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Red Sox minor league roundup: Allen Webster to the bullpen; Luis Diaz’s under-the-radar dominance; impressive seasons end in Lowell

09.05.13 at 11:37 am ET
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A brief look at the action in the Red Sox minor league system on Wednesday:

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 7-1 LOSS AT ROCHESTER (TWINS); TRAIL BEST-OF-FIVE SERIES, 1-0

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Right-hander Allen Webster pitched a scoreless inning of relief on Wednesday. (AP)

Right-hander Allen Webster pitched a scoreless inning of relief on Wednesday. (AP)

– The Red Sox may have another late-season bullpen experiment. Right-hander Allen Webster, who made all 27 of his regular season appearances in the rotation, tossed a shutout inning of relief, throwing nine of 14 pitches for strikes (64 percent) while permitting one groundball single, getting two groundball outs and recording a swinging strikeout. If Webster can show the ability to throw strikes and get groundballs out of the bullpen, he could have time to define a niche for himself in the big league bullpen, given that the Sox’ primary setup options in front of Koji Uehara (Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, Brandon Workman) tend to be flyball pitchers.

For now, this is a short-term experiment for the duration of the season, with promising initial returns. Webster’s fastball was 95 mph, albeit with slightly below average command, but he showed an outstanding changeup, and the ability to get both swings and misses and grounders in a short stint suggests promise, particularly that his appearance came after just three days of rest following his final start of the regular season on Aug. 31.

It is worth noting that Webster does have some prior bullpen experience. Indeed, he turned around his 2012 season (in which he had a 7.49 ERA through seven starts) during a two-week, late-May stint in the bullpen in which he allowed one run in eight innings over five appearances (1.13 ERA) while punching out 10, walking four and allowing opponents to collect just four hits in 29 at-bats (.138 average).

Webster will make at least one more relief appearance for Pawtucket, but then could be positioned for a callup as soon as next week.

Anthony Ranaudo was roughed up for four runs on seven hits (six singles and a double) in two-plus innings, retiring just six of the 14 batters he faced. The 23-year-old (who turns 24 next week) did throw strikes in volume, with 42 of his 59 offerings (71.2 percent) finding the strike zone, but he didn’t put opposing hitters away once ahead in the count, striking out just one and walking one.

Still, it’s worth noting that he didn’t give up a ton of hard contact, and that his defense hardly helped.  Of the six hits permitted by Ranaudo, four were on groundballs and two were infield pop-ups that were not caught, resulting in his pitch count getting run up early.

– Outfielder Bryce Brentz went 2-for-4 with a double and blasted a solo homer to account for Pawtucket’s only run. Brentz is the only Red Sox minor leaguer this year to reach 20 homers, having done so in just 89 games, including 18 in 83 games with Pawtucket.

– Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. went 2-for-4. Interestingly, the game marked the 10th straight in which the famously patient Bradley did not draw a walk, a span in which he’s punched out eight times.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 1-0 WIN (10 INNINGS) VS. MYRTLE BEACH (RANGERS); LEAD BEST-OF-FIVE SERIES, 1-0

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– The amazing run of right-hander Luis Diaz continued. The 21-year-old turned in eight scoreless innings, allowing five hits, walking none and striking out four while eliciting 13 groundball outs. Over a stretch of more than two months, dating to June 25, he’s assembled ridiculous numbers: a 0.88 ERA, with 8.2 strikeouts and just 1.6 walks per nine innings.

Diaz could be taken in the Rule 5 draft this winter if the Red Sox do not protect him by adding him to the 40-man roster. His fastball gets into the mid-90s, and he’s not afraid to throw it for strikes (nor has he ever been — yielding just 2.3 walks per nine since his age 18 season in the Dominican Summer League in 2010). He’s also shown significant improvements in his slider and changeup from a year ago, though neither pitch is going to be viewed as a plus big league offering. Still, the combination has permitted Diaz to assemble one of the more consistent runs in recent memory in the farm system, thus raising some unexpected questions.

