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April 28, 2010 at 11:29 AM

The Ladder: 4.28.10

1B Lars Anderson

The Line: Sporting an Eastern League leading 1.086 OPS and carrying a .355/.408/.677 line, Anderson has gotten off to a strong start in 2010. He’s been piling up the extra-base hits, including 5 home runs and 5 doubles on the young season. Especially hot in his last 10 games, he’s launched 4 home runs and added 3 doubles to post an OPS of 1.393 over that stretch. Anderson got things rolling on April 18 against Trenton with a solo home run and followed that up for a 2 for 4 showing against Binghamton the next day, drilling another long home run. In the series against Trenton from April 22-25, he went 6 for 14 with 2 home runs and 6 runs batted in, launching the go-ahead three-run home run in the ninth inning to propel Portland to the victory in the final game of the series.

The View: Many hitters get off to strong starts at the beginning of the season, but for Anderson this is exactly the type of start that followers were looking for after a very disappointing 2009 season in Double-A. Struggling for most of last season and especially in the second half to produce extra-base hits, he’s been looking much more comfortable and grounded in the box out of the gate. Anderson is a hitter that has always shown good power to the opposite field, which led to above-average power projections for him when he began to learn to tap into his natural strength and turn on more balls. Thus far in 2010, he’s been turning on balls with much more authority and creating a good amount of lift in his swing to drive balls deep out to right field. Anderson has been locked in on fastballs, and he has been able to stay back longer and then explode through the ball with a smooth, fluid swing. In 2009, he was out on his front foot in many at-bats and committed his hands too early in a lot of instances, leading to a lack of solid contact. With more focus during each at-bat and grinding pitchers out to get offerings he can drive, the results have been much more in line with his career up until 2009, and he’s shown an improving trend so far of hitting more balls in the air. Now facing teams for a second time on the season, Anderson can expect to get more off-speed pitches earlier in counts, and this has been an area he’s needed to improve upon in the past. By adjusting to these pitching patterns and continuing to battle in each at-bat to take what is given to him, Anderson should be able to sustain his hitting success at this level and be back on the path towards rounding out into an impact middle-of-the-order bat, with an eye on a promotion to Triple-A sometime in the summer.

LHP Manny Rivera

The Line: After a rocky first start to begin the year for Greenville, Rivera has rebounded nicely to work 19 innings as a member of the starting rotation while giving up 13 hits and 5 earned runs to go along with an impressive 19 strikeouts against only 2 walks. Earning his first win of the season on April 15 against Rome, he dealt 5.0 shutout innings while allowing 1 hit and fanning 9 batters without issuing a free pass. Rivera followed that up with a 4 innings of one-run baseball against West Virginia, and picked up his second win of the year in a five-shutout-inning performance against Lexington on April 25, limiting the lineup to 2 hits and picking up 4 more strikeouts while not giving up a walk.

The View: The 20-year-old left-handed starter has gotten out of the gate quickly so far in the South Atlantic League and is more of an unknown after spending the last couple of seasons in the Red Sox rookie leagues. Flashing a fastball that sits right around 90 MPH and an already advanced changeup that he has good feel for, Rivera commands the strike zone well and has been adept at throwing strikes while living away from the middle of the plate. With a deceptive delivery, he’s able to hide the ball well and bury his changeup on hitters with good arm speed, while sneaking his fastball up on hitters and pounding the lower portion of the strike zone with it. Rivera also throws a curveball, but this offering is currently behind his other two pitches and is on the loopy side. Improvements with his feel and finish with this pitch will round out his arsenal, and continue to project him as a starting pitcher down the line. Hitters are going to adjust against Rivera as he goes through the league a couple of more times, and he’ll need to change his pitching sequences accordingly to continue to keep hitters off-balance. As the season progresses and he gains additional trust in the pitch, Rivera’s curveball can become an offering that he uses more to get consistent outs and keep batters honest. It should be expected that he’ll hit a rough patch or two over the course of the season, but early signals indicate that Rivera can be effective at this level and that his command is rounding into a strength for him, with a goal of continuing to polish off his arsenal while getting some positive results in the process.

