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Red Sox minor league roundup: A new season — and a search for the next Mookie Betts — begins

04.04.14 at 10:09 am ET
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Mookie Betts (John Corneau/Lowell Spinners)

Mookie Betts (John Corneau/Lowell Spinners)

A year ago, the idea of Mookie Betts going 4-for-4 with a homer would have bordered on inconceivable. The second baseman had never hit a home run in his previous professional season in Lowell; for that matter, he’d never hit one in high school. He looked like he might be able to deliver the offense — hitting for some average, drawing some walks — of a solid big league utility option.

And then 2013 happened, with Betts emerging as one of the top prospects in the Red Sox system. He vaulted from a ranking as Baseball America’s No. 31 Sox prospect after the 2012 to its No. 7 prospect after the 2013 season on the strength of a dynamic year in which he hit .314 with a .417 OBP, .506 slugging mark, 15 homers and 38 steals (in 42 attempts) — one of the most impactful all-around seasons of anyone in the minors. And so, when the 21-year-old Betts went 4-for-4 while leading off the game with a homer in his debut for Double-A Portland, the performance on Thursday came as validation rather than a shock. Such has been the nature of his prospect ascent.

It is unlikely that anyone in the Red Sox system in 2014 will experience as dramatic a rise as Betts experienced a year ago. Players almost never go in one year from looking like a potential utility player to having the look of a potential big league All-Star. Nonetheless, one of the fascinations of the beginning of every year is the sense of possibility with prospects, the idea that tools and/or performance may come together for various players in a fashion that launches them into a different prospect stratosphere.

So who are some Red Sox minor league candidates to make a considerable jump in prospect status in 2014? Based on both observations on the back fields during spring training in Fort Myers and conversations with numerous evaluators, here are some candidates, listed in approximate order of consensus regarding their breakout candidacy:

POSITION PLAYERS Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: allen webstetr, brian johnson, cody kukuk, deven marrero

Red Sox top pitching prospect Henry Owens unhittable … again

04.03.14 at 11:35 pm ET
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Left-hander Henry Owens  (WEEI.com)

Left-hander Henry Owens (WEEI.com)

Left-hander Henry Owens tossed six no-hit innings for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, a continuation of the form that characterized his dominant 2013 season that earned him the title of Most Unhittable Left-hander in the Minors (in this offseason Minor Details podcast with Jim Callis of MLB.com).

Owens, pitching against the Reading Fightin Phils, punched out nine, walked two and recorded four outs via groundball in his rain-shortened, complete-game no-hitter. He threw 86 pitches, with 69 percent of those finding the strike zone, with 19 of those offerings (12 fastballs, seven changeups) resulting in swings and misses. According to Sea Dogs play-by-play man Mike Antonellis, Owens’ fastball registered at 90-92 mph on the scoreboard.

The fact that Owens didn’t allow a hit was something less than shocking. After all, the 21-year-old had three starts in 2013 — two in High-A Salem and one after his August promotion to Double-A — in which he didn’t give up a hit. Indeed, Owens reeled off a 19 1/3 inning no-hit streak while holding opponents to a paltry .177 batting average against, the lowest among all qualifying minor leaguers.

The left-hander — who was a non-roster invitee to big league spring training, where he went 0-2 with an 8.31 ERA in two outings spanning 4 1/3 innings — is the consensus top pitching prospect in the Red Sox system coming off a year in which he finished second in the minors with 169 strikeouts. Thursday’s outing will do nothing to diminish that status.

Portland beat Reading, 5-0, in the rain-shortened affair, with second baseman Mookie Betts making his Double-A debut by going 4-for-4 with a homer. More on the opening day for the Red Sox minor league system will be found in Friday morning’s minor league roundup.

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Closing Time: Youth, bullpen carry Red Sox to series win over Orioles

04.03.14 at 10:04 pm ET
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Xander Bogaerts had his first career three-hit game on Thursday. (AP)

Xander Bogaerts had his first career three-hit game on Thursday. (AP)

Internally, as strongly as the Red Sox feel about the futures of Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks and Jackie Bradley Jr., there was at least some discomfort with the idea of committing to all three of them at the same time given the absence of a collective big league track record. Inexperienced big leaguers are subject to greater unpredictability, and so having a third of the lineup consist of question marks — albeit very, very talented ones — was an idea that elicited some discomfort.

