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Red Sox minor league roundup: Alarm bells (and silver linings?) for Allen Webster, and what they mean at trade deadline; Dan Butler, Ryan Lavarnway and Sox’ catching depth/trade chip equation; Michael Almanzar raking; Feats of Mookie; Teddy Stankiewicz debuts

07.22.13 at 12:41 pm ET
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It was not a good day for Allen Webster, who lasted only an inning and a third after giving up seven runs on three hits and five walks. Webster threw 49 pitches in the outing, and only 18 went for strikes — a shocking 37 percent rate. Since returning to Triple-A, Webster has allowed 12 runs on 11 hits and six walks in only six innings.

Webster’s pronounced control problems have become undeniable. While he was touching 98 at times with his fastball on Sunday, he wasn’€™t able to find the strike zone with it. Since being promoted to the majors back on June 22, Webster owns a 10.95 ERA with 16 walks, 21 strikeouts and three hit batters in 24 2/3 innings between the Red Sox and the PawSox.

One evaluator described Webster’s inability to command his fastball as an alarming development, suggesting that the outlook for his big league future could be clouded significantly if he is unable to turn the corner in that regard. For the season, between Triple-A and the majors, he now has 4.4 walks per nine innings — a rate that would be the highest of his professional career (save for his 18-inning, short-season pro debut in 2008).

The development is of considerable significance. For now, it would be virtually impossible for the Red Sox to consider a call-up for Webster until he rights the proverbial ship. As such, the Sox’ rotation depth — already something that the team was considering addressing via the trade market — appears further depleted while the organization tries to figure out how to proceed with the wildly talented but struggling right-hander. (Though the team still has options thanks to Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, Drake Britton and Steven Wright, all of whom are on the 40-man roster.)

It’s worth noting that Webster experienced a period of considerable struggle last year with Double-A Chattanooga while he was still in the Dodgers’ system. His command woes weren’t as extreme — not even close — but he went 1-5 with a 7.27 ERA, 29 strikeouts, 14 walks and six hit batters in his first seven starts (34 2/3 innings) of last season. The Dodgers opted to move him from the rotation to the bullpen for a couple of weeks, letting him work in relief every third day for five appearances.

Webster had a 1.13 ERA, 10 punchouts, four walks and no HBPs in eight innings spanning four appearances, and his fastball velocity and aggressiveness ticked up. Those traits appeared to translate to the rest of his season, after he shifted back to the rotation at the end of May, as Webster closed out his Dodgers tenure with a 2.09 ERA, 78 punchouts, 39 walks, a still-disconcerting 11 hit batters but no homers allowed in his final 82 innings in Chattanooga leading up to his trade to the Sox.

“When they sent me there, it’s like go get a change of scenery for a little bit, try to get things going back in the right direction,” Webster recalled earlier this year of his move to the bullpen. “Nothing was working out for me. I got a little confidence from one good inning and another good inning, and it kind of just started me in the right direction.”

The Sox, according to one industry source, recognize that Webster likely needs “something different” than just remaining in the rotation and trying to work his way through struggles. What form that takes remains to be seen, but as severe as Webster’s struggles have been, the organization does feature one notable silver lining.

Insofar as Webster’s arsenal and delivery offer some basis for comparison to Clay Buchholz, it is noteworthy that Buchholz suggested that he sees a lot of himself (circa 2008) in the young pitcher, and noted that he’s trying to share some of his own experiences with struggle in order to help Webster move beyond his challenging stretch.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 14-13 LOSS AT DURHAM (RAYS)

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Alex Hassan continues to hit. The outfielder went 2-for-5 with a walk and three RBI on Sunday, hitting safely in his fourth straight game. Hassan, who missed a good chunk of the year due to injury, is hitting .324/.439/.500 with two home runs and 12 doubles in 30 games in Triple-A this season, drawing 20 walks while striking out 26 times.

– A day after driving in four runs for the PawSox, catcher Dan Butler went 4-for-5 on the day, knocking his 13th double of the season and driving in a run while coming around to score twice. It was the first time Butler recorded four hits in a game this season. Butler went 7-for-11 with a double and a home run while driving in six and walking three times in Pawtucket’€™s series with the Bulls. The 26-year-old catcher is batting .258/.363/.437 with seven homers through 57 games this season. He’s also showing advanced defensive tools behind the plate, consistent with his reputation throughout his minor league career.

That performance bears comparison to that of Ryan Lavarnway, who hit .259/.367/.388 in 39 games with the PawSox this year as a 25-year-old. Lavarwnay threw out an impressive 44 percent of attempted base stealers in Triple-A, while Butler has clipped 29 percent of attempted thieves.

Butler does not have Lavarnway’s offensive ceiling. Yet it has been two years since Lavarnway looked like an emerging middle-of-the-order hitter, the one who blasted 34 homers in 2011. In terms of present value to the Sox, the distinction between Butler and Lavarnway is more minimal, with both looking more like solid secondary options rather than future front-liners. That being the case, especially given the scarcity of quality catching, it’s conceivable that either catcher could emerge as a trade chip this month — particularly given the presence of potential future everyday players Christian Vazquez in Double-A and Blake Swihart in High-A.