Trending Up

Salem’s Will Middlebrooks has gotten off to a very strong start in High-A this season after being a notoriously slow starter in his previous two minor league seasons. The 21-year-old third baseman has posted a .354/.417/.554 line out of the gate, and has been even stronger in his last 10 games with an OPS of 1.036 during that stretch. Middlebrooks recently hit his first 2 home runs of 2010 on April 25 and April 26, and has been showing off his defensive skills down at the hot corner. A lot of Middlebrooks’s past struggles stemmed from his raw pitch recognition and unrefined approach. After making improvements in both areas in 2009 to come on strong in the second half of the season with Greenville, he’s been able to carry them over and build on them so far in High-A. Still striking out at a decent clip, continued sharpening of his pitch selection will be needed to sustain his good success, but the ball has been jumping off Middlebrooks’s bat, and he has been giving a glimpse of the type of right-handed power hitter he can become…Dan Butler is 11 for his last 34 with 2 home runs to push his season OPS to 1.011. The Greenville catcher has been locked in at the plate recently and has been piling up the extra-base hits after hitting .173 in 81 at-bats between his time at Lowell last season and brief two-game call-up to Salem…Oscar Tejeda has been white hot to begin 2010 and recently picked up both Carolina League Player of the Week and SoxProspects.com Player of the Week honors. Tejeda has surprised with his power to start the season and is currently carrying a .694 slugging percentage. He’s eclipsed last year’s total of 3 home runs in 379 at-bats this year, with 5 round trippers in only 72 at-bats with Salem. Tejeda has struggled to maintain consistent contact in the past, but showed good hitting tools and potential to round into a productive hitter as he matures. While only walking once on the season and striking out 13 times, he’s been able to square more balls up and tighten his previously sometimes sloppy hitting mechanics at the plate. Look for Tejeda to come a bit back down to earth if his patience doesn’t improve some, but the early returns have been very positive for him and show the type of hitting skills he possesses…Portland outfielder Ryan Kalish has an impressive 15 walks versus only 7 strikeouts in his first 15 games this season and has continued to show the advanced approach that is a key strength for him at the plate. His contact rates are a bit down right now, but with the way he works counts and patience he displays, an uptick is most likely around the corner.

Trending Down

Che-Hsuan Lin has hit a tough patch with Portland in his first exposure to Double-A and is now 4 for his last 36 to drop his season average to .186. The graceful centerfielder has had considerable troubling squaring up pitches, only picking up a lone extra-base hit thus far. A very gifted defender with a well-above-average throwing arm, Lin can struggle with his timing and mechanics at the plate where he gets way out in front and drags his hands through the hitting zone, which leads to spells of inconsistent and weak contact…Portland righty Kyle Weiland has not been able to get on track yet in Double-A, allowing 14 earned runs in 14.0 innings of work on the season. Weiland was hit especially hard over 4.0 innings in his last outing, getting tagged for 8 earned runs while giving up 2 home runs. Weiland features a heavy, running fastball that shows excellent late movement and an improving changeup. But his fastball can be hittable when it is up in the strike zone, and he’s been off with his command of the pitch during the early season, which has lead to it grabbing too much of the plate…Recently returned to Triple-A after a brief stint with the big club, Josh Reddick has yet to find his groove this season at the plate. Reddick is currently 8 for 50 with the PawSox and hasn’t been making much solid contact in his at-bats. He’s struck out 10 times during the stretch and has walked only once. Reddick’s main need has revolved around the sharpening of his approach at the plate and to cut down on the number of pitches he chases. After a strong spring training, he’s been unable to translate that to the Triple-A level and has appeared to be trying to jerk too many balls in the early going.