Many minor league teams will play their 30th game of the season this weekend, accounting for roughly 20 percent of their schedules. With that in mind, let's take a look at the best and worst teams in the minors, pausing to highlight the No. 1 club—and also the No. 120 outfit.
|BEST FULL-SEASON TEAMS
|3||Salem Red Sox||18||7||.720||Carolina||HiA||Red Sox||25|
|4||Daytona Cubs||20||8||.714||Florida State||HiA||Cubs||28|
|5||Hickory Crawdads||18||8||.692||South Atlantic||LoA||Rangers||26|
|6||Clearwater Threshers||19||9||.679||Florida State||HiA||Phillies||28|
|St. Lucie Mets||19||9||.679||Florida State||HiA||Mets||28|
|8||Cedar Rapids Kernels||18||9||.667||Midwest||LoA||Angels||27|
|Hagerstown Suns||18||9||.667||South Atlantic||LoA||Nationals||27|
|10||Rancho Cucamonga Quakes||18||10||.643||California||HiA||Dodgers||28|
Prior to losing 10-3 to Lehigh Valley yesterday, Columbus had won an incredible 13 straight games. Defending International League and Triple-A champions, Columbus leads the IL in runs scored (169 or 6.26 per game), average (.289), on-base (.384), slugging (.451) and walks (133).
Top offensive honors go to 26-year-old corner outfielder/first baseman Chad Huffman, who has slugged five homers and driven home 20 as part of a .283/.402/.511 batting line. Shortstop/utilityman Luis Valbuena has made the most of his fourth season in Triple-A by batting .298/.344/.524 with four home runs. The Indians have moved him around the diamond—second, third, left field in addition to short—in an effort to make the 25-year-old more attractive in 2012 when he'll be out of options.
Hard-hitting second baseman Jason Kipnis continues his rapid ascent from the 2009 draft to Cleveland in batting .275/.385/.462 with 17 walks and 23 strikeouts. The 24-year-old ranked as the system's No. 3 prospect entering the year, while third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall claimed the top spot. The 22-year-old Chisenhall has gotten off to a fine start himself with 11 extra-base hits in 22 games and a .278/.383/.423 batting line. Clippers fans hope that Kipnis and Chisenhall will see the club through the IL playoffs, but the bad news is that second and third base are the most unsettled positions in Cleveland, with Orlando Cabrera and Jack Hannahan keep the spots warm.
Righthanders Zach McAllister (5-0, 3.09, 4.3 K-BB ratio) and Corey Kluber (0-3, 7.43, 1.74 WHIP) and lefty David Huff (3-0, 3.19, 1.10 WHIP) form the backbone of the Clippers rotation now that Alex White has been promoted to the big leagues. The 22-year-old White sparkled in four starts for Columbus, going 1-0, 1.90 with 28 strikeouts and five walks in 23 2/3 innings.
|WORST FULL-SEASON TEAMS
|1||Rome Braves||7||20||.259||South Atlantic||LoA||Braves||27|
|4||Charlotte Stone Crabs||9||19||.321||Florida State||HiA||Rays||28|
|Kane County Cougars||9||19||.321||Midwest||LoA||Royals||28|
|Tampa Yankees||9||19||.321||Florida State||HiA||Yankees||28|
|8||Augusta GreenJackets||9||18||.333||South Atlantic||LoA||Giants||27|
|Winston-Salem Dash||9||18||.333||Carolina||HiA||White Sox||27|
|10||Nashville Sounds||9||17||.346||Pacific Coast||AAA||Brewers||26|
|South Bend Silver Hawks||9||17||.346||Midwest||LoA||D-backs||26|
|West Michigan Whitecaps||9||17||.346||Midwest||LoA||Tigers||26|
Rome ranks third in the South Atlantic League with 32 steals, but last in OPS (.639) and next to last in runs per game (3.74) and walks (62). The Braves have managed just nine home runs as a team, which also ranks last. Four of those homers come courtesy of 22-year-old first baseman Barrett Kleinknecht.
The 35th overall pick last year, Matt Lipka, a shortstop/second baseman, has 10 steals in 14 attempts but otherwise is batting an uninspiring .257/.322/.257 with zero extra-base hits in 105 at-bats. Teenage catcher Christian Bethancourt carries a .198/.219/.308 batting line (91 at-bats) into action tonight, but at least he's nabbed 39 percent of basestealers. On the plus side, third baseman Edward Salcedo appears to have found his stroke (.286/.375/.408, five doubles) after a disappointing U.S. debut a year ago. Twenty-one-year-old left fielder Robby Hefflinger has batted .323/.375/.419, but that's only through 31 at-bats.
The Braves' pitching staff rates closer to the middle of the SAL pack with its 4.44 ERA, 1.42 WHIP and rate of 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings. Still, they're below-average. Promising 19-year-old lefty Carlos Perez (2-3, 5.06) has had his shining moments, and you have to like a young pitcher with his stuff and rate of 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings. Things haven't gone so well for 2010 fourth-round righthander Dave Filak, who sports the dreaded sub-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio at 13-to-16.
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