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First-place ValleyCats relying on new stars

First-place ValleyCats relying on new stars

Bukauskas, Celestino lead way in Tri-City win
First-place ValleyCats relying on new stars
Gilberto Celestino heads home to score in Monday's win for the ValleyCats.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

TROY — Nearly two weeks ago, the Tri-City ValleyCats saw Seth Beer — the Houston Astros’ latest first-round draft pick — leave town after receiving a promotion.

During Beer’s short stay with the ValleyCats, he starred wearing his first professional uniform.

And, since Beer’s departure, the ValleyCats have moved onto showcasing their next top player.

That’s center fielder Gilberto Celestino, a 19-year-old from the Dominican Republic who collected his fifth consecutive multi-hit game Monday in the ValleyCats’ 7-3 win against the Aberdeen IronBirds at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium. The victory pushed the ValleyCats’ record to 14-10 and their winning streak to five, a spurt that has Tri-City in first place in the New York-Penn League Stedler Division.

“That’s part of the game, right?” ValleyCats manager Jason Bell said of Tri-City’s ability to continue winning despite an ever-shifting roster. “Some people go up, some people go out, but we do a really good job as an organization of drafting and developing guys, and that’s what’s gotten us here so far.”

That strength showed in Monday’s win, as Celestino led the ValleyCats’ offense and J.B. Bukauskas — the Astros’ 2017 first-round pick — starred on the mound. Celestino went 4-for-5 with a stolen base, two RBIs and a run scored, while Bukauskas struck out six IronBirds in three scoreless innings.

Monday’s start was Bukauskas’ second this season with the ValleyCats. He briefly played for the ValleyCats last season, and the right-handed pitcher is now with the ValleyCats on a rehab assignment after hurting his back.

“I did feel a little bit better,” Bukauskas said, comparing Monday’s outing to one he made last Wednesday when he tossed two scoreless innings. “Just building on that last one.”

Bell said the former University of North Carolina standout “wasn’t his sharpest” against the IronBirds, but the 21-year-old worked the strike zone consistently enough for his natural talent to take care of the rest.

“I thought he did a really good job of battling,” Bell said.

Originally, it was expected Bukauskas would only make a start or two with the ValleyCats. But Bukauskas said Monday he is planning to travel with the ValleyCats for their upcoming road trip.

“I’m excited about it, too,” said Bukauskas, who has enjoyed the chance to team again with fellow North Carolina product Brett Daniels.

Bukauskas, though, won’t be with the ValleyCats much longer — and the way Celestino has been hitting lately could earn him a promotion, too. The center fielder has hit 13-for-22 in the ValleyCats’ last five games to go along with seven RBIs, six runs scored and four stolen bases. On the season, Celestino has hit .366 and stolen 13 bases in 22 games.

Above all else, Bell said what has developed for Celestino is consistency.

“Sometimes, at this level, that’s the hardest thing,” Bell said. “I felt like with him, that’s what he’s had. He’s always had talent. That’s one of the reason he was signed as a top prospect.”

Bukauskas and Celestino are each top-30 prospects for the Houston Astros, according to MLB.com’s rankings. Bukauskas checks in as the Astros’ No. 4 prospect and Celestino is ranked No. 22 on a list expected to see itself reshuffled before month’s end.

In Monday’s win, the ValleyCats scored multiple runs off each of the first two pitchers they saw, but were shut out by the IronBirds’ last two pitchers — a duo that included Brandon Bonilla, son of former MLB star Bobby Bonilla.

Besides Celestino’s output, the ValleyCats’ offense received a 2-for-4 day from left fielder Carlos Machado and a two-RBI game from catcher Cesar Salazar.

Austin Hansen was credited with the win after pitching scoreless sixth and seventh innings.

Next up, the ValleyCats will start a six-game road trip Wednesday at Williamsport after winning the final five games of their six-game homestand.

“We’re going to try to keep it going in that direction,” Bell said.

Aberdeen 000 011 001 — 3 6 1

Tri-City 400 300 00X — 7 10 0

Murphy, Joyner (4), Bonilla (7), Diaz (8) and Arredando; Bukauskas, Deason (4), Hansen (6), Daniels (8) and Salazar.

Reach Michael Kelly at [email protected] or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter.

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