2003 Minor League Preview: Winston-Salem Warthogs

Not many words can describe the Warthogs' '02 season, but awful comes to mind first. Devoid of any offensive talent, the Warthogs had to rely on their pitching, which was very solid. No top-tier prospect graced the team of the 'Hogs, but an abundance of solid and polished prospects reinforced their status.

Level: High-A - League: Carolina
Coach: Razor Shines - 2002 Record: 50-90

This year should be a different story. Inheriting such talents as Jeremy Reed, Kris Honel and a strong supporting cast, the Warthogs could be the most exciting team in the Sox organization. But before we dive into the 2003 campaign, let's see who is leaving Winstom-Salem for Birmingham and beyond.

Who's leaving?
Jim Bullard (LHP, SP) - 143 2/3 IP, 147 H, 46 BB, 89 SO, 3.32 ERA
Bullard might not have the stuff other Sox pitching prospect possess, but he makes up for it with above-average command and great knowledge of his pitches. Bullard is not afraid to come after the hitter and can throw just about every pitch in any count for a strike. Bullard was lucky enough to travel with the big league club for the Hall of Fame Game in Cooperstown, where he more than held his own. Bullard was called up to Double-A Birmingham for a short stint which consisted of three starts, all solid, but losses. Bullard has made his blip on the Sox Radar, and if he continues his 2002 success in Birmingham this year, he could just find himself on the South Side in September.

Josh Fields (RHP, RP) - 45 2/3 IP, 45 H, 19 BB, 50 SO, 2.96 ERA
Aaron Kirkland (RHP, RP) - 44 IP, 41 H, 23 BB, 34 SO, 3.68 ERA
Both Josh Fields and Aaron Kirkland showed why there is no such thing as too much good relief pitching. Kirkland was a great surprise in 2002, putting up astounding numbers in rookie ball. Kirkland started out with 62 strikeouts before he issued a single walk. The Sox wanted to see if Kirkland could handle the jump from Arizona to Winstom-Salem, and he did soundly. Kirkland's outpitch is a deceptive splitter, along with a sharp slider. Fields added another solid season under his belt and has yet to be noticed by scouts. Another good year in Birmingham would do just the trick.

Heath Phillips (LHP, SP) - 179 IP, 184 H, 50 BB, 112 SO, 3.52 ERA
The leaders of the Raelian Cult and Clonaid were dead wrong, the first human being cloned was Mark Buehrle, and Heath Phillips was the result. Phillips improved on his strong outing a year ago in Kannapolis by compiling a sub-3 ERA until his final starts of the season. Unfortunately, when Heath pitches, his offense proceeds to rot on the bench, giving him a combined 8-23 record. Don't let that fool you as Heath has amassed a solid mid-3 ERA over the past two seasons. Expect him, along with Jim Bullard and Neal Cotts to anchor the Birmingham rotation.

Frank Francisco (RHP, P) - Sarasota (BOS) 53 IP, 33 H, 27 BB, 58 SO, 2.55 ERA
Trenton (BOS) 16 IP, 10 H, 16 BB, 18 SO, 5.63 ERA
Winstom-Salem 25 2/3 IP, 31 H, 18 BB, 25 SO, 8.06 ERA

Obtained from the Red Sox in the Bobby Howry trade, in which the Sox also received Byeong An, Francisco did not live up to his potential as shown in Sarasota. Many minor league scouts are unsure that Francisco has three plus pitches to become a starter, but his fastball and curveball are so good that he might turn into a closer. Along with Fields, Kirkland and possibly Ring, Francisco could turn Birmingham's bullpen into its strong point.

Royce Ring (LHP, P) - 23 IP, 20 H, 11 BB, 22 SO, 3.91 ERA
"Rolls" Royce Ring is an intriguing story. Coming out of San Diego State, Royce was considered the best closer in the draft, and one of the most major league ready players at the time. After blowing away hitters with ease at Arizona, Ring was ushered to Winstom-Salem where he did a great job as the Warthogs' closer. One might think that Royce would be sent to Birmingham or even Charlotte, but the Sox organization might turn Royce into a starter. Royce has three solid, above-average pitches (fastball, curve, change), but I think moving him to starter would be a huge mistake. Let Royce stay as a closer and let him be. He could turn into a great closer or setup man if Billy Koch stays on the South Side. If Royce stays a closer, a September callup is definetly not out of the question. If Royce is converted to a starter, on the other hand, expect him to stay with the 'Hogs for one more year.

Edwin Yan (2B, Bats: S, Throws: R) - .253 BA, 124 H, 88 SB, .312 OBP, 42 BB, 57 SO
The unknown player in the Matt Guerrier for Damaso Marte trade, Edwin Yan has exploded onto the Sox radar because of his insane speed. Edwin set a Warthogs single season record with 88 stolen bases, while only being caught 19 times. Edwin has little power and reminds some of Luis Castillo with his speed, and stance at the plate. Edwin showed very good plate discipline, drawing 42 walks. If Edwin improves his stroke a bit and uses his speed to his advantage, he will rocket up the Sox prospect list. Keep an eye on Edwin, he could blossom into a leadoff hitter the Sox haven't had for a long time.

