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Red Sox minor league roundup: The asterisk on Henry Owens’ potential; Mookie Betts unstoppable; Blake Swihart surging; Jamie Callahan, enemy of hits

08.23.13 at 11:58 am ET
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Henry Owens is the Red Sox‘ top pitching prospect. But even top prospects come with risks. On Thursday, the dazzlingly talented left-hander offered a reminder of that notion.

Owens could not throw strikes on a day where he lasted just three innings for Double-A Portland against Trenton. He walked a career-high seven, throwing just 35 of 77 pitches for strikes. To his credit, the 21-year-old still managed to minimize the damage done against him, permitting two runs and just one earned while striking out three and allowing two earned runs. Still, as much as Owens looks like a potential mid-rotation starter or better in the big leagues, his early-career control questions will determine the alignment of his potential to his performance, particularly against increasingly disciplined hitters in the upper levels.

While the seven walks on Thursday represented a career-high extreme, they didn’t represent a total aberration. Owens has walked five or more batters four times this year, and four or more in seven of his 24 starts. And while he has a remarkable 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland this year, the left-hander has also walked 4.8 batters per nine — up from 4.2 per nine a year ago.

There are mitigating factors in his command issues. Among them, Owens is young relative to his competition and so still working to refine his pitch mix, and his lanky and still developing 6-foot-7 frame lends itself to later-developing command (once his physical development more or less stabilizes, something that typically results in a greater ability to repeat a delivery and hence command a baseball). It’s also worth noting that left-handers with control challenges in the minors can emerge as dominant big leaguers — witness, for instance, a pitcher like Gio Gonzalez, who walked 4.1 batters per nine innings in the minors — the same average per nine innings he’s produced in the big leagues, a number that hasn’t stopped him from being a two-time All-Star and a pitcher with a 3.14 ERA since 20010.

However, while a significant jump in control isn’t a certain prerequisite for big league excellence, the likelihood of Owens scraping his considerable ceiling would increase considerably with improvements in his ability to attack the strike zone.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 5-2 WIN AT SCRANTON/WILKES-BARRE (YANKEES)

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Steven Wright allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits in six innings, striking out three and walking one. He now has a 2.49 ERA in his last eight Triple-A starts, a span in which he’s been able to keep his knuckleball in the strike zone with dramatically improved frequency. Wright has walked 3.4 per nine innings over his last 50 1/3 Triple-A frames, compared to 5.1 per nine innings prior to that.

– Infielder Brock Holt may be the foremost lock in the organization for a September call-up based on the fact that he’s the only player aside from Dustin Pedroia on the 40-man roster who has played second base with any regularity. On Thursday, Holt thumped his second homer of the year, going 1-for-4 with a walk. In three games since being sent down to Triple-A Pawtucket, the 25-year-old is 4-for-12 with a double, homer and walk. On the year in Pawtucket, he’s hitting .267/.331/.311, including a line of .295/.349/.358 against right-handed pitchers.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 4-2 WIN AT TRENTON (YANKEES)

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Garin Cecchini went 0-for-3 but drew a walk to extend his streak of consecutive games reaching base by either walk or hit to 31, tied for the sixth longest in franchise history.

– First baseman Travis Shaw went 0-for-1 but reached base four times, walking thrice and getting drummed by a pitch. The 23-year-old is fifth in the Eastern League with 73 walks, allowing him to post a .341 OBP despite a .221 average.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 10-3 WIN AT MYRTLE BEACH (RANGERS)

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– Feats of Mookie: Dominating. Mookie Betts went 4-for-5 with a double on Thursday, his third four-hit game of the year but the 20-year-old’s first since being promoted from Single-A Greenville to High-A Salem. Betts seemingly required a bit of time to get his footing after his promotion, hitting .230/.262/.426 in his first 17 games in Salem. Since then, however, he’s been among the hottest hitters in the Carolina League, reaching base by walk or hit in 24 straight games while hitting .368/.461/.552 with three homers and 11 steals. In that time, he ranks second in the Carolina League in average, third in OBP, second in slugging and second in steals. If one views the ability of players to dominate older competition at a given level, Betts has demonstrated that capacity for almost four weeks — a small but big-enough-to-be-interesting sample. He’s hitting .311/.383/.500 in Salem after amassing a .296/.418/.477 line in Greenville.

