The end of June marks the halfway point in the season for the upper levels of the minor leagues, and the starting point of short-season ball. For the A-level teams (Salem and Greenville), it also represents a fresh start, as the records are reset and the team with the best record to that point is granted a post-season berth. As significant a milestone as this is, it makes sense to use it as a time to look back at the season thus far, and for teams like the Lowell Spinners and GCL Red Sox, the season to come.
At the top of the Red Sox farm system, the Pawtucket Red Sox has been all about the pitching. Filled primarily with insurance guys who would play in case of injuries in the main club, the lineup is solid but largely uninteresting. Early backups Chris Carter and Jeff Bailey provided mostly frustration for Sox fans, and Aaron Bates is a relatively recent addition. The rotation and bullpen, on the other hand, have stolen the show.
Though their torrid starts have slowed some, Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden have done everything and more to prove they are ready for the big leagues—particularly Buchholz, whose complete game 1-hitter has highlighted a dominant season. Clay sports a 1.93 ERA, a .172 batting average against, and a 69:22 K:BB ratio which is actually marred by his last 3 games, over which he's given up 10 bases on balls. Bowden, though at first putting up better numbers than even Buchholz, has been brought back to Earth by a 4 inning, 6-run effort to start June off, and a 1 inning disaster giving up six earned runs again. Still, a 3.26 ERA is nothing to sneeze at.
The bullpen has been an unsung treasure for Pawtucket. While the big name in Daniel Bard has left to find his place in the crowded Boston bullpen, he leaves behind a ridiculous 29 strikeouts in 16 innings—one of them immaculate—and a 1.13 ERA.
Picking up the slack are a pair of journeymen castoffs from the Baltimore Orioles in Fernando Cabrera and Rocky Cherry. Cherry's 24:17 K:BB ratio in 33 innings and his WHIP of 1.29 suggest his 1.35 ERA is somewhat lucky, but Cabrera has been nothing but impressive. After struggling with control last year, Cabrera has only walked 11 in 32 innings while striking out 33. His 19 hits bring his WHIP up to a paltry .94.
Other notables in the pen are Hunter Jones, who had an unimpressive stint with Boston during Daisuke's first DL trip, and Javier Lopez who seemed to fall off a cliff after an impressive 2008 campaign and has had trouble even in AAA.
Unfortunately for Pawtucket, the experienced lineup and impressive pitching hasn't quite got them in the postseason yet, sitting 4.5 games back of the perennial powerhouse Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, and a game back in the wild card race.
If Pawtucket is the system's pitching powerhouse, than Portland is where you'll find the offense. Josh Reddick, Lars Anderson, and Ryan Kalish are all top-10 prospects in the system with Anderson leading the way, and catcher Mark Wagner has been having a spectacular year offensively and defensively. But where everything seems to be going right for Wagner, the other 3 have all faced growing pains.
Lars Anderson was mired in a well-documented slump resulting in a particularly bad May (.194/.318/.376), and while he seems to've come out of it somewhat in June, his numbers have dipped again somewhat and he's not really outperforming his April numbers by that much. Josh Reddick got off to a fantastic start, clobbering 6 home runs in April en route to a line of .288/.358/.644, but missed all of may with an injury and hasn't found his groove yet. He's yet to hit another home run, and is only hitting .239/.255/.304 on the month. Ryan Kalish is also seeing depressed numbers after a fantastic start. Never really a big-power guy, Kalish put on a show in 32 games in Salem,hitting 5 home runs in 32 games and accruing a .504 slugging percentage. Kalish experienced the typical post-promotion slump, and managed an OPS of only .445 while striking out in around 30% of his plate appearances with Portland in May. Kalish has showed significant signs of improvement, however, posting a .738 OPS in June with a .355 OBP, striking out only 5 times so far.
Wagner has also hit something of a road bump in June, which could be considered regression to the mean for him. A .321/.371/.434 line is by no means disappointing for the month, though, and Wagner still appears to be on the fast track to AAA. The former pitcher is also still throwing out about 70% of base stealers.
Other notables in Portland's lineup include Jorge Jimenez, who has returned to Earth somewhat after a stellar April, Bubba Bell who was recently promoted to Pawtucket, and Argenis Diaz who is in the middle of a very disappointing season and not showing any signs of coming out of it.
The pitching staff in Portland is limited to essentially 2 names: Junichi Tazawa and Felix Doubront. Though both are currently on the DL, these appear to be phantom injuries basically intended to rest the pair for a week or so. Tazawa is currently sporting a 2.92 ERA after getting off to a slow start against the more advanced MiLB competition, and seems to be less walk-happy than a certain countryman of his, keeping his BB/9 below 3 while striking out a tad unde 9 per. Tazawa's ceiling is still questionable, but as of right now there's no reason not to think he can pitch in the majors some day.
Doubront has managed to survive and eke out a 3.19 ERA despite 50 hits and 23 walks in 53 innings. A high strikeout total has contributed to that likely as much as a 1.26 GO:AO ratio, as has a relatively low home run count of 4. Whether he can keep it up or not is definitely in question.
The lack of consistency in the lineup, as well as mediocre contributions from most of the rotation and bullpen has led the Sea Dogs to a 32-36 record, 6.5 games back of the division-leading Connecticut defenders. It seems they're unlikely to improve on it, too, with one of their best batters, Aaron Bates, having been promoted and with Mark Wagner not far behind. Even Tazawa might not be too far from a Pawtucket trip depending on the fates of Buchholz and Bowden. Then again, the big names in the lineup will hopefully not be held down for long, and a resurgent offense could be enough.