So I was able to drive across town to Kane County for the River Bandits' opening day game and game tonight. MLB.com ranked players on this team include Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers, Rio Ruiz, Vincent Velasquez.
Overall, I had a great time. Besides the fact that it was absolutely freezing (it was in the 30's tonight), I enjoyed myself a ton. I was able to get autographs from Rio Ruiz, Vincent Velasquez, Joe Bircher, Jordan Scott, and I was actually able to get Carlos Correa twice (one on a ball that will be cased, and one on my hat). Correa also tossed me a ball on his way to the dugout tonight.
The player that impressed me the most was definitely Correa. I mean this guy is good. When I'm scouting out players I don't only give props to the ones that put up the best numbers, but I love a noticeable presence. Correa's presence is so noticeable that you just cannot stop watching him. He stands out A LOT. I was able to get most of his at bats on video from the opening day game, so I'll attach his first hit (2-RBI double) at the end of this post. He hits the ball very hard.. both of his hits yesterday were absolute lasers and he was fouling pitch after pitch hard down the line. Tonight I don't believe he got any hits, but he was able to get on base twice via walk and an infield error that he hustled down the line on. Correa gets deep into counts, it seemed like every at bat he was up there for awhile. He's able to foul off the pitches that he doesn't like very easily. His fielding is incredible. I've never actually enjoyed watching someone play defense before, but Correa is just so smooth. He makes everything seem so easy. He also has tremendous range. There were a couple balls hit to him that I thought for sure were up the middle, but of course Correa was somehow able to get to them and fire a throw to first to take away a sure base hit. He also turned a few double plays, which were also very fluid and looked 100% natural for him. Before the first game I was able to talk to a QC player's father, and he was absolutely raving about Correa. He was very familiar with him, saw him in camp often. His work ethic is very impressive, he said that Correa is always advocating for himself and working with the coaches to improve everything about his game. The father also said that it's almost surreal watching him constantly once you realize that you're watching a future superstar. If you have a chance to go see this kid play, do it. He is incredibly impressive.
Vincent Velasquez started the first game. I wasn't extremely familiar with him before, all I knew was that he was a solid, ranked pitcher. His pitching wasn't incredible, but it was very effective. Kane County didn't really do much against him other than a 2-run home run, that was all he let in. I don't think he's going to be really good, but if he ends up making the majors he could be a solid middle of rotation guy. He was throwing around 90 if I remember correctly. Joe Bircher finished out the first game, I believe he pitched 3 innings. He did not allow any runs in, and I don't seem to remember anything significant that he put on base. He was effective too. He also seems like a really cool guy, I was talking with him and Velasquez for a minute before the game today.
Rio Ruiz really impressed me. He was really solid defensively and made solid contact multiple times. Tonight he smoked one to center and also hit a double to left off the wall that would've been a home run in Houston. Ruiz overall just seemed like a solid player that can play both sides of the ball. Besides Correa, he seemed like the second-most noticeable player in the lineup. I would not be surprised to see him move up the system rather quickly.
Lance McCullers started the game tonight, and was lights out as expected. Early in the game, a few hitters got really good contact off of him, but it seemed like as the game went on they really fell behind. He got 5 Ks in 5 IP and did not allow any runs. His control seemed a tad iffy at times but for the most part it was electric. His fastball was hovering around 94-95, which is lower than what he's been known to throw, but it was 35 degrees out so I'm sure that played some sort of factor. I was shivering the entire game, I don't know how these players are able to pitch when it's so cold! I'd love to see him pitch when it's nice and warm out, hopefully later this year I'll catch him again.
As for other players that stood out to me, Jesse Wierzbicki seemed like a decently solid player. He didn't do a ton, but he was a good presence in the lineup. I've always liked Jordan Scott, and he was a stand out player to me, as well. Ariel Ovando was barely noticed, as well as Teoscar Hernandez. But it was only 2 games, so it's a small sample size.
If you have the chance to catch a minor league game, I would do it for sure. I paid $12 for each of my two tickets and I was able to sit wherever I wanted. I got some autographs, enjoyed a game up close, and was able to see some future Astros. It is really easy to interact with the players and coaches, especially if it is an away game. I'll probably be back later this year for more games. QC is back in Kane County in two weeks, so I'll probably catch at least one of those, probably two.
Most impressive hitter: Carlos Correa
Most impressive pitcher: Lance McCullers
Most impressive defensively: Carlos Correa
Most surprising hitter: Rio Ruiz
Most surprising pitcher: Joe Bircher
Most overall surprising player: Rio Ruiz
Best player: Carlos Correa
Best shot at making an impact at the major league level: Carlos Correa