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Red Sox minor league roundup: Michael Almanzar, then and now; historic power show in Pawtucket; Drake Britton piles up punchouts

04.29.13 at 9:13 am ET
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Michael Almanzar went 2-for-3 with a homer and two walks on Sunday for Double-A Portland. (DVM Sports)

Michael Almanzar can be forgiven if he is not eager to see the conclusion of April. After all, the first month of the 2013 season has been a watershed in his career.

The 22-year-old continued his spectacular month by going 2-for-3 with his fifth homer (and 12th extra-base hit) of April while walking twice, improving his line to .322/.372/.575 with two games remaining in the month. He’s complementing his offense with strong defense at third base, and if someone were to see Almanzar today without any awareness of his history, they’d likely conclude that he was a fairly promising corner infield prospect who was holding his own in the Double-A Eastern League despite being a couple years younger than league average.

But that current impression requires those familiar with Almanzar’s history to rethink many of the conclusions they’d reached about him over the previous six years. Almanzar was signed to a $1.5 million bonus as a 16-year-old in 2007. And his early dominant performance in pro ball seemed to ratify the money he’d been given. He skipped the normal entry point for Latin American amateurs, the Dominican Summer League, and was so dominant in the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League in 2008 (hitting .348/.414/.472 in 23 games) that he was pushed all the way to Single-A Greenville as a 17-year-old — an assignment almost unheard of at his age.

He wasn’t ready. He hit .207/.238/.314 with Greenville, and spent the next three years flailing while shuttling back and forth between levels of A-ball.

“You saw the offensive potential, but there was a lot of immaturity at that point, being 17 years old with all of the attention he was getting, I think at the time, the pressure got to him just a little bit, which is understandable,” said Kevin Boles, who managed Almanzar in Greenville in 2008 and 2009 and is now reunited with him in Double-A Portland. “It happens with a lot of young players.”

But he was always young for his level, performing at ages where success would have defined him as an aberration. His struggles (after leaving the GCL, he never had an OBP as high as .300 from 2008-11 at any level), in retrospect, shouldn’t have been shocking.

But last year, in High-A Salem, he finally enjoyed a measure of professional success, hitting .300/.353/.458 with a dozen homers and 36 doubles in 124 games. This year, he’s taken that success to another level. The big-framed, long-limbed Almanzar has reworked his swing and offensive approach to impact the ball with greater consistency.

“What he’s done these last couple of years, I think the big transition happened last year probably in Salem, he’s reworked his swing. People that say he’s the same guy — no. His approach has changed. He’s a guy that had an open stance, a lot of movement, a lot of upper half movement, and then he would close in on the ball, go from an open stance to a closed stride,” said Boles. “Now he’s squared up to the pitcher. He’s got a lot more rhythm at the plate. And it’s a quiet rhythm and a quiet confidence. He is really impacting the ball to right field now, using all the fields. He’ll take a risk early in the count but then he seems to settle in, where before, his strike zone management seemed a little questionable at such an early age. The improvements are there, but there’s been a transition with his offensive approach.”

And so, at 22, Almanzar has been one of the top performers at an advanced level through the first month of the season. It’s been a gradual process, but one that now appears to be yielding considerable fruit.

“The way he is now and how much he’s matured, he’s reworked his work habits and routines, and this guy has turned into a quality prospect. We liked his ability before. We should definitely love his ability now at this point,” said Boles. “You have to understand he’s still 22 years old. He’s a puppy, and he’s in Double-A.

“What we have here is a definite prospect. This guy has really put himself on the map, and the age is still on his side. We’re not talking about a guy who’s 26, 27. Just because he’s been in our uniform for a while doesn’t mean that you can discredit what he is: 22 years old, big body, big potential here, and now the work habits, work ethic and understanding of what the professional game is — this thing’s coming full circle.”

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

(BOX)

– For the second time in three rehab outings, left-hander Craig Breslow did not make it through an inning before hitting his pitch count. He allowed a run on a hit (an infield single), two walks and a strikeout in two-thirds of an inning while throwing 13 of 26 pitches for strikes. In three rehab appearances in Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, opponents are 5-for-8 with four walks and two strikeouts against Brelsow.

– Right-hander Joel Hanrahan likewise struggled to find the strike zone, throwing eight of 17 pitches for strikes. Still, he worked around those control difficulties to log a scoreless inning in which he worked around a leadoff walk. He’ll be activated on Tuesday in Toronto.

– Right-hander Jose De La Torre had a dominant 1 2/3 inning outing in which he recorded all five of his outs by strikeout (2) or groundout (3). Over his last five outings, he’s tossed 7 2/3 shutout frames with 10 strikeouts and five walks.

– First baseman/left fielder/DH Mark Hamilton went 2-for-4 with a homer while driving in three. The homer came against a left-hander, just as was the case with the left-handed Hamilton’s other homer this season. In 18 plate appearances against lefties, Hamilton is hitting .375/.444/.875. Against right-handers, Hamilton — a player with prodigious raw power — has posted somewhat surprisingly modest power numbers, with a .239/.386/.304 line.

– Outfielder Bryce Brentz, 24, went 2-for-4 and launched his third homer of the year. Like the left-handed Hamilton, the right-handed Brentz is showing an early-season reverse platoon split, handling right-handers well (.286/.357/.524 with all three of his homers) but struggling against lefties (.211/.286/.316).

– Catcher Dan Butler went deep for the second time in four games. His longball came as the third of back-to-back-to-back homers by Hamilton, Brentz and Butler. It is the first time that the PawSox had three consecutive homers since at least 1977.

CORRECTION: The PawSox went back-to-back-to-back on May 14,1997, with Todd Carey, Arquimedez Pozo and Juan Williams doing the honors.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 9-5 WIN AT TRENTON (YANKEES)

(BOX)

– Though left-hander Drake Britton permitted four runs in his six innings of work, he also continued to show the ability to get strikeouts in volume while limiting his walks. He punched out seven and walked two while giving up six hits. On the year, he’s punched out 25 and walked eight in 24 1/3 innings, albeit with a 4.44 ERA.

– Catcher Christian Vazquez went 2-for-4 with a walk and has now reached base in 11 straight games. In that span, he’s hit .351 with a .478 OBP, .514 slugging mark, four extra-base hits (three doubles and a homer), eight walks and just three strikeouts.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: POSTPONED (RAIN) VS. LYNCHBURG (BRAVES)

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: POSTPONED (RAIN) VS. DELMARVA (ORIOLES)

Read More: bryce brentz, Craig Breslow, drake britton, joel hanrahan Print  |  Email  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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