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Red Sox minor league roundup: Making sense of Francellis Montas, Jose Iglesias debuts at third, Bryce Brentz being Bone Buhner?

05.22.13 at 10:24 am ET
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Right-hander Francellis Montas struck out eight in five innings on Tuesday. (Darrell Snow/Greenville Drive)

What to make of the hardest throwing pitcher in the Red Sox system, at a time when he’s beginning to string together some dominant starts?

Francellis Montas has long had a reputation that preceded him. Even before he pitched in the States, word started to circulate about the teenager who could reach triple-digits with his fastball. Still, in his first couple seasons in pro ball, he struggled to harness his power, as evidenced by the fact that he walked 30 (the same number that he struck out) in 34 1/3 innings in the Dominican Summer League in 2010 and 2011.

Last year, however, he took a considerable step forward while spending most of the year in the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League. He struck out 41 and walked just 12 in 40 2/3 innings.

This year, despite a 1-4 record and 5.08 ERA, he’s been even better than that while facing more age-appropriate competition in the Single-A South Atlantic League. The 20-year-old Montas continued what has been a string of eye-opening starts by tossing five innings in which he permitted just one run on one hit (a solo homer), walked one and struck out eight.

On the year, Montas now has 49 strikeouts and just 10 walks in 39 innings. His 11.3 strikeouts per nine rank 18th in all of minor league baseball. Of the 17 players who are ahead of him on the list, only one (19-year-old Tyler Glasnow) is younger. Of the 58 players with 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings (or more) this year, his rate of 4.9 strikeouts per walk ranks sixth. So, he’s in a somewhat elite class when it comes to having power stuff (a fastball that, as a starter, sits in the mid- to high-90s, along with a slider that has made considerable progress to become a wipeout pitch) while having the willingness to attack the strike zone with it.

And Tuesday continued what has been an increasingly impressive stretch for the right-hander. In his last five starts, he’s punched out 31 and walked just four in 23 innings (12.1 strikeouts and 1.6 walks per nine) with a 3.13 ERA.

Still, because Montas is in the South Atlantic League, pitching against hitters who have rarely experienced the kind of velocity and power stuff he brings to the table, such numbers can be challenging to interpret. For instance, on Tuesday, he reached 100 mph, but ultimately, threw strikes with just half of the fastballs he threw. Similarly, a pitcher who possesses a legitimate breaking ball in Single-A will typically get tons of swings and misses from players whose eyes are relatively untrained for pitches with such movement. It’s also worth noting that Montas, while showing some feel for a changeup, currently looks more like a two-pitch bullpen arm.

But if the 20-year-old is able to learn to change speeds or generate better downward movement to improve his groundball rates and address some of his homer-prone tendencies (he’s now yielded seven in 39 innings), the upside is undeniably considerable for such an arm.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 9-8 WIN VS. INDIANAPOLIS (PIRATES)

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Jose Iglesias made the first appearance of his professional career at a position other than shortstop, getting the start at third base on Tuesday. The skilled defender made an error on his first putout attempt, delivering a low throw to first base after making a diving pick on a smash to his right that he fielded from his knee, but he recorded two assists and two put-outs over the duration of the game. Iglesias also went 1-for-3 at the plate with a walk and an infield single.

“He made a nice play on the line. I thought he miscalculated the throw over there,” DiSarcina said about the error on Iglesias’ first attempt. “It’s a different throw [than from shortstop], it’s a different angle, and he didn’t get all of it on it, he didn’t get his arm up to its normal slot that he would like, and I think after that, I think he realized and he made the adjustment quickly.”

Overall, the manager thought Iglesias fared well in his first start. Iglesias also seemed satisfied with the performance, reiterating several times how much he enjoyed the experience, exclaiming, “I love it!” with a smile. The infielder says he’s ready to play second base in a game as well. He has limited experience playing second base in games with the Cuban national team.

– Outfielder Bryce Brentz, one of the streakiest performers in the Red Sox system, is currently riding one of his formidable offensive rolls. Brentz is batting .275/.326/.500 on the year after a 2-for-4 day on Tuesday, in which he clobbered his eighth home run of the year and his first off of a left-hander, going to the opposite field and depositing a ball into the bleachers in right-center.

Brentz has hit safely in 11 of his last 13 games, with seven multi-hit games in that span and a .340/.364/.566 line. Over the course of the 13 games, the 24-year-old has three home runs, three doubles and 12 RBI.