But, of course, all three players harbor considerable upside, a notion that was reinforced on Thursday in a 4-3 victory over the Orioles fueled largely by that young trio. Bogaerts went 3-for-4 while scoring two runs and delivering his first career three-hit game in the big leagues; he’s now hitting .556 to start the season. He also made a strong play on a ball in the hole in the bottom of the eighth, delivering a forceout at second at a time when the Sox were clinging to a late-inning one-run lead. Middlebrooks went 2-for-4 with a double and scored a run. Bradley — in the big leagues because of Shane Victorino‘s stint on the DL — scored the other Sox run on a night when he likewise went 2-for-4 and delivered an RBI.

The game was the first since Aug. 2, 2009, in which the Sox had three players age 25 or younger collecting multiple hits. It was a reminder that, while that trio may not have cemented its collective place in the Sox order, there may be a team soon when all three of them are indeed a part of the everyday shape of the team, and capable of contributing to a winning culture.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX Read the rest of this entry »

Red Sox announce home opener schedule with festivities to start at 1 p.m.

04.03.14 at 3:28 pm ET
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The Red Sox announced their schedule for their home opener at Fenway Park on Friday, which will include the presentation of World Series rings. Festivities are scheduled to start at 1 p.m., with first pitch slated for 2:05 p.m. Here is the team’s press release:

The Red Sox open their 114th home season this Friday, April 4, with Opening Day festivities set to begin at 1 p.m.  The Red Sox play the National League‘€™s Milwaukee Brewers at 2:05 p.m.

The pre-game ceremonies will include the presentation of the World Series rings, presented by Samsung, the performance of the national anthem, a helicopter fly-over, the Ceremonial First Pitch, and the call to ‘€œPlay Ball.’€

The ceremonies will include a moment of silence in tribute to Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh and Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy, who perished last week when a 9-alarm fire raged through a Back Bay home a mile and a half from Fenway Park.  The firefighters were from the station on Boylston Street that also protects the ballpark.

The singing of God Bless America in the middle of the 7th inning will be performed by the Boston Fire Department Quartet.

The Dropkick Murphys, along with Keith Lockhart conducting members of the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, will perform during the ceremonies. Members of the Hanscom Airforce Base military will line the length of the Green Monster wall as the American flag drops for the anthem.

To maintain the Opening Day tradition of a fly-over at Fenway Park, the United States Coast Guard will fly a single MH-60T helicopter, representing all of our armed forces, at the conclusion of the national anthem.

In honor of the 2013 championship, players will wear special gold-trimmed Red Sox jerseys with gold stitching around the World Series Championship patch on the left sleeve, and around the letters and numbers on the front and back of the jersey.

Fenway Park gates will open at 11:35 a.m., 2 ½ hours before the first pitch.  For the rest of the regular season, gates will open 1 ½ hours before the game, except for Season Ticket Holders and Red Sox Nation members, who may enter at Gate C 2 ½ hours before each game.

As always, and especially on midweek day games, the Red Sox urge fans to take the T.  In addition to the familiar Green Line stops at Kenmore Square, the MBTA has also built a new Yawkey station for its Commuter Rail service.

The refurbished station, located just 511 feet from the doorstep of Fenway Park, now has as many as 40 scheduled stops per day, up from only 17 flag stops previously.  Yawkey Station is part of the Commuter Rail’€™s Framingham/Worcester line, which runs from Worcester to South Station. The last outbound train from Yawkey Station departs at 11:36 p.m. on weekdays and 11:10 p.m. on weekends. Departure times for the last train leaving Yawkey Station are subject to change based on the length of the game.

