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Red Sox minor league roundup: Garin Cecchini’s remarkable consistency; Red Sox catching stockpile impresses; Brian Johnson’s strong run to the end; Joe Gunkel dominates in Lowell

08.20.13 at 12:32 pm ET
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Garin Cecchini had another game for Double-A in which he went 1-for-3 with a single and a walk, a nearly nightly staple of his minor league existence this year. His performance by month:

April (High-A Salem): .392 average, .478 OBP

May (High-A Salem): .326 average, .444 OBP

June (High-A Salem, promoted to Double-A Portland): .337 average, .481 OBP

July (Double-A Portland): .302 average, .402 OBP

August (Double-A Portland): .281 average, .425 OBP

That’s a player whose ability to barrel the ball permits him to have a reliably high average, and whose on-base skills allow him to minimize the impact of any slumps. Cecchini has shown power in inconsistent spurts this year, but in his case, if he does develop the ability to drive the ball for doubles and homers more consistently, it’s a bonus rather than a necessity. The 22-year-old is the type of player who represents an easy-to-predict building block for a lineup that prioritizes consistency and a work-the-count approach over raw power. In other words, he looks like an obvious long-term fit for the organization that selected him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET: 3-0 WIN VS. BUFFALO (BLUE JAYS)

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– Catcher Dan Butler added to what is likely the best offensive stretch of his career. He went 1-for-3 while mashing his 15th homer of the year and drawing a walk on Monday. In the month that ran from July 19-Aug. 19, in 20 games, Butler hit .352/.410/.746, ranking second in the International League in that time in homers (the leader during that time, Zach Walters of Syracuse, had nine homers in 27 games). On the year, Butler is hitting .269/.361/.498 with 15 homers in 75 games.

The 26-year-old is considered a solid defender who calls games well with solid catch-and-throw skills (his 28 percent caught stealing rate is lowered considerably by a lot of work with knuckleballers Steven Wright and Charlie Haeger in Triple-A). He’s a big league-ready catcher at this stage of his career. The PawSox now have a pair of those on their roster, in fact, with Ryan Lavarnway having been sent back down to Pawtucket after Sunday’s game. Meanwhile, Christian Vazquez is essentially screaming for a promotion to Triple-A with his stellar performance this year in Portland.

With David Ross signed through 2014, even with the possibility that catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia leaves in free agency (no given — his importance to the Red Sox pitching staff and major league roster has become very evident this year), the Sox still have a pronounced crowding of their upper levels with catching. Particularly given that the Red Sox have a crowded 40-man roster with a number of players who will have to be added this offseason (most notably, Anthony Ranaudo, Garin Cecchini and Bryce Brentz), the Sox would appear to be in a position where they will examine the market value of their pool of catchers, given both their surplus and other roster needs in the offseason.

Butler’s performance this year certainly will command the attention of both the Sox and other organizations looking to address their big league catching needs.

– Right-hander Clayton Mortensen threw six shutout innings, allowing just one hit while punching out five and walking three. That’s two straight six-inning outings for Mortensen, who has allowed a combined one run in those two starts. Indeed, in four starts since being moved to the rotation to get stretched out, the 28-year-old now has a 1.35 ERA with 16 strikeouts and six walks in 20 innings.

– Right-hander Brock Huntzinger tossed 1 2/3 shutout innings, allowing a hit and two walks while striking out two. In his last 10 outings, he’s given up just one earned run in 15 2/3 innings, with a 0.57 ERA, 14 strikeouts and seven walks in that time. His walk rate is a touch high this year (3.8 per nine innings), but otherwise, it’s hard to quibble with a performance that has seen the 25-year-old right-hander dominate in both Portland and Pawtucket, with a combined 1.99 ERA, 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings and a .211 opponents’ batting average with just three homers allowed in 63 1/3 innings.

– Right-hander Jose Contreras opted out of his minor league deal with the Red Sox.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 3-2 WIN VS. NEW HAMPSHIRE (BLUE JAYS)

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– Corner infielder Michael Almanzar went 2-for-3 with a walk while driving in a run, furthering the case that August has been his best month since April. In his last 10 games, Almanzar is hitting .341 with a .386 OBP and .366 slugging mark; for the month, he has a line of .315/.383/.389. His power has fallen off considerably since a scorching start to the year, but his .275/.337/.426 line and solid defense at both corners furthers the notion that Almanzar presented in 2012 in High-A Salem (while hitting .300/.353/.458) that he’s a potential big leaguer, something that seemed far-fetched during his epic struggles in the lower minors from 2009-11.

– Left-hander Chris Hernandez has been sharp since his return to Double-A Portland. The 24-year-old allowed two runs in eight innings while striking out three and walking one. In three Double-A starts, he now has a 2.25 ERA with nine strikeouts and just four walks, a sharp contrast to his 3-9 struggle with a 5.72 ERA in Pawtucket.

– Right-hander Keith Couch was named Eastern League Pitcher of the Week after allowing two runs in 16 innings in his pair of wins last week — a two-start performance that included the first nine-inning complete game by a Portland pitcher since 2007.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 9-2 WIN VS. CAROLINA (INDIANS)

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– Another factor in the Red Sox’ flexibility to deal catching in their upper levels is a signal being sent from Salem. Blake Swihart has looked this year an awful lot like what the Sox thought he might become when they drafted him in the first round (No. 26 overall) in 2011.

The switch-hitter went 2-for-4 with a double and a triple on Monday, bumping his August totals to .345/.351/.473. Though he has just one walk in 13 games this month, his low strikeout totals in that time (seven) suggest that’s largely a byproduct of a player who is squaring up the ball rather than someone without an approach.

On the year, the 21-year-old is hitting .285/.353/.415. The switch-hitter has solid numbers against righties (.270/.340/.397) and a robust .343/.403/.486 line while batting from his natural side against lefties.

