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
Matthew Lugo, SS, Greenville
The Red Sox had an interesting decision to make with Lugo heading into this season. The former second round pick was still young, entering just his age-21 season, and didn’t really have a great full-season debut last season, leaving open the possibility that he would start this 2022 season back in Low-A Salem to get back on track. The Red Sox showed some confidence in their young shortstop though, and probably looked at all the infielders ready to come up to Salem this year, and it’s paying off. Lugo is having a big season, and this past week was just another strong showing to add on to his whole season. Playing in five games last week, Lugo had a hit in half of his at bats, overall hitting .500/.524/1.100, hitting just one home run but adding in three doubles and three triples.
It’s been that power that has really stood out for Lugo this season as he proves that he is still a prospect worth monitoring in this system. After finishing 2021 with an Isolated Power (AVG - SLG) of only .093, that mark is all the way up to .265 this year. His home run total of five is already one more than he had all of last season, while the same can be said for his five triples compared to the three he hit last season. Throw in 11 doubles, which would put him on pace for about 36 over 500 plate appearances, and he’s making some very hard contact against High-A pitching. Lugo has actually moved in the opposite direction in terms of plate discipline, but only marginally with his strikeout rate climbing 1.5 percentage points to 20 percent while his walk rate fell by two percentage points to six percent.
Admittedly, I was a bit low on Lugo coming into this season, as his 2021 was underwhelming. I didn’t quite give up on him, but I didn’t really see him getting back into the top 20 in the system conversation. That is looking silly, and it arguably was before the season even started considering Keith Law had him in the top 10 before the season even began. I still don’t think there’s a star here or anything, but if things break right Lugo can be a solid starter who is strong across the board without a real carrying tool. One of my concerns that remains is his defense, because while scouts like the physical tools and think he can stick at shortstop, he’s been an error machine, making 33 last year and nine already this season. But offensively, he’s showing there’s real potential here and I’m willing to ride this wave as long as it lasts.
Honorable Mention: Ceddane Rafaela, UTL, Greenville
There were a couple of other options here, including teammate Alex Binelas and Portland’s Pedro Castellanos, but we’re sticking with Rafaela. Interestingly, this is actually the same duo that we saw in the first week of the season, though with their spots flipped. This past week, Rafaela hit .423/.464/.923, throwing a cycle into the mix and hitting three doubles, two triples, and two homers. It’s been a big breakout for Rafaela this season, and he could be the biggest riser in the system by the time the year ends.
Pitcher of the Week
Chris Murphy, LHP, Portland
There were a bunch of options for this one as well, and if you want to award extra points for situation and narrative, you’ll probably be upset with me that Brayan Bello was not included in either of these spots after shining in his Triple-A debut. Instead, I’m staying in Portland where so many of these winners have called home. And if you’ve been following these the last couple of years, you know I’ll always go with a guy who has two strong starts in a week if one is available. Murphy fits that bill this time around, allowing just one run in each of his two starts on the week, striking out 10 and walking three over 10 1⁄3 innings.
It continued a run of now four straight starts in which he allowed one or zero earned runs, and overall he has yet to allow more than two earned runs in a start this season. Overshadowed a bit in a Portland rotation that featured Bello until last week, and also includes Brandon Walter and Jay Groome, it’s easy for Murphy to be lost in the shuffle, but he’s really impressing me this season. The lefty has pitched to a 1.91 ERA this season, striking out 30 percent of his opponents while walking 10 percent. That latter number does need to come down, though he’s only walked three in his last three starts combined, and on the season he’s walked two or fewer in five of his nine starts.
That control is going to be what determines his ultimate role at the highest level. Murphy has the stuff to start, and he’s proven to be durable and able to go at least five or six innings when he can keep his pitch count in check. It’s just about limiting those walks and not piling on his pitch count with the free passes. I still think there’s some reliever risk here for that reason, but even if he does eventually have to make that transition his stuff is plenty good enough to succeed as a two- or three-inning guy out of the bullpen. But he’s still continuing to earn starts, and could do so in Triple-A sooner than later.
Honorable Mention: Brandon Walter, LHP, Portland
Walter has been included in this post now in five of the six weeks this season, with last week being the lone week in which he was not one of the top two starts in the system (by my rating anyway, which we know is gospel). Last week was a really rough one for him with two bad outings, but he recovered in a big way in his start this past week, striking out 11 without issuing a walk across seven one-run innings. It’s important to see a pitcher able to bounce back like that, and Walter did it emphatically. On the season he now has a 3.14 ERA with a 35 percent strikeout rate and a 1.7 percent walk rate.