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Red Sox Minor League Roundup: Mickey Pena’s perfect day, Jackie Bradley’s perfect month

05.09.12 at 12:03 pm ET
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In both 2009 and 2010, Mickey Pena was drafted but did not sign. The left-hander turned down the Nationals when he was selected in the fifth round coming out of high school, and again could not find middle ground with the Padres when they selected him in the 13th round out of San Jacinto Junior College in 2010.

Both the decision to turn down offers to sign and the fact that he was kicked out of the Cape League in 2010 (reportedly due to issues with his host family) led to questions about the young pitcher’s makeup off the field. But the Sox (led by former area scout Matt Dorey) did their homework on the pitcher, met with his family and got the sense that with the right structure in a professional environment, any off-the-field makeup concerns could be muted.

Meanwhile, on the field, the team loved his makeup. Pena is somewhat slight — he’s listed at 6-foot-2, 175 pounds — and perhaps does not feature the prototypical pitcher’s build, something that no doubt impacted his draft stock, but what he showed on the mound suggested a pitcher with obvious promise. Regional cross-checker Tom Allison felt particularly strongly about the left-hander based on his three glimpses of him at San Jac, offering steady, constant reminders in the draft room that the Sox should remain mindful of the possibility of taking the pitcher.

Allison and Dorey saw a pitcher who was fearless in throwing strikes with four pitches (an 89-92 mph fastball, slider, curve and change), had a smooth delivery with easy arm action and a feel for pitching as advanced than perhaps any other pitcher whom the Sox took out of college last year. In short, his on-field mound presence, arsenal and left-handedness made it easy to project Pena as a big leaguer so long as off-field issues (and, as is the caveat for all pitchers, health) did not get in the way. As a sixth-rounder who was willing to sign for a fraction ($85,000) of what he’d been offered the previous two times he’d been drafted, he represented a potentially excellent value.

And the fact that Pena was willing to sign for $85,000 in order to begin his pro career also counted as a plus in terms of his makeup. It showed evident determination to become a professional pitcher and to do everything he could to advance his career.

‘€œI signed so quick just to get out here and start playing pro ball and start working my way up,’€ Pena explained last summer. ‘€œI’€™ve felt that I’€™ve been ready since I got out of high school. I think my senior year and then my freshman year in college has been a major setback for me. I don’€™t know where I could have been by now. It was definitely one of the reasons why I came out early.’€

The left-hander had a strong performance in Lowell last year, recording a 2.35 ERA while striking out 22 and walking just three in 15 1/3 innings. This year, he has taken it up a notch, with a 1.72 ERA and 29 strikeouts against three walks with Single-A Greenville.

On Tuesday, Pena enjoyed a remarkable performance. He retired all 18 batters he faced, setting in motion the first no-hitter (a combined effort with Hunter Cervenka and Tyler Lockwood) in Greenville Drive franchise history. The 21-year-old struck out seven, walked none and got seven groundball outs.

“Everything was working for me, to be honest — my fastball, changeup, slider (and) curve,” he told the Greenville News.

To date, he’s been extremely consistent, allowing one or no earned runs in five of his six starts. He is living up to the reports that suggested that he projects as a big leaguer.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 3-1 LOSS VS. ROCHESTER

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– For the second straight start, Ross Ohlendorf struggled with his command. The right-hander, who had walked one batter in each of his first four starts, issued three free passes for the second straight outing, and threw just 48 of 89 pitches (54 percent) for strikes while allowing three runs on five hits (including a homer) and three walks in five-plus innings while taking the loss. He struck out two. On the season, the 29-year-old is now 3-3 with a 4.55 ERA, 20 strikeouts and 10 walks in 31 2/3 innings.

Jose Iglesias received a day off, though it is worth noting that if the injury to Will Middlebrooks is a concern for the Red Sox, they could make a move to call up the shortstop (just as they did initially when Kevin Youkilis was sidelined with his back stiffness) to protect their infield depth. Iglesias is the only player in the Red Sox minor league system on the 40-man roster who can play either short or third.

– It is an interesting commentary on Ryan Lavarnway‘s defense that, in his 24th game behind the plate on Tuesday, he finally committed his first error. It is an even more interesting commentary that the error in question was catcher’s interference.

That speaks to the uncanny accuracy of Lavarnway’s throws. Typically, a backstop can anticipate at least a handful of balls thrown away on stolen base attempts per season. A year ago, for instance, Jarrod Saltalamacchia committed six errors (he has three this year) and Jason Varitek had four. But Lavarnway doesn’t throw the ball away, as he has no throwing errors this year, and he committed just two errors in 62 games a year ago. He’s also throwing out 31 percent of runners on stolen base attempts (8-of-26), almost in line with his career average of 32 percent.

