Raley finds groove in two-homer AFL game

October 20th, 2019

PEORIA, Ariz. -- was in his first full season with the Twins organization and he was just starting to figure it out. After scuffling through April in his first taste of Triple-A, he got red-hot in May and was hitting .385/.429/.596 over 13 games when he went down with an ankle injury that required surgery and wiped out the rest of his International League season.

He got a total of five Gulf Coast League games in to finish off August before heading to the Arizona Fall League. He wasn’t exactly firing on all cylinders, then, when he arrived, and he entered Saturday night’s game against Surprise with a .185/.247/.277 line over his first 18 games. There were some glimpses, with a hit in each of his last four games, including a double Friday.

Then came Saturday’s outburst: a 4-for-4 performance with two homers, a double and three RBIs as his Salt River Rafters beat up on the Saguaros, 8-1. The left-handed hitter’s two-run blast the opposite way against the Royals’ Daniel Lynch, one of the better left-handed pitching prospects in the game, gave the Rafters a 5-0 lead in the third. He crushed a ball to his pull side, a solo shot, in the fifth, then his double off the right-field wall in the seventh finished off his four-hit night.

“It’s a work in progress,” Raley said of his work at the plate. “I missed a lot of time with surgery. It was one of those things, I had to tread water for a while and hopefully this is the start of breaking out of it.”

At the very least, it makes his Fall League line look a bit more presentable. His average is up to .232 and he’s now slugging .420, thanks to his first two AFL homers, and three extra-base hits in total. More than anything, it’s the first time he’s been able to string together multiple quality at-bats.

“My timing has been off,” Raley said. “It’s just an adjustment to get back into playing. Some at-bats have been good, where I was like, ‘That feels really good’ and then the next at-bat, it totally changes. It’s about consistency and trying to repeat the swing and the at-bats over and over again.”

Going through an injury for the first time in his career was not an easy obstacle to overcome. In Triple-A, potentially knocking on the big league door if things went well, then having to miss several months and work to feel like himself again was no easy task.

“It was really difficult,” Raley said. “When I went down, I was really coming alive. I was feeling really good at the plate, so going down and then coming back and struggling was really hard. It was hard to keep my head up. Making the adjustments that are necessary, through the rehab, and getting back to 100 percent, where I feel comfortable on my ankle, has been big. And it’s been tough.”

Adding to the pressure was the fact that he was new to the Twins. Drafted by the Dodgers in the seventh round of the 2016 Draft, Raley was sent to Minnesota at last year’s Trade Deadline as part of the Brian Dozier trade. He had performed relatively well post-trade, then came out to the AFL a year ago, but only got four games in before being shut down with a shoulder injury. So he was understandably eager to show his new employers what he was capable of doing.

“Getting traded is a feeling you don’t understand until it happens to you,” Raley said. “Coming over, you want to impress your new club, show them what you can do, and almost prove to them that they made the right decision getting you.”

So when the Twins told him he was getting another crack at the Fall League, he was more than happy to jump at the chance.

“I hurt my shoulder last year in the Fall League then was almost in Fort Myers the whole offseason,” Raley said. “And then played for a month and a half and got hurt again, so it’s been a lot of rehabbing and not really getting the chance to show the Twins what I can do. So coming back out here and getting some of the at-bats I missed back in, it was a good feeling.”