The Dayton Dragons have completed the first 33 games of their 140-game season, posting a record of 18-15.  The Dragons play a split-season format featuring two distinct 70-game championship seasons.  They can qualify for the playoffs by finishing first or second in the eight-team Eastern Division of the Midwest League in either half.  The Dragons are currently tied for second place, two games out of first.

The Dragons team earned run average through May 13 is an outstanding 2.79.   Particularly notable has been the lack of walks allowed by the staff as a whole.  In fact, the Dragons issued the fewest number of walks in the month of April of any of the 120 Minor League teams currently active (all classifications).  The five-man starting rotation has been tremendously solid.  Four of the five starters have ERA’s under 2.70, and the fifth is at a respectable 3.86.  Here is a brief rundown of the five starters:

Seth Varner, a 23-year-old left-hander, is a native of the Cincinnati area and was drafted in the 10th round by the Reds in 2014 out of Miami University.  Varner features three quality pitches with a fastball, change-up, and curve.  His control has been exceptional.  He has issued only one walk in 35 innings while striking out 39.  He is 3-1 with a 2.31 ERA.

Wyatt Strahan is a 22-year-old right-hander out of USC, taken in the third round of the 2014 draft.  He is 3-1 with a 2.35 ERA through his first six starts.  His fastball is generally in the low 90’s but can reach 94-95.  Based on Baseball America’s prospect rankings, he is the mostly highly-rated pitcher on the Dayton staff, though several of the other pitchers look like they could make big jumps up the list over the course of the 2015 season.

Tejay Antone is a 21-year-old right-hander who has probably been the Dragons top starter.  He played one season of college baseball at TCU before transferring to junior college to get more experience. The Reds took him in the fifth round of the 2014 draft.  Antone did not put up good numbers after turning professional in 2014 so he was left off the prospect lists, but he is a name to follow.  He has an excellent sinker and gets a lot of ground balls, but he can reach back and fire a 94-95 mph fastball if he needs to.  He has won his last three starts, allowing just two runs (one unearned) in 20 innings.  He is 3-2 with a 2.02 ERA through six starts, with only four walks in 35.2 innings.

Mark Armstrong is a 20-year-old right-hander who was drafted out of high school in the third round in 2013.  The native of the Buffalo area has quietly gained the attention of scouts who have followed the Dragons.  His fastball sits in the 92 mph range and he has the poise and maturity of a more seasoned pitcher.  He has walked only six batters in 34 innings while posting a 2.65 ERA.  His record is 1-1 but he has pitched well enough to win in every start.

Tyler Mahle is a 20-year-old native of Westminster, California who was the Dragons opening night starter.  Like Strahan, Mahle cracked Baseball America’s Reds top-30 prospect list entering this season. At times, he has been sensational.  On May 13, he fired eight strong innings without issuing a walk, surrendering one run that came on a solo homer.  With most pitchers on an 80-85 pitch limit, it is extremely rare to see a Dragons pitcher go eight innings.  In fact, it had not happened since Enerio Del Rosario threw nine innings in a start in 2008 until Mahle did it on Wednesday.  Mahle’s fastball works in the low 90’s, and like the other pitchers in the rotation, he features excellent control.  He has walked six batters in 39.2 innings.  Mahle is 2-3 with a 3.86 ERA, but one bad start drove his ERA up from the mid two’s.

Misc. Team Notes: Highly regarded right-fielder Aristides Aquino, a top-10 prospect in the Reds organization, got off to a slow start in the cool April weather, and then suffered a broken wrist when he was hit by a pitch on April 24.  Initial estimates called for Aquino to be out four-to-six weeks from the date of the injury…Dragons second baseman Ty Washington has played like a Midwest League All-Star.  His batting average stood at .299 after the game on May 13, and he has played outstanding defense.  Washington has primarily filled the lead-off spot in the Dragons order but has posted a team-leading .433 slugging percentage…Reliever Brian Hunter has been the top pitcher in an excellent Dayton bullpen.  Hunter has three wins and three saves with a 0.61 ERA, allowing just one earned run in 14.2 innings…Catcher Garrett Boulware, a 2014 draft pick out of Clemson University, has split the duties behind the plate with Jose Ortiz, but Boulware has been the Dragons best hitter when he has been in the lineup.  He is batting .300 with a pair of home runs and 12 RBI in 60 at-bats.  His OPS is .833.

Shortstop Luis Gonzalez is going to be one of the most interesting players to watch on the Dayton club over the rest of the season.  Gonzalez entered the season with a reputation as a defensive wizard. Manager Jose Nieves said he had the best hands in the organization.  But he struggled defensively over his first two weeks of action, committing seven errors in his first 14 games.  As the weather warmed up, Gonzalez’s play improved dramatically.  Over the next three weeks, he put together a highlight reel of fielding gems at shortstop.  He is a making a big jump from the Arizona League to the Midwest League, skipping the Reds Pioneer League affiliate at Billings, so some struggles at the plate were expected.  Gonzalez has held his own at bat however, hitting .256 with a home run…Outfielder Narciso Crook has shown some outstanding tools with a strong arm, good speed, and above average power potential.  But like Gonzalez, he is making a big jump in class from the AZL.  He is currently on the disabled list with strained hamstring but should return shortly.