With September here, some Minor League teams are seeing their top talent promoted to higher levels amid postseason runs. Luckily for the Princeton Rays, they have two top-five prospects in one of baseball’s deepest systems and both turned in precocious performances.
Rays No. 5 prospect Matthew Liberatore scattered five hits over 4 1/3 scoreless innings and fourth-ranked Wander Franco went 4-for-5 with a run scored as Princeton beat Bluefield, 7-3, at Hunnicutt Field to force a decisive third game in the Appalachian League semifinals.
Franco recorded his second four-hit game of the year — he went 5-for-6 on July 14 — to pace the Rays’ offense. MLB.com’s No. 40 overall prospect plated a run with one of his four singles, a line-drive knock to right field in the fourth.
The 17-year-old is one of the youngest players in professional baseball, but that hasn’t stopped him from tearing up Appy League pitching. He batted .351/.418/.587 during 61 regular-season contests with 11 homers and 57 RBIs.
Liberatore, an 18-year-old and first-round pick in this year’s Draft, struck out five and walked two in his second start for the P-Rays. The left-hander debut in the Appy League on Sunday against Danville, when he also fanned five and issued two walked but allowed two runs. In eight Rookie-level Gulf Coast League appearances, Liberatore posted a 0.98 ERA.
The only clean inning the 6-foot-5 hurler worked was his first. Liberatore stranded Alejandro Kirk following a leadoff double in the second by getting both Rafael Lantigua and Patrick Morris looking for the final two outs. An errant pickoff in the third put a runner 90 feet from home, but he got DJ Neal to fly to right. MLB.com’s No. 64 overall prospect struck out Luis De La Rosa looking with the bases loaded to end the fourth.
The Rays host Game 3 on Sunday.
In other Appalachian League playoff action
Kingsport 7, Elizabethon 6
Mark Vientos had the pivotal hit, breaking a 3-3 tie in the 10th inning with a two-run double. The Mets’ No. 10 prospect also had a sacrifice fly and a single. Elizabethton fought back with three runs in the bottom of the frame, but Nelson Leon got Ricky De La Torre to fly to right with two runners in scoring position to end the game. Twins No. 14 prospect Gilberto Celestino delivered an RBI single for Elizabethton.