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Red Sox minor league roundup: The biggest slugger in the minors is 5-foot-8; Henry Owens strikes out everyone; Garin Cecchini can’t be kept off base

05.05.13 at 8:29 am ET
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Size matters not to a slugger.

The foremost slugger in the minors thus far this year is shorter than Dustin Pedroia. Sean Coyle is listed at 5-foot-8. He acknowledges that he’s probably more like 5-foot-7. No need to quibble over the inch or demonstrate any insecurity, since Coyle, a second baseman for the Red Sox‘ High-A affiliate in Salem, is pulverizing the baseball.

On Saturday, Coyle launched a pair of homers — one on the first pitch of the game, and then one inning later, a three-run shot, both pulled to left field — to give him nine homers to date. That home run total is tied for the third highest in the minors — but it positions Coyle as far and away the home run leader by rate, given that he missed a week due to a thumb injury and then another couple of days after a minor knee injury.

How on earth does a player with such a diminutive frame generate that kind of power?

“I don’t know — I guess my power really kind of took off this spring when I stopped swinging with my shoulders and my body and started realizing how to swing with my hands and keeping my head still,” said Coyle. “That’s the cause of the consistency of squaring some balls up, I think: Keeping my head still and using my hands instead of my entire body has made me quicker to the ball and more consistent.”

Coyle has done his damage in just 17 games — meaning he’s averaging better than one home run per every two games — and he’s averaging a homer for every 8.7 plate appearances, easily the highest rate in the minors.  He has a line of .324/.372/.789 — with that slugging percentage also leading all of minor league baseball. Take into account the fact that the Carolina League in which Coyle plays remains one of the most unfavorable run-scoring environments in the game, that Coyle’s home park in Salem is considered a graveyard for would-be homers and the fact that, at 21, Coyle still remains very young for his level (the average age of position players in the Carolina League is closer to 23) and it makes for a pretty remarkable start to the year.

It also represents an impressive step forward from what Coyle did as a 20-year-old with Salem a year ago — when he hit nine homers in 116 games. In 2012, Coyle hit .249/.316/.391 in Salem. He struggled through a dreadful first half that had some wondering whether the Sox had made a mistake in putting him on such an aggressive promotion schedule rather than having him repeat at Single-A Greenville to start the year. But in the second half, Coyle showed an improved approach, chasing fewer pitches and starting to make consistent, hard contact en route to a .297/.355/.451 line.

“Consistency was a big problem I had in the first half last year,” said Coyle. “I was kind of searching to find myself as a hitter, making adjustments I had no business making to try to compensate for the lack of hitting that was going on. I went home for the All-Star break, talked to my brother [Rays minor leaguer Tommy Coyle] and dad, talked to a buddy of mine — Kevin Wilson — who knows my swing really well, kind of got me back to the basics, things I’d had success with in the past. [Wilson] said, ‘First half is over with — can’t do anything to change that. But you can come in in the second half and treat it as a whole different season.’ That’s pretty much what I did.”

He made enough progress that there was conversation within the Sox about whether to have Coyle open this year back in Salem or in Double-A Portland, particularly after the second baseman had a tremendous spring training in which he was impacting the ball with terrific consistency. But the decision was ultimately made to send him back to High-A for a few reasons — among them, the fact that there had been the question about whether he’d moved too quickly the previous year, the fact that the Sox wanted to see whether Derrik Gibson or Heiker Meneses could show big league potential while playing second in Portland and the fact that Coyle had never truly dominated at a level in his two minor league seasons.

Now, he is enjoying a stretch where he is one of the early standouts in the Carolina League. He is making a compelling case that his stay in Salem this year won’t be long.

“I don’t really sit in the corner and pout. I’m a man. I’m going to take it like a man. [The Sox] said, ‘We like what you’re doing — just continue to play hard. If you’re playing really well, you can definitely be promoted,’ ” recounted Coyle. “That’s what I’m working towards.”

