Part 1: Pawtucket and Portland
If Salem has been the most disappointing team, Greenville has been the most impressive. Halfway through the season, they have secured a postseason berth, their 39-29 record winning the division's first-half by a game. And more importantly, the team has advanced the prospects which got them to that point. Tim Federowicz, Anthony Rizzo, and David Mailman have all moved on to Salem after posting great numbers with the A-level team. Bryan Price has also managed to make his way up to Advanced-A ball. But perhaps the biggest story in the whole Sox system this year has been the fast-rising star of Casey Kelly, who pitched his first 48 innings with Greenville.
Tim Federowicz has been perhaps the most impressive positional player in the whole system. Coming in at 22-years-old, and now pushing at 23, FedEx as he has come to be known has had to move fast to stay in line with typical age progression. He has done just that, though, posting a line of .345/.393/.562 with 10 home runs in Greenville. And as small as the sample size is, his 1.143 OPS in 21 A+ at bats doesn't hurt, especially for a naturally defensively-sound Catcher.
Anthony Rizzo and David Mailman have not adapted quite so quickly to advanced A ball, but earned their promotions just the same. For Rizzo (.298/.365/.494), the emergence of a power game is the biggest development, especially so soon after missing 2008 following a diagnosis of Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Cancer free, Rizzo was able to hit 10 home runs in 245 at bats. For a guy who has always put up good on-base numbers, this is exactly what he needed to advance in the system. Mailman, on the other hand, had none of the track record of Rizzo after a tepid season in Greenville where he'd posted an OPS of .699, and so his emergence as a real prospect has been all the impressive. While .297/.357./467 is nothing to sneeze at, a more interesting development might be his offensive versatility. While he was always said to have above-average speed for a first baseman, Mailman's 10 steals (caught only twice) and 7 triples might suggest the speed is somewhat more impressive than initially reported. This is entirely conjecture, but given the good speed, good arm, and the fact that the Sox have tried him there before...could the outfield be in Mailman's future?
These are not the only players the team has lost, though, as Michael Almanzar was sent down to Lowell recently. Almanzar is the prototypical risk-reward player in the Red Sox' farm system. Signed as an IFA, Almanzar hadn't been playing real baseball for very long before he hit the GCL. Once there, though, Almanzar quickly showed he had enough for a promotion, posting a .886 OPS at SS and 3B. Ultimately, though, skipping low-A rookie ball may have been a poor decision, as Almanzar struggled greatly for the rest of the year in Greenville, and has continued to this year. The demotion didn't even help all that much, as Almanzar seems to be struggling with psychological issues, committing numerous careless errors. Still, it's far from the end of the world. Almanzar is still 5 months away from being 19, and these are sort of expected growing pains.
These promotions (and one demotion) have not entirely depleted the lineup, though. Still with the team are Pete Hissey, Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Lavarnway, and Oscar Tejeda.
Of the 4, Oscar Tejeda is the least impressive thus far. A reportedly high-cieling toolsy prospect by at first lauded by many as a potential
savior from successor to Julio Lugo, the young middle infielder seemed to fall off the face of the Earth, ending up at a .647 OPS in Greenville last year, striking out 76 times to only 20 walks. This year has not gone too much better for him, sitting at a .683 OPS with a 51:20 K:BB. But, for a player as young as he is, Tejeda's OBP improvement (up over 30 points) is certainly a good sign. Really, Tejeda is a similar player to Almanzar now, just without the benefit of playing time acting as a mitigating circumstance.
Looking at Pete Hissey's OPS would be somewhat misleading. At .610 on the year (this being essentially his first, unless you count 55 ABs in the GCL/Lowell), it is markedly unimpressive. However, aside from May, he has been remarkably good at getting on base for someone his age. In May, he had an 8:25 BB:K ratio. In April and June combined, he had a much more impressive 17:28 ratio, good for OBPs of .348 and .365 respectively. With a projectable frame and a little bit of improvement on making contact, Hissey's speed, discipline, and swing should get him to the majors in time as a good leadoff type.
Will Middlebrooks is all about progress. Again, an OPS of .648 is not pretty. In April and May, he essentially switched off a bad OBP for a worse SLG and vice-versa. How someone manages to record a .209 slugging is beyond me. But June was another story entirely. .274/.366/.484, while not exactly All-Star numbers, look Ruthian in comparison. While one would hope that Middlebrooks would remain hot, he is again mired in a slump going 2-for-20 over the last week. On the bright side, the power surge has remained, as the 2 hits were a double and a homerun.