Mark Hamilton drove in three of Pawtucket’€™s 13 runs with two doubles and two singles, finishing the day 4-for-5 with a walk and three runs scored. It’€™s been a good few days for the first baseman, who has gone 7-for-14 with three doubles, a home run, and four RBI over his last three games. Hamilton is batting .276/.379/.506 with nine home runs and 12 doubles in 49 games with Pawtucket.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 7-5 WIN VS. READING (PHILLIES)

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– A big day at the plate for Michael Almanzar began with a solo home run to center field to lead off the second inning. Almanzar, playing first base for the third time in six games, finished the day going 3-for-4 with two runs scored and two RBI. The 22-year-old’€™s bat has really come alive in the last five games, with Almanzar going 9-for-18 with a home run and a double while driving in four and stealing three bases. He’€™d been dealing with a bit of a slump coming off a seven-game hit streak in the end of June, batting .100/.122/.100 in 10 games before batting .500 in his last five. Almanzar is now batting .277/.338/.453 with 12 home runs, two triples, and 23 doubles through 94 games for the Sea Dogs.

Garin Cecchini‘€™s bat has been somewhat silent as of late, with the third baseman and All-Star Futures Game participant batting .184/.279/.342 over his last 10 games. He went 1-for-4 and drove in a run on Sunday. Cecchini has drawn only one walk in his last five games, unusual for the 22-year-old who has worked 60 free passes in comparison to only 56 strikeouts between two clubs this season. Despite the slump, Cecchini is still batting .320/.421/.485 in 26 games since being promoted to Double-A Portland, and has 11 extra-base hits to his credit in 114 plate appearances.

Ryan Dent had a big three-run home run, his second of the season, to give the Sea Dogs a lead that they wouldn’€™t relinquish in the fourth inning, sending an 0-1 pitch over the center field wall. The 24-year-old, who has played five different positions for Portland this season (six if the inning he pitched is included), was sent to Double-A after struggling in 16 games with the PawSox this season. With the Sea Dogs, he’€™s compiled a .238/.330/.350 line, drawing 10 walks while striking out 10 times in 28 games. Dent, who rarely hits for much power, has only five extra-base hits in 91 plate appearances with Portland.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 8-7 LOSS AT FREDERICK (ORIOLES)

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– Feats of Mookie: Back. Mookie Betts homered for the second straight game, going 1-for-3 with a walk. Betts is once again showing his characteristic ability to put the bat on the ball when he swings (two strikeouts in 46 plate appearances), and he’s also sustaining the extra-base pop (five extra-base hits in 12 games) that made his breakout in Greenville (33 extra-base hits in 76 games) so compelling. So far, the 20-year-old is hitting .302/.326/.535 in Salem while having stolen six straight bases without getting caught.

– Right-hander Mike Augliera pitched well, allowing two runs on six hits (four singles, two doubles) in five innings while striking out five and walking one. The sinkerballer hasn’t allowed a homer in his last five starts (24 innings).

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 2-0 LOSS VS. LEXINGTON (ROYALS)

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– Left-hander Brian Johnson, in his return to Greenville after spending nearly two months on the DL (part of that on a rehab assignment in the GCL) due to shoulder tendinitis, had perhaps his most impressive outing of the year. He allowed just one hit (a double) while walking two and striking out five in four shutout innings. Though limited to 42 innings this year due to the injury, the 2012 first-rounder has 44 punchouts and 19 walks this year.

– Shortstop Jose Vinicio went 0-for-4 but stole a base, making him 11-for-11 in steal attempts since the beginning of June, with five steals in his last eight games. Of course, the value of that skill is limited by the fact that the 20-year-old is hitting .216/.257/.285.

SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 2-1 LOSS (12 INNINGS) AT WILLIAMSPORT (PHILLIES)

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– Right-hander Teddy Stankiewicz, the Sox’ second-round pick, made his pro debut, pitching a scoreless first inning with a flyout, pop-out and groundout. The 6-foot-4 19-year-old will work under innings restrictions while acclimating to the five-day routine.

– Right-hander Sergio Gomez gave up a run on a solo homer and encountered some control issues (a season-high three walks limited him to three innings), but was nonetheless powerful. The 19-year-old punched out six and gave up just one hit besides the homer (the first longball he’s allowed in Lowell this year), and he ranks second in the New York-Penn League with 41 punchouts and fifth in strikeouts per nine innings (10.7) among pitchers with at least 20 innings of work.

Manuel Margot, whose streak of 27 straight games reaching base ended with an 0-for-5 night on Friday, went 1-for-3 with a walk and two steals on Sunday. The dynamic 18-year-old has nine steals (without getting caught) in his last nine games, and on the year, he’s now hitting .269/.359/.324.

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Read More: allen webster, brian johnson, Dan Butler, michael almanzar
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