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First Half Red Sox Farm System Recap -- Salem and Greenville

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Photo by Kelly O'Connor / www.sittingstill.net
Photo by Kelly O'Connor / www.sittingstill.net

With the Major League club getting hit (depressingly) with injuries, let's think about something else for awhile.

While the Portland Sea Dogs came into the season looking like the real farm system all-star team, in the early months, it was Salem that was really putting on a show. For the most part, this was due to huge starts from three of their bats: Oscar Tejeda, Will Middlebrooks, and Ryan Lavarnway, who each managed an OPS over 1.000 over the first month of the season. All three have cooled down--particularly Will Middlebrooks, who entered a prolonged slump marked by a ton of strikeouts--but have still proved productive on the season with lines of .331/.353/.503, .278/.343/.424, and .305/.398/.520 respectively. Tejeda is still riding a high BABIP, but has shown some impressive power and begun to walk some, too, while Ryan Lavarnway is the most likely to stay at a high level as the season moves on.

Things have not gone so well for some of the other prospects filling out Salem's lineup. Tim Federowicz, a defense-first catcher, has lived up to that reputation, batting only .252/.312/.381 so far on the season, without any of the power he showed in Greenville last year shining through. Middle infielder and 2007 first round pick Ryan Dent has done even worse, continuing a disappointing career with a line of .226/.292/.340. He hasn't shown much in the way of plate discipline or power to date--not exactly a recipe for success. Pete Hissey rounds out this group with a line of .255/.330/.350. Coming out of last year, it looked like Hissey stood to move up the rankings if he could just add some of the power he's likely to show later on with some work to his already impressive on base ability. Instead the 20-year-old outfielder has started striking out at an awful rate, and has been walking less to compound the issue. Hissey did hit the first homer of his career, and is sporting a .095 ISO (not good, but better than last year), but this has certainly not been a good year for Hissey so far.

Already gone from the club is balanced first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who received a quick bump to Portland. While his plate discipline was perhaps not what the Sox had hoped for to start the year, Rizzo showed some early home run pop and was moved up to match the Lars Anderson promotion. His plate discipline has been even worse since arriving in Portland, with 43 strikeouts to just 13 walks, but Rizzo still holds a ton of promise and is an important piece of the system. It's worth noting that the home run stroke has stayed with Rizzo through his promotion, leading to a .176 ISO in Double-A.

The Salem rotation is highlighted by a trio of righties in Stolmy Pimentel, Alex Wilson, and Caleb Clay. Alex Wilson has had the most success of the three, recently getting bumped up to Double-A on the back of a 3.40 ERA, 50:15 K:BB ratio, and an ability to keep the ball on the ground. Last year's second round pick, the organization has to be happy with how well the 23-year-old Wilson has adapted to professional ball. He struggled in his first Double-A outing, but has had two solid ones since, and will hopefully keep things rolling and start 2011 in Pawtucket.

Stolmy Pimentel has a deceptively high 4.60 ERA thanks to a 2.1 inning outing last week during which he gave up eight earned runs on ten hits, no walks, and three strikeouts. Pimentel's peripherals look pretty good, however, with a 54:22 K:BB ration and 1.49 groundout to flyout ratio. He's not quite pitching on a Double-A level yet, but at just 20-years-old, he's well ahead of the curve.

Caleb Clay has also been pitching well thanks to some excellent control. Allowing just 11 walks in 77.2 innings, Clay hasn't been offering up free passes, or the free runs that tend to come with them. Only 39 strikeouts in the time isn't great, but Clay can live with the results he's been getting given his 3.94 ERA.

Brock Huntzinger and reliever Cesar Cabral round out Salem's staff. Huntzinger has done well in 79 innings to date with a 3.65 ERA. His 26 walks to only 38 strikeouts are not particularly encouraging however. Cabral has struggled through his last two appearances in Salem after getting out to a quick post-promotion start, especially his last one where he allowed four runs in just over an inning. Still, Cabral has been impressive, allowing only one run in his 31.1 innings in Greenville with 35 strikeouts and only 7 walks. His peripherals have actually only gotten better since his arrival in Salem, with 17 strikeouts and just a couple of walks in 15.2 innings. He has still yet to allow a homer on the season, thanks largely in part to a ton of groundballs.

