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Greenville: A strikeout team with a baseball problem

It's becoming easy to identify a Box Score for the Sox' A affiliate the Greenville Drive. Look for the strikeouts. Unfortunately, I don't mean for their pitchers. The Drive are second in the South Atlantic League, trailing only the Charleston RiverDogs 484 to 493 strikeouts. And while some might try to dismiss that number in favor of the 4th best 179 walks, the troubling number cannot be attributed to a lack of aggression alone.

The fact is that of the Drive's 13 offensive players, there are only 2 with a BB:K ratio greater than .5. As far as this complaint is concerned, David Mailman and Zach Gentile (17:23 and 11:11 respectively) are both of the hook. Let's throw in Federowicz too, because his overall offensive game has been good so far. Take away those players, though, and you're left with a team-wide ratio of 168:418.

But however bad the numbers look, there are certainly mitigating circumstances. Let's take an invidual look at the more notable prospects of the system, and see who is and is not worth worrying about.

Michael Almanzar - 8:47, .271 OBP

-It's perfect to start out with Almanzar, because he's both the worst offender, and the best example of why it's not such a big deal. The Greenville Drive are a young team. Looking through the rosters and lineups of other A-ball teams, it becomes apparent that the Drive's collection of sub-20-year-olds is unusual. The drive reflect the Red Sox' recent strategy of acquiring high-risk, high-reward, and primarily unpolished talent fresh out of high school-exactly the type of players you'd expect to strike out a lot.

 

Michael Almanzar is exceptionally young, and exceptionally unpolished. Turning 18 last December, Almanzar had barely even played organized baseball and was picked up for his tools and potential. As a result, he needs to be built practically from the ground up. His swing, pitch recognition, plate discipline, etc. are all works in progress with plenty of time to develop. And first-hand supports seem to suggest they are, as Almanzar is said to have shed his awkward timing step as the team tinkers with him. It's far too early to start worrying right now.

 

Will Middlebrooks - 15:39, .294 OBP

-While Middlebrooks is nearly 2 years older than Almanzar, he too is fresh out of high school baseball. And even though Will is off to a truly horrible start in Greenville a year after posting a line of .254/.298/.368 in Lowell, he's showing signs of improvement. His BB:K ratio is actually far superior to last year's 12:73, and his OBP in May of .309 was a significant improvement over his dismal .200 in April. While it's not been a promising start for the 2007 draftee, it's not time to write him off yet.

 

Pete Hissey - 19:42, .311 OBP

-Hissey is either slumping, or just tired. The 19-year-old came into the system billed as a leadoff-type player with an advanced plate approach and discipline, and was one of Greenville's best bright spots through the first week or two before virtually disappearing. While he worked 8 walks in both April and May, he struck out nearly twice as much in May, posting an OBP of .222. Again, though, Hissey is not a particularly worrying case, as his scouting report suggests this is an unusual problem for him, and the timing of the events suggests he just needs to get used to the pro-ball grind.

 

Ryan Lavarnway - 11:37, .329 OBP

-Lavarnway is the only College player on the list, and as such loses the excuse of age or experience. But Lavarnway, like Hissey, comes in with a history of plate discipline, and amassed a 53:65 BB:K ratio in 3 years at Yale, despite striking out 21 times and only walking 6 in his first year. Lavarnway also managed to earn more than twice as many walks in May as in April while striking out 1 less time. Lavarnway is also likely to come around.

 

Anthony Rizzo - 22:50, .339 OBP

-To begin with, Rizzo's numbers aren't all that bad, and he is probably the least concerning player on the list. Before this year, Rizzo had only had 104 professional at bats, missing most of last year after being diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. His strikeouts also seem to be the result of a prolonged slump over the last few weeks. While Rizzo still needs to prove himself some, there's no reason to assume he can't at least return to at least his level of performance from before his diagnosis.

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The strikeouts are a problem, and they do need to be fixed, but the good news for most of the players is that there's time to fix them. For others, there's still the hope that it's just a divergence from their usual performance. Over time, though, the numbers do need to improve. That's the thing about the Sox' risk:reward approach. When a risk doesn't pay off-and some of these guys are bound not to-all that you're left with is a bust.