Coyle won’t ever hit 80-plus homers in a year (the absurd number for which he current projects over a 162-game schedule), but make no mistake — his power is legit. When they took him out of high school in the third round of the 2010 draft and signed him to a $1.3 million bonus, the Sox saw a player who projected to have plus power — a conclusion drawn after numerous wood-bat workouts — with 20-30 home run potential in the big leagues.

Now, the basis for such projections is becoming clear, at a time when Coyle is generating significant power without selling out his approach.

“Coming up, I was always a three, four hitter through Little League or HS or whatever. I think I have the potential to hit some home runs here in professional baseball,” said Coyle. “I wouldn’t consider myself a power hitter. I’m more gap to gap. But if I get into a ball, it’ll go out of the yard, but I try to stay with a line drive approach.”

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 4-1 LOSS VS. DURHAM (RAYS)

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— Catcher Ryan Lavarnway mashed a double off the fence in center, his third extra-base hit in as many games, as part of a 1-for-4 day. That’s now 16 straight games in which he’s reached base in Pawtucket to start the year, with a line of .328/.425/.517, two homers and five doubles.

— Left-hander Craig Breslow tossed a perfect inning of relief, getting a groundout, a flyout and a swinging strikeout. He threw six of nine pitches for strikes.

— Outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker went 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout as his 10-game hitting streak came to an end.

Jose Iglesias left Saturday’s game after his second plate appearance (a groundout to first) in the bottom of the fourth inning. He went 1-for-2 with a single to center.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 2-1 WIN (WALKOFF) VS. NEW BRITAIN (TWINS)

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— Knuckleballer Charlie Haeger allowed a single to the first batter he faced but did not give up another hit over five innings of work in which he allowed one (unearned) run on one hit and four walks while striking out eight. The eight punchouts were the most recorded by Haeger since Aug. 30, 2011.

Kolbrin Vitek drove in both Portland runs without benefit of a hit, going 0-for-3 with an RBI fielder’s choice grounder and drawing a bases-loaded walk-off walk in the ninth to end the game. In somewhat limited action (13 games) this year, the 2010 first-rounder has a .364 OBP.

— Shortstop Xander Bogaerts, after hitting homers on both Thursday and Friday, was a late scratch from the Sea Dogs lineup due to what Kevin Thomas of the Portland Press-Herald (via twitter) called tightness in his core. Thomas added that the issue was not considered serious.

— Though they only had three hits, the Sea Dogs managed to patch together their seventh straight victory — the team’s longest winning streak since 2008.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 9-4 WIN AT WINSTON-SALEM (WHITE SOX)

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— Left-hander Henry Owens continues to perform at a level that suggests front-of-the-rotation potential. He punched out a career-high 10 while giving up two runs (on just two hits) in six innings. He did walk a season-high three.

Through six starts, Owens has logged 32 innings (at least five in each start) with 40 strikeouts (11.3 per nine) and 11 walks (3.1 per nine) along with a glimmering 2.25 ERA and .153 opponents’ batting average.

— The perpetrator of the second homer of the year against Owens? That would be Jeremy Farrell, the son of Red Sox manager John Farrell. The younger Farrell, 26, is hitting .259/.318/.494 with five homers in 21 games this year.

Garin Cecchini continued his remarkable season-opening run. For the 14th straight game, he reached base multiple times, going 2-for-4 with a walk. He ranks fifth in all of minor league baseball with a .394 average, eighth with a .486 OBP and 10th with a .670 slugging percentage. He is first in the Carolina League in average and OBP, while ranking second to Coyle in slugging percentage.

— Outfielder Henry Ramos got off to a tough start, hitting .094/.147/.094 through his first 10 games. However, since April 20, he’s been one of the more productive hitters in the Carolina League, hitting .340 with a .456 OBP and .447 slugging mark. The  athletic 21-year-old’s on-base percentage is second in the Carolina League only to Cecchini in that span.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: DAY OFF

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