Bluefield, Elizabethton open with Appy League playoff wins

Bluefield, Elizabethton open with Appy League playoff wins

High-ranking prospects began to pepper Appalachian League rosters toward the end of the regular season. Bluefield played that game as well, bringing first-rounder Jordan Groshansinto the fold on Aug. 17.

The eighth-ranked Blue Jays prospect scuffled in 11 games before the postseason but showed what he can provide when the breakout inevitably came.

Groshans collected three hits, including an RBI double, as Bluefield defeated Princeton, 12-7, on Friday night in the first game of the best-of-3 semifinals at Bowen Field. The 18-year-old batted .182/.229/.273 with a homer, double and four RBIs down the stretch with the B-Jays.

“His approach to hitting was, I think, maybe trying to make some adjustments at the plate and get his feet on the ground in the league,” Bluefield manager Dennis Holmberg said. “Obviously, he had a real good night tonight. … His approach looked good and it was good to see him have the night that he had. I think he needed that.”

Bluefield fell behind, 1-0, in the first but struck back quickly against No. 6 Rays prospectShane Baz (0-1). DJ Neal knocked in the first run with a single and Alejandro Kirk followed with an RBI double before Groshans jumped on Baz’s next offering and capped the three-run frame with a double to right.

“We came out with a good attitude,” Groshans said. “We just tried to come out swinging and as aggressive as we can, so that was my approach tonight was be selectively aggressive. If it’s there, take a hack and try and barrel it up, and in the end it worked out for me.” 

After walking against reliever Rodolfo Sanchez in a four-run second, Groshans again jumped on the first pitch and grooved a single to center with one out in the fourth.

“I knew [Sanchez] when he came in he was throwing a lot of off-speed pitches and he wasn’t really heavy on his fastball,” Groshans said. “I changed my approach with [Sanchez] to just kind of see it and don’t miss the fastball.”

The Magnolia, Texas, native moved to third on Rafael Lantigua‘s double to left and scored when Patrick Morris lifted a sacrifice fly to center. He chipped in another base hit to right in the sixth and bounced to third in the eighth.

“It’s playoff season now. All the stats from before, in my opinion, don’t matter. It’s all about now,” said Groshans, who admitted that the promotion to Bluefield caught him by surprise but got the call once the Appy League playoff berth was clinched. “Having a big night like tonight … it definitely helps going forward in the playoffs because we have a tough team in Princeton again tomorrow.” 

Groshans batted .331/.390/.500 with four homers, 12 doubles and 39 RBIs in 37 games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League before moving up. The 6-foot-3, 178-pounder was drafted as a shortstop with the 12th overall pick but has split time evenly between short and third base.

“It was a little bit of a challenge [initially] moving to third because it’s a different play style, a different angle,” Groshans said. “But I like it. I know that moving forward it’s a big jump for me, but I love it.”

Neal also had three hits, while Cal Stevenson went 3-for-5 with a solo homer and three runs scored out of the leadoff spot for Bluefield. Luis De Los Santos, who has been Bluefield’s regular shortstop, chipped in three hits, including a solo homer, two RBIs and two runs scored.

Baz recorded four outs and was charged with six runs — five earned — on six hits and a walk with two strikeouts. The 19-year-old right-hander was acquired as part of the deal that sent All-Star right-hander Chris Archer to Pittsburgh.

The series heads to Princeton for Game 2 on Saturday night.

In other Appalachian League playoff action:

Elizabethton 7, Kingsport 3

Three pitchers combined for 15 strikeouts in the Game 1 victory, led by starter Josh Winder, who yielded a run on four hits with eight punchouts in six innings. Jacob Blank surrendered a solo shot to 10th-ranked Mets prospect Mark Vientos but fanned five over 2 1/3 innings. Twins No. 14 prospect Gilberto Celestino led Elizabethton with a two-run homer in the seventh, while 21st-ranked Yunior Severino and Ricky De La Torre each collected three hits. Mets No. 3 prospect Jarred Kelenic chipped in an RBI single in the first. Elizabethton returns home Saturday with a chance to book a trip to the Finals.

By Gerard Gilberto / MiLB.com