Monday Minors Recap: Week 5

Kannapolis Intimidators, A-ball (13-17)

Kannapolis continued to coast along this week as they won 2 of 3 with the Augusta GreenJackets but then lost the first 2 against a good Hickory Crawdads team. They won on Monday to preserve a 3-3 record for the week. An 0-6 week 3 has kept the Intimidators in a hole for the last two weeks, and they have yet to come close to escaping it. The Intimidators sit in 5th place in the Sally League’s Northern division.

A couple more roster changes went down in Kannapolis this week as SS Michael Johnson was sent back to Glendale Arizona for some time in extended spring training. Johnson had seen his share of playing time, acquiring 17 games played and 67 plate appearances with the Intimidators, but his .175 batting average and trio of errors push the Sox to give another player a chance.

That new player was 20 year-old Dominican import Garis Pena. Formerly in the Blue Jays organization, Pena spent 77 games in the A-level Midwest League last year and was only able to collect a .550 OPS. Pena has hit a bit in his short time in Kannapolis – he boasts 3 hits and 2 doubles in 11 at bats – and this could be a critical few months for a young man already with his second organization in the low minors.

Last week, I spent a bit of time discussing Ross Wilson’s hot start to his return to Kannapolis. Wilson is still hitting very well, but another newcomer has been able to add some offense to Kannapolis as well. Grant Buckner, called up to Kannapolis from extended spring training 3 weeks ago, has worked his way into 13 games and compiled a .327 batting average with 6 RBI in 55 at bats. Buckner, a 24 year-old West Virginia Mountaineer, hit well in Bristol last year and has steady forward momentum up the system. At his age, he’ll likely need to maintain his positive results for awhile to become a part of the White Sox future plans, but he’s off to a great start in 2012.

A new entry in the “how haven’t I mentioned you yet through 4 weeks” file, Terance Marin is having a great year as the Intimidators lead closer. He has half of the team’s 6 saves, a 2-1 record, and a 1.21 ERA to go along with some sterling peripherals.  With 22 strikeouts, just 8 walks, and just 11 hits allowed in 22.1 innings, Marin has really shut down opponents in his 9 appearances. This 22 year-old from Modesto, California is in his 3rd full season with the Intimidators – after spending a tiny chunk of 2010 there as well – and he pitched very well last year too. You have to think that Marin will get a chance to move up soon with his excellent performance record.

Kannapolis finishes its series with Hickory tonight – a game that will be visited by the iconic Budweiser Clydesdales – before a travel day sends them to Maryland for 4 games with the Delmarva Shorebirds.

Winston-Salem Dash, High A-ball (18-11)

The Dash continue to play at a high level in the Carolina League as they won 4 out of 7 games this week. Winston-Salem split its 4-game series with the Potomic Nationals at the start of the week, then returned home and took 2 out of 3 with the 2nd place Salem Red Sox. It was the Winston-Salem’s 3rd winning week of the season’s 4 full-weeks, and they sit in first place by 2.5 games.

Another week, another group of Dash players catching fire. Former Purdue Boilermaker Dan Black has played in all 29 games for the Dash, but has only recently seen his numbers swell in a big way. Highlighted by 9 hits in 2 days on April 30 and May 1, Black is 17-39 in his last 9 games – a .436 batting average – and has also racked up 2 homers, 4 doubles, and 8 RBI. This has given his season totals a huge boost, and the 24 year-old 1st baseman now sits with a .919 OPS, 7 homers, and 22 RBI. Drafted in 2009, Black’s career started slowly, but he was an MiLB.com Organization All-Star last season and seems to be catching fire in his first chance in high-A.

Newcomer Juan Silverio only has 9 Dash at bats, but he’s one to watch. Already 3-9 with 2 doubles, this 21 year-old 3rd baseman has youth on his side. A 2-time Dominican League All-Star, Silverio has generally overproduced for his age at every level, and a solid show in the Carolina League could really put him on the prospect map.

The Dash have to take their good play on the road this week as an off-day today is followed by 3 games in Frederick against the Keys. On Friday, the Dash are in Lynchburg playing the Hillcats.

