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Red Sox minor league roundup: Mookie being Buxton/Springer; Henry Owens joins elite Red Sox pitching prospect pool; Blake Swihart, game-changer

09.02.13 at 8:09 am ET
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A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Sunday:

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 5-0 WIN (5 INNINGS) AT LEHIGH VALLEY (PHILLIES)

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— For the sixth time in 10 Triple-A starts since the beginning of July, knuckleballer Steven Wright did not allow an earned run. The right-hander logged five shutout innings, tossing a complete game (albeit of the rain-shortened variety) while allowing three hits, walking two and striking out two. In his last 10 minor league appearances, Wright now has a 2.04 ERA with 38 strikeouts and 23 walks while permitting just one homer in 61 2/3 innings. He has given up two or fewer walks in five of his last six starts.

Jackie Bradley Jr. went 1-for-3 with a double and two strikeouts while getting hit by a pitch. In 79 games this year with Triple-A Pawtucket, he’s now hitting .273 with a .373 OBP and .470 slugging percentage — marks that look fairly similar to what he did last year after a mid-year promotion to Double-A Portland, but with more power. In 61 games last year with Portland, Bradley hit .271/.373/.437. While he was not among the Red Sox’ first wave of September call-ups on Sunday, given that both Shane Victorino and Jacoby Ellsbury left the contest with injuries, it’s possible that the Sox will choose to give themselves a bit more outfield depth by recalling Bradley.

— Outfielder Alex Hassan, in his first game since August 15 (he’d been on the DL with a broken finger), went 2-for-3 with a walk. Though his playing time has been limited severely by injuries, he’s had a spectacular offensive year when able to play. The 25-year-old is hitting .321/.434/.462. While the Sox’ decision to put Hassan on the 40-man roster last winter came as something of a surprise following a year in which he hit .256/.377/.365 as a 24-year-old in Pawtucket, his performance this year has been sufficiently outstanding that he would stand virtually no chance of clearing waivers if the Sox were to attempt to remove him from the 40-man roster.

— With catcher Ryan Lavarnway moving up to the big leagues, the Red Sox promoted catcher Christian Vazquez to Triple-A Pawtucket after a performance that suggests he deserves mention as one of the top catching prospects in all of the minors. In his age 22 season (Vazquez turned 23 just last month), the 2008 ninth-rounder hit .289 with a .376 OBP and .395 slugging mark while throwing out a whopping (and league-leading) 46.5 percent of attempted base stealers. For all of Vazquez’s exceptional defensive tools, it is necessary to note that he committed 23 passed balls — far and away the highest total in the league, and not just a product of the occasional presence of knuckleballers in Portland — but his potential to be an elite defender who controls the game along with a player capable of showing above-average hit and on-base skills (particularly for his position, where the big league norm this year was a .248 average and .314 OBP) suggests a player who now must be considered a potential everyday catcher by the 2015 season.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 9-4 LOSS VS. TRENTON (YANKEES)

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It likely wasn’t the final note for which Henry Owens might have hoped with Portland. He suffered his first loss in Double-A, allowing three runs on six hits (five extra-base hits: two homers, three doubles) in 5 2/3 innings. Still.

The left-hander punched out eight and walked one while filling up the strike zone by throwing 67 of 100 pitches for strikes on Sunday. That capped a season-ending, six-start stretch in Portland in which Owens went 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA while racking up 13.6 strikeouts per nine innings (albeit with 4.5 walks per nine). Though he was the third-youngest pitcher in the Eastern League this year, Owens achieved dominant results against older opponents, as evidenced by his .167 opponents’ batting average.

On the year, between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland, Owens absorbed a considerable innings boost — he went from 101 2/3 frames in 23 outings last year to 135 in 26 starts this year — but sustained dominance throughout his increased workload. The 21-year-old left-hander held opponents to a .177 average on the year (the second lowest mark among all pitchers with full-season minor league affiliates). He went 11-6 with a 2.67 ERA. He punched out 169 batters (the highest strikeout total by a Sox minor leaguer since Clay Buchholz punched out 171 in 125 innings in 2007). He had a 0.89 WHIP.

