Being an affiliate of a MLB team certainly has its benefits, such as a steady stream of talent, but it also has its drawbacks. Injuries to the big-league club can mean reshuffling the lineup or altering the pitching staff at a moment’s notice. Brandon Magee gives an update on Boston’s single-A affiliate in his Greenville Drive April in review.
Record: 15-16 (Entering Wednesday Night)
Position: Third Place – South Atlantic League Southern
Playoff Positioning: 5 Games Behind Charleston RiverDogs
The Drive have started their 2016 season by being exceptionally average. The team has put together a .500 record at home (9-9) and just under a .500 record on the road (6-7). They find themselves five games behind their home-state rivals as they attempt to gain the first half crown. Can the Drive improve in the next month to catch the RiverDogs?
The offense has been the main attraction for the team, ranking second in the league with a .781 OPS. The team tops the league in OBP (.349) and is second in slugging (.432). The Drive’s 283 hits rank only behind the Asheville Tourists and the Lakewood BlueClaws while their 117 walks rank second only to the Fireflies of Columbia. In the power categories, the Drive are only sixth in the league with 54 doubles, but lead the league with 15 triples and 29 home runs.
The offense has been led by Josh Ockimey, who ranks second in the SALLY with a 1.025 OPS. While Ockimey’s power numbers – seven doubles and six home runs – may have been predicted based upon his 20 extra-base hits last season in Lowell, his league-leading 26 walks could not have been. Last season, Ockimey walked only 25 times over 56 games in the New York-Penn League. While one month does not a season, or a career, make, this change in Ockimey’s approach bears watching and could make him a quick riser up the Red Sox prospect lists.
Kyri Washington and Joseph Monge have also jumped onto the prospect radar with their first months. Washington, a 23rd round draft pick last season, has impressed with his power – matching Ockimey’s seven doubles and six home runs while adding a trio of triples. Unlike Ockimey, however, Washington has only walked twice and has struck out 30 times while putting up a batting line of .291/.304/.573. Monge, in his second season in Greenville, is batting .326/.400/.446 with eight doubles and ten walks.
Third base has been a good position for the Drive as well. Michael Chavis started the season red hot, batting .356/.415/.576 with four doubles and three home runs in his first 15 games before a thumb injury put him on the shelf. Mitch Gunsolus has since taken over the hot corner, batting .317/.397/.550 with four balls leaving the yard. Left fielder Tate Matheny has also sparkled in limited action, batting .329/.392/.471 with six extra-base hits and six stolen bases in 17 games.
Luis Alexander Basabe was the better known Basabe brother coming into this season, but he has struggled in his first tour of full-season ball. While the Basabe Blast’s power has been evident – with five doubles, four triples and three Blasts – his six walks and 32 whiffs have led to a mediocre line of .226/.265/.434. His brother, Luis Alejandro Basabe, has started better in his first tour with Greenville, batting .250/.330/.381 with seven extra-base hits.
The pitching staff has let the surging offense down, ranking 10th in the league with a 4.04 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP. The staff has been good at keeping batters off the basepaths via non-base hits by hitting a league-low seven batters while ranking fourth best with only 97 walks allowed. The team has suppressed power at above average rate with only 14 home runs allowed. However, the 272 hits allowed is 5th worst in the league.
The starting staff is led by a pair of teenagers. Anderson Espinoza shot up the Red Sox prospect ranks last season, getting a late-season taste of Greenville as a 17-year-old. His fellow 18-year-old Roniel Raudes followed him in jumping from the Dominican Summer League to the Gulf Coast League during last season.
Over the first month, it has been Raudes who has shown the way. In five starts, he has a 3-1 record with a 1.14 WHIP and an ERA of 2.45. Over 22 innings, Raudes has allowed 20 hits and walked five while striking out 18. Espinoza, on the other hand, has put up seven starts with a 2-3 record, an ERA of 4.40 and a WHIP of 1.33. Anderson has shown glimpses of dominance, striking out 11 Augusta GreenJackets in his start on April 5th, but also been hit by the learning curve, getting knocked out after only 1 2/3 innings in his next start. On the plus side of the ledger, the right-hander has dominated the strikeout column whiffing 38 in 28 2/3 innings.
The other starters have also been erratic in their first chance in full-season ball. Logan Boyd has put up a 3-2 record over his six starts with a 4.23 ERA, a 1.55 WHIP, and a 5:1 K/BB ratio. Daniel Gonzalez has a 1-1 record over six starts with an ERA of 5.60, a WHIP of 1.57, and has struck out 19 in 27 1/3 innings. Marc Brakeman has gone 1-2 over five starts, with a 5.23 ERA, and a 1.55 WHIP.
The bullpen has largely been steady. Bobby Poyner has been fantastic at the end of games, picking up six saves in nine appearances with a miniscule 0.56 ERA to match his equally miniscule 0.56 WHIP. In 16 innings, Poyner has struck out 21 and has yet to walk a single batter. Jeffry Fernandez (1.69 ERA / 1.06 WHIP), Angelo Leclerc (2.11 ERA / 0.98 WHIP / 19 Ks) and Jake Cosart (2.25 ERA / 1.25 WHIP / 24 Ks) have also been effective out of the pen.
However, there have been a couple of poorer performers in the pen. Victor Diaz has three losses, with a team high 8.22 ERA and 2.02 WHIP over 15 innings of work. Kuehl McEachern has been less than Kuehl in his eight appearances out of the pen with a 7.94 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP.
What to Look For
When the Red Sox decide to move Andrew Benintendi and Yoan Moncada up from High-A Salem to AA Portland, the moves will likely cause reciprocal call ups that affect the Drive. While Moncada’s move upwards may result in a move downward for a struggling Wendell Rijo, Benintendi’s rise may move Washington or Monge out of Greenville. Additionally, if Ockimey continues to show the offensive dominance he has thus far, he will also force his way into the Salem picture.
However, the Drive will likely not have to worry about their pitching staff, especially the starters, being called up anytime soon. With a young, inexperienced staff, all of whom are in their first year of full-season ball, a cautious approach is the correct one. There may be changes in the bullpen – the dominant Poyner may need to spread his wings at a higher level – but, the pitching staff in general needs to continue to solidify their approach at this lower level before moving forward.
While playoffs are a nice carrot at the end of the year, this Greenville Drive team – the second youngest team in the South Atlantic League to the Rome Braves – may not be quite ready to accomplish that feat in the first half. But, one of the great things about Single-A Ball is that it is played in two halves. The talent may well mature enough to make a run for the second half crown.
Brandon Magee is our minor league expert; he has written about minor league travel, ranking prospects, a first round draft pick, and the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.