The TinCaps saw their roster go through a significant overhaul in the hours before their game against the Dayton Dragons today. The Padres announced that the Nos. 5, 12, and 23 prospects, per Fangraphs, in the San Diego farm system are all headed from Low-A Lake Elsinore to Fort Wayne. That would be outfielder Robert Hassell III, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2020 draft, catcher Brandon Valenzuela and infielder Euribiel Angeles. None of the three are in tonight's lineup, but it's a good bet some or all of them will make their Fort Wayne debuts Sunday.
As for tonight's game, the TinCaps will be missing their hottest hitter. First baseman Yorman Rodriguez, who had eight hits in the first four games of the series against Dayton and was on a 10-game hitting streak and 12-game on-base streak, was sent from High-A to Triple-A El Paso, where he had been hitting well before being brought back temporarily to Fort Wayne.
Rodriguez's call-up leaves Luis Almanzar back at first tonight, after he had spent the last couple of weeks getting acquainted with playing the outfield for the first time in several years. Almanzar will hit fifth and his departure from the outfield means that Grant Little, who had gotten some time in center for the first time this season, will be back in his normal spot in left. Little, who will hit leadoff tonight, has been outstanding at the plate recently, getting on base at a .393 clip since July 8. He went 4 for 5 with two RBI, a run scored and two walks during the doubleheader Friday.
The TinCaps split that doubleheader, winning the first game 4-2 and dropping the second (a seven-inning contest) 6-4. The teams have split the first four games in this series as Fort Wayne continues to try to play the spoiler of Dayton's flagging playoff hopes. Tonight, the Dragons will send 22-year-old right-hander Bryce Bonnin to the mound to face Little, Almanzar et al as the visitors try to take control of the series.
Bonnin is making his High-A debut and he has certainly earned his promotion from Low-A, where he dominated over seven starts in his first pro season, going 4-0 with a 1.41 ERA and 44 strikeouts against eight walks in 32 innings. He held opponents to a .162 batting average and did not give up a home run during his stint there. Bonnin, a 2020 third-round pick, is the No. 19 prospect in the Cincinnati farm system, per Fangraphs, which had this to say about the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Texas Tech product: "Bonnin sat 93-95 (mph) and touched 97 in 2020. He works with a potential plus mid-80s slider, and a very rare changeup, though Bonnin’s quite good at killing spin on the change and the pitch might have more ceiling than (we) currently have projected. ... Bonnin is delivering from a higher slot but is still getting sink/tail spin on his fastball."
Bonnin's supposed weakness at this point in his career, as with so many young pitchers with such good stuff, is command, but that wasn't an issue at the lower levels. The TinCaps take plenty of walks, but they'll have to lay off some difficult pitches to do so against their opponent tonight.
Fort Wayne will counter Bonnin with 22-year-old left-hander Noel Vela, another recent call-up who is making only his second start at Parkview Field. Vela has been very good in his last three outings, surrendering only two earned runs in 13 2/3 innings with 13 strikeouts and just eight hits. He pitched five shutout frames in his only other start at the downtown stadium, but he'll have to contend with Dayton's Allan Cerda, who has four doubles, a single and a walk in the first three games he's played in this series.
The TinCaps are also prepared for the possibility that Padres reliever Trey Wingenter will make an appearance out of the bullpen tonight. Wingenter, who pitched the end of 2018 and all of 2019 with San Diego, is scheduled to make a one-inning rehab appearance in Fort Wayne this week as he continues his recovery from Tommy John surgery. Wingenter was originally scheduled to pitch Thursday, but that game was rained out and he did not pitch in Friday's doubleheader. He could see the mound tonight in relief of Vela.