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How the Jackson Generals took command of Southern League despite an abundance of top prospects

Out in the Southern League, Shelley Duncan’s Jackson Generals are off to a 16-4 start and have excelled in most facets of the game.

MLB: All Star Game-Futures Game Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

In the first month of the Southern League season, the best team has been the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Double-A affiliate, the Jackson Generals. In their first 20 games, the team had a 16-4 record. While 15 of those 20 games were in their home ballpark, that is still quite an accomplishment.

If you look at John’s list of the Top 20 prospects in the D’Backs farm system, only four of those players are on the Generals roster. Those players are right-handers Jon DuPlantier, Yoan Lopez (used as a reliever), and Taylor Widener and infielder Domingo Leyba (on the seven-day disabled list).

Despite not having a Top 20 prospect in their lineup at the moment, the Generals have succeeded as a team at the plate. As of Friday, they lead the Southern League in batting average (.313), runs (121), hits (217), on-base percentage (.369), .OPS (.834), RBIs (111), and are tied for the league lead in triples (nine).

On their offense, they have six players who have driven in ten or more runs. One of those who have stood out is shortstop Galli Cribbs. Cribbs hit for the cycle on April 18 against Birmingham and is hitting .421 with four triples, two home runs, 12 RBIs, and an on-base percentage of .522. Keep in mind that the 25-year-old hit only .190 in 29 games at Jackson last year.

Another positive about the Generals offense is that their power appears to be spread out. They have five players with two or more home run, including their team leader, catcher Matt Jones (.278, three home runs, 14 RBIs). Jones had his best power season last year with High-A Visalia when he hit ten home runs in 88 games.

One other player to keep an eye on from the offensive side is second baseman Kevin Medrano. While Medrano will be 28 on May 21, he has 28 hits (eight doubles) and he has been on a ten-game hit streak. As the number two hitter, he has a .408 on-base percentage, which is impressive when you consider he has only walked three times.

As for the staff under pitching coach Doug Drabek, the team has a 2.57 ERA, which is nearly 70 points lower than the second best in the league (Biloxi – 3.26). Plus, they lead the league in strikeouts (212) and they have the fourth fewest walks (63).

The conversation with their rotation starts with DuPlantier, who is their number one prospect. He outdueled Kyle Wright out in Mississippi on Thursday when he went five innings, gave up one run on four hits, struck out eight, and walked one on 72 pitches (50 strikes). He has the ability to throw the fastball consistently at 93-94 miles-per-hour and the movement on his curveball is fun to watch.

In addition to DuPlantier, Widener and Alex Young are two other names to monitor in their rotation. Widener made the transition from the bullpen to being a starter when he was in the Yankees organization in 2017.

Despite only throwing 13 innings in his last three starts, the 23-year-old has 25 strikeouts in those outings and has walked seven batters over the course of four starts. When I talked with Widener this offseason for Pinstriped Prospects, he told me about how one of his goals on the mound is to attack hitters:

“I would definitely say that I am very aggressive on the mound. Most of the time I am going to go right at people. I feel like that’s my main weapon is just that I am always in attack mode.”

As for Young, the 25-year-old left-hander was a Second Round selection of the Diamondbacks in 2015. This is his second season with Jackson, but he has shown good command in the early stages of the season. In his first four starts, he has 22 strikeouts to four walks in 21 innings (3-0, 3.43 ERA).

Last season, Young struggled to find control of his pitches as he had 58 walks in 137 innings. There were only two pitchers that had more walks in the league, but one of them was White Sox star prospect Michael Kopech (60). After throwing six innings of one-hit ball on April 23 against Chattanooga, Young told Marisa Ingemi of MILB.com about the adjustments he’s made this season:

“I want to pitch to my strengths. I want to be a smarter pitcher on the mound and have a gameplan instead of getting out there and going inning by inning.”

So, while the Generals don’t have many of Arizona’s top prospects right now, there is something to say about a team that gets contributions from everyone in the lineup. On Thursday, seven of the eight position players in their lineup had an average of over .280.

If you are in the Jackson area, head out to The Ballpark at Jackson and watch a team that is clicking on all cylinders at the moment.