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Red Sox minor league roundup: Matt Barnes and the Red Sox depth equation; the amazing Cecchini; Cody Kukuk’s step forward

05.02.13 at 1:07 pm ET
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Prospect rankings are funny things, sometimes possessing dubious value. After all, the exercise of affixing a numerical hierarchy to a group of prospects typically accomplishes little more than taking a snapshot of a single moment in time, glossing over the reality that player development is a dynamic, ever-changing process — sort of like a picture of a group of 10-year-olds featuring one kid who towers over the rest, but who will become the shortest one in her class by the time she turns 12.

But, viewed in the broader context of the shifts in rankings, rather than the rankings themselves, such exercises can be fascinating, and say quite a bit about not just players but an entire organization. Case in point: Matt Barnes and the Red Sox.

On Wednesday morning, one major league talent evaluator was thinking aloud about Barnes’ place in the Sox’ pitching order. Prior to spring training, most prospect rating lists had Barnes ranked at the top of the Sox’ crop of minor league arms; an occasional dissenter deemed Barnes the second best pitcher in the Sox system, behind only Allen Webster.

Now? One month into the 2013 season? The evaluator noted that if the Sox’ minor league pitchers were re-ranked, a compelling argument could be made that Barnes was the sixth best pitching prospect in the system, behind (in some order) Allen Webster, Henry Owens, Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman and Anthony Ranaudo, all of whom have shown the ability to dominate this year with more complete pitch mixes than Barnes currently possesses. The conclusion?

“If Matt Barnes is your sixth-best pitching prospect,” the evaluator noted, “then your system is in pretty interesting shape.”

Of the aforementioned pitching prospects, all except Owens are in Double-A or above. Both De La Rosa (who doesn’t qualify for prospect status in most ranking systems) and Webster already have demonstrated an ability to succeed against big league hitters. Workman and Ranaudo are currently dominating in Double-A Portland. Though Owens is currently in High-A Salem, he features a dazzling mix of a swing-and-miss fastball and changeup along with a curveball that looks like a big league offering.

Barnes, meanwhile, had struggled in the early paces of 2013. In contrast to his outrageous start to the 2012 campaign — when he tore up Single-A Greenville (0.34 ERA, 42-to-4 strikeout-to-walk rate) before an early promotion to High-A Salem that yielded more dominance before he finally hit a wall in June — he’d given up 14 runs in as many innings.

Then came Wednesday. In six innings, in a Double-A matinee between Portland and Reading, Barnes allowed one run on just three hits while punching out a season-high 10 and walking two. He needed just 80 pitches to reach double digits in punchouts, getting 16 swings and misses. He seemed to have plenty in the tank in his final frame, when he punched out the side in just 10 pitches, getting five swings and misses.

It was an outing in which Barnes looked like the pitcher who proved so captivating in his 2012 unveiling, and a reminder of why the 22-year-old is still expected to have a bright big league future. In so doing, he also offered a testament to why the outlook for the Sox appears fairly promising for the coming seasons.

Barnes is part of the most crowded group of Red Sox pitching prospects in the upper levels of the system in years. That is critical for the club, both given that homegrown starters have become an essential element of rotation-building in a world where free agent starters are rightly viewed as a radioactive risk and in the sense that, if a team wants to swing a trade to address needs during the season, the first piece that almost always needs to be included in a deal is a pitcher who is either big league ready or near big league ready.

The fact that Barnes is part of a group of talented starters in the upper levels represents how far the Sox organization has come in the span of a couple of years. At the end of the season, the industry may view him as the best or sixth-best pitching prospect in the Sox system; the fact that the situation is so fluid suggests a pretty impressive group that represent a landscape change in the Sox’ farm system.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: OFF DAY

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 2-1 WIN AT READING (PHILLIES)

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– Since his entry into pro ball, Matt Barnes has shown an ability to spin a curveball but he’s struggled to maintain consistency in terms of the shape and location of the pitch. On Wednesday, he had the hammer at his disposal, contributing to the high volume of strikeouts and swings and misses.