If there is one knock on Ryan Lavarnway, it is that he is not Tim Federowicz. The 21-year-old catcher has posted a line of .271/.343/.510 in his first 50 games with Greenville, and would likely be playing in Salem were it not for his former teammate's production. Lavarnway has shown a good power stroke (28 of 52 hits for extra bases, 8 homers), and can really only be held back by organizational logjams. If Exposito is moved up, given the Sox' willingness to platoon catchers at C/DH, Lavarnway could be close on his tail.
As full of interesting prospects as the lineup is, it has had nothing on the rotation thus far. Headlined by Casey Kelly, Greenville has seen a steady stream of big-name prospects in the system stream onto the mound and, in the case of Casey Kelly and Bryan Price, onto Salem.
Casey Kelly does not need much explanation. A 1.12 ERA on a WHIP below 1, pinpoint control allowing 1.68 BB/9, and good enough stuff to rack up over 7 K/9 lead Kelly to a promotion after just 9 dominant starts. His time in Salem hasn't been as easy, but that's largely because of his last disastrous start of 5 IP, 7 ER. Given his previous performances at the level, and the fact that he wasn't expecting to pitch again till next year (plans foiled temporarily by the approaching Futures game in which he will take the mound), it's not too hard to see that there may have been mitigating circumstances. Even with those bad numbers thrown in, though, he still has an ERA of only 3.32 in the Carolina League with BB and K numbers similar to his time in Greenville. Kelly is going to be something special.
Bryan Price, on the other hand, has not adjusted as well. Performing always just short of Kelly in Greenville (2.45 ERA, WHIP just over 1, few more walks), Price took a dive after his promotion, with an ERA that currently sits at 8.31 and having doubled his walk rate from Greenville. A high K number (30 in 26 innings) and a good ground ball ratio both suggest that Price has been unlucky, and his last start—a 7 inning, 3 run effort—was a step in the right direction.
Of the starters that remain in Greenville from the beginning of the year, the big names are Stolmy Pimentel, Hunter Strickland, and Caleb Clay. Stolmy, one of the brightest rising stars in the Sox system, is a 19-year-old IFA from 2006. If there's one thing to worry about for Stolmy, it's the hits and the earned runs. Right now, his ERA sits at an impressive 2.77. This seems to clash, however, with his 82 hits in 68 innings. To his credit, he keeps the ball in the park and seems to get his fair share of groundouts. But when 11 of 32 runs allowed are unearned, the rest of the numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt. Hunter Strickland, on the other hand, has a reasonable 71 hits in 68 innings, has taken credit for all but 5 of his runs, and sits on a 3.16 ERA. Strickland has good ground ball numbers, and walks virtually no one, and could project as a fair middle-of-the-order guy. Of these three names, Caleb Clay has had the most trouble, but seems to have seen marked improvement since being moved to work as a long reliever/piggy-backed starter. In 4 starts this year, Clay has an ERA of 5, a WHIP of 1.39, and 7 Ks in 18 innings. As a reliever, his ERA shrinks to 2.45, and in 37 innings has recorded 21 strikeouts and walked only 9. Whether Clay's future is in the pen is up in the air, but this has to be a push in that direction.
As Price and Kelly moved out, replacements came in from extra spring training. And while they haven't pitched enough to really draw any conclusions yet, Stephen Fife and especially Nick Hagadone come in surrounded with hype. Fife produced very nicely in 39 innings of rookie ball last year, and has only improved in his first 26 in Greenville. 19 hits, 2 walks, 5 ER, and 23 strikeouts should be enough to tell that story. Nick Hagadone, on the other hand, is having an understandably more difficult time returning, as he essentially pitches for the first time since 2007, having undergone Tommy John surgery in 2008. The results so far have been wild, with few innings, lots of walks, and lots of runs. An encouraging sign that his arm is still as good as it ever was, though, is the fact that the strikeouts have returned as well—13 in 11 innings. It remains to be seen if Hagadone still has what the Sox invested a 1st round draft pick for, but if he does, he should quickly rise back to prominence on the same levels as Buchholz, Bowden, and Kelly.
Sorry, a day late, but it's been a crazy week around here.