Red Sox president of baseball operations took in Salem Red Sox games last weekend. (Jonathan Dyer/USA Today Sports)
1. The Salem Red Sox are arguably one of the best minor league teams in all of minor league baseball. They have three prospects in the top 20 according to Baseball America — Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers and Andrew Benintendi. So when Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski showed up in Salem, Virginia last weekend, many wondered why?
The answer isn’t an exciting one. Dombrowski has always made it a point to visit every minor league affiliate at least once during the season and it just so happened Salem was first. Typically, Dombrowski does it when the major league team is on the road. He also pointed to the fact this is his first full season in the organization and during spring training much of his time was spent with the major league team and he didn’t get a chance to interact much with the minor league staff’s. Dombrowski was able to do that last weekend, which he feels is very important, especially being new to the organization.
Dombrowski does get detailed minor league game reports daily, but for the most part he’s focused on the major league club.
2. Some may have noticed infielder Marco Hernandez playing left field for the PawSox Monday night for the first time in his professional career. He is the second member of the organization to add left field to their list of positions in the last few weeks, as catcher Blake Swihart has begun taking fly balls, but hasn’t yet appeared in a game. Dombrowski said this isn’t just a coincidence.
“You try to create versatility for your players while you can,” Dombrowski said. “The best place to do that is at the minor league level. It’s probably the one spot when you’re platooning in left field — and we have a good platoon out there — and as you look towards the future, that is a spot that is open with the Red Sox. There’s not a [Xander] Bogaerts or a [Mookie] Betts or a [Jackie] Bradley type of guy. I think right now it’s a situation where you’re trying to create versatility. For example, look at Brock Holt. He is getting the majority of the playing time as a left fielder, but he’s had versatility in his career and it has served him well because that is a spot for us that opens up and gives him the chance to get in the lineup almost on a everyday basis right now.”
Dombrowski said Triple-A is typically the level to add another position to a player’s skill set.
“Usually you don’t do it when they are real young because when they are real young you’re just trying to get their feet on the ground, but as they get closer to the big leagues and they have been in a position where they can handle an individual spot, you try and create some versatility, especially when you have guys that you’re trying to get to the big leagues and help them out,” he said. “You never know where your particular needs may be because of the injury factor, so to create that versatility is good. Again, most guys have an easier time going from infield to outfield, but I can’t say that is unanimous.”
3. Benintendi homered in the eighth inning Wednesday night to extend his hit streak to 16 games. It was his first home run of the season and he’s now batting .338 through the first 19 games with 15 extra base hits.
High-A Salem is his third level since being drafted by the Red Sox No. 7 overall in last year’s draft. The center fielder discussed the differences he’s seen going from each level.
“Just the command of each pitch,” Benintendi said recently. “Guys right now can throw three pitches for a strike, especially in college too. They can throw an off-speed pitch 3-0 or 2-1. I think after seeing that for the last few years, it’s helped me and I think I have gotten better on picking up pitches earlier and that has helped out a lot.”
Coming in with so much talent out of Arkansas — winning the 2016 Golden Spikes Award — and continuing to shine professionally last season, many have already started to predict when Benintendi might reach the majors, but that is the furthest thing from his mind.
“I don’t think about that at all,” he said. “I have trust and faith in the guys at the top who make those decisions. Ultimately it comes down to how I play. I don’t plan on getting any special treatment. I will let my play dictate how fast I move up and I trust the process and the guys who make those decisions.”
Even though he’s been a member of the Red Sox organization for less than a year, he’s been impressed by everyone and everything.
“So far I have been blown away by the way this organization runs itself,” Benintendi said. “I mean, guys from the top to bottom, everyone respects each other. Everyone is all in. The chemistry is tremendous and I am proud to be part of this organization.”
4. Some credit for the way Moncada has played so far as a professional, may need to go to Salem shortstop Mauricio Dubon, who has been his teammate dating back to Moncada’s debut with Greenville last year. The two man the middle of the infield together and Dubon noted how a lot of the time last year when Moncada had questions, especially with positioning in the field, he would turn to Dubon.
“He let me take care of him — position him and everything,” Dubon said.
The two are also very close off the field as they lived together last year and live in the same apartment complex this year. Dubon, Moncada and Devers hang out quite a bit away from the field with their favorite off-field hobby playing “MLB The Show.” Dubon added it’s baseball all the time for the three of them.
5. Michael Chavis, a 2014 first-round pick, was off to a hot start back in Greenville hitting a team-leading .356 with three home runs and 14 RBIs, but unfortunately he suffered a thumb injury last Saturday. The extent of the injury is still unknown at this time as he’s in Fort Myers getting a MRI, but surgery is a possibility.
