SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The ball was flying out of Salt River Fields on Monday afternoon. Four homers led to 17 runs scored as the Rafters beat the Surprise Saguaros, 12-5. In the middle of it, though, Ryan Vilade was doing Ryan Vilade-like things.
The fifth-ranked Rockies prospect reached base four times and went 3-for-3 -- all singles to center field -- while driving in four in Salt River’s offensive onslaught. Vilade singled in a run in the bottom of the first inning, plated another with a knock in the third and drove in a pair in the fourth with his final single.
“Every at-bat, I had guys on,” Vilade said. “Our team was doing their job getting on base and I was trying to drive them in, do a job. They went through the holes and I was able to get some hits from it. That’s just who I am: hard contact and not try to do too much.”
The Rafters scored three runs to take the lead in the first on a double by Mario Feliciano (MIL 13), who went 3-for-4 with two doubles, a single from Rockies first baseman Michael Toglia (COL 6) and Vilade's base hit. They also got a three-run homer from Rockies shortstop Ezequiel Tovar (COL 11) in the third and a two-run shot from the D-backs’ Dominic Canzone in the sixth. Surprise added a two-run homer from Rangers infielder Justin Foscue (TEX 4) in the seventh.
As with most of his pro career to date, Vilade isn’t concerning himself with muscling up.
“The long ball is not the only way to score runs,” he said. “I think the biggest thing is to try not to do too much, not try to worry about it. It’s a question I get asked a lot, but I really don’t worry about it. The power will come.”
Vilade does appreciate it when it comes from elsewhere, though, especially from someone in the same organization. Tovar, one of the youngest players in the AFL, hit his third Fall League long ball a projected 418 feet at 106.1 mph off the bat. His overall numbers don’t jump off the page, but he’s flashed some very exciting tools.
“Tovar is going to be a really good shortstop for a really long time,” Vilade said. “The glove is there. He’s shown a lot of great things with the bat. He hit a homer today; he’s had a lot of hard contact. He’s 20 years old, but he’s been doing really well and I’m excited to see his future.”
In this final week of the season, the competitive nature of players in the AFL often kicks in with a championship ring on the line. Surprise’s loss, coupled with Glendale’s walk-off win, put the two teams in a virtual tie atop the West Division. (The Saguaros remain ahead by percentage points.) Salt River has been eliminated from contention, but the Rafters have won two in a row.
“It’s been a long year,” Vilade said about the 2021 regular season and the addition of Fall League action. “To come out here and finish strong is kind of what we talked about as a team: win some games and enjoy this last week. Why not finish strong?
“We’ve been in almost every game we’ve played in. We’ve had some really good games. At the beginning, we were the top team. We went [4-1] and then we couldn’t really finish games. And now this week, I think we have a little chip on our shoulder to finish strong. Like today, it’s a good start.”