NOT MUCH WAS expected of the Salem Red Sox in 2014. The organization itself was in a development cycle in which most of the talent from 2013’s Carolina League champions would start the season in Double-A or Triple-A while the next wave of talent would begin the season at low-A Greenville.
Salem entered 2014 with just one player – starting pitcher Brian Johnson – considered a consensus top-20 organizational talent and a number of position players with questions surrounding their bats.
Yet here they are at 14-10, just one game out of first place behind the loaded Myrtle Beach Pelicans in the Southern Division.
Look no further than the aforementioned Johnson and those supposedly suspect bats for the reason.
After a pair of bumpy outings earlier in April, Johnson has rounded into form with two consecutive scoreless starts. The latest was a six-inning, four-hit, eight-strikeout turn against Lynchburg to improve to 3-1 on the season and lower his ERA to 3.68.
Take away those two rocky starts in which he was tagged for five earned runs in each, and Johnson has permitted just one run in the three other starts.
Offensively, Salem is doing a terrific impersonation of their big-league counterpart. The Red Sox lead the Carolina League by wide margins in walks, doubles and triples. In going 4-2 this past week, five lineup regulars batted .300 or better, led by Reed Gragnani, who batted .400 with a double and two triples. He also drew six walks as he improved his overall average to .365, second-best in the league.
Cleanup hitter David Chester arrived with a reputation for prodigious power and did not disappoint. In batting .350 for the week, Chester deliver two moonshots to go with a double and a triple.
Matty Johnson and Ryan Dent (pictured above) have done yeoman’s work at the top of the lineup, combining for 15 hits, a .319 average and eight walks. Of Dent’s seven hits, five were doubles and one was a triple.
Last but not least, Johnson was not alone on the mound. Corey Littrell bagged a pair of wins this week – a rarity in the Carolina League – allowing seven hits and four runs in 11 innings while fanning 11. He tops the rotation with a 2.60 ERA and 27.2 innings pitched.
Every scrap of excellence was needed by Salem this week because Myrtle Beach remains a bull in a china shop, as you will see when we break down who was hot and who wasn’t during the past week:
Joey Gallo (Myrtle Beach) – The Rangers’ top prospect mashed three home runs in one game this past week and proved to be a thorn in everyone’s side by drawing eight walks as well. He scored seven runs and drove in six. For the season, Gallo has nine home runs, 22 RBIs and 20 walks in 28 games.
Royce Bolinger (Myrtle Beach) – You know your lineup is loaded when the league’s top hitting prospect has a scorching week and is outdone by the guy who bats behind him. Bolinger batted .385 (10 of 26) and scored seven runs as well. He leads the Carolina League with a .375 average.
Preston Beck (Myrtle Beach) – And the guy who hit behind Gallo and Bolinger bested both of them with a .500 average (8 of 16). He scored six and drove in four. He also drew seven walks.
Stephen Perez (Potomac) – Perez upped his batting average to .338 by hitting at a .538 clip (7 of 13) for the Nationals, who played just four games this week due to weather. A pair of doubles were among those hits and he scored five runs.
Adrian Sanchez (Potomac) – Like Beck, Sanchez managed a .500 week as well (8 of 16) to get his season numbers off life support and north of the Mendoza line (.211).
Michael Burgess (Frederick) – Burgess leads the team with 14 RBIs after driving in five this week. He hit at a .471 clip (8 of 17) with three doubles and a home run.
Raul A. Mondesi (Wilmington) – At the top of a lineup that is laying eggs, Mondesi is strutting like a rooster. The son of the former Major League slugger of the same name raised his average to .304 by going 7 of 19 for a .368 clip. He tripled and homered. More on Wilmington below.
Sean Manaea (Wilmington) – The highly touted starting pitcher finally picked up his first win of the season, doing so by pitching around his own wildness. In five innings, he allowed just two hits, but walked five. Still, he allowed just one earned run and struck out five.
Jose Peraza (Lynchburg) – The Hillcats’ leadoff man batting .450 (9 of 20) in a lineup that is short-circuiting by failing to deliver timely hits to bail out a pitching staff that has fallen on hard times. His .330 average is good for sixth-best in the league.
Shawn Morimando (Carolina) — It was a relatively quiet week for the Mudcats but Morimando stood out with another sterling performance on the mound. He improved to 3-0 and lowered his ERA to 1.88 with 6.2 sharp innings against Frederick. He permitted just two hits and one unearned run. He has allowed one run in three of his five starts and no more than three runs in any game.
Wilmington Blue Rocks – The team with the league’s best paper resume finds itself in this spot for a second consecutive week after the lineup limped to a .171 batting average. Take out Mondesi’s big week, and the Blue Rocks mustered just 10 hits and batted .145. Yikes. To worsen matters, take out Hunter Dozier’s 6 of 17 week and the remaining seven spots in the lineup contributed a total of 14 hits in 121 at-bats (.116). The biggest offenders were Bubba Starling, who mustered two hits in 19 at-bats and Johermyn Chavez, who managed one hit in 13 at-bats. Catcher Zane Evans also tanked after being the team’s best hitter in limited duty. He went 3 of 20 (.150) after replacing Chavez as the team’s cleanup hitter.
Brady Wager (Frederick) – Wager had a catastrophic outing last week, lasting just two innings. He coughed up nine hits and 10 runs during Frederick’s 21-6 loss against Myrtle Beach.
Jacob May (Winston-Salem) – What to do with one of the White Sox organization’s top prospects? May was dropped from No. 2 to No. 9 in the Dash’s lineup in the hope of taking pressure off him. It didn’t help. He mustered just two hits in 15 at-bats (.133).
Doug Fister (Nationals) made a rehab start for Potomac to mixed reviews. He allowed six hits and three runs in four innings. He struck out three batters and none of the runs were earned. Meanwhile Orioles slugger Manny Machado produced big numbers in two games this past week for Frederick. He was 5 of 8 with two doubles and three runs scored.
LINE(S) OF THE WEEK
Joey DeMichele (Winston-Salem) – The second baseman put together arguably the single best game of the season for any Carolina Leaguer during the Dash’s win at Salem this past Sunday. DeMichele was 5 of 5 with two doubles and a home run. He scored five times, drove in a run and stole two bases, including home.
Kenny Diekroeger (Wilmington) – At the other end of the spectrum was the Blue Rocks’ second baseman, who struck out twice, was picked off, caught stealing and committed an error in a 5-4 loss against Myrtle Beach.