It's hard to pass on an opportunity to see a team like Salem which is loaded with talent and ranked by Jim Callis of MLB.com as the most talented team in the minors. Displaying a cache of quality players, Salem features Yoan Moncada (No. 1), Rafael Devers (No. 2) and Andrew Benintendi (No. 3) as the top three prospects in the Red Sox system as rated by John Sickels. Going into Saturday's double header the Salem Red Sox were atop the Carolina league with a 19-8 record, including 12-1 record on the road.
Winston-Salem held the Red Sox in check for the first game and half of the double header winning the first game by a score of 4-2. White Sox No. 12 prospect Jordan Stephens was particularly effective to start the second game, throwing a no hitter through four innings before Salem knocked him out of the game, scoring eight runs in the fifth inning. Moncada put an exclamation point on the inning with a three run home run, his second this week. Salem came back from a four run deficit to defeat the White Sox affiliate by a score of 8-4.
It's been nearly a year since I first reported on the dynamic young prospect Yoan Moncada, the second baseman who the Red Sox signed last year for a combined $63 million after he defected from Cuba. At the time he was making his minor league debut and beginning to turn a corner after a slow start for Boston's Low-A affiliate. Since then he's become one of the highest ranked prospects in all of baseball mashing the ball for a .344 average in 25 games with 11 extra base hits.
The second baseman is even hotter lately, as he's posting an OPS of 1.754 while going 7-for-19 in four games prior to Saturday's double header. Moncada leads the Carolina league in steals with 19 and trails only Yefri Perez of the Jacksonville Suns for the overall minor league lead.
Moncada has been working on his patience at the plate and working deeper in the count according to his hitting coach Nelson Paulino, he told Tyler Maun of MiLB.com, "[Working counts] is another thing we've tried to work on. Sometimes he swings at so many pitches the pitcher [throws] that he's working behind in the count, but in the last couple games, he's been more patient, more quiet and he's ready for his pitch."
That approach worked against Yoan in the first game of the double header as he went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts, including one in the seventh when Winston's pitcher Jacob Morris caught him looking on an inside fastball. But the adjustment shows maturity and the ability to commit to the growing process.
The growth is apparent in Moncada, at least from my perspective, as the second baseman looks a lot more comfortable at the plate and has bulked up physically with some extra pop in his bat. Last year he was aggressive early in counts trying to jump on fastballs. This season he's showing patience and a willingness to work the count and be selective while looking for the best pitch to hit.
Andrew Benintendi saw his 23 game hitting streak come to an end with a 0-for-3 performance in the first game. During the streak he was batting .391 with 17 extra base hits. It was the longest hitting streak in Salem history, and tied for the franchise record with Art Howe, who achieved the record for the 1971 Rebels. The outfielder began a new streak in the second game, claiming a pair of hits including a double.
The 21-year-old was drafted No. 7 overall by the Red Sox in the 2015 draft and signed for $3,590,000. Benintendi was considered one of the best college talents coming into the draft, after his stock rose from leading his Arkansas Razorback team to the NCAA Division I championship series. Baseball America rated the outfielder as the best pure hitter in the college level leading up to the draft and Boston claims he was second on their board to Dansby Swanson.
Benintendi showed good instincts in the outfield on Saturday, running down a line drive that initially stunned him, before turning and catching it over his shoulder with his back to home base. Benintendi is younger than most hitters in the Carolina league by a year and a half and has a smaller frame at 5-foot-10 and 170 lbs, but he shows good bat speed and an ability to work the count.
Rounding out the depth in this team is 19-year-old third baseman Rafael Devers. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2013 for $1.5 million he dominated the Dominican Summer League and the Gulf Coast League in 2014 where he combined for a slash line of .322/.404/.506. Devers showed good power in Low-A Greenville last season, where he hit 11 home runs while batting .288/.329/.443 in 115 games.
Devers showed enough to Boston's front office to earn a promotion to High-A Salem to start this year, but he's struggled to this point, batting just .151 with 17 strikeouts in 25 games prior to Saturday. It's too early to give up on the teenager for the season though, as he's showing signs of a break out after posting a .231 average over the past week with an encouraging on base rate of .375. Devers continued his turnaround on Saturday, going 3-for-6 in the two games including a double and two runs scored.