Red Sox lineup: Jonny Gomes leads off, Grady Sizemore sits

04.03.14 at 3:16 pm ET
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Jonny Gomes

Jonny Gomes

With the Red Sox facing their first left-handed starter of the year in Orioles southpaw Wei-Yin Chen, Jonny Gomes will lead off in a game for just the third time in his career and the first time since August 26, 2007. Grady Sizemore, who played the first two games of the season, will get a day off with the Brewers set to throw three straight right-handed pitchers at the Red Sox during the weekend series in Boston and the Sox having committed to not starting Sizemore in more than three games in a row.Chen has enjoyed more success against lefties (.228/.286/.398) than righties (.270/.320/.442) in his two big league seasons, helping to explain not only the off-day for Sizemore and Gomes’ place in the leadoff spot but also the presence of Xander Bogaerts in the fifth spot in the lineup, the highest he’s hit in a big league game. Will Middlebrooks will bat seventh, while Jackie Bradley Jr. — getting his first start of the year — will play center field in Sizemore’s absence and bat ninth. David Ross will be behind the plate for left-hander Felix Doubront. Ross will be hard-pressed to follow this performance.

Dustin Pedroia has destroyed Chen in 21 career plate appearances, posting a .579/.619/.895 line against him. Doubront, meanwhile, has an excellent track record against Orioles center fielder Adam Jones (.118/.167/.118) but has struggled against both Chris Davis (.400/.471/.667) and Nelson Cruz (.500/.625/.667).

For complete batter vs. pitcher matchups, click here. For comprehensive Red Sox coverage visit weei.com/redsox.

RED SOX LINEUP Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: felix doubront, Jonny Gomes, Wei-Yin Chen, xander bogaerts

Versatile David Ross stars in ‘Major League’ 25th anniversary tribute

04.03.14 at 1:16 pm ET
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Red Sox catcher David Ross is a man of many skills. In addition to being a reliable backstops, Ross can do impersonations and act, as he shows in this one-man tribute to the iconic movie “Major League,” which hit theaters 25 years ago.

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Thursday’s Red Sox-Orioles matchups: Felix Doubront vs. Wei-Yin Chen

04.03.14 at 11:33 am ET
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The Red Sox will look to clinch the rubber game of their first series of the season Thursday night as the team sends Felix Doubront to the mound against Orioles southpaw Wei-Yin Chen in Baltimore.

Doubront, who is heading into his fifth season in a Red Sox uniform, comes into the start after a challenging spring. The 26-year-old lefty was touched up for seven and eight runs by the Yankees and Rays, respectively, in back-to-back starts. Doubront finished out March, however, with five scoreless innings against the Twins, giving him a 1-2 record with a 7.11 ERA and an 1.95 WHIP for the month.

Despite the difficult spring, Doubront is gearing up for a breakout season after one of the best years of his career in 2013. Doubront picked up his second consecutive 11-win season last year and managed a 4.32 ERA — the best of his time as a consistent starter. After a bumpy month of May when his ERA and WHIP escalated to 6.23 and 1.88, Doubront became one of the most reliable pitchers in Boston’€™s rotation as he went 4-3 with a sub-3.00 ERA in 11 starts during June and July.

“This is a big year for me,” Doubront said, (via MLB.com). “I know that, and I went into the offseason thinking that I have to be strong mentally and physically and try to be healthy the whole year. You never know what’€™s going to happen, but you have to be prepared.”

Doubront last faced off against the Orioles on Sept. 29, 2013, when he came in to relieve Allen Webster in what was ultimately a 7-6 Sox loss. The southpaw struggled severely in the stint, as he gave up five earned runs on five hits in 1 1/3 innings. Overall, Doubront has a 1-2 record with a 4.54 ERA in nine appearances against the Orioles.

Chen, who is starting his third season with Baltimore, will head into Thursday’€™s tilt after struggling in his final outing of spring training. The 28-year-old gave up six runs on 10 hits, including two home runs, during 3 2/3 innings on the mound against the Rays on March 19, capping off a spring in which he went 1-1 with a 6.39 ERA and 1.66 WHIP.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: felix doubront, Wei-Yin Chen,
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