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Red Sox minor league roundup: Garin Cecchini continues ‘clinic'; Sox’ best 3B depth option; why Anthony Ranaudo’s struggles highlight success; the riddle of Mookie Betts

05.08.13 at 12:09 pm ET
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Garin Cecchini spent all of last year in Single-A Greenville, playing in a league and park where home runs tend to fly. Yet in 526 plate appearances, Cecchini cleared the fences just four times.

The 22-year-old now is in High-A Salem, playing in a league and home park that is anathema to power hitters. (Xander Bogaerts, for one, talked about the feeling of relief when he got to Double-A Portland last year and discovered that balls crushed to right-center actually could clear the fence again.) Cecchini has 120 plate appearances with Salem, and on Tuesday night he launched his fourth homer of the young season, going 2-for-4 with a double (his 10th two-bagger and 18th extra-base hit in 27 games this year).

“That was crushed,” noted Salem broadcaster Evan Lepler. (To hear his call, click here.)

Cecchini looks physically like a big leaguer. At a strong 6-feet-2, 215 pounds, he looks like someone capable of driving the ball. But he’s always been a believer in honing his offensive approach, using all fields, swinging at strikes and working deep into counts with the knowledge that, as he refines his approach, he’d likely see power emerge in his game.

To this point in 2013, amidst a dazzling start, that prognostication is proving spot on. He’s hitting .379/.467/.670 with 17 walks and 16 strikeouts. As much as the emergence of his power has been a headline development in his career, however, it’s the consistent quality of his plate appearances that has been his most impressive attribute both this year and in his career.

“It’s like if you go to a hitting camp and the coach is giving you a speech about hitting, what you should be doing. I feel like that’s Cecchini everyday. He’s out there demonstrating what you should be doing at the plate. It’s ridiculous. It’s like a clinic,” said teammate Sean Coyle. “It’s something I really like watching. I’d love to take some parts from his game. It’s great to watch and learn from.”

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 7-3 WIN AT GWINNETT (BRAVES)

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At a time when Will Middlebrooks and David Ross may need rest following their injurious collision, the Red Sox face vastly different depth equations when it comes to replacing the two players.

In the case of Ross, the Sox are well-stocked in terms of upper-levels catchers, with three players (Ryan Lavarnway and Dan Butler in Triple-A, Christian Vazquez in Double-A) on the 40-man roster. Lavarnway would be the obvious choice to fill in for Ross given both his experience with the Sox pitching staff as well as his ability to offer an impact right-handed bat. He’s hitting .328/.402/.500 in Pawtucket.

Third base, on the other hand, could represent an organizational problem — part of the reason why, as of last week, the Red Sox hadn’t even discussed the question of whether Middlebrooks’ struggles might warrant some consideration to a roster change. There are no options in the minor leagues who a) have experience playing third base and b) are on the Red Sox’ 40-man roster.

Drew Sutton, who had been Pawtucket’s primary third baseman this season, is currently on the seven-day DL due to a strained muscle in his side. Utilityman Justin Henry has hit for average (.309) and gotten on base (.391 OBP), but without the power (four extra-base hits in 110 plate appearances) that a team would like to see at a corner spot. Another utility option, Brock Holt, is on the 40-man, but he’s played just one minor league game in his career at third base, and he’s off to a woeful offensive start (.181/.278/.181).

The most intriguing option at the position might be Brandon Snyder, who has been the PawSox’ best hitter this year. The 26-year-old, who signed a minor league deal with the Sox after requesting his release from the Rangers at the end of spring training, was 2-for-4 while driving in a pair of runs on Tuesday, and now is hitting .330/.423/.628 with six homers and 10 doubles. While he’s played mostly first in Pawtucket, Snyder suggests that third base is his natural home on a baseball field.

He’s played three games at third with the PawSox, and he’s taking regular groundballs at that position. He’s played seven games at third in the big leagues and 67 in the minors, so it’s not foreign territory for him. If he can handle that position, he easily represents the Sox’ best and most major league-ready option as depth for Middlebrooks.

Here’s one evaluator on whether Snyder represents a viable depth option as a big league third baseman:

“Definitely. He played there some for the Rangers in the major leagues and he played OK,” said the evaluator. “I think he’s more than just a 3A guy. … He came out of spring training for the Rangers last year with his swing really looking good and he produced. But then he didn’t get a chance to play much and the swing got long.”

Snyder’s not on the 40-man, but the Sox could create a spot by moving Franklin Morales to the 60-day DL (which would render him unavailable for the rest of the month — not a real issue if the team does indeed follow through with a plan of stretching him out as a rotation depth option).

‘€¢ Alfredo Aceves logged seven innings in which he permitted two runs while scattering nine hits, striking out six and walking one. It was Aceves’ longest outing since tossing eight shutout innings for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on April 29, 2009.

‘€¢ Shortstop Jose Iglesias was out of the PawSox lineup for the third straight game. Red Sox manager John Farrell said that Iglesias is “dealing with some things” and trying to regroup in Triple-A.

