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Red Sox minor league roundup: When Will Middlebrooks has a day off, it’s news; Kolbrin Vitek goes deep; and Henry Owens strikes everyone out

05.01.12 at 10:31 am ET
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Left-hander Henry Owens is one of the younger pitchers in the South Atlantic League. (Gregg Forwerck / Courtesy Team USA Baseball)

Kevin Youkilis was a late scratch for the second straight day due to a back issue that has relegated him to day-to-day status. Will Middlebrooks was out of the PawSox lineup on Monday. Immediately, many observers were happy to connect the dots.

But, Red Sox sources said, Middlebrooks was simply taking a scheduled day off. Still, that is the position that the Sox currently occupy. At a time when Middlebrooks is hitting .348 with a .396 OBP, .708 slugging mark, 1.104 OPS, nine homers and 27 RBI in 23 games, any time that Youkilis hits a speed bump (whether from a health standpoint or a slump), attention will turn immediately to whether or not Middlebrooks is being called up to the majors or not.

The Sox are unlikely to call him up if there is not a clear everyday role for him, but if Youkilis landed on the DL, then the Sox would likely summon Middlebrooks to the majors. While initial indications are that Youkilis’ back stiffness is more of a day-to-day concern than the basis for a DL consideration right now, Middlebrooks told WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan Show on Tuesday morning that he’s ready if called upon.

“Personally, I’d love to say yeah, I am [ready],” Middlebrooks said. “I came in here with a sense of urgency. I wanted to come in and show everybody that I’m a good player, and that it wasn’t just a freak year last year.”

To listen to the Middlebrooks interview on D&C, click here.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 6-4 WIN AT COLUMBUS (INDIANS)

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Pedro Ciriaco, now a week into his return from a minor oblique strain, went 3-for-5 with a double for his second extra-base hit of the year. He is now hitting .317/.364/.415/.778, and he certainly has an opportunity to play his way back into consideration as a depth option for the Red Sox.

Jose Iglesias went 2-for-4, with both of his hits coming on bunt singles to the pitcher.

– First baseman Mauro Gomez went 1-for-4 while smashing his eighth homer of the year, improving his slugging percentage to a robust .703.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 6-3 LOSS VS. TRENTON (YANKEES)

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– Third baseman Kolbrin Vitek went 2-for-4 while hitting his first homer in Double-A. The blast came in his 104th plate appearance with Portland. A year ago, however, the 2010 first-rounder did not homer at all in the first half of the season. Still, on the year, Vitek is now posting modest across-the-board numbers for the Sea Dogs, with a .268 average, .317 OBP, .351 slugging mark and .668 OPS.

Those marks seem unimpressive. But they’re virtually useless as a basis for judging the 23-year-old’s progress.

Players often tend to post modest numbers in Portland during the season’s first month, as the weather in Maine in April tends to be inhospitable to power numbers. That being the case, it would be premature to assess the development of Vitek or fellow 2010 first-rounder Bryce Brentz (.318 slugging) or even someone like shortstop Derrik Gibson, the 2008 second-rounder whose .209/.284/.239/.523 line belies the fact that he has been having what Sox officials feel are some of the best at-bats of his professional career.

A year ago, Ryan Lavarnway had a .216/.272/.365/.636 line in April in Portland; Chih-Hsien Chiang had a .225/.279/.325/.604 line. Lavarnway ended up hitting 31 homers after April. Chiang had 18 homers and a .694 slugging mark that was the highest in Double-A from May 1 until the Sox traded him on July 31.

– Left fielder Oscar Tejeda went 1-for-4 with a double, his seventh extra-base hit of the year. However, he struck out in his other three plate appearances, and in his last five games, Tejeda has struck out 10 times while going 5-for-22 with no walks.

– Right-hander Anthony Ranaudo could join Portland in the next few days. He made a two-inning appearance in extended spring training last week, striking out four, and is expected to make one more appearance of three to four innings in Fort Myers (depending on pitch count) this week before potentially joining the Sea Dogs rotation. Ranaudo is not fully stretched out, and so he might require a piggyback starter initially, but he is healthy, throwing well in extended spring training and both the pitcher and the Red Sox are eager for him to begin pitching against more advanced competition.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 8-3 LOSS AT WILMINGTON (ROYALS)

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– Left-hander Drake Britton, coming off his best start of 2012 (an effort in which he tossed five shutout innings while punching out seven), instead struggled to his worst line of the year. He lasted just two-plus innings, allowing two hits while walking six and striking out none. Three of the runs charged to Britton were inherited runners who came around to score against the Salem bullpen, but the bullpen was responsible for those runs only because Britton walked three straight batters to reach his pitch limit before recording an out in the third.