There have been few seasons like that among recent Red Sox pitching prospects. The ability to generate swings and misses in such volume has been rare. Indeed, since 2000, Owens is just the sixth Red Sox minor leaguer to punch out at least 150 batters in a season. Here he is in comparison with the other five:

2013 – Henry Owens: age 20 season, High-A/Double-A, 2.67 ERA, 135 innings, 169 strikeouts, 11.3 K/9, 4.5 BB/9

2007 – Clay Buchholz: age 22 season, Double-A/Triple-A, 2.44 ERA, 125 1/3 innings, 171 strikeouts, 12.3 K/9, 2.5 BB/9

2005 – Jon Lester: age 21 season, Double-A, 2.61 ERA, 148 1/3 innings, 163 strikeouts, 9.9 K/9, 3.5 BB/9

2005 – Anibal Sanchez: age 21 season, High-A/Double-A, 2.85 ERA, 136 innings, 158 strikeouts, 10.5 K/9, 2.6 BB/9

2004 – Jonathan Papelbon: age 23 season, High-A, 2.64 ERA, 129 2/3 innings, 153 strikeouts, 10.6 K/9, 3.0 BB/9

2003 – Bronson Arroyo: age 26 season, Triple-A, 3.43 ERA, 149 2/3 innings, 155 strikeouts, 9.3 K/9, 1.4 BB/9

That’s it. A few things stand out.

1) All of Owens’ predecessors in the Sox system who generated strikeouts in a fashion akin to what he did have enjoyed tremendous major league success. Sanchez is the only one of those pitchers who hasn’t been an All-Star, and he’s currently the American League leader in ERA (2.68).

2) Owens is younger than all of those predecessors when he hit the 150-strikeouts mark.

3) Owens had a higher walk rate than any of the other pitchers on the list. But, given that he is younger than any of the others, and given that he’s a pitcher who shows considerable intelligence and aptitude on the mound, the degree of reservation inspired by that concern should be dampened in some respects by the prospect that he has the capacity — and time — to improve. And if he can do so, then the performances of his swing-and-miss predecessors in the Sox system suggest why Owens has a very impressive ceiling.

Garin Cecchini OBP watch: .443, tops in all of the minors. Cecchini gained some separation from his competition in the OBP race with one of the best games of his career, a 2-for-3 performance in which he doubled and walked three times. (Runner-up Allan Dykstra returned to the lineup of Double-A Binghamton, going 1-for-3 with a homer and walk, with his OBP holding steady at .436.) It was the fourth time in his career that the 22-year-old has reached base five times — and the third in which he did so by collecting two hits and three walks. (All three of his prior five on-base games came in 2012.)

— First baseman Travis Shaw went 2-for-3 and got hit by a pitch. One of his hits (and the HBP) came against a left-hander, continuing a year in which the left-handed-hitting Shaw has held his own against fellow southpaws (.230/.360/.415 mark) in a fashion that is easy to overlook given his overall struggles this year (.221/.342/.394, and .217/.334/.385 against right-handers). The 23-year-old’s performance against lefties would have been ample to suggest a future everyday player. It is his more-surprising struggles against righties that made the 2013 season a disappointing one for the 2011 ninth-rounder. If he can sustain his performance against lefties while achieving what should be a natural platoon advantage against righties, then Shaw still has a chance to re-assert himself as a potential Red Sox option at first base.

The Portland Press-Herald reports that Chris Balcom-Miller was in a sling due to what was diagnosed as a slight tendon tear in his right elbow. The 24-year-old pitched in just nine games this year, with a 4.12 ERA, 8.2 strikeouts and 4.1 walks per nine innings.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 2-1 WIN VS. LYNCHBURG, 3-0 WIN VS. LYNCHBURG (BRAVES)

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— Feats of Mookie: Unyielding. Mookie Betts went 1-for-3 with a steal (his 20th in 22 Carolina League attempts, and 38th in 42 attempts overall between Greenville and Salem) in the first game of the doubleheader and then 3-for-3 with a double in the second game, boosting his line to a .337 average, .413 OBP and .541 slugging mark in Salem and .312/.416/.502 with 15 homers for the year.

The number of players with at least a .400 OBP, 10 homers and 25 steals this year in the minors? That would be three. Aside from Betts, the other two? Byron Buxton, considered the top prospect in all of minor league baseball, who hit .334/.424/.520 with 12 homers and 55 steals as a 19-year-old in Single-A and High-A, and George Springer, the former UConn star who is hitting .303/.411/.600 with 37 homers and 45 steals between Double-A and Triple-A as a 23-year-old.

Betts isn’t Buxton or Springer. But there’s no one else in the minors who’s shown his diverse array of offensive weapons this year (with excellent defense at second base to boot), suggesting that he’s forced a drastic re-evaluation of a skill set that garnered no public attention entering this year.

— Catcher Blake Swihart went 1-for-2 with a double and a walk in the second game, extending his hitting streak to eight games in which he’s hitting .441/.486/.588 to boost his line for the year to .297/.362/.428, all excellent numbers for a catcher. Moreover, Swihart reinforced the notion that he’s coming into his own as a defensive catcher by gunning down both runners who attempted steals against him. On the year, he has gunned down 41.0 percent of attempted base stealers, the best mark in the Carolina League (the runner-up has caught 33.3 percent of would-be base thieves).

