Andrew Benintendi Looking to Take Next Step

Portland Sea Dogs outfielder Andrew Benintendi, one of the top prospects in the Red Sox system, has gotten off to a slow start in Portland. Benintendi is rated the 15th best prospect by Baseball America. This is his second year in minor league baseball following being the first round pick by the Sox out of the University of Arkansas in 2015.

In 198 at bats in 2015, Benintendi hit 11 homers with a .313 batting average. FollowingAndrew Benintendi this season, people were aware of what he could do. He showed decent speed as well with 10 steals, only being caught three times. With his strong first season, many expected him to build upon that in his second year.

Benintendi started this season at High A Salem. In 135 at bats, he hit .341 with one homer and stole 8 bases, only getting caught two times. Following his start at Salem, Benintendi received the promotion to Portland. While Triple A is the highest minor league baseball game, Double A always seems to be better baseball to watch because of the youth in the game rather than the career minor league players that you tend to see at Pawtucket. With the promotion, Benintendi was at a much improved level. Would he continue to grow and turn into an elite prospect?

So far at Portland, Benintendi is off to a slow start, batting just .214 in 42 at bats with no homers. He has also has stolen three bases but been caught stealing twice, showing the improvement in catching at this level. His struggles don’t necessarily suggest anything as it is still early but it is a cause for concern as he is likely a guy the Sox are considering trading at the deadline. Will Benintendi turn it around in time for the Sox to shop him as an elite prospect?

In these next few weeks, Benintendi will turn the corner. He has started to show flashes of doing so in his last three games, two of them multi hit games. As a groomed hitter coming from the college game and being 21 years old, his path to the major leagues will be much shorter than most prospects as he adjusts to the higher levels quickly. However, Sox fans should be hoping he’s wearing another uniform in return for quality starting pitching.

 

Steven Wright Is Here To Stay

Coming into the 2016 season, Steven Wright was still unknown to most fans. Following an impressive spring in which he had a 2.66 ERA, Wright won the final spot in the Boston Red Sox rotation. A guy who had posted average minor league numbers finally had his chance to cement himself in a major league rotation, no more bus rides.

Wright is primarily a knuckleball pitcher, throwing it 85.9 percent of the time. His secondary pitchesSteven Wright consist of a very hittable low to mid 80s fastball and a curveball that he rarely throws. Wright’s pitch arsenal is very comparable to former Sox fan favorite, Tim Wakefield. However, Wakefield threw his curveball a bit more than Wright. Strong secondary pitches are essential for starting pitchers to succeed at this level as they keep hitters thinking and off balance. However, the knuckleball has proven to be a pitch that one can make a career out of as a starter if they master it, easier said than done. So far, Wright looks to have mastered it and as a result he is pitching like the ace of the staff.

Last night was Wright’s fifth start of the 2016 season. He went six innings, allowing two runs and striking out six batters, including impressive hitting third baseman Todd Frazier twice. This was a strong start to May for Wright following an outstanding April, where he had a 1.37 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 26.1 innings. The numbers have been great for Wright but the most important feature he brings to the table is the ability to eat up innings.

Steven Wright: What Makes Knuckleball Pitchers So Valuable?

Throwing a knuckleball gives a starting pitcher a much better chance at being able to pitch longer in their career. This is because the knuckleball is less stressful on the arm of a pitcher than other off speed pitches such as a slider and curveball. Two examples of the longevity that a knuckleball pitcher can have are Wakefield and Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher, R.A Dickey. Wakefield retired at the age of 45 and Dickey is still pitching at age 41. While both of these guys have never been true aces, beside Dickey’s money making years in the big apple from 2010-2012 wearing a New York Mets uniform, their ability to eat innings and sustain a high pitch count is invaluable to a major league bullpen. Dickey has thrown 200 plus innings in the past five seasons and Wakefield did so five times in his career, while coming just short multiple times. Wright has yet to throw that many innings in  a season but has shown the potential to do so in the minor leagues, surpassing 100 innings a few times. Is 2016 the year he finally reaches the 200 inning plateau?

