The minor leagues are underway and there have been plenty of impressive performances. While the big league teams get all the attention, there are plenty of reasons to watch the minors. Brandon Magee gives us his weekly minor league report, highlighting hot starts by young talent like Joey Gallo and Travis Demeritte.
Pitches being thrown in New York City and Oklahoma City. Home runs being hit in Atlanta and Albuquerque. Great defensive plays being made in Cleveland and Chattanooga. Baseball is back! Being a week into the minor league season, the biggest storyline, as usual, is the fast start some teams and players have gotten off to. In this week’s Minor League Report, we look at the torrid teams, the hot hitters and the scorching slingers who hope to continue their blistering beginning for the rest of the season.
While no minor league teams remain undefeated after the first week of the season, a trio have started the year with six wins in their first seven games. Two reside in the different divisions of the Single-A South Atlantic League.
The Charleston RiverDogs, a New York Yankees affiliate, has made the best of their opening slate, going 6-1 with the distinct advantage of all the games being at home. The RiverDogs’ offense is being led by Jhalan Jackson, who has five doubles and a .940 OPS, and Kyle Holder, who is batting .364/.391/.455 through seven games. However, the quick start hasn’t given them a significant jump-start on the division – the Lexington Legends stand only one game back after going 5-2 on their opening homestand.
The Hickory Crawdads, affiliated with the Texas Rangers, have also gone 6-1 despite being on the road the first week. Hickory, the defending SAL Champions, is being led on the offensive side by Andy Ibanez, who is batting an absurd .560/.607/.960 with five doubles, a triple and a HR in his first six games. Not to be outdone, the pitching staff has put up an ERA of 2.14 through the first seven games, good for second in the league. However, like the RiverDogs, they only have a single-game advantage over the West Virginia Power, who also had a hot 5-2 start on the road.
In the Florida State League, the Palm Beach Cardinals, High-A affiliate of St. Louis, has also begun the season at 6-1. Michael Pritchard, who is batting .421/.500/.632, and Danny Diekroeger, who is hitting .321/.367/.500, have led the offense for the Cards; while the pitching staff has put up a 2.29 ERA – third best in the FSL – over the first week. Like Charleston and Hickory, they are also only a game up as the St. Lucie Mets began their season with five wins in their first seven.
It is certainly no surprise when the top prospects in the game start off the season quickly, and no one has started off hotter in the Pacific Coast League than Joey Gallo. Gallo has had six of his nine hits go for extra bases, including four dingers, and is batting .346/.419/.923 after one week of play. Trea Turner has had a disciplined start to his season with five walks in five games, hitting .467/.600/.533. J.P. Crawford has made a steady start for Reading, putting up a line of .355/.412/.516 in his first week of play, while Andrew Benintendi has a 1.155 OPS through his first seven games in Salem, thanks in part to a pair of doubles and a minor-league-leading four triples.
However, the minor league’s hottest hitter resides in the California League. Second baseman Travis Demeritte, a 2013 first-round pick for the Texas Rangers, started the season with a power-punch, hitting a pair of home runs in his first two games of the year. Through the first six games of the season, Travis is putting up a slugging % of 1.304 with five homers, two triples and a double. His two singles and two walks puts his batting average at .435 and his OBP at .481.
Catcher Austin Allen, a fourth-round draft pick of the San Diego Padres last season, has started his first full season in the Midwest League with the Fort Wayne TinCaps. In his first six games, Allen has fifteen hits, including three doubles and a home run, and has a batting line of .682/.708/.955. Lost in Allen’s shadow in the MWL is first baseman Chris Iriart, whose .478/.500/1.000 line is powered by a trio of home runs and a trio of doubles. Iriart also leads the league with 10 RBI.
Second baseman Bruce Caldwell, in his first full season in AA Springfield of the Texas League, has had six of his eleven hits go for extra bases, and has also walked five times in his first six games. The Cardinals prospect is hitting .500/.593/1.091 through week one.
Catcher Christian Vazquez has always been a free swinger, reaching a high of 48 walks in a season in 2012 and 2013. On a rehab assignment in Pawtucket, however, he may be showing that last year’s lost season was a learning experience. In five games for the Pawsox, Vazquez has already taken ball four seven times, and is putting up a .462/.650/.538 batting line.
First baseman Jose Marmolejos-Diaz has done one better than Vazquez, picking up eight base on balls in his first six games for Potomac. The Nationals prospect has never had more than 35 walks in a season, and is nearly a quarter of the way to that number through a single week. Marmolejos-Diaz has also picked up seven hits, including four extra-base hits, and is batting .368/.556/.737 through the first week of the season.
No pitcher is going to run off an absolutely perfect season, but a few were able to run off fantastic first weeks.
In the South Atlantic League, Asheville’s Parker French started the season with a pair of six inning, no-run outings. Drafted in the 5th round last year by the Colorado Rockies, the right hander has put up a 0.67 WHIP in the first two games while striking out six.
In the Florida State League, a pair of starters have begun with no runs allowed in their first two games. Hunter Wood of the Charlotte Stone Crabs has started his season with a pair of six inning, no run outings. Wood has struck out ten batters in his twelve innings of work. Brandon Waddell of the Bradenton Marauders has begun his first full season in professional baseball by allowing five hits and a walk in eleven scoreless innings.
Jesse Hahn, who started sixteen games for the Oakland A’s last season, has put up a pair of six-inning, no-run outings for the A’s AAA affiliate in Nashville. Hahn has giving up a half dozen hits and four walks while striking out eleven in his first two starts of the season.
And… then there is the perfect imperfection of Andrew Moore. The Bakersfield Blaze pitcher allowed six hits and a walk in his first game of the season while blanking Visalia through six innings. In his second game, he gave up six hits and two walks in 4 2/3 innings while keeping his ERA at a sterling 0.00 against Modesto. Unfortunately for the Blaze and Moore, four unearned runs scored in his second outing of the season.
A pair of Red Sox hurlers have started the season on the right foot. In AAA Pawtucket, left-hander Henry Owens has allowed a single run on three hits over his first twelve innings of work, all while striking out 14. He has, however, been a bit wild, walking seven and hitting a pair. In AA Portland, Aaron Wilkerson has also allowed a single run in 10 2/3 innings, giving up four hits and two walks. A bigger surprise is that Wilkerson leads the minors in strikeouts with 17.
Northwest Arkansas’ Alec Mills has matched Owens and Wilkerson with a single run allowed in two games, going 11 innings with six hits allowed and a single walk. Mills has also been a strikeout machine, striking out 16 in his first two starts. Rancho Cucamonga’s Brock Stewart has also gone 11 innings with a single run allowed, giving up five hits and a pair of bases on balls. Brent Honeywell of the Charlotte Stone Crabs has matched Mills and Stewart with his 11 innings of one-run baseball, giving up eight hits and a walk in his two games.
And in the South Atlantic League, a tandem of throwers have also gone 11 innings with only a single run allowed. JT Brubaker of the West Virginia Power has given up three hits and five walks in his two starts, striking out a dozen. Lucas Long of the Delmarva Shorebirds gave up seven hits and struck out eight in his first week.
It should be noted that a hot start is just that, a hot start. The baseball season is a long haul, and an inevitable cold streak will drop the batters’ averages and raise the pitchers’ ERAs. However, it always looks better to start a season sizzling out of the box rather than frozen at the plate. And, as all these players look to progress to the next rung up the ladder, a brilliant beginning can only help their cause.
*Note – All Stats used in this article are current as of the end of play on Wednesday, 4/13.
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.