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Red Sox minor league roundup: Would Mookie Betts be a consideration for an injured Dustin Pedroia?; the riddle of Allen Webster; Wendell Rijo shows some pop

04.14.14 at 12:22 pm ET
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Right-hander Allen Webster got tons of groundballs but continues to struggle to throw strikes. (AP)

Right-hander Allen Webster got tons of groundballs but continues to struggle to throw strikes. (AP)

A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Sunday:

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 7-5 WIN (12 INNINGS) AT BUFFALO (BLUE JAYS)

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– If Dustin Pedroia lands on the disabled list, Brock Holt would be in line for a call-up, with the possibility that the Sox could entrust everyday second base duties to him while keeping Jonathan Herrera in his current third base platoon/utility role. After all, Holt is off to a scorching start for Pawtucket — though 1-for-6 (with a double and walk) on Sunday, he’s now hitting .389/.476/.583 with five extra-base hits, four steals (in four attempts), five walks and two strikeouts in nine games. While Holt made little impact in the big leagues last year, hitting .203/.275/.237 in 59 plate appearances, he performed well in his only everyday opportunity in the big leagues, hitting .292/.329/.354 in 24 games with the Pirates at the end of 2012.

If Pedroia doesn’t end up on the DL and the Sox decide they need to make their bench deeper for the White Sox series with both Ryan Roberts and Herrera pressed into everyday duty, then utility man Mike McCoy — who can play virtually anywhere on the field — would become a consideration, as Holt cannot be called up until at least Thursday given that he was called up on April 7; barring a position player landing on the D.L., he needs to spend at least 10 days in the minors before he can return to the big leagues.

– Right-hander Allen Webster is at an interesting career stage, seemingly in a cocoon from which it is unclear if he will emerge as a butterfly or a moth. The 24-year-old had an outing that showed both his considerable potential and underscored the questions of whether he will be able to reach his ceiling, logging five innings in which he allowed four runs (three earned) on just three hits (one of which was a homer). He recorded a whopping 12 groundball outs, underscoring the degree to which his two-seam fastball can be a devastating offering, but he also had just one strikeout and walked four, while throwing a modest 58 of 96 pitches (60.4 percent) for strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to just half of the 24 batters he faced.

In three starts this year, the 24-year-old has seen last year’s strikeout rate of 9.9 per nine innings cut roughly in half to 4.9 per nine innings, and he’s also walked an identical 4.9 per nine innings. But he’s once again getting groundballs at a tremendous rate that had characterized much of his career prior to 2013.

If Webster can execute his two-seamer consistently in the strike zone, then it’s such a powerful weapon that it permits the possibility of opening up the rest of his arsenal and permitting him to have a starter’s pitch efficiency. But if he struggles to throw the pitch for strikes, then the possibility exists that concerns about his inability to give reliable innings will result in a move to the bullpen. Thus far in 2014, there are few indications of which outcome is more likely.

– Right-hander Dalier Hinojosa had his best outing of the year, retiring all five batters he faced while striking out two and getting three groundball outs. In four appearances, Sunday marked the first time that the 28-year-old hadn’t walked a batter.

– Utility man Justin Henry threw a perfect 12th inning in just six pitches (five strikes) for the save, concluding seven no-hit innings by the PawSox bullpen. It was the first career trip to the mound for the 28-year-old, who is now in his eighth pro season.

– Consider Brandon Workman on call. The right-hander was scheduled to make his first start of the year in Triple-A on Monday, but he and Anthony Ranaudo (originally scheduled for Tuesday) were flip-flopped, with Workman now slated for a Tuesday start. While the Sox expect Koji Uehara to be able to pitch in the upcoming series against the White Sox, pushing back Workman to Tuesday would allow the Sox to bring him back up to the big leagues to pitch immediately if Uehara ends up on the D.L.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 6-3 LOSS VS. NEW BRITAIN (TWINS)

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– Feats of Mookie: Everyday excellence. Mookie Betts went 1-for-3 with a double (his fifth two-bagger and seventh extra-base hit of the year) and a walk while stealing his fourth base of the year. He’s reached in all nine of Portland’s games (and 39 straight games dating to his final month in High-A Salem last year), hitting .457/.512/.743 with five walks and three strikeouts despite being one of the youngest position players in Double-A. He leads all Double-A players in average, ranks third in OBP and is fifth in slugging, and he’s also considered to have above-average defensive tools at second base and the ability to be an impact baserunner.

So, it’s worth asking — is there any chance the Red Sox would consider him for a call-up if Dustin Pedroia is out for any significant duration?

Answer: Almost certainly not — for now. The reasons to leave Betts in Double-A are numerous:

1) He has all of nine games of experience there against upper levels pitching.