Guillermo Reyes (SS, Bats: R, Throws: R) - .279 BA, 127 H, 30 SB, .335 OBP, 35 BB, 71 SO
Billed as the Sox' shorstop of the future several years ago, Guillermo Reyes has been passed up at his position by Andy Gonzalez and the newly accquired Jorge Nunez. But don't think you won't be hearing a lot about Guillermo, because he still oozes potential. Signed out of the Dominican Republic at the age of 16, Guillermo was originally a second baseman before being moved to shortstop in 1999. The best asset Guillermo has is his fielding, which is very smooth, with above average range. Unfortunately, Guillermo committed 25 errors last year in Winston-Salem, something he must improve on in order to regain his status as the Sox' top shorstop prospect. Guillermo must also practice his plate discipline as shown by his 35 walks last year. Expect Guillermo to inherit the shortstop position in Birmingham this year.

Who's arriving?
A major influx of talent is on the way to Winstom-Salem, and I'm assuming manager Razor Shines couldn't be happier. Here are several high and mid-echelon prospects who will be donning the 'Hogs jersey this year:

Jeremy Reed (OF, Bats: L, Throws: L) - .319 BA, 67 H, 4 HR, 17 SB, .377 OBP, 11 BB, 24 SO
Jeremy Reed fulfilled the Sox's expectations and beyond as the second round draft pick of 2002 proceeded to punish South Atlantic League pitchers. Reed's hitting abilities sgould not be questioned as he was an Alaskan League MVP and led Team USA in batting average. Reed has above average speed, but is very smart on the basepaths. With his speed, Reed was moved into center field in Kannapolis, but projects better in a corner spot. If Reed is mvoed to a corner spot, he must improve his power numbers, which were somewhat lacking last year. As Reed is put into a strength program, expect his power numbers to gradually increase.

Kris Honel (RHP, SP) - 158 IP, 131 H, 55 BB, 160 SO, 2.79 ERA
Even though Honel is rated as the best Sox pitching prospect, he still didn't even come close to being ranked the #1 prospect in his own league (South Atlantic League). Honel was rated as the #7 prospect in the SAL, lodged behind such prospects as Gavin Floyd and John VanBenschoten. While it is understandable that Honel is placed behind Floyd and VanBenschoten, it puzzles me why he is not in the top five. A prime reason for this, in my mind, is because Honel was not throwing as hard as he did last year and in High School. Even though he lost several miles per hour on his pitches, Honel still made SAL hitters look like fools. Because Honel was drafted by his hometown team, his motivation should not be questioned. Expect Kris to start off in Winston-Salem, but eventually end up in Birmingham.

Ryan Wing (LHP, SP) - 124 IP, 111 H, 60 BB, 109 SO, 3.78 ERA
Wing is yet another left-handed starter who you should soon be hearing noise about. There is a slight difference between Wing and the other lefties in the system; his stuff is flat out filthy. Wing brings a low-to-mid-90's fastball, slider and changeup to the table, and his mound presence is probably the best in the system. Wing is not afraid of hitters, and does not take too kindly to hitters leaning over the plate, as he reguarly blows them back with chin music. The only negative aspect of Wing is that his control can be somewhat erratic. If Wing can cut down on his walks, but still throw the same stuff, look out. A 1-2 punch of Honel and Wing should make manager Razor Shines very, very happy.

Ryan Meaux (LHP, RP) - 81 1/3 IP, 79 H, 12 BB, 70 SO, 2.16 ERA (Cumulative totals)
After being traded, along with righy Felix Diaz, for Kenny Lofton, Meaux proceeded to keep his great season going, compiling a 1.35 ERA in Kannapolis. Meaux is not your typical closer, possessing a variety of pitches but not throwing overly hard. After compiling a solid 29 saves last year for Hagerstown (San Fransisco A-ball affiliate) and Kannapolis, I was quite surprised to see that Meaux is not being recognized as a mid-tier prospect. Another 29 saves and a low 2 ERA should do just the trick for Meaux in getting himself recognized. If Royce Ring is promoted to Double-A Birmingham, expect either Meaux or Jason Stumm to be the closer for the 'Hogs.

Other inbound players to watch:
Mike Spidale (OF) - 37 SB, blazing speed, good hitter but little power.
Scott McKee (1B) - Solid season last year. Must improve power numbers and OBP.
Chris Amador (2B) - 56 SB, faster than Spidale, but horrible plate discipline and a shoddy bat.
Carlos Lee (LF) - Brother of our own Carlos Lee.

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