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Red Sox minor league roundup: Anthony Ranaudo reasserts prospect status; Sean Coyle, Garin Cecchini white hot

04.28.13 at 10:26 am ET
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Anthony Ranaudo continued his early-season dominance on Saturday. (DVM Sports)

The 2012 season officially represents a footnote for Anthony Ranaudo. His results through his first four starts of 2013 have been so overpowering that his previous year now simply looks like an aberration in which injuries to his groin and shoulder prevented him from performing with the stuff that made him the team’s top pitching prospect entering the year.

Now, he’s dominating in a fashion comparable to the way that he overpowered his opponents in his first professional assignment in Single-A Greenville at the start of 2011 — only this time, he’s carving up lineups in the Double-A Eastern League. A 2012 season in which he was getting hammered while pitching in Double-A now appears to be the outlier in his professional performance.

“Last year, give him a mulligan,” said Portland manager Kevin Boles. “He just wasn’t 100 percent, and if he was 100 percent, he was just behind the eight-ball because he didn’t really have a spring training and I think he was just trying to play catch-up last year. … We just never saw the real Anthony Ranaudo. And we’re starting to see it now.”

On Saturday, Ranaudo delivered his most impressive outing to date. He retired the first 13 batters of the game to open a contest in which he logged six shutout innings while recording a career-high nine strikeouts. For the first time since 2011, he did not walk a batter. He gave up two hits — one infield single and a one-out triple — and after the triple, he struck out the next batter to keep his shutout intact. The 23-year-old elicited 12 swings and misses — nine on fastballs, two on curves, one on a change — on 89 pitches while throwing a hearty 69 percent of his pitches for strikes.

Ranaudo showed a power curveball on Saturday (with 10 of his 15 curves going for strikes), but foremost, he continued to show the ability to dominate with his fastball. After sometimes struggling to break 90 mph last year, mostly working around 88-92 mph, Ranaudo has been sitting effortlessly in the 92-94 mph range, and often topping out higher than that, around 96 mph. On Saturday, there was even more in the tank, as his fastball was 93-97 mph, sitting at 95. He’s been able to work with an arm slot that takes advantage of his 6-foot-7 frame to power his fastball down in the strike zone at an angle that gets the ball under the swing paths of most opponents.

“This year, we’re seeing a healthy Anthony Ranaudo — plus fastball, feel for a breaking ball and changeup,” said Boles. “I think the biggest thing now is, he’s been able to put himself in a position with his delivery where he’s able to angle the fastball down. We never really saw that — we saw it very rarely last year. I think it was because of the physical ailments he was going through, but now he’s able to leverage the fastball down. Obviously, the velocity is sitting around 92-94 mph with his fastball, so there’s been an uptick in his velocity from last year to this year.”

As impressive as Ranaudo’s performance was on Saturday, it becomes even more impressive in the context of his sustained dominance over each of his four starts this year. He has given up one or no runs in each of his outings and opponents are hitting .159 against him with no homers to date. In 21 2/3 innings, he’s struck out 26 (10.8 per nine innings) and walked five (2.1 per nine innings). He has a 3-0 record with a double-take-inducing 0.83 ERA — second in the Eastern League to former Portland teammate Stolmy Pimentel (who has a 0.39 ERA in four starts with Pittsburgh’s Double-A affiliate in Altoona).

In short, he is performing like a pitcher with a potentially bright big league future in front of him. The questions about his prospect status that followed from his struggles of a year ago no longer seem relevant in considering what course he might take going forward.

“Last year, you can just scratch that off the books,” said Boles.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 6-5 WIN (WALKOFF) VS. COLUMBUS (INDIANS)

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– In his scoreless inning of relief, left-hander Craig Breslow (on a rehab assignment) tossed a scoreless inning in which he gave up a hit, walked a batter, struck out another and picked off a runner. He threw seven of 15 pitches for strikes.

