September 8, 2015 at 7:00 AM
9/8 Cup of Coffee: The final chapter of the Red Sox 2015 minor league season ended in the most heart-breaking way possible. Needing a win to qualify for the post-season, Greenville put the playoff-clinching run on base in the bottom of the ninth. Unfortunately, the rally fell short, sending the Drive home along with the rest of their minor league compatriots, all of whom had been eliminated from playoff contention previously.
Several veterans of the organization played key roles as the PawSox ended their season on a high note. William Cuevas got the start and the win, allowing a run on four hits in six innings, striking out three and walking one. The right-hander completed his seventh season in the Sox system setting career highs in wins (11), innings (136 1/3) and strikeouts (128). Madison Younginer, in his sixth season, closed out the win by allowing a run on three hits in two innings. The 2009 seventh-round draft choice had the best season of his career, with a 3.03 ERA across two levels. Those two hurlers' minor league journeys have nothing on that of catcher Matt Spring (pictured, above left). In his 707th career minor league game across 12 seasons without appearing in the majors, the modern Crash Davis blasted a sixth-inning solo home run and was on base four times with a single and two walks. Cuevas, Younginer, and Spring are all minor league free agents who potentially played their final game in the Red Sox organization on Monday.
The PawSox also got contributions from players who have been with the organization a shorter time. Offseason acquisition Marco Hernandez capped his 2015 return to prospect status with a monster game, going 4 for 5 with a home run, double, four RBI and two runs scored. Aneury Tavarez was on base four times, going 2 for 2 with a double, two walks, two runs, and two RBI. Every Pawtucket player reached as the offense totaled 21 baserunners in the romp.
A trying 2015 season for the Sea Dogs ended on a high note with a 17-hit outburst. Manuel Margot didn't repeat his feat of hitting for the cycle, but the 20-year-old outfielder did go 2 for 5 with two doubles. Every Portland starter had at least one hit, led by catcher Jordan Weems. Weems was 4 for 5 with two doubles and two runs scored. Tzu-Wei Lin, Danny Bethea, and Cole Sturgeon also doubled. Carlos Asuaje hit his eighth home run of the year, a three-run shot in the third inning.
The offensive outburst made for an easier day for starter Aaron Wilkerson. The righty allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits in six innings for his 11th win of the year. Simon Mercedes surrendered two runs in two innings of work, and Mike Augliera finished off the win with a scoreless ninth. Augliera turned his season around with a move to the bullpen. After going 2-13 with a 5.88 ERA in 17 starts, the Binghamton University product had a 3.18 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 11 outings in relief.
It was the end of the season for Portland, but the end of an era for New Britain, who played in their final affiliated minor league game. The franchise will move to Hartford for the 2016 season. That the final game came against a Red Sox affiliate was fitting: the Red Sox had moved their Double-A affiliate from Bristol, Conn. to New Britain in 1983, beginning a 32-year run in the city for Double-A baseball. The Camden (NJ) Riversharks of the independent Atlantic League will relocate to New Britain next year. .
A three-run first inning gave Salem a lead it would not relinquish. Kevin Heller led the charge, driving in the game's first run on his way to a 3-for-4 afternoon. He doubled twice and drove in two runs. Mauricio Dubon was on base three times, going 2 for 3 with a walk and a double, and Franklin Guzman added a double as part of a 2-for-4 day.
Salem used a quartet of pitchers to finish off the Nationals, Starter Kevin McAvoy allowed one run in 2 2/3 innings. As was the case for much of the season he struggled with his control, walking two and hitting a batter. Kyle Kraus earned the win in relief, giving up a run on three hits in 3 1/3 innings. Luis Ysla, acquired a week ago in the deal for Alejandro De Aza, fired two perfect frames, striking out one. After a tough run in the hitter-friendly California League, Ysla has found the environs of the Carolina League more to his liking: he did not allow a hit in five innings after the trade. Taylor Grover tossed a one-two-three ninth to notch the save.
Greenville entered play on Monday a half-game behind Asheville for the final playoff spot in the South Atlantic League, meaning they need a win coupled with a Tourists loss to qualify. The Drive got some help from the Greensboro Grasshoppers, who knocked off Asheville 5-4. However, Greenville's chances still seemed bleak when it entered the bottom of the ninth inning trailing 4-0. A stirring rally would put the playoffs within reach and make the loss that much more heartbreaking.
Michael Chavis led off the ninth with a single, and Rafael Devers (pictured, right) followed with his second double of the day. Andrew Benintendi grounded out to first for the first out of the inning, but Chavis scored on the play, cutting the Sand Gnats lead to three. A Danny Mars base hit scored Devers, bringing the tying run to the plate. Javier Guerra, one of the breakout stars of the South Atlantic League this year, hit a fly out to left for the second out, but was followed by a base hit by J.T. Watkins and a walk to potential playoff-clinching run Joseph Monge. With the Drive's season in the balance, Savannah turned to its bullpen. Reliever Ben Griset (NYM) induced a ground ball to second from Jerry Downs, stranding the bases loaded and stopping the season-saving comeback dead in its tracks.
The two doubles for Devers gave him an organization leading 38 for the season and also got him to 50 extra-base hits. The 18-year-old out of the Dominican Republic ascended to among the elite prospects in baseball with a .288/.329/.443 in a circuit where he was one of the youngest regular players. Benintendi's 0-for-3 day snapped a 12-game hitting streak during which he had hit .396/.453/.625
Starting pitcher Jalen Beeks took the loss, allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits in five innings. He struck out four and walked one. Kuehl McEachern followed, allowing a run on three hits in 3 2/3 innings. Edwar Garcia entered with two on and one out in the ninth and retired the final two batters to keep the Drive within four runs.
The Spinners missed their chance to finish at .500 after failing to hold a 4-1 lead. Dioscar Romero turned in a strong start, going five innings and allowing a run on five hits. He struck out five without issuing a walk, and departed in line for his fourth win of the season. Vermont then reached relievers Austin Glorius and Trevor Kelley for four runs apiece in the seventh and ninth, respectively. A three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth by Trent Kemp brought the Spinners within two before the Vermont bullpen closed the door on the Lowell season.
In his fourth game since a promotion from the Gulf Coast League, Tyler Hill was 3 for 4. The 19-year old was 6 for 15 (.400) with Lowell. Tyler Spoon had a pair of hits in the effort, while Tucker Tubbs was 1 for 3 with a walk.
Player of the Day: Capping off his 12th minor league season, Matt Spring gets today's recognition both for his on-field play as well as his status as a veteran leader in the Pawtucket clubhouse. A fourth-round pick of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays back in 2004, the 30-year-old Spring hit the 93rd career home run of his professional career. In five seasons with the Red Sox organization, Spring has appeared in 264 games.
With the 2015 minor league season now complete, the SoxProspects.com staff would like to thank our loyal Cup of Coffee readers for sharing another exciting season with us. We hope you will continue in the offseason to follow the site and converse with us on the forum, and we look forward to you joining us again for a fresh pot of coffee in April 2016.
Photo Credit: Matt Spring and Rafael Devers by Kelly O'Connor