Mookie Betts went 1-for-3 with a single, a walk and a steal, and the 2011 fifth-rounder has now reached base in 17 straight games. In that time, he’s hitting .362/.448/.517, with the 20-year-old posting the fifth-highest OBP and sixth-highest average in the Carolina League in that time. He’s also 17-for-17 in stolen base attempts in the Carolina League for the year.

– Right-hander Heri Quevedo tossed five innings in which he allowed one run on six hits and three walks while striking out three. In 49 2/3 innings in July and August, he has a 2.36 ERA with 46 strikeouts and 22 walks.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 5-1 LOSS VS. LEXINGTON (ROYALS)

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– Though left-hander Brian Johnson took the loss, he continued to impress in his final stretch in Greenville. He threw four no-hit innings, allowing only one walk, before getting touched for three runs (two earned) on three hits (a double and two singles), a walk, a hit batter and three wild pitches in his final two frames. Johnson struck out six and submitted his third straight quality start, adding to what has been a strong finish to the 2013 season for the 2012 first-rounder out of the University of Florida. Over his last three starts, he has a 1.42 ERA with 17 strikeouts and four walks in 19 innings, and in six outings since returning from the DL (for shoulder tendinitis), he has a 1.45 ERA with 30 strikeouts and 11 walks in 31 innings. While he seems likely to spend the rest of this year in Greenville, Johnson represents a pitcher who has shown enough stuff that he could not only elevate his prospect profile considerably next year in High-A but also accelerate the pace of his player development, moving faster than a level-a-year pace, if he can stay healthy.

– Outfielder Kendrick Perkins went 1-for-3 with an RBI single and a walk, with the 21-year-old improving to .292/.370/.417 in August.

SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 6-2 WIN VS. CONNECTICUT (TIGERS)

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–  Teddy Stankiewicz, the Red Sox’ second round pick in this year’s draft, went an inning and two-thirds in his sixth start of the season, giving up a run on two hits and a walk while striking out one. His fastball sat in the 88-92 mph range. He was scheduled to throw at least two innings, but a high pitch count (46 pitches) forced him out of the game early.

Stankiewicz has been very good so far in his professional career; this is just the second outing in which he’s given up an earned run, and he hasn’t given up more than one earned run in any start. The walk was actually the first free pass Stankiewicz has issued this season. The right-hander has given up two earned runs on nine hits and a walk and seven strikeouts in 10 2/3 innings so far for Lowell, good for a 1.69 ERA and 0.938 WHIP.

Mario Alcantara, who has made nine starts on the year but was appearing in relief of Stankiewicz, was very effective on Monday, allowing just one run on two hits in 5 1/3 innings while fanning a season-high eight batters. Alcantara struggled in his last two starts before moving to the piggyback role, allowing a total of 10 earned runs in just 6 1/3 innings. But since moving to the bullpen, the 20-year-old right-hander has been impressive, appearing as a piggyback starter and giving up only one earned run on three hits and four walks in 10 1/3 innings (two appearances).

Overall this season, Alcantara has been inconsistent but dominant at times, and has posted a 4.10 ERA in 11 games and 48 1/3 innings, striking out 37 while walking 22 and allowing just one home run all year.

– Righty Joe Gunkel closed out the well-pitched game with two flawless innings, and he was literally unhittable, striking out all six of the batters he faced. That leaves Gunkel with 24 punchouts in just 15 1/3 innings, an average of over 14 batters per nine innings. Also impressive is the fact that Gunkel has walked only three batters. That gives him a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 8.00. The 21-year-old has been phenomenal in his time with Lowell, allowing just three earned runs in 15 1/3 innings (1.76 ERA).

ROOKIE-LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE RED SOX: 5-1 WIN AT GCL ORIOLES

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Bryce Brentz played his first full game on his way back from a knee injury. Brentz served as the DH and had a fantastic day at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a home run, double, walk and four RBI. The outfielder has been sidelined since early July when he underwent surgery on a torn meniscus, and last played for Pawtucket on July 5.

– Also making a rehab appearance was Kolbrin Vitek, who was placed on the DL on July 19 after suffering a concussion. Vitek played five innings in left field and went hitless in three at-bats, grounding out twice and striking out in his final at-bat of the day. Vitek last appeared in a game for Portland on July 18.

– For the second night in a row, Wendell Rijo drew two walks, but this time he added a single and scored two runs on the day. Rijo has been an on-base machine for the GCL Sox this year, hitting .273 with a .374 OBP, drawing a total of 21 walks while striking out only 20 times in 173 plate appearances. That means that Rijo is walking in about 12 percent of plate appearances, which is above the league average, of roughly nine percent. The 17-year-old has been holding his own in a league where the average age is 19, batting .273/.374/.371 with 14 doubles and 14 RBI in 42 games.

– Fourth-round pick Myles Smith has yet to allow an earned run in his professional career, throwing two perfect innings in his third start and striking out four of the seven batters he faced (one batter reached on a fielding error by third baseman Aneudis Peralta in the second). Smith has allowed just one hit in his five innings of work while racking up six punch outs.

DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: 3-0 WIN AT DSL ROYALS

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– It was a big day for the 16-year-old Basabe twins, as center fielder Luis Alexander Basebe went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles and a walk while his brother, second baseman Luis Alejandro Basabe, went 1-for-3 with his first professional homer and a walk.

– Left-hander Luis Ramos tossed five shutout innings in which he punched out five and once again did not issue a walk. The 18-year-old now has struck out 38 and walked just four in 57 1/3 innings this year. In nine of his 12 outings, he hasn’t issued a free pass.

Read More: blake swihart, brian johnson, Dan Butler, garin cecchini
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