Friday, June 10, 2005

A long overdue minor league update

It's been a couple of weeks since I've done a minor league update thanks to my lack of an internet connection last week so I'll try and throw in a few more details this week to make up for it. It'll be easy to do that because Pawtucket and Portland are absolutely on fire lately. I'm not going to go back to the last game I posted about because I'd be here forever, so I'll pick a point to begin from. Let's say May 30th. That's pretty much when both teams started their hot streak and that was the date of the Paw Sox game that I went to. The last two day's worth of games aren't included here because I wrote most of this two days ago.

Pawtucket Red Sox (PAW 12/NOR 2, PAW 4/NOR 1, PAW 4/NOR 3, PAW 6/NOR 2, RIC 9/PAW 4, PAW 8/RIC 5, PAW 11/RIC 3, PAW 3/RIC 0)

Pawtucket has outscored their oponents 60-25 in their last 9 games, winning 8 of them. That's an average of 6.7 runs scored and 2.8 runs allowed. Everything is coming together for the team. The starters have been very solid, although for the most part, not spectacular, the bullpen has done its job, and the offense is pounding the ball. The only thing the team isn't doing as good as they were before is running the bases, but that's a minor point to nitpick about. They are now 5 games over .500, in 2nd place, and are only 4 games behind the 1st place Buffalo Bisons.

The biggest blow to the Sox organization when Doug Mirabelli went down with an injury wasn't in Boston itself, it was in Pawtucket. It would be downright scary to see how many runs the Paw Sox would've scored last week had they had their biggest offensive weapon, Kelly Shoppach. Shoppach is in the bigs, taking in the scenery and backing up Jason Varitek for the time being which leaves a very large hole behind the plate in Pawtucket. Jim Buckley, a 25 year old who has shown zero skills in his professional career, was riding the bench in Portland before the Sox called him up. So far in 34 AAA at bats he's putting up a .176/.317/.206 line. Sadly, that's better than he was doing in Portland. Shawn Wooten, recently back down from the big league club, went right back to his low production ways last week. He went 5-22 with 3 2b's and 4 k's while scoring twice and
knocking in 0. Wooten also got in a couple of games at first when Buckley was behind the plate. Boston will survive without Mirabelli, but Pawtucket would love to get Shoppach and his .279/.392/.571 line back.

Despite Shoppach not being around, the Paw Sox's production has only increased thanks, in large part, to Roberto Petaine. Petagine has been tearing the cover off of the ball putting up a .330/.430/.725 line with 9 HR and 24 RBI in only 91 AB's. He went 13-31 last week with 4 2B's and 3 HR's. Petagine's production is making the John Olerud signing look like a bad one. With his track record and current performance it's quite possible that Petagine could be outperforming both Olerud and Kevin Millar. I hope that the Sox are able to find a spot on the big league roster for Petagine sometime this year. The one time I saw him play was probably his only unimpressive game so far as he struck out twice in 4 at bats so I'd like to see what he can really do.

Adam Stern is hurt again. I don't know if he's hurt or if he's "hurt", but he's currently sitting out thanks to a hamstring injury. The Red Sox are going to have to get very creative if they want to keep this Rule V pick around for the entire year, but so far have done a good job. I don't really hear about it with other teams, but with Lenny Dinardo last year and Stern this year, the Sox seem to have a tendancy of bending the rules when it comes to this kind of thing. Stern, so far, is putting up a .273/.370/.455 line in 22 AB's over 6 games. He's stolen 2 bases without being caught, walked 4 times, and struck out 3 times.