Barnes credited a new curveball grip to which he was introduced by fellow Sea Dogs starter Brandon Workman with the improvements in his breaking ball.

“Workman taught me how he threw it, so I toyed around with it, threw it in my bullpen, and it was really good,” Barnes told MILB.com. “I could throw it for strikes and as an out pitch, and that was a big difference, being able to command all three pitches in the zone.”

He got five swings and misses on the pitch, four of them as putaway pitches on strikeouts, and the offering sharpened as the game progressed. In addition to the curve, he also left behind the difficulty commanding his fastball (which sat at 93 mph and topped out at 96) down in the zone that he showed in his previous outing (when he gave up six runs on 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings), resulting in his standout performance.

While Barnes is still saddled with a gaudy 6.75 ERA this year, he has 27 strikeouts in 20 innings (12.2 per nine).

Travis Shaw went 0-for-4 but got hit by a pitch to extend his streak of consecutive games reaching base this year to encompass all 23 contests in which he’s played.

Xander Bogaerts bounced a single through the left side of the infield and walked, extending his streak of consecutive games on base to 15. He is hitting for average (.303) and getting on base at an excellent rate (.380) — particularly considering that there were concerns about his approach after he walked just once in 23 Double-A games at the end of last year — though he’s still waiting for his first Double-A homer. Indeed, April marked the first time since his first professional month (June 2010 in the Dominican Summer League) that Bogaerts had gone a month in which he’d played more than six games without hitting a homer.

– Third baseman Kolbrin Vitek, playing for the first time since April 27, went 2-for-4. The 24-year-old is hitting for average (.289) and getting on base (.379) despite sporadic playing time (12 games this season).

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 3-2 LOSS (WALKOFF) AT WILMINGTON (ROYALS)

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Garin Cecchini continued his remarkable run, going 2-for-4 with a double to the opposite (left) field to extend his run of consecutive multi-hit games to seven. In that stretch, he’s hitting .577/.645/1.231 with 10 extra-base hits (five doubles, three triples, two homers). On the year, the 22-year-old leads the Carolina League in average (.398), OBP (.479), OPS (1.190) and extra-base hits (16) while ranking second to teammate Sean Coyle in slugging (.711, behind Coyle’s .716).

– Coyle maintained his slugging lead by going 1-for-4 with a double, giving him 12 extra-base hits in 16 games so far this year.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 3-2 LOSS (10 INNINGS, WALKOFF) AT ROME (BRAVES)

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–Left-hander Cody Kukuk had his best outing of the year, allowing one run on two hits and a walk in five innings with five strikeouts. The strikeouts represented a season-high while the walk total was a season-low. The two hits included one bunt single and an RBI single by rehabbing All-Star Brian McCann, On the year, the 6-foot-4 20-year-old — in his first year with a full-season affiliate — is holding opponents to a .153 average, the second lowest mark in the South Atlantic League. He has yet to give up more than three hits in any of his five starts, and in his first experience in a professional rotation, he appears to be making positive strides. In his last two starts, he’s given up a total of two runs on three hits and three walks while striking out seven in 10 innings.

– Second baseman Mookie Betts went 0-for-2 with three walks, giving him 22 walks and 10 strikeouts this year, an approach that has allowed him to forge a .347 OBP despite a .153 average.

– Third baseman Nick Moore went 1-for-3 with a walk, continuing a recent run of improved competitiveness at the Single-A level. In his last five games, he’s 5-for-13 (.385) with a double and three walks (.500 OBP). Prior to that, he was 2-for-34 with a .059/.200/.147 line.

– Outfielder Cody Koback went 3-for-3 to improve to 9-for-19 (.474) with a double and two walks during a five-game hitting streak.

Read More: allen webster, anthony ranaudo, Brandon Workman, cody koback
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