‘€¢ Iglesias isn’t the only prominent Red Sox prospect who has been missing time with the PawSox. Outfielder Bryce Brentz was replaced in the outfield to start the sixth inning of Sunday’s PawSox game, a few innings after he collided with shortstop Jonathan Diaz while making a nice running catch in foul territory, and he didn’t play on either Monday or Tuesday. Brentz was 0-for-10 in his last three games and 2-for-21 in his last five, but he’ll return to the lineup for the PawSox on Wednesday.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 5-1 LOSS VS. READING (PHILLIES)

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‘€¢ In relative terms, Tuesday marked Anthony Ranaudo‘s biggest struggle of the 2013 season. In six innings, he allowed a season-high four runs (three earned) and he permitted a pair of homers among the five hits he yielded. He struck out six and walked one.

The fact that an outing that fits the criteria of a quality start was Ranaudo’s worst to date this year speaks volumes about how good he’s been and how far he’s come. He entered the game with a 1.00 ERA, not having allowed more than one run in any of his previous five outings. His six strikeouts were more than he had in any of his nine starts in Double-A last year; his one walk and six innings both represented his high-water lines in 2012.

While Ranaudo missed his spot with some pitches, as evidenced by the yield of five extra-base hits, he still threw 66 percent of his offerings for strikes and got 13 swings and misses.

“I thought Anthony was terrific,” Sea Dogs manager Kevin Boles told the Portland Press-Herald. “He had command of the fastball, plus velocity, feel for his breaking ball and threw some really good change-ups as well,” he said. “He did his job.”

‘€¢ First baseman Travis Shaw has considerable raw power. The many scouts who saw him send a ball into orbit at last year’s Cal League-Carolina League All-Star Game can testify to that.

Still, Shaw rarely sells out his approach in order to generate power. He’s comfortable as he hitter who stays back on the ball, doesn’t expand the strike zone and drives the ball to all fields, including — most prominently — to left-center. It’s an approach that results in impressive OBPs (as his current .406 mark attests) but not necessarily the huge home run totals that might be expected for a player with his frame (6-foot-4, 225 pounds).

But the power is in there, and for the first time in 2013, Shaw showed it on Tuesday, clearing the fences in right-center for his only hit in four plate appearances. For the year, Shaw is hitting .250/.406/.360. Given that he led all Sox minor leaguers with 66 extra-base hits a year ago, the fact that he’s executing his approach represents a more significant development than the limited extra-base hits to date this year; in all likelihood, if Shaw continues what he’s been doing, the power numbers will come.

‘€¢ Xander Bogaerts is expected to return to the Portland lineup after missing the previous four games due to tightness in his midsection, Boles told the Press-Herald.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 6-4 WIN VS. CAROLINA (INDIANS)

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‘€¢ Sean Coyle went 1-for-4 with a double, giving him 15 extra-base hits in 19 games this season. He’s leading the Carolina League with a .725 slugging mark, to complement his .300 average and .345 OBP. While his power has been considerable, it’s worth noting that he’s walked just twice and struck out 18 times in his last 14 games.

‘€¢ Outfielder Keury De La Cruz went 0-for-3 with a walk. While it looked like he was heating up at the end of April, he’s instead now 3-for-26 in his last seven games; the walk on Tuesday was the first in that stretch. The 21-year-old, a 20/20 hitter last year, is hitting .232/.281/.366.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 4-2 WIN AT WEST VIRGINIA (PIRATES)

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‘€¢ Mookie Betts continued his wildly uncommon season. The 20-year-old second baseman had a standout day, going 2-for-2 with three walks and reaching base in all five of his plate appearances while stealing his fifth base (in six attempts) this year. He now has one of the oddest lines one will encounter at this stage of the year, when the sample sizes start to look slightly less small. He is hitting .171 with a .373 OBP thanks to 27 walks while striking out 12 times. One can imagine Betts’ batting average going up over time based on the fact that a) he makes contact (see the strikeout total) and b) his frame has room for strength gains. If that happens, given that he has good defensive tools, he represents an intriguing prospect.

As it stands right now, he represents a statistical oddity, as mentioned here.

‘€¢ Right-hander Pat Light, taken by the Sox in the supplemental first round of last year’s draft, represents a challenging player to evaluate on the basis of line scores. As a player whose mid-90s fastball is pounded into the dirt by opponents, he generates a lot of contact and groundballs that, at the lower levels of the minors, more frequently find holes than they do when a player progresses closer to the big leagues. Thus, an outing like Tuesday’s — a three-inning effort in which he gave up three runs (two earned) on six hits (five singles and a double) while striking out three and walking one — looks, purely from the line score, like a rough one. But the fact that two of the hits he permitted were of the infield variety and another was on a groundball that found a hole up the middle, while his third inning was prolonged by a fielding error on a grounder, suggests that his pitches were working much as they were supposed to. So while he has a 1-2 record and 5.09 ERA, the fact that he’s generating a lot of bad contact and that he’s struck out 19 (while walking 6) in 17 2/3 innings suggests a series of promising events for the 22-year-old.

Read More: alfredo aceves, anthony ranaudo, brandon snyder, bryce brentz
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