Birmingham Barons, AA (17-15)

The Barons started a hard-fought 5-game series with Jacksonville on Tuesday, and even though they lost a couple of close games, they still pulled out a pair of wins before splitting 2 with the Tennessee Smokies over the weekend. The 3-4 week has the Barons above .500 and within striking distance at 3 games back of the division leading Jackson Generals.

Justin Greene was the hot hand this week for the Barons. The Goose Creek, South Carolina native is 15 for his last 31 and drew 5 walks and stole 6 bases in that time. The speedy centerfielder has scored 13 times this season, is getting on base at a .429 clip, and hasn’t been caught in 11 stolen base attempts. He’s in Birmingham for the 3rd time after underwhelming in a short stint in Charlotte last year, so big output at this level is crucial to this 26 year-old’s future.

Birmingham saw a bunch of roster changes as the White Sox shuffled their struggling bullpen. 23 year-old Jose Quntana got the call to the show straight from the Southern League last week, and already has 1 big league appearance where he gathered 5.2 shutout innings. Quintana also allowed only 1 hit in the appearance. Quintana, who left AA with a 3.06 ERA in 35.1 innings, had never pitched above the high-A Florida State League before this season, so this is an incredibly meteoric rise.

Jake Petricka was bumped up to Birmingham from Winston-Salem as a result of the Quintana move. He allowed 3 runs over 5 innings in his first AA start and walked a whopping 7 hitters. The Northfield, Minnesota native had a 5.63 ERA in the Carolina League, but he’s generally regarded as one of the White Sox better pitching prospects, so the team appears to want to challenge him aggressively.

The Barons play the last 3 games of their 5 with the Smokies starting tonight, then head to Pensacola for 5 with the Blue Wahoos.

Charlotte Knights, AAA (15-16)

Rough week for our boys in Charlotte as they lost the last game in Syracuse on Monday, dropped 2 of 3 to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, split 2 games with the Gwinnett Braves, and lost the first game of 4 with the Toledo Mudhens. The good news is the Knights are still in second place in the International League South, 4.5 games behind Gwinnett.

All the changes in AA were naturally connected to a host of changes in Charlotte as well. Dylan Axelford, called up only very recently, was sent back to Charlotte after being roughed up in his last major league appearance. Axelford got only 7.2 major league innings and allowed 3 earned runs before the team decided to try Birmingham’s Quintana instead. In the meantime, Nestor Molina and Matt Zaleski were bumped up to the Knights. It’s Molina’s first crack at AAA baseball, and the young Venezuela native is surely being watched closely by White Sox brass. He had a 3-1 record with a 3.72 ERA with Birmingham. He didn’t fare well in his 1st AAA start, allowing 6 runs and 9 hits in 4 innings against Toledo, but he’s still considered one of the White Sox better pitching prospects. At 23, Molina is young for the level and doesn’t necessarily have to set the world on fire to maintain the interest of Kenny Williams. That said, there is enough turmoil in the White Sox bullpen – they moved successful starter Chris Sale back to closer just to try to stabilize that position – that a good couple of months from Molina could be enough to win him a shot at the next level.

Zaleski is in his 4th run through the International League after spending half of 2011 and parts of 2009 and ’10 in Charlotte. Zaleski pitched well in his first start with the Knights – allowing just 2 runs and 5 hits over 7 innings against Syracuse – but hasn’t been able to sustain success at the AAA level in the past. At 31 years old, Zaleski isn’t a prospect any more, but a good few months could still be enough to give this minor league warrior his first trip to the show.

Offensively, Dan Johnson may be wondering why he let himself end up playing AAA for an organization that has had Paul Konerko anchoring 1st base for over a decade. Johnson, who’s been a back-and-forth AAA and ML player for over half a decade, is simply hammering International League pitching to the tune of a 1.074 OPS. 6 home runs, 25 RBI, and 7 doubles in 92 at bats are big time numbers. Johnson has obliterated AAA pitching for much of his career, and his .739 career major league OPS has proven he has offensive value to major league teams. Lack of any good defensive position is the reason Johnson continues to constantly scrap for major league playing time, and things may be tough for him as long as he’s behind a truly great slugger like Paul Konerko.

The Knights are better off this week after spending last week on the road. They finish their 4-game home series with Toledo starting tonight, then host Buffalo for 4 games starting Friday.

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