If Wright is healthy, that is a very likely scenario for him. While the sub 2.00 ERA may not uphold, he will continue eating innings, providing rest for the bullpen. Wright’s season has been very impressive thus far and he may very well be the next Wakefield in Sox Nation, possibly even better. Get to know who Wright is and embrace the knuckleball again as he is here to stay, pitching like a man on a mission to stay off those buses.

Ryan Hanigan Begins Rehab Assignment with PawSox

On Monday night the PawSox had a familiar name in the lineup batting third. None other than Red Sox catcher Ryan Hanigan, who began a rehab assignement after being out since May 1st after taking a foul ball off the hand. Hanigan caught 7 innings and was lifted for pinch hitter Humberto Quintero.

With Hanigan on the 60 day disabled list will likely spend much of a 20 day rehab assignment with the PawSox befire getting called up. Obviously strength in the hand is Ryan Haniganvery important for catchers, so my guess is the Red Sox will have him play a few games back to back and assess when he will be ready to come back. With Blake Swihart and Sandy Leon handling catching duties the last six weeks the pitching staff has looked better, but Hanigan has still had an impact from the dugout serving as a mentor for his catching teammates.

Hanigan was the catcher in Monday nights game against Rochester and was the DH in Tuesday’s tilt batting third both games. Hanigan did not catch Matt Barnes who came on to pitch the 9th inning in a 3-2 PawSox loss.

With a minor foot injury leaving Blake Swihart day-to-day the Red Sox claimed catcher Erik Kratz off waivers from the Royals as he will serve as insurance likely until Hanigan is ready to return. The decision to demote Blake Swihart may be a difficult one as he has made strides on the fly, but getting regular at bats is what Swihart needs as a young player for his confidence. Sandy Leon has served as Clay Buchholz’s undeclared personal catcher the first few months of the season, could also be a roster casualty once Hanigan returns.

Should the Red Sox continue to fall out of the race Hanigan himself could be appealing to teams looking to add a veteran catcher to their roster. Hanigan is signed through 2016 for $3.7 million with a club option for 2017 worth the same number, a contract he originally signed with Tampa Bay. For now Ryan Hanigan is working is way back from injury and the Red Sox will be glab to have him back on their roster.

Manuel Margot Promoted to Portland

With a day off Monday the Red Sox made news by promoting young outfield prospect Manuel Margot to AA Portland. Margot still just 20 years old was with High-A Salem for the first two and a half months of the minor league season.

Signed as an international free agent, out of the Dominican Republic, nearly four summers ago, Margot has impressed the Red Sox brass this year with his ability to hit to all fields and make noise on the base paths. Manuel MargotWith Salem in 46 games Margot had a line of .282/3/17. A shoulder injury in late May sidelined him for nearly three weeks, but he came back strong. In his last ten games Margot is hitting .325 with 9 runs scored, and 6 steals. The eye grabber of his last ten games is that he has only struck out three times.

Margot nearly went the whole month of April without striking out, which is something the Red Sox really must like. The philosophy of the organization has lately been to work counts and get the starter out of the game with a high pitch count but not making outs is a part of that as well. Margot has also shown the ability to hit left handed pitching with an average of .391 against southpaws. The big league club has struggled against lefties all year but Margot could be part of the answer down the road.

Much has been asked of the Red Sox, in last place, will they begin to sell off spare parts or try and acquired an ace type pitcher looking for next year? My guess is it will be much like last year, the wait to sell off pieces will end after the All-Star break. This upcoming stretch of 13 straight games against division opponents will be make of break in determining if the Red Sox are buyers or sellers at the deadline.

Obviously Margot has not control over where he is playing except with his play, but do no be surprised if his name come up in a rumored deal for an ace pitcher if the Phillies price for Cole Hamels comes down. Margot I believe is the next tier of Red Sox prospects to make noise and with him dominating the lower levels, his value may not be any higher. The Red Sox have seen players struggle once they reached AAA like Bryce Brentz and Deven Marrero who could be packaged with Margot to acquire a front of the rotation starter.

