When the Valley League is in session, life can feel like I’m barely hanging on; five games a night, one post (at least) every day.
Well now that I’m finding my sealegs again, so to speak, I have some time to explore other games at other levels. So when I noticed that the Salem Red Sox were hosting the Wilmington Blue Rocks in the Carolina League playoffs, AND that both starting pitchers were alums of the Valley League… AND since all nine people who voted on my twitter poll (should I go? Yes or no) voted yes… I made the trek down to Salem last night.
First of all, the results: Thad Ward (Staunton 2016) started for Salem, and fired six complete innings, allowing three hits, one run (given up by a reliever after he left the game), four walks, and struck out seven. He earned the win.
Jonathan Bowlan (New Market 2016) started for Wilmington, and had a rougher go of it. He threw five innings and allowed nine hits, four runs, walked two, and struck out three.
Wilmington outfielder Michael Gigliotti (Covington 2015) also appeared as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning, and struck out looking.
Both Ward and Bowlan have easy deliveries. Ward keeps his hands at his waist through his turn, and hit as high as 96 mph with his fastball, and his slider was sharp. Bowlan lifts his hands behind his head in his delivery, and also ran his fastball into the 90’s- topping out at 92, but regularly sitting at 90. His stuff was not quite as electric as Ward’s, but still threw, overall, fine; a few of the hits against him just found holes. (He had a wry look on his face after a grounder found its way through the infield at one point.) Ward carries himself with some swagger on the mound… or if that word carries too many bad implications; he carries himself with confidence.
Both of these young men were not on the prospect radar when 2019 began, but both of them are now; Ward is actually listed at #8 on Bosotn’s list, and Bowlan is 16th on Kansas City’s (with Gigliotti 12th). Both will be in the running for ATVL’s A-Ball Pitcher of the Year (announced later).
Two other Valley Leaguers were there but did not play. The first is Tad Ratliff (Charlottesville 2015), who was in Wilmington’s bullpen. I spoke to him briefly before the game; he was signing autographs and posing for photos with a smile, and remembered his time in C-Ville fondly. Jerry Downs (Winchester 2014) was on Salem’s bench, but did not play.