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Red Sox minor league roundup: Xander Bogaerts continues to affirm top prospect status; Anthony Ranaudo dominates; Christian Vazquez intrigues

05.03.13 at 11:06 am ET
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This is why Xander Bogaerts is the top prospect in the Red Sox system. At 20, he continues to out-perform much older players at an advanced level even as he continues his education in the game.

For the first time in 2013, Bogaerts went deep for Double-A Portland on Thursday, driving a first-inning, solo homer to the opposite field in right-center. The homer ended his longest fence-clearing drought (21 games) in any of his three seasons playing with Red Sox full-season minor league affiliates. It was part of a 2-for-5 day that also included a double for the 20-year-old, and although his power numbers have been a bit slower than usual to develop this year, it is hard not to be impressed by what he’s doing.

He started slowly this year, his timing disrupted by criss-crossing the globe during the World Baseball Classic and by the fact that he had limited playing time for Team Netherlands before returning to Red Sox big league camp late in the spring. Bogaerts started the year out of sync — through nine games, he hit .171 with no extra-base hits, one walk and 14 strikeouts — but subsequently made the necessary adjustments to excel.

“[The season-opening struggle] all started in spring training when he got back from the WBC. He came back and he was a little concerned about his playing time and making sure he was getting his at-bats,” said Portland manager Kevin Boles. “He felt very uncomfortable at the plate and at the time he wasn’t very confident at the plate late in spring training. That’s how much he cares, that even though the at-bats in spring training don’t count, he wanted to make sure he was right.

“It seemed to carry over into that first week of the season, where I think he was pressing a little too much. He was trying to focus on the results instead of the process. Then once he started realizing, OK, trying to get hits and results is not the way to go about this — focus on managing the strike zone, enjoy the process, learn from the process and don’t put pressure on yourself — he started to take off. Now you see his strike zone management again has been much better and he’s putting together a better approach.”

Though the youngest position player in the Eastern League, Bogaerts has been more than holding his own against older opponents. With Thursday’s multi-hit game, he’s now hitting .309 with a .381 OBP and .447 slugging mark. Those solid numbers look nothing short of spectacular given Bogaerts’ performance after a season-opening struggle. Since April 16, Bogaerts (in 13 games) leads the Eastern League in average (.415) while ranking second in OBP (.492), second in slugging (.660) while being tied for second in the league in extra-base hits (8).

It’s a relatively brief period in which he’s performed as one of the most productive players in his Double-A league — something that is somewhat extraordinary given his age. Given the likelihood that his tremendous raw power will likely start yielding more fence-clearing drives in the near future (after all, it is an uncommon swing that can drive a ball out to the opposite field, as Bogaerts did in Reading on Thursday), Bogaerts is doing nothing to diminish his standing as arguably the Sox’ top position-playing prospect in years.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 10-1 WIN VS. DURHAM (RAYS)

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Jackie Bradley Jr., still serving as a DH while giving his sore shoulder a respite, went 2-for-4 with a walk, marking the fourth time in 10 games with the PawSox that he’s reached base at least three times in a game.

– Catcher Ryan Lavarnway went 2-for-4 with a double, and he’s now reached base in all 14 games in which he’s played this season. He’s hitting .327 with a .431 OBP, including a .361/.444/.500 line in his last 10 games.

– Outfielder Bryce Brentz went 1-for-5 with a double, but also matched a career-high by striking out four times. It’s the third time in his career that he’s whiffed four times, having previously done so twice last year — once after his September promotion to Pawtucket, and once last August while still with Double-A Portland. Still, Brentz’s strikeout rate this year (22.4 percent of plate appearances) is actually the lowest in any season of his pro career, and team officials feel that, by and large, he’s shown an improved approach at the plate, particularly in his ability to lay off breaking balls off the plate.

– In his first start since being sent down from the big leagues, right-hander Alfredo Aceves worked around some control difficulties (four walks, 56 percent of pitches for strikes) to toss six shutout innings in which he gave up just two hits, both singles. Aceves punched out six in logging his biggest innings total (6) and pitch count (101) of the year.

– Left-hander Craig Breslow continued his minor league rehab assignment with a scoreless inning in which he allowed a pair of hits (a double and a single), didn’t walk a batter (the first time in his four rehab games in which he hasn’t issued a free pass) and struck out one. He is scheduled to make another rehab appearance on either Saturday or Sunday, at which point the Sox will re-evaluate his progress in his effort to return from shoulder tendinitis.

Breslow told the Pawtucket Times that he feels like he might be ready to be activated after his next outing.

“I feel like I’€™m significantly closer than I was the previous [outing],” Breslow said of his proximity to being major league-ready. “In my mind, maybe one more outing, but it’€™s not my decision.”

– Left-hander Chris Hernandez allowed three hits and a run in two innings of relief work, striking out one and walking none. Aside from one piggyback start following a rehabbing big leaguer in 2012, the outing marked the first time in Hernandez’s pro career that he’s made a relief appearance. However, multiple Red Sox officials said that Hernandez is not being moved to the bullpen on a full-time basis, and that the relief appearance was a reflection of short-term crowding in the upper levels of the system. The team will still look for opportunities to get Hernandez longer appearances, whether starts or longer relief stints.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 7-4 LOSS AT READING (PHILLIES)

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– Right-hander Anthony Ranaudo continued his dominant season, giving up one run on four hits (including a solo homer — the only homer he’s permitted in 27 innings this year) while striking out four, walking one and throwing 68 percent (58 of 85) of his pitches for strikes while getting 13 swings and misses. He was working on a shutout through five innings before allowing the solo homer in the sixth.

