POTOMAC SURGED INTO first place in the Northern Division of the Carolina League while streaking Myrtle Beach rattled off five consecutive wins to maintain control of the Southern Division during this past week.
Both teams went 5-2 from Tuesday through Monday, a stretch that actually began with Potomac taking two of three from Myrtle Beach. With those two teams front and center, let’s take a look at who’s hot and who’s not around the league.
3B Khayyan Norfork (Potomac) – The 25-year-old has put together a rather non-descript career since being drafted in the 23rd round out of Tennessee in 2011. In a brief run with Potomac in 2013, Norfolk batted just .200. This past week, though, Norfork found a groove, batting .313 (9 of 29) with nine runs scored. He swatted three triples and stole a pair of bases.
RP Brian Dupra (Potomac) – The 7th-round pick out of Notre Dame has entered five games this season and walked out with three wins. Two came this past week as he twirled 8.1 innings of scoreless, three-hit ball. He fanned 13 while walking one to see his earned run average drop to 0.53.
OF Royce Bolinger (Myrtle Beach) – Batting behind the team’s more-heralded hitters has done a lot of good for this sixth-rounder out of Spokane. Bolinger batted .500 (11 of 22) as a key cog in the engine driving Myrtle Beach to five consecutive wins. He drove in 11 runs on the strength of six extra-base hits (four doubles, two home runs).
OF Nick Williams (Myrtle Beach) — Truth is, there are about five Pelicans who could make our list this week, but for now, we’ll single out this 2012 second-round draft pick (pictured above). Williams hit .348 (8 of 23) last week, driving in seven runs while scoring seven. He belted a double and a home run and stole a base.
OF Kyle Wren (Lynchburg) – The son of Atlanta general manager Frank Wren is making a name for himself as a speed merchant on the basepaths. Wren swiped eight bases while batting .321 (9 for 28).
3B Erik Gonzalez (Carolina) – A repeat performer in this space, Gonzalez batted .346 (9 of 26) with three doubles, two triples and a home run for the Mudcats. His bat aided the next player on this list.
SP Ryan Merritt (Carolina) – It has been a deliberate climb for this 16th-rounder since signing with Cleveland in 2011. The patient approach appears to be working. Merritt won a pair of games this past week, tossing 12.2 innings and allowing no earned runs (one unearned run). He permitted six hits and walked three while fanning 10.
OF Jacob May (Winston-Salem) – There have been some exceedingly high expectations of this third-round draft pick out of Coastal Carolina, but this past week will be one to wipe from his memory banks. May mustered one hit in 20 at-bats as the Dash limped to a 1-6 mark this past week.
Wilmington Blue Rocks – This is the New York Yankees of the Carolina League in terms of payroll. There is $15.25 million sunk into three first-round draft picks and a touted Latin signing on this roster and none appear likely to reach Double-A this season, which is a defeat in itself. Raul Mondesi ($2 million) is the lone bright spot early on and Hunter Dozier ($2.2 million) is showing some signs of life, but no power. Then there’s the curious cases of Bubba Starling ($7.5 million) and Sean Manaea ($3.55 million).
Starling’s statistics are so bad that when he went 4 of 21 this past week, he actually raised his batting average to .133. His batting stance is an awkward combination of noisy and sluggish and seems to change from at-bat to at-bat. His 24 strikeouts in 17 games shows he has yet to bring a plan with him to the plate. He is a brilliant defender in center field. Last Wednesday against Lynchburg, Starling made a warning-track catch in right-center with his back to the infield, then whirled around and threw a strike to second base to nail a running who was tagging from first. That said, time is rapidly running out on Starling, who likely only has this season to prove his worth before the Royals adjust their expectations and consider him little more than a future fourth outfielder.
Meanwhile, the Royals were universally lauded for their wily draft-day maneuver to land Manaea this past summer. He was shaky in his Wilmington debut, solid in his encore, but obliterated in his latest start this past week. Myrtle Beach wrecked Manaea for seven runs on seven hits, including a pair of home runs, in just two innings of work. Consistency is his bugaboo, but of all the players on this roster, he has the least amount of professional time under his belt. He gets a pass. For now.
A bonus bummer to cap a crummy week in Wilmington: Catcher Cam Gallagher, another touted prospect, was victimized for seven stolen bases by Lynchburg during a game last week. The aforementioned Wren was responsible for four.
WEIRD LINE(S) OF THE WEEK
It was just about the weirdest game of the season. Salem defeated Carolina 10-2 in 10 innings, scoring eight unearned runs in the top half of the 10th. That led to a pair of very bizarre pitching lines for Mudcat hurlers Rob Nixon and Carlos Melo. Nixon went 1.1 innings in all, allowing one hit and two walks, but was tagged for five unearned runs. Melo got the last out, didn’t allow a hit, but walked three batters and saw all three score. How? The Mudcats committed three fielding errors and a throwing error, all with one out.