A LOT HAS happened in the Carolina League the past couple of weeks, which makes sense – we went on vacation last week.
While we were out, away went the league’s crown jewel, Joey Gallo. The Myrtle Beach slugger departed for Double-A Frisco on Sunday and made a noisy Texas League debut with a walk-off, three-run homer to defeat Midland, 7-4.
His call-up comes after he batted .323 with 21 home runs in 58 games for the Pelicans. In other words, he hit so many bombs that it’s likely he still will win the league’s home run crown despite playing less than half a season. The next three – Jason Coats, Courtney Hawkins and Brandon Miller – each are sitting on 10.
Miller’s 10-spot comes in just 36 games, but he’s coated in red flags. For one, he’s hitting just .160. More important is the fact he’s been out of the Potomac lineup since May 14.
Hawkins has the prospect status necessary to put him in contention, but the Winston-Salem outfielder been going through a rough patch of late. In his past 10 games, he’s batting .167 with one home run.
That brings us to Hawkins’ teammate, Coats. Now, we might have something to holler about. In his past 10 games, Coats is hitting a cool .400 (16 of 40) with four doubles and five home runs, including a pair of jacks on Sunday against Carolina. That’s right – in his first 48 games, Coats had five homers. In his last 10 games, five more.
But in the overwhelmingly pitcher-friendly Carolina League, it really does take an uber prospect to do what Gallo has done and while the three we highlighted here have some of that helium cachet, it’s hard to imagine any of them covering all that ground with the imminent infusion of streaking low-A pitchers and top draft choices in the coming month.
Anyway, let’s get caught up on who’s hot and who’s not around the league. Because we’re playing catch-up, we’ll simply break down the hitters team by team. Later today in another post, we’ll take a closer look at the league’s top pitching over the first half of the season:
POTOMAC – First baseman Shawn Pleffner boosted his season average to .312 by hitting .342 over his past 10 games. Of the 13 hits in 38 at-bats, six (five doubles, home run) have gone for extra bases. On June 4 at Wilmington, he went 3-for-4 with two doubles and a home run. Second baseman Tony Renda eked over the .300 mark as well (.303) after collecting 14 hits in his past 10 games. He scored nine runs in that stretch while driving in eight.
LYNCHBURG – Second baseman Jose Peraza continues to put up video game numbers on the basepaths. With another four stolen bases these past two weeks, he now has 30. To put that in context with his prospect status, he has swiped more bags than he has struck out (28) this season. Overall, he’s batting .330, including .357 over his past 10 games. Speaking of those past 10 games, Peraza has collected two doubles, four triples and a rare home run in that span. With a high average and a relatively low strikeout rate, Peraza appears ready for promotion, but the Braves might be hanging back until he proves he can take a walk. He has 10 on the season and none in his last 10 games. Left fielder David Nick has been making the most of his expanded playing time as Josh Elander struggles with injuries. In 27 games, he’s batting .310 and has heated up over his past 10 games, hitting .361 in that span. He’s showing a wicked lefty-killing split, batting .387 in 31 at-bats against southpaws. As for Elander, things have gone from bad to worse for one of the Braves’ top prospects. He has been out of the lineup since June 1 with more nagging injuries and his strikeout rate is rocketing. He fanned 12 times in the 10 games prior to his latest stint on the disabled list.
WILMINGTON – Hunter Dozier is no threat to Gallo’s power numbers, but he might be the league’s heir apparent in the most-feared category. As the temps rise, so is Dozier’s batting average. After hitting .235 in April, Dozier perked up in the back half of May to hit .304 for that month. So far in June, he’s hitting .459. He has a whopping 17 hits in his last 39 at-bats spanning his last 10 games. More than half of those hits have gone for extra bases (eight doubles, home run). To highlight just how hot Dozier is, half of his 16 doubles this season have come in his last 10 games. He has moved into the league’s top 10 in doubles, runs batted in and on-base plus slugging percentage. Want more? Dozier also appears to be closing out his weaknesses one by one. He boasts a mere 11-point split between righthanded and lefthanded pitching (.302 vs. RHP, .291 vs. LHP) and is now batting .410 with runners in scoring position. His strikeout rate is up a smidge, but his walk rate has remained solid. Overall, his batting average is up to .299 with an .826 OPS (with an OPS of 1.206 over the last 10 games). Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends for Wilmington. Top catching prospect Cam Gallagher has cratered, batting .114 in his past 10 games while left fielder Terrance Gore has just four hits in his last 30 at-bats. Then there’s the curious case of Bubba Starling, who rattled off a 15-game hitting streak but seems to have fallen apart upon its end. He has just six hits in his past 41 at-bats and his strikeout rate has gone from bad to alarming, with 15 in his last 10 games.
