Taking a look at the Salem Red Sox record, you can easily see that they are one of the top notch teams in the Carolina League. Sitting at 41-24 heading into Thursday night’s action, you can make the argument that they are one of the elite teams in all of Advanced-A. When you break down their lineup, you can make the argument that they are underachieving.
That’s just how good they are.
Salem cruised to the Southern Division first-half title — their first since 1988 — behind one of the most explosive lineups in the minor leagues. Leading the Carolina League in team batting (.272), hits (580) and triples (34). In fact, for the majority of the first half of the season, Salem’s lineup was ignited by three of the top-10 hitting prospects in all of baseball.
Leading the way is the 21-year-old Cuban sensation Yoan Moncada. If he isn’t the No. 1 overall prospect in baseball, he is certainly the most exciting. The Red Sox brass signed Moncada out of Cuba at the beginning of last season for $31.5 million. Paired with the MLB tax for exceeding the international budget limits, the Sox dished out $63 million in total for their future second baseman. It seems like a stroke of genius thus far.
Moncada entered professional baseball known for his quick bat and top-grade speed. Describing his speed in words is nearly impossible. Watching him turn a double into a triple and literally blaze around the bases is one of the most exciting things to see live.
He had a nice 2015 season, slashing .278/.380/438 while belting eight home runs and stealing 49 stolen bases. He raised a few eyebrows of concern with a high strikeout rate of 23 percent (83 in 363 plate appearances) but many wrote it off as an adjustment period, and rightfully so.
Moncada caught fire in the second half of last season — slashing .310/.415/.500 with a much improved strikeout-to-walk ratio of 55-to-34 — and hasn’t slowed down. He has improved across the board thus far, especially in showing improved plate discipline. While he has lowered his strikeout rate to 21 percent, he has raised his walk rate to a very impressive 16.1 percent (45 walks in 280 plate appearances).
The only real question mark surrounding Moncada is his defense. You would think that speed would help his range, but at times last season he looked lost and lacked focus, committing 23 errors in 394 chances. He has improved thus far in 2016 (11 errors on 254 chances) but there will be questions on where Moncada will stick.
Rafael Devers was the most sought after bat in the 2013 on the international market. Having played two successful years at a super young age, Devers skyrocketed to the top of prospects charts as well, widely considered a top-20 overall future star. He is struggling a bit in his age-19 season at his highest level of ball. That being said, he still leads the team in home runs and the 6-foot, 190 pound lefty still should develop into a nice piece for the Red Sox.
The third baseman is coming off a 2015 full-season debut that saw him slash .288/.329/.443 with an impressive 38 doubles and 11 home runs. Those numbers haven’t translated at the next level — .227/.299/.336 with four homers — but he has shown improvement elsewhere. While his current strikeout rate is right at his career norm (16 percent), he is drawing walks nine percent of the time, nearly five percent better than last season, now against more advanced pitching. A .261 BABIP may mean Devers has just had some bad luck.
Andrew Benintendi has already been promoted to Double-A, but he played nearly a third of the season in Salem’s lineup. He has been a hitting machine since being drafted in the first round of last year’s draft out of Arkansas.
He posted a 20/20 season his senior year, topping the country with 20 home runs and snagging 24 bases while he slashed .376/.488/.717 for the College World Series-bound Razorbacks. He continued his surge, slashing .313/.416/.556 with 11 home runs and 10 stolen bases across two levels in his 2015 half-season debut.
There’s more… to find out about Mauricio Dubon and see video highlights on Moncada, Devers and more, head on over to Today’s Knuckleball for my full article by clicking on the link below!