Monday (sort of) Minors Recap: Week 6

Things are increasingly busy here at Centene Stadium as we gear up for the season, but unfortunately that causes the Monday Minors Recap to be delayed sometimes! So… this week it’s Wednesday minors recap. If this were middle school, I’d be marked tardy. I think I’d have detention by now, considering this is the 3rd of 4th to be late through 6 weeks.

Most of this was written on Tuesday, so all the team records are only through Monday’s games. I’ll include editors notes with any Tuesday results to fill you in.

Kannapolis Intimidators, A-ball (15-20)

The Intimidators have been nothing if not consistent so far this season. With the exception of their 0-7 week, the squad has kept every other full week within in one game either way of .500. They continued that streak this week as they split 4 games in Delmarva and lost game 1 against the league-best Greensboro Grasshoppers for a 2-3 weekly record [ed note: the Intimidators lost game 2 with the Grasshoppers on Tuesday]. Considering all 5 games were far from home in the Sally’s league’s Northern Division, that’s not a bad mark.

More changes abound at Kannapolis, and this time, Voyager fans and frequent readers of this blog should recognize the names. The first change involved two fan favorites of the 2011 Pioneer League Champion Voyager team. David Herbek was added to the disabled list on Monday after being pulled in the middle of a game against Hickory. Herbek was playing second base in the game and caught an infield pop-up for the 1st out in the bottom of the 4th, wasn’t scheduled to hit in the top of the 5th, then didn’t come back out to play his position in the bottom of the 5th. There weren’t any major incidents in this time that could give clue to what changed with Herbek that took him out of the game. Herbek had a nagging leg injury that kept him off the field for 5 games earlier this year, but it’s currently unknown if this DL trip is at all related to that problem.

Herbek hitting the DL made room for his Great Falls double play mate to rejoin the Intimidators. Joe De Pinto, who was sent back to extended spring training earlier this season, has returned to Kannapolis. De Pinto was hitting 6-28 before he was sent down, and was 0-3 in his lone game post-return. With Herbek on the DL, De Pinto should have a bit of time to get things going, but he’s hitting below .200 now and needs to get things going before his roster spots starts to get squeezed by Herbek’s return.

Last week, I devoted a few words in this space to discuss the great start of Terance Marin. I even said “you have to think that Marin will get a chance to move up soon with his excellent performance record.” Turns out I was right on the money, as just 3 days later the Intimidators announced Marin had gotten the call up to Winston-Salem. Marin has already appeared once for Winston-Salem and got an easy out against his lone hitter.

Former Voyager Chris Devenski got the call from Glendale to replace Marin on the Intimidators, making Marin the only Intimidator roster move this week who never spent time in Great Falls. The 21 year-old Devenski is getting his first taste of full-season play after putting up a 2.25 ERA in 7 games last season. Devenski has seen action just once in Kannapolis so far, but it was an impressive outing. The 6-3 righty allowed 1 hit and 1 walk in 1.2 innings but also struck out 4 Shorebirds.

The Intimidators continue their series in Greensboro tonight and tomorrow [ed note: just tonight as of the Wednesday posting] before they return to Kannapolis to host the Lexington Legends for four games.

 

Winston-Salem Dash, High A-ball (21-13)

The first place Dash had more trouble with mother nature than they did with their opponents this week. Dropping only a pair of games to Lynchburg – while winning one other game against the Hillcats and sweeping a doubleheader with the Frederick Keys – the Dash lost 3 games to rainout. 1 of the 3 games has already been made up, but it still made for a very odd schedule for the week, which included a 3-day rain vacation. Those 3 off-days all came on the road, so hopefully the town of Frederick is recovering from all that pent up ballplayer energy. [ed note: the Dash split a makeup doubleheader with Myrtle Beach last night, bringing their record to 22-14]

Previously celebrated names like Brady Shoemaker, Michael Earley, and Dan Black continue to be big, trailblazing bashers for the Dash, but contributions from other positions have rounded out as well. While good teams expect big offensive production from the corner positions played by Shoemaker, Earley, and Black, it’s the solid offensive contributions of defensively difficult positions that can push a team over the edge. Middle infielders Daniel Wagner, Jake Oester, and Marcus Semien have come together to form a very strong up-the-middle presence with a run of hot streaks.

Wagner and Oester and primarily second basemen and have been forced to split time at the position with each having played no more than 22 games. Wagner is a left handed batter and Oester is right handed, so they may make a natural platoon team further up the system, but right now they’re being allowed to play regardless of the opposing pitcher’s handedness. Oester held a 6 game hitting streak into yesterday [ed note: this was snapped in an 0-2 performance reported here due to the tardiness of this post] and is 9-24 with 6 doubles and 10 runs scored in his last 7 games. That adds up to a .375 batting average in that time, and it brings Oester’s OPS up to .751 on the season. Wagner’s progress has been more steady but just as effective. Dating back to April 29, he’s 12-33 in his last 10 games and has stolen 7 bases in that time. Wagner is getting on base at a good .372 clip for the season and has stolen 10 bases in 12 attempts. This combination of speed and on base ability makes him a prototypical middle infielder and a run machine. If you project Wagner’s numbers out over an equal number of game, he’d have as many runs scored as big power producers like Michael Early and Dan Black. Those big bats need somebody speedy to drive in, and that’s Wagner and Oester.