The 23-year-old is now 4-0 with a flat 1.00 ERA through five starts, with a particularly eye-catching 30 strikeouts (10.0 per nine) and six walks (2.0 per nine) in 27 innings. He’s pitched at least five innings in each of his starts, while working into the sixth in each of his last three contests.

It’s worth noting that the Reading lineup isn’t a very good one, ranking 11th out of 12 offenses in the Eastern League. Still, the performances by Portland’s starters during the series — which featured Brandon Workman retiring the first 18 batters of his start, and Matt Barnes punching out 10 in six innings of work — were little short of spectacular, and point to not only considerable talent among the group of right-handed pitchers, but also a measure of healthy competition among pitchers who seemed like they were working with something at stake.

Daniel Bard had made considerable progress in 2013, showing a much-improved ability to attack the strike zone and to make the necessary adjustments between batters (if not always pitches) to regain his control after it got away from him. On Thursday, however, he endured one of his biggest struggles of any point over the last two seasons. He threw strikes with just four of his 15 pitches (27 percent), his worst strike-throwing percentage of any outing of his last couple years, while walking two and uncorking a pair of wild pitches. He did strike out a batter (on a full count), though on that pitch, his fastball velocity was just 90 mph — down not just from the upper-90s residence he occupied in the big leagues as recently as 2011, but down from the mid-90s (93-96 mph) where he’d been sitting prior to his call-up to the Red Sox.

This marked the second straight poor outing for Bard since his return to Portland. Two days earlier, he’d allowed two runs on two hits and a walk while striking out a batter and throwing exactly half (9 of 18) of his pitches for strikes.

– Catcher Christian Vazquez continues to put together a very, very interesting year. On Thursday, he went 1-for-3 with his second homer of the year, a walk and a strikeout. In 17 games this year, he now has a .255 average but with a .400 OBP and .418 slugging mark thanks to a staggering ratio of 13 walks to six strikeouts.

Prior to 2013, Vazquez showed a steady ability to put the ball in play and take a decent share of walks, but nothing like what the 22-year-old has exhibited this year in Portland. His pre-2013 career walk rate was a solid 10.0 percent, while he punched out in 19.6 percent of plate appearances — with a strikeout-to-walk rate of roughly 2-to-1. This year, he’s nearly doubled his walk rate (to 18.6 percent of plate appearances) while reducing his strikeout rate by more than half (to 8.6 percent).

Considering that the average American League catcher has a .312 OBP, if Vazquez can prove that his strong on-base numbers and approach are something more than a small sample in the early weeks of the season, he could make a compelling case for a future as a starting big league catcher given his potential for excellent defense behind the plate. (He’s thrown out 44 percent (11 of 25) of attempted base stealers, with his strong arm being just one indicator of his talents behind the plate.)

And while his .255 average somewhat obscures his offensive performance, it’s worth noting that since starting the year by going 0-for-11 (with four walks) in the season’s first four games, Vazquez has a line of .318/.436/.523 in his last 13 games.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 7-6 LOSS (11 INNINGS, WALKOFF) AT WILMINGTON (ROYALS)

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– Catcher Blake Swihart shook off a pair of 0-for-4 games to match a career high with three hits — a single, double and triple — in a 3-for-5 game. It was his sixth career three-hit game, but his first of the year in High-A. The 21-year-old, 2011 first-round selection is now hitting .264/.329/.403 in 20 games this year, but with a .315/.383/.463 line in his last 15 games.

– Starter Mike Augliera continued to show consistent outings on the strength of his anvil sinker. On Thursday, he recorded eight of 15 outs during his five-inning, two-run effort via groundball. Augliera’s pitch-to-contact approach has permitted him to log at least five innings in each of his five starts. He has yet to permit a homer this year.

– Third baseman Garin Cecchini went 1-for-4 with a pair of walks. Though he saw his streak of seven straight contests with multiple hits come to an end, the 22-year-old is leading the Carolina League in average (.391) and OBP (.480). He now has more walks (15) than strikeouts (14).

– First baseman David Renfroe, 22, matched a career-high (achieved earlier this season) by collecting four hits while setting a new career standard by reaching base five times. Renfroe, 22, was 4-for-5 with two doubles and a walk.

– Outfielder Brandon Jacobs endured an 0-for-6 night. He’s now hitless in his last four games, going 0-for-17 in that span, with his season line plunging to .181/.286/.301 in his return to Salem.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 7-4 LOSS AT ROME (BRAVES)

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– Right-hander Justin Haley continued to struggle with his command in his first full pro season. In three innings of work, he gave up five runs on three hits and three walks while striking out four. In 22 innings this year, he’s now punched out 24 and walked 22. While an intriguing arm, the 21-year-old — a sixth-rounder last year — is 0-4 with a 6.14 ERA to date.

Read More: anthony ranaudo, blake swihart, brandon jacobs, bryce brentz
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