|Red Sox Minor League Roundup: Drake Britton and the renewal of a pitching pipeline; silver lining in Daniel Bard’s struggles||07.02.12 at 10:46 am ET|
Drake Britton turned in an outstanding outing. While he was charged with two runs in 5 2/3 innings, he left the contest with his team ahead, 1-0, before the two runners he entrusted to his bullpen came around to score. The left-hander allowed three hits — two singles and a double — while walking three and striking out six, throwing 57 of his 94 pitches for strikes.
In six starts since his promotion from High-A Salem to Double-A Portland, Britton has a 4.11 ERA, 24 strikeouts and 16 walks in 30 2/3 innings. In four of his six outings, he’s permitted two or fewer runs.
The 23-year-old’s performance to date this year is one of the most significant developments of the season to date in the Red Sox minor league system. Britton went from the No. 3 overall prospect in the Red Sox system entering the 2011 season to the No. 16 prospect after enduring a 1-13 record and 6.91 ERA a year ago. Now, he once again looks like one of the top pitching prospects in the system, a hard-throwing left-hander with a powerful build and the ability to work with a mid-90s fastball, a changeup, slider and curve.
The Red Sox want to become an organization of homegrown pitching. The team has seen first-hand the impact on its roster of having pitchers such as Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront emerge as rotation members. The team has also seen the risks involved in big-ticket starting pitchers such as John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
That being the case, the Sox need as many viable rotation candidates as they possibly can amass, and Britton has been part of a promising showing thus far this year. Matt Barnes has been the headliner among Red Sox starting pitching prospects, but few lefties have the sort of stuff that Britton flashes. Meanwhile, in Salem, Brandon Workman is showing signs that his eventual transfer to the bullpen might not be a foregone conclusion, and in Single-A Greenville, 19-year-old Henry Owens has produced huge strikeout numbers while showing a surprisingly diverse pitch mix for a left-hander in his first pro season. Though Anthony Ranaudo has struggled while adjusting to Double-A (in no small part because of some mechanical issues that followed his return from a groin injury), the Sox are convinced that he’s a future big league starter.
There isn’t homegrown starting in Triple-A, but once you get past Pawtucket in the farm system, there’s the potential pipeline of starting pitching in the Red Sox’ future. Not everyone will pan out, of course, but for the first time since the Red Sox saw Jonathan Papelbon, Lester, Buchholz, Justin Masterson and Daniel Bard graduate to the majors from 2005-09, there’s the possibility that the Sox can reinforce their ranks with young, talented, cost-effective pitchers for a number of seasons. Britton’s emergence is a big part of that.
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 8-5 LOSS, 2-1 LOSS AT LEHIGH VALLEY
– The struggles for Daniel Bard are becoming increasingly alarming. The right-hander allowed a run in an inning of work while giving up a hit, walking a pair of batters and uncorking a wild pitch. He has now walked eight batters in his last four outings; he has not struck out a batter in either of his last two appearances. He did not elicit a single swing and miss.
However, it is worth noting that Bard’s outing finished far better than it started. He walked the first two batters he faced, and in fact threw nine straight balls after a called strike on the first pitch of the inning. But after losing the strike zone, he found it again, and suddenly got a wealth of bad contact: a a run-scoring groundout, an infield single on a comebacker, a fielder’s choice groundball with the bases loaded that led to a force out at the plate and an inning-ending fly out to right. The fact that he minimized damage and threw eight of his final 11 pitches of the inning for strikes suggests that there was a silver lining to the outing, even if there was once again cause for some concern with the performance.
– Mauro Gomez went 3-for-4 with a double and two homers in Game 1 of the doubleheader. The 27-year-old is tied for third in the International League in homers and ranks third in OPS (.984).
– Catcher Ryan Lavarnway went 1-for-4 with a double in the first game of the doubleheader, extending his hitting streak to 12 games. During the run, he is hitting .468/.527/.702/1.229, leading the International League in all four slash starts during that stretch. The fact that he is getting his walks (seven of them during the 12 games) while still collecting hits in bunches is particularly impressive. He has 34 strikeouts and 43 walks for the season.
DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 6-3 LOSS (11 INNINGS) VS. TRENTON (YANKEES)
– Though Aaron Kurcz allowed a three-run homer to the first batter he faced after inheriting a pair of runners from Britton, the small, hard-throwing right-hander (he regularly touches the mid-90s) struck out five in 2 1/3 innings of work, matching his season high for strikeouts. He has 59 strikeouts in 40 innings this year (13.3 per nine). He’s been inconsistent throughout the year, but at 21, the fact that he’s able to get swings and misses in volume makes him intriguing as a potential future bullpen arm for the Sox.
– Jeremy Hazelbaker went 2-for-4 with a triple and a walk, and has multi-hit games in each of his last three contests, going 7-for-12 with three doubles and a triple.
HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 16-3 LOSS AT MYRTLE BEACH (RANGERS)
– Shannon Wilkerson, who went deep just once in his first 64 games of this minor league season, has now homered in two of his last four contests. He went 1-for-5 on Sunday, and his season line is .285/.323/.399/.722 with 23 steals in 25 attempts between Salem and Double-A Portland. Team evaluators who have watched him in Salem speak highly of the 23-year-old’s all-around game, both his ability to generate consistent, hard contact with a line-drive swing, his baserunning and his defense.
– Brandon Jacobs has rebounded from a post-All-Star-break slump. After going 2-for-4 on Sunday, he now has three multi-hit games in his last four contests, a span during which he’s 7-for-16.
SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 5-1 LOSS AT CHARLESTON (YANKEES)
– Garin Cecchini went 3-for-4 with a double, extending his hitting streak to 10 games. He’s hitting .410/.500/.538/1.038 during the stretch (along with eight steals in as many attempts), and for the year, he’s hitting .307/.387/.434/.821 in Greenville. His approach is extremely advanced, with a well-defined sense of the strike zone given his limited professional experience. While he has just three homers this year, the Sox expect that his approach will lend itself to future power, and the fact that he’s stealing bases at a rate far beyond any expectations that the Sox had when they drafted him in 2010 suggests a player with a chance to be a well-rounded contributor at the big league level.
SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 6-3 LOSS VS. TRI-CITY (ASTROS)
– Right-fielder Kendrick Perkins continues to show an ability to impact the baseball in dramatic fashion. He went 2-for-4 while blasting his fourth homer in 13 games this year; of his 16 hits, all have been either singles or homers. After striking out 14 times in a six-game stretch, he has whiffed just twice in his last four games, going 4-for-15 with two homers and two walks in that stretch.
– Middle infielder Mookie Betts, who has been playing both second base and shortstop, had his second straight multi-hit game, going 2-for-4 with a pair of steals. He has five steals without getting caught to this point.
ROOKIE LEVEL GCL RED SOX: OFF
DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: OFF
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