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Minor League Players of the Week: Almost a clean sweep for Portland

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The Sea Dogs get three of our four winners.

Ryan Fitzgerald
Kelly O’Connor

Welcome to a new feature here at Over The Monster in which we will be looking at the best players on the farm from the past week. With the new minor-league schedule being implemented this year that has teams playing six-game series every week with Mondays off, there are no Minor Lines on Tuesdays. We figured rather than just leaving that timeslot blank every week, we’d hand out some fake, virtual hardware. Each week, we’ll pick players of the week for both position players and pitchers, as well as an honorable mention in each category. (See Previous Winners Here)

Position Player of the Week

Ryan Fitzgerald, Portland

This was a big week for Portland overall, winning all six games they played in the week, and carrying a seven-game win streak overall. Fitzgerald was right in the middle of this win streak over the week, playing in all six games, and playing well all week. The Sea Dogs infielder finished the stretch hitting .421/.476/.947, smashing a pair of homers, adding four doubles and walking twice for good measure. It was easily his best stretch of the season.

That said, this has been a solid year for Fitzgerald, who has spent all of 2021 with Portland. Playing mostly shortstop for the Sea Dogs, he is hitting .266/.355/.511 over the course of the entire season, with his plate discipline taking center stage for much of the year. Fitzgerald is drawing walks in over 10 percent of his plate appearances while keeping his strikeout rate below 20 percent. He’s also worked around a career-low .299 batting average on balls in play, largely due to a massive increase in power. His eight homers already ties a career high, and his .245 Isolated Power (SLG - AVG) is just about double his previous career-high.

Fitzgerald is one of the better stories in the entire Red Sox system, having come to the organization out of Indy ball after he went undrafted. He’s already 27 so he’s not exactly a youngin’, but he’s been in the organization for three years and has made a steady climb up the ladder, getting better with each passing season. The offense has been a total shock this year, specifically with the power, and Fitzgerald also plays solid defense, even taking home the organization’s top defensive player award in 2019. He’s quietly making a case to get the call to the majors at some point, though probably not this year. The next step is seeing if there’s a way to get him time in Triple-A against more advanced pitching to find out if that power will still play.

Honorable Mention: Marcus Wilson, Worcester

Wilson has been discussed on these pages a little more often of late, as he is having a very strong season at Triple-A. After slashing .417/.632/.833 over the past week, he’s up to a .269/.399/.511 on the season. The strikeout rate is still over 30 percent, which raises some concern, but he’s walking more than 16 percent of the time and supporting that with power. It’s unclear what exactly his path is with the Red Sox, as he’s in an outfield with Jarren Duran and Franchy Cordero, both of whom are seemingly in front of him on the team’s depth chart, but he's making the case for his major-league debut somewhere, at some point soon.

Pitcher of the Week

Kutter Crawford, Portland

This has been a wild ride of a season for Crawford, and he had one of his best starts of the season this past week to give him his first top pitcher of the week nod. The righty went wix innings in his lone start of the week for Portland, allowing a pair of runs on three hits to go along with 10 strikeouts while not walking a single batter. It was the highest single-game strikeout total of the season for Crawford, and the fifth straight outing in which he struck out at least one batter for every inning he pitched.

As I said, it has been a pretty wild season for the righty, who had previously experienced a big breakout in 2018. That season was a pretty big surprise from the former 16th round pick, and he followed it up with a solid first half in 2019 as well. However, he’d undergo Tommy John later in that year, and at that point his prospect stock had fallen pretty significantly. The general thought coming into this year was that he’d end up in the bullpen before the end of the season. Instead, he’s been very good as a starter when healthy — Crawford missed a chunk of June after hitting the COVID list — pitching to a 3.67 ERA over 34 13 innings, striking out 47 with five walks.

Kutter Crawford
Kelly O’Connor

The future for Crawford is one of the most interesting in the entire system. The scouting has never really caught up with the performance, but at this point he’s really been performing whenever he’s been healthy. On the other hand, there are still some questions about his stuff, and he did turn 25 back in April. I was among those who assumed he’d be in the pen by the end of this season, but at this point he should, and likely will, continue getting chances to start until he proves he shouldn’t. If that carries him all the way to making a start in the majors, well, who can argue with that?

Honorable Mention: Denyi Reyes, Portland

Reyes made two appearances for the Sea Dogs this week, acting as a mulit-inning reliever in Portland. Those appearances totaled seven innings, allowing two runs on four hits and a walk while striking out nine. It was only a couple years ago that Reyes was somewhat surprisingly added to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft back in the winter of 2018. Things have only gone downhill since then, but he’s quietly bounced back this year. Over 40 13 innings he’s pitched to a 2.90 ERA with 43 strikeouts and six walks, and he should get a chance in Worcester whenever room on that staff opens up.