By: Matthew Kardos
The biggest story right now in the Eastern League and around all of baseball is the incredible start that Yankees prospect Peter O'Brien has gotten off to in Trenton. The 23-year old slugger has already mashed nine homers in just 18 Double-A games and has entrenched himself as the overall HR leader in all of the MiLB with 19. O'Brien is slugging .669 between Tampa and Trenton and has a robust OPS figure of .982. Thunder Manager Tony Franklin admits that he has never had a player arrive at this level and immediately hit for power the way that O'Brien has.
Portland Sea Dogs second baseman Mookie Betts was the Eastern League Player of the Month in April and could very well win the award again in May. The 21-year old speedster is hitting a league-best .363 overall with six homers and 30 RBI. The key element to the game of Betts is his incredible speed on the bases; he has already swiped 22 of 25 bases which is also an EL high. After stealing 38 bases in 2013, Betts appears poised to shatter that mark perhaps as soon as next month if he maintains his current pace. He should be viewed as the early favorite for league MVP as May draws to an end.
Performances from prospects like Betts are a huge reason why Portland currently holds a four game lead over Reading in the Eastern Division and the best record in the league at 34-18. In addition to the torrid start of Betts, the Sea Dogs have had arguably the two best starting pitchers in the EL over the first two months of the season. Right-hander Keith Couch is the leagues only six game winner (6-0) and has posted a stellar 2.22 ERA in nine starts. In the month of May alone, Couch has started four games and has surrendered just six earned runs. The Red Sox reigning Minor League Pitcher of the Year Henry Owens is proving why he is labeled as one of the premiere pitching prospects in all of baseball. The flame throwing southpaw has gone 5-3 with a 2.83 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 57 innings. After posting a 3.33 ERA in April, Owens is the favorite to the EL Pitcher of the Month for May with a 1.88 ERA in five starts with a .133 batting average against. Couch and Owens have combined to give up just 12 earned runs in nine May starts.
Portland also received a huge boost this season from slugging first baseman Travis Shaw, who was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket on Monday. The lefty hit .305 with 11 homers and drove in 37 runs in 47 games for Portland after spending all of the 2013 campaign with the Sea Dogs.
The rebranded Rubber Ducks of Akron surprisingly find themselves atop the Western Division with a 32-20 record. The Ducks have been poised by the best shortstop prospect in all of baseball in Francisco Lindor. In his first full-season of Double-A ball, the phenom has stroked four homers and driven in a team best 30 runs. Aside from Lindor, Akron doesn't have a huge presence of "big-time" prospects, but the team has used speed, defense and a lights-out bullpen to rise to the top of the West. Akron has three players who have stolen double-digit bases in Tyler Holt (11), Lindor (11) and Tyler Naquin (10). Shawn Armstrong has already posted seven saves and has a 1.69 ERA in 18 games for Akron while fanning 27 in 21 innings. The versatile pen of the Rubberducks has two other pitchers who have at least five saves under their belt in Kyle Crockett(0.57 ERA in 15 games), had six saves before being promoted to Triple-A Columbus on Sunday, and Tyler Sturdevant, who has five saves and has pitched 15 scoreless innings in the month of May. Akron has the most road wins in the EL with 18.
If there wasn't so much attention surrounding all of the things that Mookie Betts has done, more attention would be focused on Bowie first baseman, Christian Walker. The University of South Carolina product is tied with Michael Taylor of Harrisburg for the league lead in homers with 14. Walker sits atop the league with 45 RBI and is third in the league with a .581 slugging mark. After hitting .300 between three different levels in 2013, the Orioles prospect has really emerged in his first full season at Double-A. Walker has blasted nine homers and driven in 26 runs in May.
Here is a look at the current Eastern League standings as of 5/29/2014:
Eastern League Eastern
Portland Sea Dogs (BOS) 34-18
Reading Fightin Phils 29-21
Binghamton Mets 29-22
Trenton Thunder 29-24
New Britain Rock Cats 22-28
New Hampshire Fisher Cats 18-34
Eastern League Western
Akron RubberDucks 32-20
Bowie Baysox 29-23
Richmond Flying Squirrels 25-24
Erie SeaWolves 22-29
Altoona Curve 20-31
Harrisburg Senators 18-33