Continuing on from last week, a look at the Salem Red Sox' first half.
Part 1: Pawtucket and Portland
In Virginia, the Salem Red Sox have honestly been the most disappointing branch of the Sox system. They finished "just" 6.5 games back in their division, but when that division most resembles the 1994 AL West and 6.5 games back is a 32-37 record, that's saying basically nothing. On an individual level, there were quite a few interesting players, mostly positional, but nobody really in the upper-echelons of the Sox' farm system except for Ryan Kalish—and he wouldn't stick around for long.
Ryan Kalish started off the year on fire. In 21 games and 115 ABs, Kalish batted .304/.434/.504 with 4 home runs (more than he'd hit in all of last year, excepting fall ball). Hoping this was finally the emergence of some of the power their scouts had said he could have, the Sox bumped him up to AA, where he suffered from the usual post-promotion slump, batting .233/.287/.295. Signs do point in favor of his coming out of the slump, as he's been performing much better in June, but the power doesn't seem to've really followed him at all yet, as his slugging percentage lies somewhat pathetically beneath his OBP with only 5 extra-base hits including 1 homer. Still, Kalish has gone a long way to speeding up his path to the major leagues with the quick promotion to AA, and forms an impressive outfield group with Josh Reddick, and perhaps even Lars Anderson depending on how his work in LF goes.
The other major positional prospects in A+ to begin the year were Jason Place, Che-Hsuan Lin, Kristopher Negron, and Yamaico Navarro. Navarro has lost most of his season so far to injury, and with only 50 ABs, since returning (with half being rehab starts), it's not really worth it to try to analyze anything yet.
Che-Hsuan Lin started the year in an impressively bad slump, with an April batting line of .136/.209/.169. Generally speaking, Lin's slump seemed to be started by BABIP and prolonged by the usual pressing, as he ended up striking out 19 times to only 5 walks in the month. Since April, though, Lin has returned to his usual form, putting up an OBP-heavy OPS over .800 since, walking more than he has struck out, and even adding in 3 homers in June (a large number for a speedy Ellsbury type). So far, Lin has shown definite improvement over his last season, and has overcome the struggles of his slow start valiantly.
Last year was a breakout year for Luis Exposito, as the fanbase desperately looked for any hope from the various catching prospects scattered throughout the minors. But if last year was a breakout year, this year he has returned to Earth. Now, .286/.347/.447 isn't bad, but it's not quite what we were expecting as a group from the young backstop. Still, Expo's numbers suggest an improved plate discipline, and if there's a problem, it's that the ball isn't leaving the park as much—likely the result of his higher-level exposure NOT coming in cramped Lancaster, as it did last year. Still, if we accept that the power decline is a result of a change of Location, than it's possible to look at this year as just an improvement, as his OBP has risen a fair bit. Really, if anything has hurt Exposito, it's just that there's suddenly a lot more catching prospects with promise in the system between Mark Wagner, Tim Federowicz, and Ryan Lavarnway.
On the other side of things, 2 of the fastest-falling stocks in the Sox system are Jason Place and Kris Negron. In Jason Place's 4th year in the Sox system, he still has not shown much, if any of the first round potential for which he was drafted. With a line of .255/.327/.393 and 74 strikeouts in 267 ABs, Place hasn't shown any of the power or discipline required for a corner outfielder. Kris Negron, meanwhile, is 23, and posting a .661 OPS in Salem. Negron has been known for sudden bursts in production that help make his other years and minor-league stays look tolerable, but really he's yet to be consistent at any level, and seems to flash between short bouts of excellence and slightly longer bouts of mediocrity. If Negron wants to stick around he's going to have to pick it up in a hurry. Place, at 21-years-old, still at least has a fair bit of time left to him to find his power and his discipline.
The only real name of note on the Salem pitching staff is Kyle Weiland, the Sox' 3rd round pick last year, a 22-year-old right-hander out of Notre Dame who managed a 1.50 ERA in 60 IP in rookie ball last year. Given his more advanced age and impressive showing, Weiland skipped Greenville and headed straight to Advanced-A ball, which he may not have been totally ready for, giving up 16 ER in his first 12 innings in April, and then a rather improved, but still not good 17 runs in his 31 innings in May. But as unimpressive as those numbers are, the .33 ERA in June is made all the more impressive by them. The question is, why is he suddenly doing so much better? And the peripherals would tell us to be a little guarded against getting too optimistic. Over April and May, Weiland managed a 37:18 K:BB ratio. In June, he's walked 16 guys to only 20 strikeouts. His groundout number has gotten higher, which is certainly good, but given how few hits he's given up, the question has to be if he's getting lucky now, or if he was unlucky before?
Alright, so here's the deal folks. As I wrote this one, I realized it, too, was getting long. Ridiculously long. I still had half the Greenville positional players and all their pitchers left to go--including one Casey Kelly--and at that point it'd be so long that I, personally, could not see myself showing up to the site, clicking on the story, and doing anything other than just clicking "back".
So, to fix this without stretching this out too far, I'm posting this--let's call it part 1 of part 2 to be as confusing as possible--today, with Part 2 of Part 2 coming out probably on Thursday, just to keep things well-spaced. That way, everything will progress at a normal pace and without too much clutter.