The members of the Paw Sox outfield that aren't suffering from mysterious injuries are performing very well so far this year. Justin Sherrod, a 27 year old who has spent his entire pro career floating around the Red Sox system, is putting up some of the best numbers of his career with a .282/.361/.505 line in
188 at bats, but has struck out 59 times to go along with his 35 RBI and 33 R in 52 games. Last week he went 8-30 and most of those hits were for extra bases as he hit 2 doubles and 5 home runs. He struck out 8 times and walked 5 times. The only man on the team that has struck out more than Sherrod is George
Lombard
. The 30 year old has played for 4 different organizations in his career and will likely never be an impact player in the bigs, but he's helping Pawtucket so far this year going .269/.356/.472. He is second in the Internation League with 41 runs, but his 68 K's are also good (or bad) enough for second place in the league. Last week he went 6-20, struck out 6 times, walked 4, and scored 5 times. The real star of the Pawtucket outfield so far has been Chip Ambers. Ambers spent 6 years in the Marlins organization before this year and now, at the age of 25, he's not really considered a prospect, but he's very fast and has the ability to get on base. He also has a bit of pop to his bat. This year has been the best year of his professional career. He leads the team with a .331 average and with a .426 OBP and his his .569 SLG is behind only Shoppach and Petagine. His stolen base percentage was great before last week. He started the year off with 12 steals in 13 attemps, but after being caught 3 times last week he is now 13 out of 18. He always seems to be on base and last week he went 8-25 with 4 walks, continuing the trend. He also had a 5 RBI game last week. Whether he's at the top of the order or in the middle, Ambers has been enough of a success that I've actually heard mumblings of Ambers taking over for Johnny Damon in center next year. I don't know if I'd go that far as this is Amber's first really successful season, but he could be a valueable fourth outfielder.

The only negative thing about the Paw Sox lately has been the play from their middle infielder, Alejandro Machado. Machado has been above .300 for much of the season, but his lackluster play lately has dropped him down to a .282/.343/.340 line. He has been successful in 11 out of 12 stolen base attempts with his first time getting caught coming on Monday, but with zero power in his bat, he needs to keep his batting average high to be of any value. He was advertised as a guy that can work the pitch count and get on base, but he has walked only 12 times this year. Two of those walks came in the game I was at last Monday.

The best pitching performance of the week came from Abe Alvarez who pitched two games. His first game was average when he walked 4 and struck out 7 in 5.2 IP, allowing 2 runs on 4 hits. His second start was the great one when he went 7 IP of nearly perfect ball allowing only 1 hit while striking out 9 to get the win. Alvarez has been performing well this season, but not spectacular. He's 5-2 with a 3.91 ERA in 69 IP with a 52/16 k/bb ratio.

The worst start of the week came from Lenny Dinardo who lasted only 4.2 IP and allowed 10 hits and 1 walk for 3 runs. He struck out 3. Dinardo has pitched 9 games this year, all starts and is 1-1 with a 4.19 ERA. Personally I think he'd be more effective out of the bullpen, the posistion where the Sox are most likely to use him if he gets the call once again to Boston, but so far it appears as if they're grooming him to be a starter, or at least a long reliever.

Chris Naverson won both games he pitched with a 6 inning performance where he struck out 7 and walked only 2, allowing 1 run on 4 hits and a 5 inning game where he wasn't as impressive, walking 5 while striking out 4 and allowing 3 runs on 3 hits. From the looks of things, Naverson typically gets roughed up in the early goings before setting down. He typically gets better as the game goes along. So far on the season he is 3-2 with a 4.05 ERA in 53.1 IP with a 35/26 k/bb ratio. His ERA would actually be a lot lower if you took out his one horrible performance where he let up 7 ER in under 2 IP, but in reality his ERA probably should be higher than it is. His strike out numbers are pretty low and his walk numbers are very high. If he keeps that up it's only a matter of time before he starts getting hit a lot harder than he's getting hit right now.

The best news in the pitching department for Pawtucket last week was the performance of their closer, Cla Meredith. Meredith hasn't skipped a beat after his poor showing in Boston. He pitched in 4 games last week, all of which were 1 IP outings and he didn't allow a run. He saved 2 games and struck out 5 while walking only 1 and allowing only 1 hit. In the last game he pitched in he faced 3 batters and struck all of them out.

Portland Sea Dogs (POR 14/NOR 2, POR 3/NH 1, NH 4/POR 1, POR 5/NH 4, POR 10/NB 2, POR 10/NB 9, POR 6/NB 4, NB 12/POR 9)

The Sea Dogs are nearly as hot as their AAA counterparts, winning 6 out of their last 8 games. The pitching that has always been there is still there, but the offense woke up a little bit, managing to hit double digits in runs scored 3 times last week including a 14-2 victory over Norwich. Their recent hot streak has not been enough, however, as they have dropped down to second place in the Eastern League North standings behind New Hampshire, the worst offensive team in the Eastern League. Portland's middle of the pack offense has scored 246 runs so far. New Hamshire is dead last scoring only 187 runs, the next lowest scoring 209. Their league leading 3.15 team ERA is an indicator of their success. Portland has a team ERA of 3.57, good enough for 5th out of 12 teams.

