By Tyler Thornton
Professional baseball will soon be present again in the Greenville community when the Red Sox’s Low-A affiliate Greenville Drive starts their season. Despite a disappointing 2013 season in which the team finished in last place with an abysmal 51-87 record, there is reason for optimism this year.
Rapid player turnover is the name of the game for affiliated minor league teams as players get promoted closer and closer to the Majors. As such the Greenville Drive should see an influx of talent this year coming from the lower ranks of the Red Sox system and the MLB draft last year. Though the official roster has yet to be determined, much of its composition is fairly certain.
The pitching staff in particular comes loaded with potential, starting with the no. 7 overall pick in 2013’s draft, Trey Ball. Ball, 19, is a tall lefty from Indiana who was considered a potential first round pick as either a pitcher or hitter in the draft. He has drawn many comparisons to former Drive pitcher Henry Owens for their similar body types and pitch repertoires. Owens pitched for the Drive in 2012, and despite an unsightly 4.87 ERA, struck out 11.5 batters per 9 innings that year, going on to become a top prospect for the Sox. Jason Parks, a scout for the site Baseball Prospectus, believes Ball “could have #2 starter upside” in the Majors.
Behind Ball the staff should be rounded out by some combination of Jamie Callahan, Teddy Stankiewicz, Ty Buttery, Pat Light, Simon Mercedes, and Myles Smith. Nearly all of these pitchers project as potential contributors in the Majors down the road, as indicated by the fact that all but Mercedes (an international signing) were drafted in the fourth round or better.
On the offensive side of the ball the man to watch is 19-year-old Manuel Margot. Signed out of the Dominican Republic at the age of 16, Margot should play a strong centerfield for the Drive this year and is said to have a good ability to hit along with what Soxprospects.com describes as “plus-plus speed.” In 49 games in the New York Penn League last year, Margot stole 18 bases and should continue to show those abilities with the Drive this year. Soxprospects.com pegs him with the “ceiling of a top-of-the-order hitter” in the Majors down the road.
Other names to watch are second baseman Wendell Rijo and shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin. Rijo is a well-rounded player on offense and defense. Lin is known for his flashy glove work and holds the honor of having been given the largest bonus of any player ever coming from Taiwan at just over $2 million. Another player who may be called up to Greenville at some point this season is third baseman Rafael Devers. Just 16 at the time of his signing last year, Devers is already getting attention for his smooth swing: Baseball America describes him as a “potentially elite bat” despite his lack of professional baseball experience.
This solid core of players should allow the Drive to make a stronger play at the league title this year and provide fans with plenty of enjoyable baseball this spring and summer. The Greenville Drive start off their season April 3, with their first home game a week later on April 10. Take a trip to Fluor Field in downtown Greenville to catch a game before the spring semester ends.