Triple-A Trickledown: Pawtucket
Afternoon, Chiefs fans. After Scranton/Wilkes-Barre left town yesterday, another AL East power brings its Triple-A club into town with the Pawtucket Red Sox. (I should note that “power” is relative to past years, not just this season.) Boston’s highest minor league level has been sensational this year, sporting an IL-best 45-25 record. So why are they so good? Shouldn’t all these guys be in the majors? Let’s take a look.
Catcher: Ryan Lavarnway, Mike Rivera
Lavarnway shot through the minor league system last season en route to 17 games in the major leagues, but he’s stayed in Triple-A this season thanks to some potent production from Boston’s catchers. Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kelly Shoppach, each slugging north of .500, may be two of the few players actually exceeding expectations for a 33-33 Red Sox team, so Lavarnway might stay in Pawtucket the entire season just to get regular at-bats. At .284/.377/.433, he’s having a solid season, and he is only 24, so the future’s still bright for Lavarnway. Rivera, a 35-year-old backstop, provides good insurance.
First Base: Lars Anderson, Mauro Gomez
Here are two of the main reasons Pawtucket’s the best team in the league – Anderson (.271/.393/.487, 14 doubles and 9 home runs) and Gomez (.296/.360/.596, 20 doubles and 15 home runs). Anderson, a once-top prospect in the Boston organization, has started playing the outfield this season to increase his versatility – he’s played 37 games at first base and 15 in the outfield this season. Gomez, who’s split time at first base and designated hitter, ranks in the top 5 in the league in batting average, runs, doubles, home runs, extra-base hits, RBI, and total bases. They’re each on the 40-man, but with Kevin Youkilis and Adrian Gonzalez up in the big leagues, they’d likely only be used in case of injury.
Second Base: Jonathan Hee, Tony Thomas
Neither of those two players has a day of major league experience, so any second base help would likely come from outside of the organization if needed. Dustin Pedroia’s backups, Nick Punto and Mike Aviles, could fill in admirably if needed, though Pedroia’s a fairly durable player, so this isn’t likely to be an issue for Boston.
Shortstop: Pedro Ciriaco, Jose Iglesias
The 22-year-old Iglesias, who’s currently on the 7-day Disabled List, has been labeled Boston’s shortstop of the future for quite some time now thanks to his defensive prowess. It’s a defense that’s always been well ahead of his offense, though Iglesias has made some strides this season. He’s upped his Pawtucket batting average from .235 last season to .269 this year (despite an OBP and SLG each at just .317). It wouldn’t be a shock to see Iglesias in the big leagues this season, because Aviles hasn’t been great offensively (.284 OBP). Ciriaco, the former Pittsburgh Pirate, is hitting .301 – though it’s with just five walks and a 10-for-18 stolen base rate.
Third Base: Nate Spears
Spears was called up to the majors earlier this season, only to go 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. He’s since been designated for assignment, so he’s no longer on the 40-man roster. Spears is hitting .242 with four home runs for Pawtucket in 52 games. He wasn’t supposed to be the regular Pawtucket third baseman, though – but Will Middlebrooks blew up those plans by setting baseball on fire. The 23-year-old rookie, who posted a 1.057 OPS in 24 games with Pawtucket, has an .813 OPS in 35 games with Boston, and it’s safe to say he’s ahead of schedule after spending most of last season in Double-A.
Outfield: Alex Hassan, Josh Kroeger, Che-Hsuan Lin
Lin, the only 40-man member of that group, was 1 for 5 in six games with Boston this year in his major league debut. At 23, he could factor into Boston’s future plans. Hassan, a former pitcher, is an intriguing prospect at 24 years old, while the 28-year-old Kroeger is likely veteran insurance at this point. But they’d do well to be on standby at all times. A slew of outfield injuries have sent Scott Podsednik, Ryan Kalish and Daniel Nava all to the majors from Pawtucket this season, with Darnell McDonald filling out the group. Meanwhile, Cuban defector J.C. Linares, who played part of last season in Triple-A, is tearing the cover off the ball at Double-A Portland, to the tune of .343/.415/.547 mark in 56 games.
Starting Pitchers: Billy Buckner, Brandon Duckworth, Justin Germano, Doug Mathis
Right-hander Aaron Cook’s starting tonight on Major League rehab, inheriting the fifth spot in the rotation for now – a spot that’s been rotating for Pawtucket recently. He joins a group that features no 40-man roster members outside of Cook himself. That doesn’t constitute a lack of effectiveness, though – Duckworth’s 7-1 with a 3.69 ERA in 13 starts, while last year’s perfect-game hurler Germano is 8-3 with a 2.49 ERA. The Red Sox could be in need of a spot starter soon, though, with Josh Beckett recently placed on the Disabled List. Reliever Franklin Morales made a spot start in Beckett’s stead yesterday, so Boston has a few days to make a decision there.
Relief Pitchers: Daniel Bard, Will Inman, Garrett Mock, Tony Pena, Mark Prior, Junichi Tazawa, Alex Wilson
Since you’ve likely ignored six of the seven names here, we’ll go ahead and skip to Mark Prior, too. The former Cubs phenom, who’s been injured and out of the major leagues since 2006, has rejuvenated his career this season in the Red Sox minor leagues. In 6.2 innings, he’s struck out 15 while allowing just three hits and four walks. Mock, a former Chiefs reliever, has also had a great season – sporting a 1.95 ERA in 21 games with 30 strikeouts in 27.2 innings. Also, keep an eye out for Bard, who was just recently sent down to work on his command.
Hope to see you at the park during this series – the Chiefs and PawSox play at 7:00 for each of the next four nights. We’re on the air at 6:45 tonight with our Clubhouse Show on The Score 1260.