Allen Webster had his first rough outing of the year (in the majors or Triple-A), allowing four runs on three hits (two doubles and a single) and three walks in four innings. Webster did strike out five, and in a further indication of his tremendous arsenal, he got 14 swings and misses among his 79 pitches (18 percent of pitches).

Jose Iglesias is amidst an offensive struggle, particularly when it comes to his plate discipline. He went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts on Saturday, and in his last 10 games, he’s whiffed six times while failing to draw a walk. On the year, in 14 games since being sent down from the big leagues, he’s hitting .245/.286/.396 — meaning that his average (.245 vs. .269) and OBP (.286 vs. .321) with Pawtucket in 2013 are actually worse than they were last year in the minors. When he is making contact, he’s impacting the ball solidly with greater frequency than in the past, resulting in his improved slugging percentage (.396 this year as opposed to .310 a year ago), but the evidence of an improved approach is mixed.

Justin Henry, who turns 28 on Tuesday, continued his strong start, going 2-for-5 with a double while knocking in three. In 17 games, he’s hitting .368/.441/.456, consistent with a career track record in the Tigers’ minor league system in which Henry has posted high averages and solid OBPs albeit with little power. Henry is hitting .419/.481/.535 against right-handers this year with all three of his extra-base hits coming against righties.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 6-0 WIN AT TRENTON (YANKEES)

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– First baseman Travis Shaw doubled in five plate appearances, and has now reached base at least once in all 20 games in which he’s played this year. He didn’t walk, ending a streak of five straight games with a free pass.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 7-2 WIN VS. LYNCHBURG (BRAVES)

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– Second baseman Sean Coyle went deep for the third time in four games since returning from a week-long absence with a thumb injury, going 2-for-4 with his sixth homer of the year (in just 13 games). The six homers are his most in any month of his pro career, surpassing the five he had in July 2011 with Single-A Greenville. The 21-year-old’s .759 slugging percentage leads the Carolina League; in addition to going deep six times, he also has six steals in as many attempts.

Garin Cecchini had his fifth straight two-hit game, going 2-for-3 with a pair of triples and a walk while scoring two more runs. He’s filling up the stat line in the best month of his professional career to date, hitting .373/.466/.640 with 12 extra-base hits (six doubles, four triples, two homers), eight steals (in 11 attempts), 17 runs and 12 RBI in 20 games, with the left-handed Cecchini excelling against both left-handed and right-handed pitchers. The lone early-season concern in his performance has been some defensive inconsistency that has yielded seven errors in 19 games at third base — half as many as he had in 99 games at the position last year.

– Catcher Blake Swihart, who started slowly this year (.111/.158/.222 through his first five game), seems to be in a solid offensive rhythm. In his last 11 games, the switch-hitter has a line of .316/.395/.447 after going 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI.

– Outfielder Keury De La Cruz went 2-for-4 with a double, his fourth multi-hit game during a seven-game hitting streak. He’s hitting .393/.452/.679 with four doubles, a homer and three steals during the streak.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 5-4 WIN (10-INNING WALKOFF) VS. DELMARVA (ORIOLES)

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– Left-hander Brian Johnson allowed two runs on three hits (a triple and two singles) in four innings of work, striking out four and walking two. The four strikeouts represented a season high. While the 22-year-old, a 2012 first-rounder, is off to a solid start, with a 3.38 ERA, he hasn’t been dominant out of the chute in Greenville as most performers from top college programs are. He has eight strikeouts and eight walks in 10 2/3 innings spanning three starts, and he’s hit his pitch limits relatively early, as was the case when he needed 78 pitches (49 strikes) to navigate his four frames on Saturday.

– Reliever J.B. Wendelken, 20, blitzed through the Delmarva lineup, retiring 14 straight batters to start his outing before getting touched for a couple runs on two hits and a walk in his fifth inning of work. In 18 1/3 innings this year, Wendelken — a strike-throwing machine a year ago in his Gulf Coast League debut, has a 2.45 ERA.

Read More: allen webster, anthony ranaudo, blake swihart, brian johnson
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