– A year ago, catcher Blake Swihart had a fairly modest offensive performance for most of the year. Through the end of July, he was hitting just .255/.298/.395 while adjusting to the rigors of catching on a full-time basis (he moved all over the field in high school) at the professional level. But in August, he offered some sustained glimpses of promise, finishing the year with a .293/.349/.397 line in his final 16 games. 

That performance seemingly served as a springboard for the 21-year-old to make a considerable step forward in his second full pro season in 2013. The 2011 first-rounder added to a standout season with a 2-for-4 performance that included a pair of doubles on Thursday. For the year, his numbers look fairly close to what they did last August — a .285 average, .353 OBP and .419 slugging mark. He’s once again delivering a strong finishing kick, with a .339/.354/.484 mark that includes eight extra-base hits (seven doubles and a triple) in August.

– Right-hander Luis Diaz, a 21-year-old making his Salem debut after a promotion from Greenville, delivered a quality start in his first appearance in High-A. Diaz allowed three runs (two earned) in six innings while yielding six hits and two walks. He struck out two. Diaz has allowed three or fewer earned runs in 12 straight starts, and in his last 11 outings dating to June 25, he’s 7-0 with a 1.07 ERA that ranks as the best among all qualifying minor league pitchers at full-season affiliates. In that time, he has 65 strikeouts, 13 walks and no homers allowed in 67 innings.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 7-3 LOSS VS. ROME (BRAVES)

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– Outfielder Aneury Tavarez went 0-for-4 but did get hit by a pitch while stealing his 25th base of the year (in 38 attempts). He’s hitless (0-for-12) in his last four games to drop to .256/.296/.390 for the year.

– First baseman Boss Moanaroa went 1-for-3 with a double, his third extra-base hit in four games and his fourth in his last six contests. Even with the glimpse of extra-base capability, the 22-year-old has had a rough year, hitting .170/.278/.263 in 74 games — down from a .262/.391/.365 line in Greenville in 2012.

SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 6-1 WIN AT CONNECTICUT (TIGERS)

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– Right-hander Jamie Callahan, two days before his 19th birthday, allowed one run on just two hits (both singles) and three walks while striking out five in five innings. It marked the fourth time in his last six starts that the 2012 second-rounder has held his opponents to two or fewer hits. In that four-week stretch, he’s holding opponents to a .156/.210/.198 line with 31 strikeouts, six walks and no homers allowed in 29 1/3 innings. He has a 1.84 ERA during that stretch, and a 3.53 ERA on the year in a league where he’s been the youngest pitcher for most of the season.

– Fellow 18-year-old Manuel Margot returned from his three-week spell on the DL ready to hit. He went 3-for-5 with a double on Thursday, and Margot has now collected hits in each of his five games since returning from the DL, with a .391/.417/.565 line in that time. On the year, he’s posting a .277/.354/.350 line — excellent marks considering his age in a college-heavy league.

Margot is a dynamic, aggressive player with the ability to impact the game as a hitter, base runner and defender, though the center fielder is prone at times to hyperaggressiveness that yields outs. He was thrown out attempting a steal (the seventh time in 22 attempts he’s been thrown out this year) and also ran into an out trying to stretch his double into a triple. Still, the Sox would typically rather teach a player how to control his aggressiveness on the bases instead of teaching him how to push the envelope.

ROOKIE LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE RED SOX: 6-3 WIN AT GCL RAYS

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– First-rounder Trey Ball had his best outing to date, tossing a pair of scoreless innings while scattering three hits, walking none and striking out a batter. The contest marked the second time in his five starts that Ball did not issue a walk.

– Rehabbing outfielder Bryce Brentz went 1-for-4 with a homer, giving him two homers and two doubles in five rehab games in the GCL while he works back from his meniscus surgery. His 18 homers on the year (16 in Pawtucket, 2 in the GCL) lead all Sox minor leaguers.

DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: 5-1 WIN AT DSL DODGERS

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Victor Acosta continued to show attention-grabbing power. The 17-year-old native of Venezuela went 3-for-4 and launched his eighth homer of the year while also adding a double. His eight homers are the most by any Sox player in the DSL since at least 2006 (the first season for the DSL Sox in the baseball-reference.com database). He is tied for third in the DSL in homers while hitting .261/.338/.422 with 25 walks and 22 strikeouts over 62 games.

Read More: blake swihart, bryce brentz, henry owens, jamie callahan
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