The Inland Empire 66ers moved to 2-4 on the season after shutting out the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes on Tuesday night. After dropping 4 straight games following an Opening Night win, the 66ers pitching staff completely quieted the Quakes lineup, allowing 7 hits and no runs while striking out 9 batters and walking 3.
Jaime Barria, the 66ers #1 starter, had his 2nd go around this season as he matched up against Quakes starter Adam Bray. Building off his successful Opening Day start, Barria showed extremely good feel and command for his fastball and curveball early on, dominating the first 3 innings. Through 3 frames, Barria punched out 5 Quakes hitters, generating 6 swing and misses on the curveball in that time and also generated 3 swing and misses on his changeup. He was commanding the fastball well, using that pitch to get ahead, then finishing off with his off speed pitches. Barria had his 1st jam in the bottom of that 3rd inning, when a base hit, walk and infield single loaded the bases but Barria escaped without harm. In the 5th inning, trouble struck again when Dodgers prized prospect Yusnel Diaz doubled off the left field wall. Quakes left fielder D.J. Peters scorched a ball up the middle but 66ers center fielder Jared Foster unleashed a perfect one hop throw to home plate, nabbing Diaz and helping Jaime Barria escape the inning unfazed.
Barria ended up pitching 6 scoreless innings, moving his scoreless streak to 10 innings to start the season. On Tuesday night, Barria ran a 68.35% strike rate and threw first pitch strikes to 16 of 25 batters, displaying plus command. His fastball was used to generate those first pitch strikes and getting him ahead in the count as he used this pitch 58.2% of the time. His change up and curveball were his put away weapons, as he threw those pitches 41.8% of the time and generated swings and misses on a whopping 36.36% of his breaking balls. Just like he did on Opening Day, Barria flashed an average fastball that he can command and flashed a good change up and average curveball. As a 20 year old in High A ball, Barria is showing he belongs as a young kid in the California League.
Adam Hofacket, a local kid from California Baptist University and a Riverside native, came on in relief and tossed 2 scoreless innings. Hofacket shows a useful fastball he’ll throw in the 91-94 mph range but his real plus feature is a sharp curve ball with late tilt and action. Combined with some deception and a violent delivery, Hofacket is able to miss bats at this level but has struggled with command at times and allowing hard contact. He’s an interesting arm to follow and could be a future big league reliever in some fashion.
The 66ers offense was quiet for most of the game, scoring on a RBI single from Cody Ramer in the 5th inning, but they had a big 8th inning scoring 2 runs. Zach Gibbons singled home a run and Jared Foster cranked a RBI triple to the left center field gap to make it 3-0. Catcher Michael Barash had a 3 hit contest and just barely missed a home run late in the game on a double off the left field wall. Michael Hermosillo also had a solid night with a single, walk and stolen base, obtaining that stolen base by getting an absolutely ridiculous jump from first base. A quick rising prospect in the Angels system, Hermosillo shows unique athletic ability on the diamond, playing above average defense in center field and he has started to tap into his power at the plate. He projects as a future 4th outfielder or low end regular right now but given his athletic ability and passion for the game of baseball, he could work his way into becoming a solid regular at the major league level. I met up with Michael before the game to discuss his time at big league camp, his future with the Angels and other aspects of his dream towards reaching the major leagues.
Michael Hermosillo on his 1st big league camp: “It was awesome. Just being around all the big leaguers like Trout, Pujols and Maybin and the list goes on and on. It was just so awesome to watch what they were doing and how they go about their business. Picking their brains about anything from hitting to life to just about anything, it was just awesome.”
On which players were helpful during big league camp: “Cameron Maybin was someone who helped me out a lot. I talked with him a lot about hitting and baseball in general. Eric Young Jr. was another guy and I picked his brain a lot of the time. But honestly, all of them were good. Trout was awesome, I talked with him all the time. It’s honestly just a good group of guys up there as a whole. I just tried to talk to as many of them as I could because there’s just so many talented guys there in that clubhouse. But Cameron Maybin was probably the most influential.
On his hot start to the season: “I’m just trying to focus on having quality at bats. There are going to be times where things are going well and there’s time when the stretch might not be so good. So you just try to to stay even keel and go about things the same every day. You just try to stay in the same routine whether it’s in the cage or during batting practice. Other than that, I would say my main focus this year is having as many quality at bats as possible. Seeing pitches, swinging at my pitches, staying within my zone or like the Angels like to call it, the “hot zone”, just try to do all that. Some days it works, some day it doesn’t. You just battle it out each day. That’s baseball.”
On his success last season and whether it was a comfort thing or making mechanical changes: “I definitely made some mechanical changes. I kind of went to a leg kick to help with my timing. I just got after it, man. That previous offseason, I just decided that I was going to focus on hitting and I kind of got really serious about baseball. You come from high school and sometimes you don’t realize that this is a business and that it’s an everyday job. I finally felt like I had matured enough and I began to take things really serious. I just got after it. I think all the hard work in the cages and work on the field just started to pay off. I wouldn’t say it was one thing over another. Don’t get me wrong, going to a leg kick or changing things mechanically helped but maturing and trusting the process and not getting too frustrated if things didn’t go your way one day, it all helped. All that combined was what was part of my success.”
On his interest in the new technological advances like Statcast: “The one thing I pay attention to the most is exit velocity. I don’t really look too much at the launch angle and things like that. But I know that’s something that we stress here with the Angels and I know it’s one thing that (Billy) Eppler likes a lot. Obviously, they care what we do on the field but as long as we have good at bats together, don’t chase pitches and your exit velocity is good, then you’re ok. Those are things we obviously focus on here. I would say exit velocity is the one thing I bought into. I just try to make hard contact because obviously hard contact will more than likely result in hits. I try to not get into it too much because it’s really just a game. You know, you’re going to want those bloop hits every once in a while(laughs). Little bloop hits are the things that might get you to .300.
On what would make the 2017 season a success: “Just continuing to mature. I think the biggest thing, like when you asked about big league camp, is just seeing how mature those guys are and how they go about their business every day. If they’re 0-20 or 20-20, they’re the same person. They take the same at bats. They trust that they’re going to be able to hit the ball. I would say continuing to mature as a hitter and have quality at bats. You know the numbers will be there at the end as long as you trust the whole process. Just continuing to be a good teammate, helping my teammates out the best I can and picking their brains so I can get help as well and let the numbers take care of themselves.”
On his favorite player(s) in baseball: “Everyone always asks me this and it’s a tough question. I’d say right now, Mookie Betts is my favorite. I’ve been watching him for the last couple years and I kind of kept track of him early on in the minor leagues. He’s someone I watched a lot of videos on for hitting. But I would say there’s a lot of guys I watch for hitting. Mookie Betts, Manny Machado, Mike Trout. I love to just go on YouTube sometimes and just watch highlights on them hitting and just see how they do things. Anything I can pick up from them is going to be good.”