LET US BEGIN this most recent Carolina League update with a fond farewell to yet another of the circuit’s rising stars.
Mike Yastrzemski (yes, the grandson of Carl) arrived from Delmarva of the South Atlantic League after the All-Star break and promptly terrorized the Carolina League at Frederick until the Orioles promoted him to Double-A Bowie on Tuesday.
In 23 games, Young Yaz hit .312 with seven doubles, two triples and a home run. His promotion comes after a 10-game stretch in which he hit .354. Of his 10 extra-base hits with Frederick, nine came in those last 10 games.
His best night came on July 5 as a part of a 17-3 blowout win at Lynchburg when he hit for the cycle. He was 5-of-6 with two doubles, a triple and a home run, driving in five runs in the process.
In 63 games at Delmarva, Yastrzemski hit .306 with 25 extra-base hits.
Have fun with that, Eastern League.
On to the hits and misses, team by team, around a very soggy Carolina League. Keep an eye out for the crazy numbers being posted by Yaz’s former Keys teammate — the red-hot Michael Burgess. Plus, read on to learn about the debut of Kansas City Royals first-rounder Brandon Finnegan:
Cuban third baseman Yandy Diaz has just 36 professional games under his belt but seems to be improving each week. He’s batting .321 overall, but in his past 10 games, he’s 16-of-39 (.410) with a .987 OPS. Five of those 10 games have been of the multi-hit variety. He also is showing an extreme fondness for lefthanded pitching, albeit in a very small sample size. In 26 at-bats, he’s hitting .462 against southpaws.
The international flavor of Carolina’s lineup is prominent. Domincan Republic product Erik Gonzalez also is tearing up the league in recent days, batting .327 (16-of-43) in his past 10 games with a pair of doubles, triples and home runs. He has raised his season batting average to .292. Venezuelan Yhoxian Medina has 12 hits in his past 10 games, five going for doubles and two triples.
On the mound, the Mudcats 1-2 punch of Ryan Merritt and Shawn Morimando are somewhat off their previously torrid pace, but not so much as to sound the warning bell. Merritt was knocked around a bit in starts against Lynchburg and Winston-Salem, losing against the Dash. In those two starts, he tossed a total of 13.1 innings and gave up eight runs. His peripherals remain on track, though. He permitted just 11 hits and issued one walk while fanning nine. He’s 9-3 overall with a 2.10 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and an 83-19 strikeout to walk ratio.
Morimando struggled against Lynchburgh, but throttled Winston-Salem. After lasting four innings in a loss to the Hillcats, Morimando cuffed the Dash on one run, six hits and a walk in 6.1 innings while fanning five. He’s 8-3 with a 2.99 ERA overall.
There are many reasons why few people have taken note of Burgess and his accomplishments this season. He’s a 25-year-old vagabond who arrived in the Orioles organization after being signed as a minor league free agent. Previously, he had been plucked from the Cubs by the Astros in the Triple-A phase of the 2012 Rule 5 draft.
Burgess made his Carolina League debut all the way back in 2008 with Potomac after being drafted by the Nationals with the 49th overall pick of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. He reached the Eastern League before being shipped to the Cubs. Over the years, he has flashed his toolsy power and occasionally smart baserunning, but his overall numbers never excelled.
Until this season.
Remember that 17-3 victory by the Keys against Lynchburg? While Yastrzemski was hitting for the cycle, Burgess was going 4-of-6 with a double and two home runs. That game was a part of a 10-game stretch in which Burgess hit .333 with seven doubles to go with those two home runs. With Joey Gallo in Double-A, Burgess is now the current home run leader in the league with 15. He also leads the league in OPS (.942), RBI (67), doubles (29) and is third in batting average at .310.
On the mound, the Keys are monitoring top prospect Dylan Bundy, who is working his way back from injury. So far, not so good. Bundy arrived in Frederick after three starts at Aberdeen, where he pitched 15 innings, allowed 10 hits and just one earned run while walking three and fanning 22. In three rocky outings with the Keys, Bundy is 0-1 with a 9.26 ERA. In 11.2 innings, he has been tagged for 15 hits and six walks with just six strikeouts.
Jose Martinez is the son of former Chicago White Sox outfielder Carlos Martinez, as his 6-7 frame would infer. Imposing in size, he has now become a threat at the plate.
After six seasons of mediocre play in the White Sox organization, the Braves picked up Martinez in 2013 for another rather ordinary turn with Double-A Mississippi. He was delayed to start 2014 but in 24 games at Lynchburg, Martinez has found an identity.