– On the Rochester side, it merits mention that Deolis Guerra tossed 2 1/3 shutout innings. Guerra was the key prospect whom the Twins acquired in the Johan Santana trade after the 2007 season, at a time when Minnesota chose to trade the left-hander to the Mets rather than the Red Sox. The Twins could have gotten a package that had far more major league impact had they dealt with the Sox (who, at various times, were discussing players such as Jon Lester, Justin Masterson and Jed Lowrie in their offers). Guerra is the only player left in Minnesota from the four-player package whom the Twins got from the Mets. Though now in the bullpen, it is worth noting that the hulking right-hander is now dealing in Triple-A. He’s tossed nine scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts and a walk in Triple-A, after a promotion from Double-A, where he allowed one run in 12 2/3 innings while punching out 15 and walking one. So, for the year, he has a 0.42 ERA, 25 strikeouts and two walks in 21 2/3 innings, along with a .149 batting average against. All the same, that’s likely little consolation for a Twins team that had a chance to impact its organization for years when dealing Santana, and instead has no better than one potential back-end bullpen arm to show for it.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: RAIN OUT

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 6-0 LEAD (SUSPENDED AFTER 4 INNINGS) VS. POTOMAC (NATIONALS)

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Jackie Bradley Jr. did not homer in his first 21 games of the season. And really, that wasn’t a big concern for the Red Sox or for Bradley, given that he has a mature plate approach in which he lets the ball get deep and makes solid, all-fields, line-drive contact. The Sox saw the ability to drive the ball on occasion, but the ability to clear the fences is far from a defining element in terms of what he does in the batter’s box.

“Certainly, in spring training you saw the ability to turn on the fastball middle-in when he gets it in the right counts,” farm director Ben Crockett recently noted. “But primarily, he’€™s a gap-to-gap hitter who has the ability to put his barrel on a lot of different pitches.”

That said, Tuesday represented an interesting milestone of sorts for Bradley, since he drilled an opposite-field homer to left. After he did not homer in those first 21 contests, he now has three homers (plus a double) in his last six games. In three plate appearances before Salem’s game was suspended (it will be completed this morning), Bradley was 1-for-2 with that homer and a walk.

He’s leading all of the minors (and, in fact, all of pro baseball) with a .492 OBP. His .368 average is second in the Carolina League. His .538 slugging mark is fifth. His 1.026 OPS is second.

In spring training, there was some debate on the part of the Red Sox as to whether to assign Bradley to Single-A Greenville or to High-A Salem, the feeling being that there is merit to any player — even one with experience against top college competition like Bradley, who played on back-to-back NCAA championship teams at the University of South Carolina — starting at a lower level while getting his foothold in pro ball. For Bradley, who either would have been playing in Greenville — close to the college where he was something of an icon — or in Salem, Va. — the state where he was born and raised — it didn’t matter.

“I didn’€™t really look at it as where am I going to start,” said Bradley. “Wherever I was going to start, I didn’€™t want to be there for long.”

Now, that might prove to be the case even though he opened the year in Salem. It hasn’t happened for a while in the Red Sox system, but advanced college players often move up to Double-A (if not higher) in their first full pro seasons. Jacoby Ellsbury spent half a year in High-A before graduating to Portland in 2006. Dustin Pedroia actually opened his first full pro year in Double-A before advancing to Triple-A by the end of the year.

Bradley is showing all of the signs that he, likewise, will be a player whose performance could dictate a promotion sooner rather than later.

– Before the game was suspended, starter Miguel Celestino was enjoying a dominant outing. In four shutout innings, he allowed just one hit (a double) while striking out two and getting eight groundball outs. Celestino is a big, hard-throwing right-hander who works down in the zone with a powerful fastball that regularly touches the mid-90s. He doesn’t get a ton of strikeouts (5.6 per nine innings this year), but he’s been stingy with his walks totals (2.2 per nine innings) and home runs allowed (1 in 29 innings), key traits for someone who pitches to contact. He’s big (6-foot-6) and durable (he led Sox minor leaguers with 140 2/3 innings), with both a performance track record and stuff to suggest a high likelihood of a future in the big leagues.

Sean Coyle had an inside-the-park homer. He’s now 11-for-35 (.314) in his last nine games.

Michael Almanzar was 2-for-2 with two doubles. In 86 at-bats, he has nearly matched his home run (2) and doubles (7) totals from a year ago in Salem, when he had two homers and eight doubles in 220 at-bats before a demotion to Greenville.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 1-0 WIN VS. ROME (BRAVES)

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Hunter Cervenka struck out five batters in two innings of hitless work behind Pena. Though the left-hander allowed Rome’s only baserunner of the day, issuing a leadoff walk in the eighth, he struck out the side in the seventh and, after a sacrifice bunt put a runner on second with one out in the eighth, punched out the next two batters to keep the no-hitter intact. All five of Cervenka’s strikeouts were of the swinging variety. Though Cervenka has an 8.59 ERA this year, he has 23 strikeouts (along with 12 walks) in 14 2/3 innings, suggesting interesting stuff if the 22-year-old can ever hone his control.

Tyler Lockwood struck out two in a perfect ninth inning to complete the no-hitter and earn the save, his second of the year.

Keury De La Cruz had yet another big game, going 2-for-4 with a homer (5) and a double. The 20-year-old now ranks seventh in the South Atlantic League in average (.351), fifth in slugging (.595) and sixth in OPS (.995) while featuring a .400 OBP.

Read More: jackie bradley jr., Johan Santana, keury de la cruz, mickey pena
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