For now Manuel Margot will be patrolling the outfield of Hadlock Field, but I would not be surprised if his name comes up in trade rumors come July.

Portland Sea Dogs Win Four-Game Series Against Rock Cats

After dropping the first game of the series, the Portland Sea Dogs were able to win three straight, including a 4-2 victory on Sunday, to defeat the New Britain Rock Cats in their four-game set at New Britain Stadium in New Britain, CT.

Portland responded in a big way after being defeated in the series opener, scoring 13 times in a wild comeback victory on Friday night.Portland Sea Dogs

The Sea Dogs entered the seventh inning trialling New Britain by a score of 10-4, and received a RBI single by Oscar Tejada and a grand slam from designated hitter Tim Roberson to bring Portland within a run. The Rock Cats responded with a run of their own off Sea Dogs’ reliever Kyle Martin in the bottom half of the inning to make the score 11-9, but Portland was able to rally for two more runs in the ninth to tie the score.

Roberson stepped to the plate in the 10th inning with two runners on and needing just a triple to complete the third cycle in Sea Dogs’ history, and delivered with a three-base hit to center field that scored Jantzen Witte and Oscar Tejeda to give Portland the 13-11 lead.

“Just one of those nights, I saw the ball well,” Roberson told Kelsie Heneghan of MiLB.com. “Almost speechless and never expected that, but I’m blessed and happy that we got the win, most importantly. To do it at the professional level, and at the place I’m in here and in this moment, I’ll definitely remember this one for the rest of my life.”

Portland wasted no time in the series’ third game, scoring five times in the first inning and never looking back. They added two more in the second on a Witte home run and a sacrifice fly by Keury De La Cruz, and scored single runs in the third and fourth to win by a final score of 9-4.

Justin Haley took the mound for the Sea Dogs for Sunday’s rubber game, and was able to earn his first victory of the season after tossing six innings and allowing just two runs on three hits and a walk while striking out eight.

With the game tied at 1-1 in the fifth inning, Blake Tekotte hit a two-run homer to give Portland the 3-1 lead, his first home run of the season. Carlos Asuaje added a RBI single in the seventh, to give Portland the 4-2 lead.

The Sea Dogs have an off-day Monday before returning to Hadlock Field to take on the Altoona Curve for a three-game series beginning Tuesday night at 6:00 PM.

Yoan Moncada to Make Single-A Debut on Monday

Yoan Moncada, who was one of the most highly touted international free-agents ever, is set to make his minor league debut for the Single-A Greenville Drive after spending a little over a month in extended Spring Training. Moncada signed a deal with the Boston Red Sox worth $31.5 million back in February, with Boston paying 100% tax on the contract for exceeding their international spending pool limits.

Moncada, a top-10 MLB prospect, is a switch-hitter who can play a variety of positions, including second base, shortstop, third base and the outfield. He reportedly spent time working wiYoan Moncadath Greenville’s staff during Spring Training, which should make the transition to playing in actual games a little easier on the 19-year old.

“He’s just getting comfortable with the routine of everything,” Greenville manager Darren Fenster told MiLB.com in Spring Training. “I think what everyone has to do and has to keep in mind, this is just a 19-year-old kid who has some incredible tools, but still needs a lot of work just to kind of improve every day, just like every single other guy out here.

Moncada played two seasons in the Cuban Serie Nacional, where he hit .277/.388/.380 with 11 doubles, four triples and four home runs to go with 28 RBIs over 101 games. So far, his plate approach seems very much the same here in America.

“You can already see that he’s a professional who uses the whole field when he’s hitting,” Ben Crockett, who is the Red Sox director of player development told MiLB.com. “We’ve seen him drive the ball really well, but when he’s in the cage, it isn’t just a home run derby. He hits the ball where it’s pitched and, for a young guy, he has a pretty good idea of what to do when he steps into the box already.”

Moncada will make his full-season debut for the Greenville Drive against the Lexington Legends at Fluor Field on Monday night at 7:05 PM, and the game will be broadcasted live via MiLB.tv.