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 high-A affiliate in his Salem Red Sox April in review.
Salem Red Sox
Record: 22-9 (Entering Wednesday Night)
Position: First Place – Carolina League Southern
Playoff Positioning: 5 1/2 Games Ahead of 2nd Place Myrtle Beach Pelicans for First Half Crown
As Salem enters the second month of the Carolina League season, their eye is on the first prize of the season: the first half Carolina League Southern Title and an automatic placement into the Carolina League Playoffs in September. How has Salem put up such an impressive first month and, more importantly, can they keep it together and pick up some hardware?
It is no surprise that the offense has helped to set the pace for the Red Sox. The team enters Wednesday’s contest as the second-best offense in the Carolina League – behind the Northern Division leading Lynchburg HillCats – with an OPS of .772. However, there is a fair bit of distance between the leading titans and third place Potomac, whose OPS is a mere .718.
Salem leads the league in batting average (.282), hits (292), stolen bases (70 – nearly twice as many as second place Potomac) and triples (20). They rank second in OBP (.361), SLG (.412). Runs (175) and RBI (161). Their 59 doubles rank third in the league, as do their 127 walks. The team also excels at putting the ball into play, striking out only 210 times, the second-best total in the league. If there is a disappointment in the offensive numbers, it comes from the lack of home runs, where the team ranks second-worst in the league with a dozen.
The pillars of the offense are Andrew Benintendi and Yoan Moncada, arguably the top two prospects in the Red Sox system. Benintendi leads the Carolina League in batting average (.368), doubles (13 – tied with Potomac’s Jose Marmolejos), triples (7), and total bases (73). Benintendi ranks fifth in OBP (.424) and second in SLG (.624) and is second only to Wilmington’s Ryan O’Hearn in OPS with a 1.048.
Yoan Moncada is not far behind Benintendi. He ranks third in the Carolina League in OPS at .970, thanks in large part to a leading-league .452 OBP. Moncada also leads the circuit in walks (23), runs (34) and stolen bases (19). The speedy middle-infielder has shown power-potential, with eight doubles, two triples, and a trio of home runs on the young season.
While the offense has run through Andrew and Yoan, they are far from the only reasons the bats are purring. Shortstop Mauricio Dubon is quietly making his own case for a promotion to AA Portland, with a .345/.409/.405 line featuring 14 walks and only eight whiffs on the season. Nick Longhi has also been solid with a line of .284/.355/.404 and nine doubles in 28 games. Bryan Hudson, a 21-year-old leftfielder, is batting .327/.422/.382 in the early going, putting his name on the prospect radar.
While Moncada and Benintendi are tearing the cover off the ball, it’s important to remember that not all prospects succeed during their first attempt at a new level. Rafael Devers is struggling a bit, putting up a line of .179/.281/.330 in his first 28 games of the season. On the other hand, with 15 walks and only 19 strikeouts, BABIP has been a cruel mistress for Devers in the first month. This luck does seems to be changing, however, as Devers has nine hits in his last 10 games with his batting average rising from .132 to .179.
While the strength of the club coming into the season was thought to be on the offensive side of the ledger, the pitching staff has shown that they are no slouches. The team ranks third in the league in ERA (3.66) and fourth in WHIP (1.33) while leading the league in saves (14) and fewest home runs allowed (11). The team ranks third-best in walks allowed (100) but second-worst in strikeouts (207).
The Red Sox are led by a pair of starters who have earned 4-1 records through their first six starts, Travis Lakins and Jalen Beeks. Lakins, a sixth-round draft pick out of Ohio State last season, has an ERA of 2.87 and a WHIP of 1.31 while leading the team with 31 1/3 innings pitched. Lakins also leads the team with 33 whiffs and has only allowed a single home run.
Jalen Beeks, the left-hander drafted out of Arkansas in 2014, has pitched one fewer out than Lakins in his six starts and has struck out 23 while walking only nine. Beeks has been hit harder than anyone else on the staff, however, accounting for four of the 11 home runs given up by the team.
The rest of the starting rotation has been a mixed bag. Former first-round pick Trey Ball has just re-entered the rotation, and in his two starts has allowed a pair of runs in 10 innings. Daniel McGrath, however, allowed six runs in his two starts (7 2/3 innings). Dedgar Jimenez has put up a 6.58 ERA and a 1.73 WHIP over his six starts, allowing 19 earned runs in 26 innings while walking as many batters as he has struck out (11). Matt Kent has taken the ball four times at the start of games, putting up a 4.12 ERA over 19 2/3 innings. Kent has walked only three batters in his four games, but has given up an amazing 36 hits for a WHIP of 1.83.
There have been a couple of stout performances out of the bullpen. Yankory Pimentel has allowed only a single earned run in 15 innings of work over eight appearances, picking up a pair of wins and a pair of saves. Jake Drehoff has allowed two earned runs in 12 innings of work, while grabbing five saves in his 10 appearances. Drehoff has struck out 16 while only walking one.
German Taveras has been the ace in middle relief. In 21 1/3 innings over eight appearances he has a 3.80 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP. Ben Taylor, who has three starts and three bullpen appearances, has a 4.12 ERA but a WHIP of only 1.22 and has struck out 15 in 19 2/3 innings of work. Taylor Grover also has an ERA that is a bit higher than one would expect (3.63) giving his 1.15 WHIP with 16 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings.
What To Expect
The big question is when do Moncada and Benintendi get the call to AA Portland. Given their pedigree and their current success in High-A, the answer could be very soon. When they are promoted, will that hinder Salem’s playoff chase?
While losing the two best cogs in the offense will undoubtedly slow down the scoring machine that is the Salem offense, the team still has six other players with an OPS over .800. And while some, like catchers David Sopilka, may be an early season mirage, others like Jordan Betts – who has already gotten the taste of Maine this season – should be expected to continue to provide good offense. Meanwhile, players who have struggled for one reason or another – Rafael Devers, Danny Mars (.594 OPS), Ben Taylor (.625 OPS) and Mike Meyers (.648 OPS) – will have the opportunity to turn their seasons around.
The pitching is in good shape to help the offense if they do struggle. Lakins and Beeks have both proven to be capable frontline starters and the back-end of the bullpen with Drehoff and Pimentel is very strong. Meanwhile, the enigmatic duo of Trey Ball and Daniel McGrath will have the opportunity to prove that they can consistently perform at their best in the starting rotation. If they can, the rotation may become the strength of the team.
Salem, despite only nine losses on the season, does have one more obstacle to overcome… winning at their home ballpark. The team has gone an amazing 14-2 on the road while performing at just above .500 in front of the hometown crowd. With 18 more home games before the end of the first half, the Red Sox will certainly look to improve upon their mediocre home record.
Salem has put considerable distance between themselves and second place Myrtle Beach after 31 games. But it takes more than one hot month to pick up trophies. The next month will determine if the Red Sox can get back to the Carolina League playoffs, and the schedule will not make it an easy task. In their final 38 games in the first-half, the Red Sox will face the Northern Division leading Lynchburg HillCats 13 more times. If Salem picks up the first half silverware, it will truly show how good this team is.
[Note: All stats are current as of the beginning of play Wednesday, May 11]
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.