Asheville Tourists: First-place battle, Kyle Freeland’s debut, and Raimel Tapia’s hot bat


The Asheville Tourists split a four-game homestand with the West Virginia Power at McCormick Field over the weekend. Particularly troubling was Saturday’s 10-0 loss, in which the powerful Asheville lineup was held to just two hits. West Virginia’s Buddy Borden struck out 10 Tourists in six innings and two relievers allowed no hits over three innings.

Despite losing two of four, the Tourists only lost one game off their first-game lead over the Savannah Sand Gnats. Asheville begins the week with a four-game lead in the South Atlantic League’s (SAL) Southern Division, but with a three-game series beginning Monday at Grayson Stadium, the division could get close very quickly. Or the Touristst could put some distance between themselves and Savannah, solidifying their second-half division title chances and a playoff spot.

With a 19-3 record away from McCormick Field, Asheville’s chances look pretty good. Their recent 16-game road winning streak was snapped on July 30 at Greensboro, but the Tourists won four of six games to close out their most recent road trip. After those three games in Savannah, the T’s return home for a four-game set with the Augusta Greenjackets, their second-to-last homestand of the regular season.

Welcome to the Tourists, Kyle Freeland

It didn’t take long for the Colorado Rockies’ 2014 first-round draft pick to make his Asheville debut.

Kyle Freeland, a 21-year-old out of the University of Evansville and the No. 8 selection overall in June’s Major League Baseball draft, appeared in five games for the Rockies’ rookie league team in Grand Junction, Colo. He compiled a 1-0 record and 1.56 ERA with 15 strikeouts (and just two walks) in 17 1/3 innings. That performance earned him a quick promotion to Asheville, where he’ll likely finish the season and contribute to the the Tourists’ playoff drive.

In his first appearance for Asheville on Tuesday (Aug. 5), Freeland didn’t encounter any difficulty in moving up from rookie league competition to the Single-A level. Facing the Lakewood Blue Claws at FirstEnergy Park in N.J., the left-hander pitched five innings, allowing no runs and two hits. He also struck out six batters while walking none.

Issuing free passes is apparently something familiar for Freeland. In his six professional starts thus far, he’s allowed zero walks in four of those games. That sort of control is rather rare for a pitcher at this young stage of his career.

Freeland earned the win in Asheville’s 8-1 victory over Lakewood. Third baseman Ryan McMahon drove in two runs, batting 1-for-4. Center fielder Raimel Tapia hit 2-for-3 with two walks.

The Tourists’ newest starter is scheduled to pitch Monday’s series opener at Savannah. Following the typical five-day schedule for a starting pitcher, Freeland will likely make his McCormick Field debut this weekend (probably Saturday Aug. 16) against Augusta.

Raimel Tapia keeps raking

Coming into the season, Raimel Tapia was viewed as one of the Tourists’ three stars to keep an eye on. The 20-year-old got off to a bit of a rough start, batting .244 in April with a .616 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).

Following that disappointing first month, Tapia has fulfilled expectations as a big-time prospect, crushing baseballs all over the field. Since May 1, the outfielder has batted .356 (116-for-326) with a .901 OPS. With that surge, Tapia now has a .333 batting average, behind only second baseman Michael Benjamin among Tourists everyday players and ranking third in the SAL. His 137 hits lead the team, while his 64 RBI rank third. Tapia also has a team-leading 29 stolen bases.

Additionally, Tapia has taken over capably in center field for the promoted David Dahl (though he’s not as polished a product out there), ensuring that the Tourists maintain their success through the second half of the season.

Pictured, from left: infielder Alec Mehrten; pitching coach Mark Brewer; manager Fred Ocasio; hitting coach Mike Devereaux; and pitcher Zach Jemiola. /Photo by Stewart O’Shields

Fred Ocasio reaches 400 wins

Manager Fred Ocasio reached an impressive career milestone with the Tourists’ 8-3 win over Lakeland on Aug. 3, earning his 400th career victory. He’s notched 139 of those wins with Asheville, compiling a 139-116 record in his 252 games as the T’s skipper.

Prior to his stint in Asheville, Ocasio managed the Rockies’ Tri-City (Wash.) club in the short-season Class A Northwest League. In seven seasons, he finished with a 264-268 mark. Between the Dust Devils and Tourists, Ocasio has a career .511 winning percentage (403-385). Maybe he’ll add a division title and league championship to those 400 victories this season.

Ocasio also played for the Tourists from 1994 through 1995. Playing primarily as a shortstop and second baseman, he batted .317 with a .753 OPS in 55 games (160 plate appearances) in an Asheville uniform. Ocasio even pitched in two games during his Tourists career, throwing 1 2/3 innings and allowing no runs. He’s been in the Rockies organization as a manager ever since.

*** The Asheville Tourists return home on Aug. 14 (a Thirsty Thursday!) for a four-game series with the Augusta Greenjackets. Only seven home games remain in the regular season! Single game tickets are currently available at the McCormick Field box office. For more information, contact the Tourists’ front office at (828) 258-0428.

Ian Casselberry covers Major League Baseball at The Outside Corner and provides analysis for The WISE Guys on ESPN Asheville (1310 and 970 AM) every Tuesday at 4:40 p.m. Follow Ian on Twitter