FREDERICK – Outfielder Michael Burgess missed a week then decided to take it out on everybody in June. Burgess is hitting .360 (9 of 25) this month with two doubles, two triples and a home run. On the flip side, 2011 second-rounder Jason Esposito put together the worst 10-game stretch in the Carolina League with a .088 mark in his past 10 contests. He also has fanned 11 times in that span.
MYRTLE BEACH – Who fills the Gallo Gap in this lineup? Could it be fellow helium prospect Nick Williams? The 2012 second-rounder is hitting .375 in his past 10 games with two doubles and a home run. He has scored eight runs and driven in seven. Nice, but perhaps Hanser Alberto and his .419 mark during those same 10 games warrants our attention. He owns a nine-game hitting streak and has a double, two triples and a homer in that span. Preston Beck is hitting .343 over his past 10 games with 11 runs scored, three doubles, a triple and a pair of home runs. Even when the Ranger organization’s top prospects are struggling, they’re better than you’d think. Jorge Alfaro is hitting just .157 in his past 10 games, but of his six hits, three were doubles, one a triple and one other was a home run. He also scored eight runs, thanks in part to walking five times during the downturn.
SALEM – Reed Gragnani was a fairly anonymous selection in the 2013 draft, coming to the Red Sox organization in the 21st round from just down the road from Salem at the University of Virginia. Despite all of Peraza’s huffing and puffing, Gragnani holds a comfortable lead in the Carolina League batting race, hitting at a .337 clip. More impressive, Gragnani boasts more walks (32) than strikeouts (24) and is even outstripping Peraza over the past 10 games with a .371 batting average (and a whopping 12 walks). He has turned into a significant run producer as well, scoring 12 runs while driving in 11. If there is a knock on Gragnani, it’s that he turns from butter to margarine against lefties. He’s batting just .220 against southpaws this season. Carson Blair, a catcher, has come alive in recent days to give the Red Sox another bat to bark about. He is hitting .429 in June (9 of 21) with two doubles and a triple (did we mention he’s a catcher?). He also has 11 RBIs. Carson and Gragnani have had to pick up the slack somewhat since Jonathan Roof was promoted to Double-A Portland. Carolina Leaguers can be proud of their alumnus, who has debuted at Portland in torrid fashion. Roof also is batting .429 this month (9 of 21) with three doubles and two triples.
CAROLINA – Back when the Tampa Bay Rays got good, the result was having to draft in the back end of the first round rather than at the very top. Faced with this scenario for the first time in 2009, they selected LeVon Washington with the 30th overall pick. Washington didn’t like the terms (the Rays lowballed him) so he went to Chipola Junior College and lost ground. Cleveland plucked him in the second round of the 2010 draft. He has since struggled to stay healthy and in a lineup. In his first significant playing time this season, Washington has responded overwhelmingly at the plate. He’s batting .330 overall, including .385 in June. Over his past 10 games, he’s hitting .341 (14 of 41).
WINSTON-SALEM – If you know who Coats and Hawkins are, then you certainly know of Tim Anderson, another top White Sox prospect. Anderson has put April’s woes behind him and has pushed his batting average to .306 this season after a ferocious 10-game stretch in which he has hit .409. He has a league-best 18 hits in that span with six doubles, a triple and two home runs. Last but not least is Justin Jirschele, son of longtime Royals coach and minor-league manager Mike Jirschele. The NDFA out of Wisconsin-Stevens Point is batting .456 in 17 games with the Dash this season. He’s hitting .417 (15 of 36) in his past 10 games with four doubles. He’s another of those extreme split fellows, hitting a whopping .490 against righthanded pitching. For the freak stat of the week, consider Jirschele’s average with the bases empty — .556. That’s right: 36 at-bats, 20 hits.