“He’s going to be fine,” manager Darren Fenster said. “There’s no good time for any injury whether a guy is going well, whether a guy is struggling. These guys at this level, or any level of the game really, there’s so much work that goes into it that most people aren’t even aware of. That is where the real development takes place and Michael, having been with him for the last year plus, he’s worked as well as anybody that we’ve have. This sucks, but as we told him this is just a tiny bump in the road. I have all the confidence in the world that when he gets back on the field he will pick up where he left off.”
6. Speaking of Dubon, he is a player that seems to fly under the radar most when it comes to the High-A Salem team. All of the attention is directed towards Moncada, Benintendi and Devers, but Dubon is having a terrific start to the year himself. The shortstop is hitting .301 on the year, while playing flawless defense. The lack of attention doesn’t seem to bother him.
“I try not to think about that,” Dubon said. “It is what it is. I still have a job to do. I don’t care about who gets talked about the most. At the end of the day, I am going to show up if I do my job.”
7. It would appear 18-year-old Anderson Espinoza is on about a 75-pitch, five-inning limit, at least at this point of the season for Single-A Greenville. He hasn’t gone more than five innings in any of his four starts and has thrown 63, 70, 78 and 74 pitches in those starts. He had a bit of a hiccup in his last start as he only went 3 1/3 innings, but Fenster noted with how mature he is for his age, he won’t let it get to him.
“I think this kid has such a good head on his shoulders that while he wants to go out and dominate every outing, I think he is realistic enough to understand that is not how the game works,” he said. “He just went went back to work the very next day. Every day he has something different that is part of his daily schedule. He’s been very professional about everything he’s done with us.”
8. There’s been a good amount of power coming from the Greenville lineup early this season as through the first 20 games, they have hit 24 home runs. Leading the way has been Kyri Washington and Josh Ockimey, who have hit five home runs apiece. Fenster likes their approaches and ability to take advantage of getting good pitches to hit.
“[Ockimey], this is his second full season with the organization, first with an affiliate as a full-season club,” Fenster said. “He has a very good idea of what he wants to do at the plate. He has a very good idea of the strike zone and to his credit, he’s gotten some pitches he can handle and he hasn’t missed them.
“Kyri, is a little bit of an older guy out of college and I think he’s done a really good job of putting himself in some pretty good situations — hitters counts. Also, getting some pitches he can handle and doing some serious damage with them as well. Not only home runs, but with some extra base hits.”
9. Pat Light made his major league debut Tuesday night in Atlanta and although he allowed two runs, he proved to himself he belongs in the majors. Light was a starter until last season when the Red Sox turned him into a reliever, a move that has paid off for the hard-throwing right-hander.
“It’s awesome,” Light said. “It’s gratifying to be in big leagues yet alone having that position change not really knowing how it is going to turn out. Things kind of moved quickly and next thing you know, I am here. These guys that make those moves have been doing it a long time and they get it right the majority of the time so it was nice to see.”
Last season with Pawtucket, Light struggled a bit as he posted a 2-4 record with a 5.18 ERA. This came after he dominated his first 21 games in Double-A Portland before being promoted. Light said he had a little trouble adjusting after he was promoted to Triple-A.
“Kinda,” he said. “The thing that was tough was I went out and did so well in Portland early, I never really struggled out of the bullpen yet. Then when I went through those struggles in Pawtucket last year, it was something kind of new that I hadn’t really done yet and didn’t really know how to react. Learning that was the biggest thing. If you struggle, you might be in the next day — a short-term memory type thing.”
10. Although he joined Single-A Greenville a few weeks into the season because of a minor injury very early in the spring that kept him back, Tate Matheny hasn’t taken long to catch up and is drawing the attention of his manager. Through his first eight games, he’s batting .303.
The center fielder, son of Cardinals manager Mike, was the Red Sox’ fourth-round pick in last year’s draft.
“He’s been very impressive,” Fenster said. “Obviously, this kid comes from a very good baseball pedigree. His game kind of reflects that in respect to the things he’s looking for and just how he plays the game. I think he has a very good sense about the things he does well offensively and on the bases. Defensively, we’ve been very impressed with how he’s been able to patrol the outfield. Just some of the jumps and routes he’s gotten on the ball have been very, very impressive. This kid isn’t the fastest in the world, but the way he plays the outfield and also his instincts on the bases, his speed plays up because of his baseball intellect.”