It would have been virtually impossible to imagine Diaz being a candidate for protection for Rule 5 protection entering the year, given that he was coming off a 2012 campaign in which he went 3-8 with a 6.01 ERA in Greenville as a 20-year-old. After all, he spent most of the first two months of the year in extended spring training to prove that he belonged back in Greenville following his performance and health struggles in Single-A a year earlier.

But given that he’s amassed one of the most dominant performances in the minors over the span of nearly half a season, and that, as a strike-thrower, he may be easier to keep on a big league roster than a pitcher whose lack of control yields how walk rates, it’s a matter that the Sox might have to consider. It is, of course, difficult to protect a pitcher who is so far from the big leagues, but it’s worth noting that the Sox did so after the 2008 season with Felix Doubront, when he spent most of the year in Greenville before three year-ending starts in Lancaster. They also protected Drake Britton after he went 1-13 with a 6.91 ERA while spending all of 2011 in Salem.

That said, as left-handers, Doubront and Britton represented the type of player who more frequently profiles as a Rule 5 selection than Diaz. Right-handers in A-ball are rarely selected in the Rule 5 unless they have incredible stuff. Diaz has an impressive fastball, but the secondary offerings aren’t necessarily such that he stands out as someone who could remain on a big league roster for a full year at this time. Still, the fact that Diaz has even made the matter a topic of conversation underscores just how impressive his year has been.

Mookie Betts went 2-for-3 with a walk. After a slow start, in his last 105 games dating to May 5, the 20-year-old is now hitting .350/.438/.555 with 13 homers, 51 extra-base hits and 34 stole bases. Perhaps in an effort to discredit speculation that his Feats are superhuman, Betts did get thrown out attempting to steal a base on Wednesday, just the fifth time this year (in 43 attempts) that he’s been thrown out.

– Right-hander Madison Younginer earned the win with two scoreless innings in which he allowed one hit and struck out three. The 22-year-old struck out 11.2 per nine innings this year in his shift from the rotation to the bullpen while generating a lot of grounders, though with 4.7 walks per nine innings.

SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 5-4 LOSS AT ABERDEEN (ORIOLES)

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– The season-ending loss eliminated the Spinners from the wild card race. They finished two games behind Jamestown for the last playoff spot in the New York-Penn League.

– Outfielder Manuel Margot went 0-for-3 but with two walks, wrapping up his first season in the States with a .270/.346/.351 line along with 18 steals (in 26 attempts) in 49 games. The 18-year-old had 22 walks and 40 strikeouts for Lowell, an impressive ratio for one of the youngest position players in the league, underscoring that he has not just tremendous across-the-board tools but also a degree of game aptitude and maturity that is uncommon at his age and experience level.

– Second baseman Wendell Rijo likewise wrapped up a year in which he proved uncommonly advanced given his age against older and more experienced competition. The 17-year-old went 1-for-5 with a double, and he collected hits in each of his three games after a season-ending promotion to Lowell, going 5-for-14 with a double and triple.

– Right-hander Myles Smith, the Sox’ fourth-round pick in this year’s draft, was moved up from the Gulf Coast League to Lowell to make a final start of the season. The 21-year-old struck out three and walked none in 2 2/3 innings, though he gave up two runs (the first he’d given up as a professional) on four hits. In the GCL, Smith — who runs his fastball into the mid-90s with a wipeout slider — allowed just one hit in eight scoreless innings.

– Left-hander Corey Littrell, the Sox’ fifth-rounder this year, closed out his year with perhaps his best outing, logging 4 1/3 shutout innings while yielding two hits, walking none and punching out five. In his final three outings, Littrell logged 11 1/3 scoreless innings with 12 punchouts and just one walk. In 12 appearances with Lowell, Littrell had a 1.74 ERA with 30 strikeouts, 10 walks and no homers allowed in 31 frames.

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