Marcus Semien is a primary shortstop and hasn’t had to share time like the Oester/Wagner duo. Just the same, he’s been on a massive tear since April and is riding an 18 game hitting streak. In the 10 games in the month of May, Semien is 14-40 with 3 doubles, 3 homers, 9 RBI, 11 runs scored, and an incredible 1.063 OPS. All this comes while playing one of the most defensively demanding positions on the diamond and being younger than most of his competition at age 21. Even with his hot streak at the end of the month, Semien held only a .709 OPS on May 1, but his continued hot bat has his season OPS all the way up to .823. For reference, anything above .900 for an everyday shortstop puts a player in legitimate MVP consideration. After putting forth just a .696 last season in Kannapolis, this former 6th round pick could be exploding onto the prospect scene.

[After Tuesday’s doubleheader split] the Dash continue their series against Myrtle Beach tonight and tomorrow, then stay at home as Lynchburg comes to town for 3 games over the weekend.

 

Birmingham Barons, AA (21-18)

Birmingham continues to play well in a competitive Southern League North Division and sits just two games behind the Jackson Generals after a 4-3 week [ed note: both the Barons and the Generals lost yesterday so Birmingham is still just 2 back]. The Barons won 2 of their last 3 games against the Tennessee Smokies and then split their 1st 4 in Pensacola.

Following last week’s flurry of changes on the White Sox roster, the Barons experienced a lot more change this week. Jake Petricka – sent up to Birmingham from Winston-Salem last Monday – was send back down to Winston-Salem in the middle of the week. Petricka’s 7 walks in his lone AA start may have played a part in the decision. Nestor Molina also felt the sting of a quick reversal of a callup: Molina was sent back to Birmingham after just one start in AAA Charlotte. Molina had a rougher time than Petricka, who was able to work around his control problems and allow only 3 runs. Molina got shelled in the International League, allowing 6 runs and 9 hits in 4 innings. Both still just 23 years old, there’s still time for Petricka and Molina to recover and continue to progress up the system.

Continuing a trend from the lower levels, Justin Greene got moved up soon after getting some positive press on this blog. Green was promoted to Charlotte on Thursday after his recent hot streak brought his numbers up to very good levels. This is Greene’s second shot in the International League, and while he hit decently last year, the White Sox would likely be happy to see improved plate discipline and on-base skills from the speedy outfielder. He’s 3 for his 1st 16 in Charlotte, and now could be a key time for the 26 year-old. His skillset is highly suited for a 4th or 5th outfielder role on a major league bench, but he’ll need to prove basic offensive ability at a AAA level before he gets a shot.

A pair of Barons went on the DL on Saturday as 1st baseman Any Wilkins and lefty swing-man Matt Wickswat both left the roster for 7 days.  Wickswat has struggled this year with 23 walks and a 10.20 ERA in 15 innings, and it’s easy to speculate that this unknown injury may have played a role. Wilkins was struggling as well, hitting just .204.

Last, righty pitcher Leroy Hunt was called up to Birmingham from Winston-Salem last week, but he hasn’t gotten in any games yet.

[After Tuesday’s series concluding loss to Pensacola] The Barons head home to start a 5-game series with the Montgomery Biscuits on Wednesday. That series runs through the end of the week before Monday’s off-day.

 

Charlotte Knights, AAA (20-19)

Charlotte cooled down later in the week, but a hot start, including a doubleheader sweep on Wednesday, still brought the Knights a 5-3 week.  Charlotte won their first 3 with Toledo – the doubleheader sweep included – before dropping the final game and splitting their 4 games against Buffalo. Charlotte spent the whole week at home, so putting out the good record was an example of good execution of a favorable opportunity.

One of the hallmarks of a AAA club is giving bit-time to major league regulars recovering from injury, and Charlotte got a taste of that this week. White Sox reliever Jesse Crain, on the DL for a couple of weeks, is in Charlotte now getting ready to return to Chicago. He’s appeared twice – both single inning starts – and thrown 2 perfect innings with 6 strikeouts. Crain got a 3 year, 13 million dollar contract from the Sox last offseason, and has pitched well in a late-inning setup role for the Sox, so there’s no doubt he’ll return to Chicago as soon as the White Sox feel he’s strong enough. All reports indicate that will be very soon.

Successful Baron Drew Garcia – another regular on these pages – got the call to Charlotte on Wednesday but has started slow. A .202 hitter in 104 International League games last year, the 26 year-old shortstop has struggled to take his solid production to the AAA level. His first 5 games in Charlotte this year have been more of the same: just 2 hits in 20 at bats. A 5th year player not on the White Sox 40-man roster – meaning he’s twice been eligible but untaken in the Rule V draft – Garcia is running out of time to impress the White Sox enough before he reaches the age of minor league free agency. Free agency would allow Garcia to go where he thinks is best, but it’s tougher to crack the show with another team than it is the one who proved they like you best by drafting you.

Garcia is trying to avoid the tumultuous fate of Jose Castro, the second baseman sent to Birmingham to make space for Garcia on the roster. Castro, originally signed by the Mets in 2005, will now spend part of his 5th year in the AA Southern League as he continues to struggle in the high minors. Castro has never held better than a .717 OPS in AA, and managed just a .618 OPS in AAA last year. Castro wasn’t getting much playing time for the Knights and was only 4-23. Switch hitting middle infielders don’t grow on trees, but it would take a lot for Castro to see the inside of the White Sox clubhouse at this point. For now, he’ll be looking to hit AA pitching well enough to win his way back to Charlotte.

Charlotte hits the road tonight starting with a doubleheader in Norfolk. They play two more in Norfolk through Friday before heading to Durham to begin a 4-game set with the Bulls

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