest mark in all of professional baseball. For the week, Cron batted .435 (10-for-23) with eight runs scored and 14 RBI.

Right-hander Justin Vernia got a rude welcome to Triple-A action Monday night. The former Gonzaga Bulldog, who played two years of Independent ball with the Sioux City Explorers, got touched up for eight earned runs in three innings in a 15-9 loss to the Salt Lake Bees. Vernia has rapidly ascended through the ranks of the Arizona minor league organization after signing a deal in early March. The 23-year-old won both of his starts for Kane County and pitched in five games (starting three) for Visalia, where he posted a 0.84 ERA in 21.1 innings of work.

But let’s not single out Vernia. It was a tough week for pretty much anyone who threw a pitch in a Reno uniform. Over six games, the Aces gave up 65 earned runs — yes, that’s a 10.83 ERA for the staff and it raised Reno’s astronomical team ERA to 7.09.

The Aces snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 7-6 win over Tacoma Friday night. Reno trailed 6-3, but rallied to tie with three runs in the seventh, thanks to a three-run homer from Cron, his 18th of the season. In the bottom of the ninth, Tim Locastro led things off by (you guessed it) getting hit by a pitch and stealing second. Locastro advanced to third on a ground out by Ildemaro Vargas and scored on a one-out infield sac fly by Juniel Querecuto to give Reno the walk-off. The bullpen trio of Stefan Crichton, Marc Rzepczynski and Rubby De La Rosa combined on six shutout innings in relief of starter Braden Shipley.

De La Rosa, in particular, has been outstanding out of the Reno bullpen. The 30-year-old is 2-0 with a save, a 1.45 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP in 18.2 innings of work.

Yeah, here’s more on the perpetually bruised Locastro.

Vargas has been raking since joining the Aces on May 11. The 27-year-old is hitting .481 (13-for-27) with four doubles, a triple, a home run and six RBI and has posted a gaudy 1.403 OPS. Tuesday, he got his 400th hit in a Reno uniform, which set a new franchise record.


Jackson Generals (Double-A Southern League)

For the week: 6-2
For the season: 24-18 (2nd place in North Division; 3.5 games behind Montgomery)

Daulton Varsho had four hits, Jamie Westbrook clubbed a three-run home run and Riley Smith (more on him later) allowed one run and six hits in picking up a seven-inning complete game win in a 5-1 win over the Mobile Bay Bears Monday night. It was the first game of a double-header, and the Generals picked up a win in the nightcap as well, 11-8. Jackson led 10-0, but Mobile made it interesting with four runs each in the sixth and seventh innings. Drew Ellis paced the Generals’ attack with four RBI while Andy Young and Ramon Hernandez chipped in with three RBI apiece.

Right-hander Bo Takahashi pitched a gem Wednesday, throwing seven shutout innings with seven strikeouts in a 2-1 win over Mobile. First baseman Pavin Smith had three hits, including two doubles, one of which scored Young in the seventh to make the score 2-0.

Told you there was more on Smith, so here goes. The 24th-round pick out of LSU in 2016 just keeps rolling along. Saturday night, Smith allowed just six hits and one unearned run over six innings in a 6-3 win over the Tennessee Smokies. Smith struck out seven and walked two in picking up his third win on the season. He also lowered his ERA to 2.05, which is the best on the team and seventh-best among qualified Southern League pitchers. Over his last six starts, Smith is 3-1 with a microscopic 0.69 ERA to go along with 38 strikeouts and 11 walks.


Visalia Rawhide (High-A California League)

For the week: 4-1
For the season: 29-13 (1st place in North Division; 10.0 games ahead of Modesto and San Jose)

Jeff Bain, a 23-year-old right-hander picked in the 16th round out of Cal in 2017, won his third straight start Monday. Bain yielded just one run and six hits over six innings in a 3-1 victory over Modesto. In that span, Bain has struck out 19, walked seven and has posted a 1.13 ERA.

Another right-hander, 23-year-old Josh Green, continued his stellar season in Visalia Wednesday. Green allowed one run and five hits over six innings in a 5-1 win over Modesto. Green, like Bain, has won three straight starts and five straight decisions. Over his last six starts, Green has struck out 21 and walked only five while putting up a 1.75 ERA.

Thursday night brought another pitchers’ duel, and another Rawhide win. Japanese right-hander Shumpei Yoshikawa had easily his best outing of the year, allowing one hit over five shutout innings while striking out eight. Cole Bartlett and Breckin Williams combined on four innings of scoreless relief and Mark Karaviotis led off the bottom of the ninth with a home run off of Modesto reliever Kyle Wilcox to give Visalia a 1-0 win.

The ‘Hide would get another walk-off win Friday night when Yoel Yanqui doubled in Camden Duzenack in the bottom of the 14th inning to down Lancaster 4-3. Cole Stapler started and struck out 11 over seven innings of work for Visalia. In all, the Rawhide staff struck out 21 Lancaster hitters on the night.


Kane County Cougars (Single-A Midwest League)

For the week: 3-4
For the season: 24-19 (3rd place in Western Division; 4.0 games behind Quad Cities

Matt Tabor, a 20-year-old right-hander and the Diamondbacks’ 13th-best prospect according to MLB Pipeline, continued the outstanding start to his season Thursday night. Tabor went four innings, allowing just three hits and one run before handing things off to relievers Kenny Hernandez and Ethan Larrison in a 2-1 road win over Beloit. Tabor has only started three games for the Cougars, but the earned run he gave up in this start was the first he’s allowed this season. He’s got a 0.77 ERA over 11.2 innings of work.

Nice week for Cougars third baseman Buddy Kennedy, a fifth-round pick in 2017. The 18th-best prospect in the D-backs’ organization according to MLB Pipeline batted .421 (8-for-19) with a double, a triple and three RBI.

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