— Right-hander Heri Quevedo fired four shutout innings on Saturday before rain forced the suspension of the contest, with the 23-year-old punching out four and walking one. In his last 10 games of his first pro season, the hard-throwing pitcher had a 2.29 ERA with 8.1 strikeouts and 2.4 walks per nine innings and just one homer allowed in 51 innings.

— Right-hander Matt Price threw two no-hit, shutout innings, and in four appearances since coming off the DL, he did not allow a hit in six innings, walking three and striking out three in the process. In 35 games in what amounts to his first full pro season (the result of missing one year after Tommy John surgery and another due to suspension), the 2010 eighth-round pick had a 2.41 ERA with 50 strikeouts and 22 walks in 52 1/3 innings, yielding just a .178 batting average against. Price showed both the fastball (up to 97 mph) and the swing-and-miss secondary offering (a changeup) to be a big leaguer.

— Right-hander Mike Augliera allowed just one hit (and an infield single) and two walks while facing the minimum 15 batters in five shutout innings. (All three baserunners he permitted were erased, one on a double play grounder and two on stolen base attempts.) In his last 17 games, the sinkerballer permitted just one homer in 65 1/3 innings en route to a 3.72 ERA in that stretch.

David Chester extended his streak of consecutive games with a homer to three in the first game of the doubleheader before he stayed in the park with a 1-for-3 performance in the second game. He has 19 longballs for the year between Greenville and Salem.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 2-1 WIN AT SAVANNAH (METS)

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— The Drive’s win was the team’s 50th of the year, meaning that Greenville avoided becoming the first Sox full-season affiliate in a decade to fail to reach 50 games. The last Sox full-season minor league affiliate to fail to get to 50 wins was the 2003 Augusta Greenjackets, also of the Single-A South Atlantic League.

A look back at that team suggests that a poor record need not be an indication of future prospect impact. After all, that 2003 Augusta team featured both Hanley Ramirez (then 19) and Jon Lester (likewise a 19-year-old at that time). And this year’s Drive featured some intriguing prospects, including Betts and left-hander Brian Johnson before their promotions to Greenville, and right-hander Justin Haley along with left-hander Cody Kukuk. Still, the 50-87 record points to the fact that there was a lack of depth of talent at the level, and that some of the affiliate’s top prospects were enduring considerable growing pains at times in their adjustment to pro ball.

— Shortstop Jose Vinicio continued one of the worst stretches by a Red Sox prospect in recent memory. He went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. In his last 39 games, he’s hitting .146/.151/.188 with 45 strikeouts and no walks. with a 1-for-52 stretch with 20 whiffs in his last 16 games. Baseball America pegged him as the No. 17 Red Sox prospect entering the year, based on a .277/.320/.371 line as an 18-year-old in Greenville in 2012. But his fall-off at the same level in 2013 has been so drastic (.193/.227/.258) that he’ll have to rebuild his prospect profile nearly from scratch going forward.

— Right-hander Kyle Kraus, 23, tossed four innings in which he permitted a run on three hits while punching out two, walking none and getting seven groundball outs. In Greenville, he had tremendous strikeout-to-walk numbers (35-to-4 in 35 1/3 innings) and terrific groundball rates (3.44 groundouts to air outs) en route to a 2.29 ERA.

SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 7-4 LOSS VS. TRI-CITY (ASTROS)

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— Right-hander Jamie Callahan allowed four runs — his biggest yield since June — on five hits while striking out five and walking two in 3 2/3 innings. The stumble boosted his ERA to 3.92, but with 8.2 strikeouts and 2.6 walks per nine — solid marks for the youngest starter in the New York-Penn League.

— Right-hander Taylor Grover tossed punched out three in 1 2/3 scoreless innings, and he now has 11 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings working out of the Lowell bullpen, with nine strikeouts and one walk in that time. Right-handed hitters are hitting .130 against him this year.

ROOKIE LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE RED SOX: 7-2 LOSS VS. GCL NATIONALS (LOSE BEST-OF-THREE PLAYOFF SERIES, 2-0)

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Alfredo Aceves threw 2 1/3 shutout innings in which he allowed one hit while striking out two and walking none. He’s thrown 4 2/3 scoreless innings, giving up just the one hit, with three strikeouts and one walk in three GCL rehab appearances.

Read More: alex hassan, alfredo aceves, blake swihart, chris balcom-miller
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