“He just gets RBIs,” said manager Gary DiSarcina of a player with a .329/.378/.579 line with runners on base, as compared to a .226/.278/.429 profile with the bases empty. “He’s just an RBI type of player.”

DiSarcina has been satisfied with Brentz’s recent performance, and compared him with longtime Mariners outfielder Jay Buhner, saying, “Playing against Jay a lot of times he would get in those counts those 2-0, 1-0, 3-1 counts with men in scoring position and he would do damage. He had a little streakiness to him, and Brentz is the same way.”

DiSarcina also mentioned how impressed he’s been with Brentz’s “ability to go the other way with power, his ability to turn on a fastball up and in … and his ability to be clutch.” He noted that when Brentz is on a hot streak, he’s able to hit balls hard to every field, but when things aren’t going as well, “he comes out of the zone a little bit and gets a little antsy up there and swings at the first pitch.”

Rubby De La Rosa was initially scheduled to start Tuesday afternoon’s contest, but was scratched before the game with an injury. DiSarcina said that the pitcher tweaked his left intercostal muscle while playing catch on Monday. He described it as “no biggie,” but also noted that it’s not yet known for how long the injury will sideline De La Rosa. Chris Hernandez made the start instead, allowing three runs (one earned) on five hits in four innings. (More on De La Rosa here.)

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 5-3 WIN VS. NEW HAMPSHIRE (BLUE JAYS)

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– Shortstop Xander Bogaerts went 1-for-2 with a double and a pair of walks. When he suffered a side injury in early-May, he was hitting his stride, starting to add power to his strong on-base percentages. Since returning from a four-game spell on the sidelines, he’s proven unable to maintain the same consistency with which he was performing pre-injury. Through May 3, he was hitting .303/.373/.465. Since returning on May 8, he’s hitting .245/.356/.367, with both his average and power numbers taking a hit. However, it’s interesting to note that Bogaerts — who walked just once in a month in Double-A at the end of last year — has been able to sustain offensive productivity through strong OBPs thanks to an approach that has netted the 20-year-old eight walks (against 11 strikeouts) in 13 games back. That suggests what the Sox sometimes refer to as survival skills during a period of struggle while being challenged as one of the youngest players (indeed, the youngest position player) at his level.

– Third baseman Michael Almanzar launched his third homer in six games. The 22-year-old is now hitting .290/.355/.516 with eight homers this year. He’s tied for fourth in the Eastern League in homers.

– Though “slump” would be a relative term, right-hander Brandon Workman has seen something of a step backwards in his results in his last few starts. After forging a 2.80 ERA through his first six outings, he now has a 6.06 ERA in his last three outings, albeit with a solid 18-to-6 strikeout-to-walk rate. In the month of May, opponents are hitting .295 against him — almost double the .153 mark to which he held hitters in April.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 11-1 LOSS VS. WINSTON-SALEM (WHITE SOX)

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– Third baseman Garin Cecchini went 0-for-3 with a walk, marking just the fourth time in 24 games over the past 30 days that he’s gone hitless.

– Outfielder Brandon Jacobs went 1-for-3 with a double and walk, giving him six extra-base hits (four doubles, two homers) in his last nine games. The double on Tuesday came against a right-handed pitcher, giving the 22-year-old 15 extra-base hits this year against righties and just one against lefties — a dramatic departure from 2012, when Jacobs had a .394/.472/.702 line against lefties (with 15 extra-base hits) and marks of .213/.280/.329 (with 28 extra base hits in four times the plate appearances) against righties.

– Catcher Blake Swihart is day-to-day after taking a baseball bat off the head on Sunday. He sat out of Tuesday’s game.

– Catcher Carson Blair has shown a good approach in his time in the lineup. In 50 plate appearances this year, the 23-year-old is now hitting .325/.460/.525 with nine walks and 15 strikeouts.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 7-2 LOSS AT HICKORY (RANGERS)

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– Second baseman Mookie Betts went 1-for-5 with a single, extending his hitting streak to 16 games. He has another, more unusual streak in progress as well, as the 20-year-old hasn’t struck out in his last seven games.

Katie Morrison contributed to this report from Pawtucket.

Read More: brandon jacobs, Brandon Workman, bryce brentz, carson blair
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