Head of the Class: Triple-A

Red Sox hurler Beeks, Angels slugger Blash highlight first half

Jalen Beeks posted a 1.08 WHIP in 82 2/3 innings for Pawtucket in the first half. (Ken Inness/MiLB.com)

By Kelsie Heneghan / MiLB.com | July 10, 2018 10:30 AM

With full-season All-Star Games wrapping up this week, members of the MiLB.com staff look at some of the most notable performers from the first half and predict who could be poised to take off the rest of the way. After looking at the Class A, Class A Advanced and Double-A levels, we turn our attention here to the Triple-A International and Pacific Coast leagues.

Most exciting hitter

Angels OF Jabari Blash, Salt Lake: In his first season in a new system, Blash is fitting right in. After shuttling between El Paso and San Diego for the last two seasons, the outfielder switched PCL clubhouses and settled in with Salt Lake. Blash is among the Minor League leaders in home runs (23), slugging percentage (.766), extra-base hits (42) and OPS (1.204). The 29-year-old also hasn't hit below .318 all year as he entered the All-Star break with a .332 mark. Blash slugged four homers in three games in April, then one-upped himself with three jacks in one game in June. And if the season ended today, his 23 dingers would be his third-highest total in nine pro seasons. Not to mention Blash's average, on-base (.439) and slugging percentages are all career highs for the 2010 Draft pick. And all of this comes with a few trips to Anaheim sprinkled in. Sure, hitter-friendly Smith's Ballpark in Salt Lake City has played a role in Blash's killer power numbers. But there are plenty of good hitting parks in the PCL, and no one took advantage quite like Blash did in the first half.

Video: Blash goes deep three times for Salt Lake

Most exciting pitcher

Red Sox LHP Jalen Beeks, Pawtucket: Beeks made a big jump in the strikeout category last season, and now he's posting the lower ERA to go along with it. While his pitches grade at average, Boston's No. 15 prospect has taken advantage of his four-pitch mix to fool IL hitters. The crafty southpaw has held opponents to two earned runs or fewer in 10 of his 15 starts and has tallied seven quality starts. While already reaching triple digits in strikeouts (110) for the fourth straight season, Beeks is keeping his free passes down (23). And on June 7, the University of Arkansas product got his first call to The Show to fill in for Drew Pomeranz. Beeks fittingly began his Major League career with a strikeout, but that was the highlight of his start. If the 5-foot-11 hurler can continue to hone his fastball-cutter combination and put up filthy K numbers, it shouldn't be long until he's back at Fenway Park.

Best team

Memphis Redbirds: Glancing at the Cardinals' list of top prospects, one will see a lot of musical note-looking M's, and that's because all of the club's top nine prospects have played for the Redbirds this season, plus former top guys Jack Flaherty and Carson Kelly, who have since lost their prospect status. Led by Austin Gomber, Dakota Hudson and Daniel Poncedeleon, Memphis leads the PCL with a 3.41 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP. Tyler O'Neill and Patrick Wisdom have been among the league's top sluggers, while Andrew Knizner made a May/June promotion to Triple-A look easy in just his second full season. With manager Stubby Clapp remaining at the helm, last year's PCL champions look poised for a return to the Triple-A National Championship, notching a level-leading .622 winning percentage at the break.

Video: Adams picks up 10th strikeout for SWB

Second-half breakout

Yankees RHP Chance Adams, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: Last year's pitcher of the year in the Yankees system has hit a few hiccups this season. Adams was saddled with a 5.11 ERA in five April starts, then followed that up with a 6.98 mark in five May outings. But the 23-year-old has since begun to chip away as he goes into the break with a 4.82 ERA. As Adams polishes his slider and continues to improve his curveball, he's beginning to stop rallies. In four of his last six outings, the 6-foot-1 hurler has held foes to one earned run or fewer, something he wasn't doing a couple months ago. Adams has pitched into the sixth just twice in his last seven starts, though. If he can get quicker outs and throw strikes to work more efficient innings, there's no reason why Adams can't keep lowering that ERA in the second half.

Coming soon

Blue Jays 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr.: For the first two months of the season, it didn't look like anyone earned a promotion to Triple-A as much as Guerrero had. And while he's been on the disabled list for over a month, MLB.com's top overall prospect will still be a coming attraction in the Minors' highest level. Following a patellar tendon strain in his knee in early June, Guerrero is back in the cages and has begun running drills, so he's set to pick up where he left off in no time. As a reminder, the 19-year-old hit .407/.457/.667 with 11 homers, 55 RBIs, 20 walks and 21 strikeouts in 53 games with Double-A New Hampshire before the injury. His age and defensive hitches may have held him back previously, but if Guerrero hits the ground running when he returns from the DL, it won't be long before he is anchoring the Buffalo lineup.

Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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