He’s hitting .379 so far with seven doubles, two triples and two home runs. He has hits in eight of his past 10 games, going .357 during that stretch. The bad news: He turns 26 next week.
Emerson Landoni was the odd man out in Mississippi when Jose Peraza was promoted last month. He has made the Carolina League pay for the demotion, especially in recent games. He’s batting .378 over his past 10 games and .341 in 23 games overall.
Will Skinner is tied with Burgess for the league lead in doubles (29) after swatting five over his past 10 games. He also has three home runs during that span.
Daniel Carroll‘s status as a prospect in the organization is all but finished if he can’t rebound over the season’s fnal six weeks. After batting .138 in the past week, the former Mariners third-rounder saw his season average sink to .206. That’s a far cry from 2011, when he hit 20 doubles and 18 home runs at High Desert in the California League.
On the mound, Lucas Sims and Cody Scarpetta made Carolina League history as the two starters involved in Lynchburg’s consecutive no-hit wins at Wilmington. Since then, the two hurlers have celebrated by riding a rollercoaster. Sims was blasted in his next two outings against Carolina and Frederick. he coughed up 11 runs, 16 hits and seven walks in 10.2 innings. He has smoothed things out somewhat with two decent outings against Myrtle Beach and Carolina (13.2 innings pitched, four earned runs, 12 hits, 12 strikeouts).
Scarpetta has been just as up-and-down over his three starts since tossing seven no-hit innings on June 27. In 11 innings against Carolina (twice) and Myrtle Beach, he has been tagged for 14 hits and 11 runs (six earned) with 11 walks and 11 strikeouts.
MYRTLE BEACH PELICANS
With Gallo out of the picture, Nick Williams has stepped up as the Pelicans’ go-to bat. Williams has boosted himself into a tie with Salem’s Reed Gragnani for the league lead in batting average (.322) after a 10-game stretch that saw him hit .390 with six extra-base hits. Since the All-Star break, Williams is hitting .360 with 22 RBIs in 21 games.
Edwin Garcia actually has been the team’s hottest hitter during the past 10 games. He hit .406 during that span and owned an eight-game hitting streak entering Thursday’s games. Meanwhile, top prospect Jorge Alfaro continues to struggle, hitting just .167 during his past 10 games. He had 14 strikeouts during that span and now has 89 punchouts in 85 games this season.
Andrew Faulkner continues to motor along on the mound for the Pelicans, muscling his way to three wins in his past three starts. In 15 combined innings against Potomac, Lynchburg and Winston-Salem, Faulkner permitted just 12 hits, four walks and one run while fanning 14. His 9-1 record and 2.08 ERA are league bests.
You would think the constant roster churn would catch up with the Nats. Trouble is, the rest of the Carolina League’s Northern Division can’t seem to get in gear long enough to cobble together a mark better than Potomac’s pedestrian 12-11 second-half record.
Nonetheless, no Nats everyday player has hit better than .300 during his past 10 games. Or .290. Or .280. Then there’s the pitching staff, which has trotted a whopping 17 different starters to the mound (including three rehabbing big-leaguers), but has to rely on a newly promoted hurler for its July highlight reel.
Austin Voth has been very sharp since his promotion from Hagerstown. In four games, he is 2.0 with a 0.35 ERA. In 26 innings, he has allowed just one earned run (a home run on June 29 to fellow former South Atlantic League all-star Trey Mancini), nine hits and one walk while fanning 28.
SALEM RED SOX
Jordan Weems was taken in the third round of the 2011 draft with a sterling reputation as a defensive catcher. The hope — as always with such players — was that he could find just enough in his bat to climb the ranks. Prior to his call up last month, Weems was batting a mere .166 with four doubles and a pair of triples at Greenville. At no point since being drafted had Weems hit better than .204 at any stop.
He would have stayed put in Greenville had it not been for an extreme injury bug in Salem. Promoted as something of a stopgap, Weems has provided the requisite defense, but has stunned with his bat. He’s hitting a whopping .611 (11-of-18) during his current five-game hitting streak and is batting .340 overall in 14 games.
Another recent addition is proving to be a wrecking ball at the plate. Mike Miller is batting .389 with a .511 on-base percentage over his past 10 games, thanks to seven walks. In 36 games overall, he is hitting .336 with 15 walks against 17 strikeouts.