2) Committing to Betts at this early stage would leave the Red Sox with a lineup that was short on predictability, given that Betts would join Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and, eventually, Will Middlebrooks in the lineup — GM Ben Cherington has often spoken of the need to manage the transition to young players so that the team is not overreliant on players without a track record (and performance baseline) at any given time.

3) Betts is not on the 40-man roster, meaning that the team would have to risk losing someone in the organization in order to get Betts onto the big league roster.

4) Given his inexperience, the Red Sox would be putting themselves in a position where they could jeopardize his long-term outlook by starting to burn options on Betts before they had to do so.

5) Holt’s been very good in Pawtucket, and he’s already on the 40-man roster.

6) The Red Sox would be loathe to mess with a good thing. Betts has been moving at a blistering player development pace, having made his mark in Single-A, High-A, the Arizona Fall League and Double-A in the last 13 months. He’s responded brilliantly to the most aggressive player development pace that the Red Sox have had for a position player out of high school since Lars Anderson made it to Double-A at 20. But Anderson offers something of a cautionary tale, a player who was sprinting on the player development treadmill only to be thrown off when the pace was ratcheted up too aggressively. The Sox like to push their talented players in order to challenge them, but at the same time, they don’t want to cut corners in a fashion that jeopardizes a prospect’s long-term potential. In the case of Betts, that means giving him time to take stock of his surroundings and get challenged at some point in Double-A, where he’ll be forced to make an adjustment to the league — an important learning experience that will position him to make adjustments as he moves up to Triple-A and eventually the majors.

Ultimately, there’s a chance that Betts could force a path all the way to the big leagues this year if Pedroia is indeed out for a substantial stretch. But such a development would be unlikely to occur until later in the year. Still, it’s a credit to Betts’ feats that he has necessitated even a disclaimer about his potential big league timetable. It is worth noting that some suspect Betts might not be human.

– Right-hander Noe Ramirez tossed two shutout innings, allowing one hit and striking out a pair. He has six punchouts and no walks in six innings of work in Double-A this year, continuing a minor league career in which he’s recorded almost exactly a strikeout an inning at every level he’s performed at. (He’s posted between 8.7 and 9.7 strikeouts per nine in Single-A, High-A and Double-A.)

– Shortstop Derrik Gibson went 3-for-3 with a double. The 24-year-old, a 2008 second-rounder, has made the most of his sporadic playing time, hitting .333/.385/.417 in four games.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 9-5 LOSS VS. MYRTLE BEACH (RANGERS)

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– Left-hander Brian Johnson had an ugly line, allowing six runs (five earned) in four innings while permitting seven hits (five singles, two doubles), walking three and striking out five. The 23-year-old now has 20 strikeouts in just 13 2/3 innings, but he’s seen the duration of his starts dwindle from five innings to 4 2/3 to four in his three outings to date. He hasn’t given up a homer, but opponents are hitting .317 against the 2012 first-rounder.

– Outfielder Kevin Heller, a 24-year-old out of Amherst College, remained torrid in the early going, collecting a single, double and walk in four plate appearances. He’s reached base in each of his seven games, hitting .409/.519/.636. Heller also stole a base (his second of the year) and collected an outfield assist.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 5-4 WIN (14 INNINGS) VS. KANNAPOLIS (WHITE SOX)

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– While it may be little consolation to the Sox at a time when they are fretting about whether Pedroia is injured, their system does appear to have some depth of quality second base prospects thanks to Holt, Betts and Greenville’s Wendell Rijo. On Sunday, Rijo cleared the fence in left-center for his first professional homer as part of a 2-for-4 day in which he also walked. Rijo has reached base at least once in all eight of his games this year, posting a .321/.441/.500 line with five walks and seven strikeouts, a statistical picture of a player whose hitting approach is uncommonly advanced given his age (the average age of position players in the South Atlantic League is 21). He and middle-of-the-diamond partner Tzu-Wei Lin also collaborated to turn four double plays. Thanks in no small part to that duo, Greenville leads the South Atlantic League with 15 double plays to date.

– Infielder Carlos Asuaje, an 11th-rounder out of Nova Southeastern University last year, continued his strong start. The 22-year-old was 2-for-6 with a double and a walk, and his 14th-inning single gave Greenville a walkoff victory. Asuaje is hitting .355/.429/.581.

– Right-hander Myles Smith submitted a largely overpowering outing, firing five innings in which he allowed just one hit (a solo homer) while walking two and striking out five.

– Infielder Jimmy Rider worked a scoreless top of the 14th inning for the win. Rider, 23, had pitched once before, also recording a scoreless inning in a New York-Penn League game in 2012.

Read More: allen webster, Brock Holt, Dustin Pedroia, mookie betts
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