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August 6, 2021 at 11:00 AM

July Players of the Month: Yairo Muñoz and Brian Van Belle

The minor league season is now into its second half and fourth month, with minor league regular seasons stretching through September in 2021, rather than ending around Labor Day. Teams and players are starting to understand how their years are going to fare, though there is still room for outstanding performances, as Worcester utilityman Yairo Muñoz (pictured) and Greenville right-handed pitcher Brian Van Belle distinguished themselves to earn SoxProspects.com's Player of the Month awards for July. 

Muñoz has been in the organization since March 2020 following his release by St. Louis after leaving Spring Training without explanation. The Red Sox signed him just after camp was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 26-year-old spent September in Boston, but was outrighted off the 40-man roster in December and was not claimed. He has hit well in 2021 at Triple-A, slashing .306/.336/.439 through the early portion of August, though this has been driven by a scorching July, as he was hitting just .250/.277/.363 after the conclusion of play June 30.

Munoz played in 22 games over the month of July, notching a hit in all 22 contests with a hit streak that has continued into August, now at 27 games after the conclusion of play on August 5, breaking Jacoby Ellsbury's Pawtucket/Worcester Red Sox record of 25. This was good enough for a slash line of .404/.442/.596, all of those marks in the top five in the system among players with more than 50 July plate appearances. The Dominican Republic product added 10 stolen bases, which led the system by five and earned him the organization's minor league Basestealer of the Month honors, as well as nine doubles, a pair of home runs and 11 RBI. He also had nine multi-hit contests. Defensively, he flashed his versatility, playing first base, third base, shortstop, left field, and right field for the injury, Olympic, call-up depleted WooSox. While not on the 40-man roster, with the Boston offense scuffling, Muñoz is putting himself on the radar for a potential return to the majors with his play of late.

Van Belle has faced an aggressive assignment in his first taste of pro ball, and showed signs of really adjusting in July. Signed as an undrafted free agent after the 2020 Draft out of Miami (Fla.), he skipped both Rookie ball and Low-A, assigned directly to High-A Greenville for his professional debut. Working as a starter, the Florida native has pitched to a respectable 3.38 ERA and 1.26 WHIP on the year with 73 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings across his 15 starts. He has improved incrementally through his time in Greenville, but July was by far his best month in his short professional career.

Van Belle took the ball four times and did not allow a run through 22 innings, adding a microscopic 0.86 WHIP and .188 batting average against. He also added 24 strikeouts against just four walks. Van Belle's ERA led the system among those that pitched more than 20 innings, while his batting average against and WHIP were both second. His shutout streak ended in the fourth inning of his August 4 outing against Rome, finishing at 25 2/3 innings. In addition to taking home honors from SoxProspects, Van Belle was named the High-A East Pitcher of the Month, as well as Boston's internal minor league Starting Pitcher of the Month.

Speaking of those internal player development awards, which the club has typically quietly awarded internally through the years with occasional reporting by the club's beat writers, the Red Sox announced their internal awards via their new Player Development Twitter account. Also honored were Zach Bryant as Relief Pitcher of the Month, Eddinson Paulino as Hitter of the Month, Ceddanne Rafaela as Defensive Player of the Month, and Karson Simas as Baserunner of the Month.

While Van Belle ran away with the Pitcher honors here at SoxProspects, Paulino, Ryan Fitzgerald, Tyreque Reed and Blaze Jordan each were in competition as honorable mentions for the hitter's honors. Fitzgerald slashed .313/.376/.627 between Portland and Worcester, tying for second in the system with five home runs. Reed similarly earned a promotion, going from Greenville to Portland, and also had five big flies to go along with a line of .309/.426/.593. Jordan, ranked No. 14 in the system, and took advantage of his first professional month for the FCL team. He hit .344/.394/.625 with 11 extra-base hits and 18 RBI. He was promoted to Salem on August 3. Paulino hit .426/.518/.660 for a system-leading 1.177 OPS for the month, albeit in just 56 plate appearances at the complex. However, he generated some glowing scouting reports that should have him making a grand entrance onto the SoxProspects rankings when they are updated in the very near future.

Photo Credit: Yairo Munoz by Kelly O'Connor