On the mound, a pair of former Greenville arms have shown some spark in recent days. Cody Kukuk continues to struggle with his control, but he looked good in a July 13 win at Wilmington where he tossed five scoreless innings of three-hit ball. He walked three, but fanned seven. Joe Gunkel arrived in Salem with Weems and on the day before Kukuk’s fine outing, he lasted into the sixth inning, allowing just two hits and one unearned run.
The staff ace continues to be Corey Littrell, who was as solid as ever in starts against Carolina and Wilmington. In 12 innings, he issued eight hits and four walks while allowing just two runs (one earned). That included five scoreless innings of one-hit ball against Blue Rocks.
WILMINGTON BLUE ROCKS
The day won’t come any time soon, but if the Royals ever give up on Bubba Starling as an everyday player, they should consider him for a platoon.
The former first-round pick is still lumbering along with a .207 batting average this season, but against lefthanded pitchers, he’s hitting .317 in 82 at-bats. Four of his six home runs have come against southpaws as well and his .402 on-base percentage hints at the possibility he recognizes pitches much better against lefties. Righthanders are limiting Starling to a .172 average and a horrific .250 slugging percentage.
Starling has a whopping 107 strikeouts in 89 games. On the bright side, he is hitting .266 since the league’s All-Star break with a .415 on-base percentage and a respectable .738 OPS. All without Hunter Dozier to protect him in the lineup.
Michael Antonio is there to pick up the slack, though. The 2010 third-rounder has blossomed since Dozier’s departure, hitting .435 during that time with nine doubles, two triples and three home runs. In his past 10 games, he hit .429 with seven extra-base hits. In three games this week, he’s hitting .800 (8-of-10) with two doubles, a triple and a home run.
On the mound, the Royals’ most recent top draft pick made his debut. Limited to two innings in each of his first two starts, Finnegan has yet to give up a hit and has walked none while fanning two. Chances are slim that the Royals will stretch him out, since Finnegan carried a heavy innings load at TCU as the Horned Frogs reached the College World Series.
Fellow first-rounder (from 2013) Sean Manaea continues to put on a Nuke Laloosh control clinic, racking up serious walk and strikeout numbers. In two starts against Potomac, Manaea lasted just 9.2 innings primarily because of high pitch counts. He allowed just four hits and three earned runs, but while fanning 12, he walked nine. For the season, Manaea is 2-7 with a 4.48 ERA. In 70.1 innings, he has fanned an 91 batters.
Miguel Almonte, another consensus top organizational arm, has been dreadful of late. He lost each of his past two starts, accumulating just eight innings. In that time, he was victimized for 16 hits and 10 runs (nine earned).
Last but not least in this very long Blue Rocks report is Glenn Sparkman, the best pitcher you’ve never heard of. Sparkman was picked up in the 13th round of the 2013 draft as a senior out of Lamar. He pitched primarily in relief this season before being shifted into the rotation on May 21. He has made nine starts to date and held the opponent scoreless in six.
In winning both of his starts this past week, Sparkman tossed 13 scoreless innings of four-hit, no-walk baseball, fanning 12 in the process to lower his season ERA to 1.43. Opponents are batting just .197 against him with 49 hits in 69.1 innings. He has a 65-14 strikeout to walk ratio.
With Tim Anderson inactive this month, Jason Coats has been red hot for the Dash. You might not guess it from a .285 batting average, but Coats leads the Carolina League with 97 hits while hitting in the middle of the lineup. Coats is coming off a 10-game stretch in which he hit .400 with six doubles and a triple. giving him 23 doubles and four triples on the season to go with 13 home runs.
Coats has been impressively even-keeled no matter who is on the mound. He is hitting .282 against lefthanders and .287 against righthanders.
Courtney Hawkins has struggled through something of a power outage during the season’s second half, but he at least had been reaching base. Now that has abandoned him as well. The former first-rounder is hitless in his last 10 at-bats to drop his season average to .257. Strikeouts continue to be a bugaboo as well — 88 in 84 games.
Tyler Danish has been a pleasant find on the mound for the Dash. He was promoted from Kannapolis after seven starts in which he compiled a 3-0 record and 0.71 ERA. In nine starts with Winston-Salem, Danish is 2-1 with a 3.95 ERA. Those numbers boosted by two terrific outings this past week in which Danish went 1-0 with 11.1 innings of eight-hit, two-walk pitching. He allowed just one runs and fanned eight.