The walks represented a career high, and the outing was also the second of Britton’s pro career in which he did not strike out a single batter (the first having come earlier in April of this season).

– Outfielder Brandon Jacobs had his second straight multi-hit game, going 2-for-5 with a pair of doubles. It was the first game of 2012 in which Jacobs had multiple extra-base hits. After going 4-for-9 in his last two games, Jacobs is now hitting .262/.311/.381/.692 on the year.

– After going 1-for-3 with a double, walk and a hit by pitch, Sean Coyle has reached base six times in his last 10 plate appearances. While his numbers on the year are modest (.247/.316/.382/.698), the numbers of the right-handed hitter have somewhat unexpectedly been dragged down by struggles against southpaws to this point in the year (.158/.273/.158/.431). Against righties, he is now hitting .271/.329/.443/.772.

Matt Barnes was promoted to Salem after a dominant run in Greenville in which he had a 0.34 ERA, struck out 42 and walked just four in five starts. He’ll get his first start in Salem this week. The Sox were particularly pleased by the progress that the right-hander made in incorporating his changeup. Though his mid-90s fastball and swing-and-miss curveball mitigated the need for a third pitch, the Sox wanted Barnes to work on refining it so that it is a weapon at his disposal as he moves up the ladder. And in that vein, the way in which the right-hander — the team’s first-round pick in 2011 — incorporated it after his first two starts was impressive.

“The last couple outings, the usage has been good, particularly [Sunday]. The reports were he threw several very good ones,” said farm director Ben Crockett. “Once he got the changeup more involved, we felt comfortable with him going to the next level and having the arsenal to handle that effectively, not needing trial and error in a place where he hasn’t pitched yet. Maybe he doesn’t need the changeup in Salem, but if he does, I don’t want him to find that out in his first outing after not having thrown it.”

Crockett described Barnes’ change as a hard change with some sink that has elicited some swings and misses, but that projects as he moves up the ladder to be more of an early contact pitch that elicits mis-hits. More on Barnes here.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 7-0 WIN AT LAKEWOOD (PHILLIES)

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– Left-hander Henry Owens, the No. 36 overall pick of the 2011 draft, delivered his most complete outing of his professional career. He allowed just one hit in four shutout innings while striking out seven and walking three. And unlike other outings in which he faded after three innings, the 19-year-old finished strong, punching out the side in his fourth and final inning. For the year, he now has 36 strikeouts in 18 1/3 innings, and he has struck out at least seven batters in each of his five appearances. That said, opponents are hitting .286 against Owens and he has walked 14 batters while posting a 7.85 ERA, but clearly, the stuff is intriguing, given that he is sixth in the minors in strikeouts and leads all of professional baseball (min. 15 innings) in strikeouts per nine innings (17.7).

– Third baseman Garin Cecchini went 2-for-5 with a double and a steal. He is tied for fourth in the South Atlantic League in steals with 10, one of the more unexpected elements of his game to emerge since he was drafted, since he was coming off of surgery to repair a torn ACL at the time that the Sox took him. On the year, the left-handed hitter is now hitting .268/.341/.341/.682, with strong numbers against right-handers (.300/.364/.400/.764).

– Outfielder Keury De La Cruz continued a torrid stretch, going 2-for-4 and driving in three runs. He now leads Greenville in average (.321), slugging (.543), OPS (.932) and RBI (16) while also featuring a .389 OBP.

LINKS

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus offers a look at the unusual combination of tools presented by Salem center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr.

Dom Amore of the Hartford Courant has Greenville manager Carlos Febles suggesting that Barnes is on the fast track to Fenway.

Slightly belated link to a look by Tim Britton of the Providence Journal at Ryan Lavarnway as he acclimates to catching everyday for the first time in his career.

Daisuke Matsuzaka took care of his teammates in Portland, a tradition started unwittingly by Gary Sheffield, notes Larry Mahoney of the Bangor Daily News.

Andy Pettitte might find it hard to come by fresh lobster after the Yankees left-hander blew off the idea of a rehab outing in Portland. WLBZ2.com has a look at the up-in-arms (and tongue-in-cheek) reaction.

Read More: anthony ranaudo, brandon jacobs, drake britton, garin cecchini Print  |  Email  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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