With the new minor-league schedule started in 2021 being implemented 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 time slot 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.
Position Player of the Week
Alex Binelas, 3B/1B, Greenville
In hindsight, one of the strangest moves made by the Red Sox over the offseason was trading Hunter Renfroe to Milwaukee for Jackie Bradley Jr., Alex Binelas, and David Hamilton, essentially buying a couple of prospects while taking on Bradley’s contract. It made some sense under the assumption they’d add another outfielder, but that never materialized. Not only did it hurt the major-league roster, but it put a whole lot of pressure on those two prospects, Binelas and Hamilton. So far, so good. Hamilton is having a strong start to his year in Portland, and Binelas gets the nod here as the top position player in the system from the past week, hitting three home runs and slashing .353/.500/.941.
It’s been an interesting start to the season for Binelas, a third round pick from last summer. He’s playing exactly to his projected profile, which is one that shout hit for plenty of power so long as he makes enough contact. So far he’s toeing that line well, putting up a big season-long slash line of .306/.435/.714 despite striking out just over 30 percent of the time. You can get away with that rate when you hit for the kind of power he has, and also while you’re walking nearly 18 percent of the time like he has early on. Of course, that gets harder as you move up the ladder.
And that will be the interesting thing to watch here with Binelas, who needs the bat to get close to his ceiling since there’s not a whole lot of defensive value here. Right now he’s been playing mostly third base, but he’s likely to move either to left field or first base at some point in the near future. The bat will play, though, if he can make enough contact, as alluded to above. In his age-22 season (he’ll turn 22 in late May), he can move pretty quickly, and I’d expect him to be up in Portland by midseason if he keeps swinging a hot bat in High-A. There his hit tool will really be tested, and if he passes that test he’ll move up the rankings pretty quickly.
Honorable Mention: Christian Koss, SS, Portland
Offense isn’t really the calling card of this year’s Sea Dogs squad, but Koss is working to change that. The most notable moment of his week was right at the end when he smacked one of four homers for Portland in the first inning on Sunday, his second homer of the week. Overall, he slashed .500/.586/.889. Koss doesn’t really have the kind of ceiling that will put him in organizational top prospect conversations, but there’s a potential major-league bench profile here. Koss has a solid hit tool, can tap into some surprising power here and there, and plays good defense up the middle in the infield. The bat probably isn’t good enough for an everyday role unless everything breaks perfectly, but that profile fits well as a top infield option off the pine.
Pitcher of the Week
Chih-Jung Liu, RHP, Greenville
There aren’t a whole lot of two-starts-in-a-week pitchers in the minors these days with the new six-on, one-off schedule, but each team typically gets one per week. It then becomes difficult for them to make the list, because it’s hard to have two great starts in the same week, especially coming against the same opponent. Liu managed to get that done, even with his second start being more mediocre. Still, overall on the week he only allowed three runs (and only two earned) over 8 1⁄3 innings, striking out 15 while only walking three. Most notable was his first start of the week, when he tossed five scoreless, striking out nine while walking one.
It’s a nice recovery for Liu, whose first start of the year in High-A did not go all that well. In his season-opening start, the righty gave up three runs in three innings, walking three and striking out three. Threes were wild, is what I’m saying. Liu is an interesting arm in this system who in my mind is a little underrated coming into the season. There is intriguing raw stuff here, but his career has taken a weird route as he was signed in the winter prior to the 2020 season. Obviously COVID happened later that spring, and it was an even stranger situation for him coming from Taiwan. Last season he finally got on the mound and showed flashes, but struggled with consistency. He doesn’t have to pitch this well every week, but I think he can surprise some people with the strikeouts, though I do think there’s some chance he moves to the bullpen eventually.
Honorable Mention: Brandon Walter, LHP, Portland
Walter had an argument for the top spot, which would have been his second straight to start the season, but the two starts for Liu put him over the top. Walter still gets a mention, though, for a great six-inning start in which he allowed two runs, not walking anyone (though hitting one batter) while striking out 10. It’s been a dominant start to the season for the southpaw, who now has a 1.06 ERA through three starts, striking out 22 and still waiting on his first walk of the season. He just continues to answer any questions brought forth from his breakout 2021.