One of the reasons why the Portland offense is starting to get it together is because of Brandon Moss. After a great year last year Moss was considered by many to be the system's number 2 prospect behind Hanley Ramirez. I'm still not impressed with the guy because he's had only one good year and most of his stats last year were heavily reliant on his very high BABIP. But after a horrible start to the year, hovering around .230 for most of it, his bat is starting to wake up. After a week where he went 16-31 with 5 2b's, 3 HR's, 3 K's, and 7 BB"s his line for the year is already up to .293/.370/.494. Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez, now usually always mentioned in the same breath as Boston's top two hitting prospects, are starting to cool off after both started the year red hot. Ramirez went 5-26 last week and is down to a .279/.335/.421 line. He does have 15 steals in 20 attempts, but his power isn't there this year with only 2 homers and his average has been in a steady decline for a while now. When it's said that Pedroia has cooled off, that only means that he is doing really good instead of great as he was during the first month of the season. He has a .312/.390/.497 line and still seems to be on base every game. He only went 8-34 last week, but did walk four times with only 2 K's. I think Ramirez is falling off the Sox radar as far as 2006 goes, but I still think that Pedroia should be playing second in Boston on opening day 2006. Get him up in Pawtucket now to see how he responds. If he still performs, then sign a cheap vet at second for one year as a safety net and trot Pedroia out there every day. It's still early to be talking 2006, but so far Pedroia looks like he can handle it.

When it comes to first base, the Boston system is nearly devoid of prospects. Ian Bladergroen was considered the top dog in the minors by most, although I never saw what was so impressive about the guy. Either way, he went down with an injury leaving Jeremy West as the only healthy first base prospect in the system. Well, you can cross him off the list too. He went down with an injury last week, although I can't find any information as to what kind of an injury it is. If anyone knows where I can find injury reports on minor league players, let me know. West was second on the team with a .319 AV to go along with a .376 OBP and .462 SLG. He's not quite a power threat with only 2 homers on the year, but he has doubled 15 times, tops on the team.

With a couple of exceptions, the pitching was strong for Portland all week long. The worst performance of the week came from the ace of the staff, Jon Papelbon. Papelbon's first start of the week was fantastic. He went 8 innings for his longest outing of the year, but didn't get the win thanks to some poor run support. The Sea Dogs won the game in extra innings, but Papelbon let up only 1 hit and 1 walk for 1 run. He struck out 4. His second start was as bad as his first was good. He went 6 innings and despite giving up only 2 walks, he let up 7 runs, 4 of them earned. He allowed 10 hits and struck out 5. 10 starts into the year, Papelbon is 3-2 with a 2.48 ERA in 61.2 IP. He's struck out 53 and walked 17.

The next three guys in the rotation have been throwing the ball well this year. Jon Lester, just behind Papelbon on the prospects list is 3-1 on the year with a 2.98 ERA in 57.1 IP over 10 starts. He's struck out 59, good enough for tops on the team and third in the Eatern League and has walked only 19. He lasted 5 innings in his last start, earning the win by allowing only 1 unearned run on 3 hits and 1 walk while striking out 6. Dave Pauley, the 22 year old who came over in the Dave Roberts deal has quickly made a name for himself and established himself as a solid prospect. So far this year he's putting up numbers similar to Lester's only he has struck out far fewer. He's 3-1 with a 3.02 ERA and has struck out 40 while walking 14 in 56.2 IP. He's allowing a few too many home runs with 7 already, but his career rate is much better. This year could easily just be a fluke created by a few bad pitches and a few good swings. He was named the Eastern League pitcher of the week last week when he pitched twice, winning both of his starts. He went 7 IP in both and in both let up only 2 runs. In his first game he fanned 3, walked 2, and allowed 5 hits, one of them a homer. In his second outing he allowed 6 hits, 1 a homer, but did not record a strikeout or a walk. Chris Smith, limited to only 5 starts so far this year because of an injury, has been making up for lost time. In 30 IP he has a 3.30 ERA and has struck out 20 to go along with only 5 BB's. He's 2-1. He earned the win in his last start despite a shaky performance, going 6 IP and letting up 4 runs on 6 hits and 1 walk. He struck out 5.

I think this has gone on long enough. So I'll just be ending it here.

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