Red Sox minor league roundup: The education of Henry Owens; Sean Coyle, Mookie Betts deliver undersized feats of strength; Cody Kukuk cruises
|04.15.14 at 12:58 pm ET|
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 9-5 WIN AT ROCHESTER (TWINS)
– Outfielder Bryce Brentz went 3-for-5 with his second homer of the year, a no-doubter to left field in which he stayed back on a breaking ball from left-hander Edgar Ibarra. It’s been an inconsistent start to the 2014 campaign for Brentz, who sandwiched Monday’s 3-for-5 night and a 2-for-5 night with a homer last Thursday around an 0-for-10, three-game stretch. Yet it is worth noting that Brentz negotiated four walks during that three-game hitless streak, and he now has seven walks for the season. Since reaching the upper levels of the minors for the start of the 2012 season, Brentz only has two months in which he’s taken more walks than he has this April — last April, when he walked nine times in Pawtucket, and June 2012, when he walked 15 times with Portland. He’s hitting .195/.313/.366 this year.
– Third baseman Garin Cecchini, who turns 23 on Sunday, went 1-for-4 with a double and a walk. The double ended a stretch of eight straight games without an extra-base hit, while the walk was Cecchini’s first in seven games. On the year, he’s hitting .310/.370/.357 with four walks and eight strikeouts.
– Right-hander Anthony Ranaudo permitted five runs on eight hits (two triples, a double and five singles) while walking three and striking out five. Through three starts this year in Pawtucket, the 24-year-old has allowed 14 runs (though just 10 earned) in 14 2/3 innings, with 16 strikeouts, eight walks and an opponents’ batting average of .311.
– Rich Hill had his second straight outstanding appearance, throwing 2 2/3 scoreless innings in which he allowed one hit and struck out three. That performance came three days after he likewise tossed two shutout innings while allowing one hit and striking out two. In five games, he has a 2.08 ERA in 8 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts and four walks. Opponents are hitting .167 against the 34-year-old, with lefties having gone 1-for-10 against the veteran.
– After a hot start, catcher Christian Vazquez has cooled considerably. After a 1-for-5 game on Monday, the 23-year-old is 4-for-28 with two walks and six strikeouts in his last seven games.
DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 9-4 WIN VS. BINGHAMTON (METS)
–Though Sean Coyle has been displaced at second base by the ascendance of Mookie Betts, Feats of Coyle did their own displacing, at least for a day, on Monday. The (mostly) third baseman went 3-for-4 with his second homer of the season and two steals. Between the 5-foot-8 Coyle and the 5-foot-9 Betts, the Sox have two of the unlikelier-looking impact hitters in the Eastern League. In 10 games, Coyle is hitting .343 with a .410 OBP and .543 slugging mark along with four steals in as many attempts. Though he strikes out with considerable frequency (including this year, when he’s punched out in 28 percent of his plate appearances), he shows the ability to make a considerable impact on the ball when he makes contact. He also is an asset on the bases, as suggested by the fact that he’s now 31-for-31 in steals in High-A and Double-A. When he was at second, he looked like a player with the upside of being a more athletic version of Dan Uggla. Though he’s moved over primarily to third (with occasional games at second when Betts isn’t playing there), the 22-year-old is offering a glimpse of that considerable potential again in his first exposure to Portland.
Coyle cleared the Maine Monster in deep left-center. Here’s a look:
– Breaking: Henry Owens gave up runs. The left-hander, who had opened the year with 12 2/3 shutout innings, got hit hard for four runs on six hits, including two two-run homers and three doubles, while walking three and striking out just four in five innings of work. It’s worth noting that all four of the runs came in the third inning, with the 21-year-old keeping his opponents off the board on either side of that first considerable hiccup of the year.
Kevin Thomas of the Portland Press-Herald has an excellent look at the reality that, as talented as he is and as dominant as he’s been since the start of 2013, Owens remains a work in progress. The takeaway from the article is offered courtesy of Portland pitching coach Bob Kipper:
‘He has an exceptional change-up,’ pitching coach Bob Kipper said. ‘But without the fastball, the change-up becomes less exceptional.’
If Owens is not putting the fastball where he wants it, there can be trouble.
‘The ability to control the delivery to the extent he can command his fastball ‘ that is the biggest area in his development,’ Kipper said. ‘Last year it was suspect at times.’
– Feats of Mookie: Transforming the meaning of good days and bad days. Mookie Betts offered what, for him this year, was tantamount to a struggle, going 2-for-5 with a double. His average fell from .457 to .450, his OBP dipped from .512 to .500 and his slugging mark slipped from .743 to .725. He’s reached base multiple times in nine of Portland’s 10 games this year, and he’s extended his regular season on-base streak to 39 games dating to last year in High-A Salem. (Salem broadcaster Evan Lepler notes that Betts also reached base in all six of Salem’s postseason games.)
His double off the wall in right-center on a breaking ball away (even against a pitcher whom the broadcaster described as “burnt toast”) suggests a player capable of driving a ball anywhere that it’s thrown in the strike zone.
– Left-hander Robby Scott, a 24-year-old whom the Sox purchased from the independent North American League in 2011, tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings. He’s now recorded seven shutout innings in his three appearances with seven strikeouts and no walks. Opponents are 2-for-22 (.091) against him.
HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 9-6 LOSS VS. MYRTLE BEACH (RANGERS)
– Outfielder Kevin Heller remains the hottest hitter in the Red Sox system (outside of the increasingly mythical Mookie Betts), and on Monday, the right-handed-hitting 24-year-old out of Amherst went 2-for-3 with a double and two walks. He’s now hitting .440/.563/.680 in eight games. He’s also recorded outfield assists in back-to-back games.
– Catcher Carson Blair snapped a seven-game, 0-for-21 stretch by going 2-for-4 with a walk. He did, however, strike out twice, and now has whiffed 14 times in 41 plate appearances.
SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 11-3 LOSS VS. CHARLESTON (YANKEES)
– Left-hander Cody Kukuk may possess the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the Red Sox organization save for Henry Owens and Trey Ball, albeit with control questions that raise significant questions about how close he’ll come to that ceiling. Still, as a 21-year-old with impressive size (he’s listed at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds), athleticism and power (mid-90s heat from the left side along with a slider that has the potential to be an above-average pitch, along with a changeup that can be very effective when he’s locating his fastball), he’s the type of pitcher who can allow teams to dream big when he turns in outings like Monday’s.
Kukuk turned in five innings, finding the strike zone with 48 of his 73 pitches (66 percent) while permitting four hits (three singles and a double), walking one and punching out eight. While he worked at 90-93 mph with his fastball, he commanded his offering to both sides of the plate. With his fastball command, he could also feature a dominant changeup that resulted in 13 swings and misses. He also had a solid slider.
Kukuk now has 17 strikeouts (11.8 per nine innings) and seven walks (4.8 per nine innings) in his first three starts in Greenville. While the walks total sounds high, it represents a drop from the 6.8 walks per nine he had last year, and he has yet to lose the strike zone completely (as he was sometime prone to do in 2013). In short, there is progress, nudging Kukuk in the direction of that very, very high ceiling.
– Second baseman Wendell Rijo went 2-for-3 with a double and a walk, continuing a very impressive early-season run. The 18-year-old has gotten on base in all nine contests to date, hitting .355/.474/.548 with four extra-base hits, six walks and eight strikeouts.
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