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Minor League Players of the Week: Blaze Jordan is on fire

That pun will be overused before he even makes it to the majors.

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Blaze Jordan
Kelly O’Connor

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

Blaze Jordan, 1B/3B, Salem

Last week was not a great one for the Red Sox farm system, with three of the four affiliates really struggling to get things going in their respective six-game series. The lone exception to that was Salem, and Jordan was a big reason why. The 2020 third round pick was named the player of the week for his entire league, and he got it here for the Red Sox system as well, at least by our standards. Jordan played in five games this past week, hitting .409/.458/.864 with a pair of homers along with four doubles. Perhaps most encouraing was the fact that he only struck out twice in the week.

This was a welcome sight for those of us following Boston’s farm system as he had gotten off to a bit of a tough start in April. Coming in with some relatively high expectations after strong showings in a small sample last season, to say nothing of the hype coming out of high school thanks to his prodigious power and the power of YouTube, Jordan stumbled out of the gates. In April, he hit just .162/.230/.250 before turning things around in the first half of May, hitting .367/.407/.592, with this past week of course being a big part of that. Prior to this week, Jordan hasn’t really been able to show off that power this year, but he has been able to keep his strikeout rate down at an acceptable 19 percent rate. If that continues moving forward, the power will certainly come.

Jordan is still one of the more exciting prospects in the system even with the relatively slow start to the season. It can be easy to forget now, but he was among the youngest players taken in that 2020 draft and he is still only in his age-19 season, not celebrating his 20th birthday until December. It’s an important fact to keep in mind as he experiences some struggles against pitchers who are mostly older and more experienced than him. The road to the majors is still a long one ahead, but with plus raw power his ceiling is still sky high, especially if he can make contact as he has so far this year. He will have to come close to maxing out those tools, though, as there isn’t a whole lot of defensive value.

Honorable Mention: Tyler McDonough, UTL, Greenville

McDonough isn’t the sexiest name in the farm system or even from last year’s draft class, but the 2021 third rounder is showing he is a name to remember. Playing both on the infield at second base as well as on the grass in both center field and left, he can provide defensive value all over the field. And he’s hitting of late as well, slashing .318/.516/.773 this past week. There’s not a huge ceiling here as no one tool really stands out, but he can be a quick mover with his refined approach at the plate, and his average set of tools combined with that ability to play all over the diamond could make him a future utility man.

Pitcher of the Week

Juan Daniel Encarnacion, RHP, Salem

There wasn’t quite as much competition for the top pitcher slot this past week compared to weeks past, and this will be the first time all year that Brandon Walter doesn’t get a nod for either the top spot or the honorable mention. But that doesn’t mean the system was devoid of great pitching performances, and Encarnacion takes the top spot for me. The righty made one start, allowing just one run over six innings on two hits and a walk while striking out eight.

This is Encarnacion’s first full season in affiliated ball after pitching last season on the complex and the season before that in the Dominican Summer League. Getting a small bonus in the fall of 2018, the righty has pitched well so far as a pro, with this latest start being the best of his season so far. Overall it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster in 2022, with an ERA over 5.00 but solid peripherals buoyed by a 27 percent strikeout rate and seven percent walk rate. Last season things were reversed with a sub-3.00 ERA but a FIP nearly two runs higher.

In terms of the future for Encarnacion, it’s still not really clear there’s a ton to bank on long-term for the 21-year-old, though obviously there is still a lot of time for that to change. He does have the kind of three-pitch mix you want to see from a starter with a fastball, slider, and changeup. The problem is none of those offerings are particularly intriguing, and scouts aren’t really optimistic that he’ll be able to keep missing bats as he moves up the ladder. That said, he’s had no problems racking up strikeouts so far and it’s worth keeping an eye on until things change. If his stuff does tick up with more coaching and reps, there’s a sneaky back-end starter somewhere hidden in there.

Honorable Mention: Brayan Bello, RHP, Portland

That says Portland because that’s where his week was spent, but moving forward Bello will be with Worcester. The team’s top pitching prospect has gotten off to a hot start, and after spending the back half of 2021 with the Sea Dogs plus the start of this year he’s been moved up to Triple-A. His last start at Double-A was a nice send off as he didn’t allow a run over six innings, allowing three hits and a walk while striking out five. With Bello now in Triple-A and just a step away from the majors, it’s not unreasonable to expect him up by the end of the summer.

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