Greenville has perhaps been the most disappointing team of the year, particularly offensively. Starting the year with a good group of talent from the last couple of drafts, not a lot of that has shown through--except on the basepaths. First round pick Reymond Fuentes has 27 steals in 28 tries, but is only managing a .722 OPS so far thanks to an awful 56:10 K:BB ratio. That sort of plate discipline is the exact opposite of what the Sox might have expected out of 2008 second round pick Derrik Gibson, but the middle infielder hasn't shown any of last year's on base ability, with only a .310 mark on the back of a 58:26 K:BB figure. He still isn't showing even much doubles power, either. Jeremy Hazelbaker has done slightly better with a .727 OPS, and has shown some speed (if less efficient than Fuentes', with 33 steals in 43 tries) and good power (five homers, .149 ISO), but is striking out at a tremendous rate. He's also received criticism for poor reads in center field.

There were fewer expectations for Michael Almanzar and Shannon Wilkerson, but they have done a pretty good job of not meeting them regardless. Almanzar is still a case of all tools, no results, with a line of just .236/.298/.365 on the season. Wilkerson's line of .224/.271/.316 has been hurt by some pretty bad luck on batted balls, but he also just hasn't walked at all.

If there's a bright spot for the Drive's offense, it's in first baseman Chris McGuiness, who has walked and homered his way to a line of .282/.391/.475. He's struggled since coming back from an injury in May, but the great stuff he showed at the beginning of the year cannot be ignored.

The mound has been a much more promising place for the Drive, though it's not been without its disappointments. Coming into the season, Roman Mendez and his high-90s fastball was overshadowing his partner-in-crime from the GCL Manny Rivera. What's happened since has reversed their positions, with Rivera looking every bit the next big prospect while Mendez has earned only a demotion to Lowell with some awful results.

Bad news first, as Mendez just hasn't managed any success to speak of, allowing over a walk per two innings and giving up a ton of flyballs and homers in Greenville. The good news is that he's still striking guys out, and that he's managed some grounders since getting started in Lowell, but he really needs to tighten up his control if he's going to work his way back to his old standing.

Manny Rivera, on the other hand, has seen nothing but success with a 3.01 ERA in 71.2 innings. While he's not a ground ball expert, and as a result has allowed a few homers, he's striking out four batters for every walk he allows, and that's going to keep the runs off the board. After allowing seven earned runs in the first outing of June, Rivera has really tightened up: 22 innings, 19 strikeouts, 3 walks, and just a lone earned run. A mid-season promotion to Salem is not too unlikely if he keeps this up.

Kendal Volz, last year's ninth round pick, has a higher ERA at 3.60, but has even better peripherals than Rivera, with 56 strikeouts, 14 walks, and a much better ground ball rate. In fact, through the first two months of the season, Volz had only walked two batters.

Drake Britton, coming off a season lost almost entirely to Tommy John surgery, was again shut down after another injury scare in April. He's since returned to pitching, though with a very low pitch count, and has had an up-and-down season since. His struggles with control aren't really unexpected, given his long time off, and he is still striking out a good number of batters, leading to a 3.70 ERA. Only time will tell how well Britton returns to form.

Finally, there's Yeiper Castillo, who has fixed the problems that resulted in an ERA over 7.00 after his 2009 promotion to Greenville. Castillo is doing everything right with strikeouts, walks, and groundballs, and keeping his ERA below 3.00 as a result. He's been derailed with a mystery injury since early June, but will hopefully be back as full strength soon.

So far, the minor league season has been about what you suspect. Some breakouts, some busts, and a whole bunch of annoying injuries (oh, no, wait, that's just what you expect from the Red Sox this year...). There's still half a year to go, though, and with Lowell and the GCL just getting started, plenty left to happen.