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Red Sox minor league roundup: Time to start thinking about moving up Mookie Betts?; Keith Couch flirts with perfection; Anthony Ranaudo dominates; Travis Shaw, Bryce Brentz mash

04.30.14 at 1:27 pm ET
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Feats of Mookie: Absurdity. Players who are young for their leagues, who have been on a blindingly fast development path, aren’t supposed to dominate at a level to the degree that Mookie Betts has done so in Portland, even if only for a month. The ridiculous month of Mookie continued on Tuesday with the 21-year-old second baseman going 3-for-4 with a homer. He’s reached base in all 21 games for the Sea Dogs this year, with a season line of .422/.471/.689 with four homers, 15 extra-base hits, 10 walks, eight strikeouts and 10 steals in 12 attempts. He leads all of minor league baseball in average, ranks 13th in OBP and eighth in slugging. He’s been one of the dominant performers in all of the minors — and not just this year. Dating back to last May 5, when he made an adjustment from a leg kick to a stride in the batter’s box, he’s hitting .361/.438/.580 with 68 walks, 53 strikeouts, 17 homers, 44 steals (in 49 attempts) and 66 extra-base hits in 125 games while blitzing across three levels.

Obviously, he hasn’t been thrown by his rapid ascent up the ladder. He was more than ready for the Carolina League after his 76 games of dominance in Single-A last year, and more than ready to open this year in Portland after he finished last year with 51 games in Salem.

So how soon could he see a move up to Triple-A? His performance has forced that conversation on the Sox earlier than expected, even if there’s no evidence that a promotion is imminent. There simply aren’t many parallels in recent years in the Red Sox organization for what Betts is doing.

The closest comparable came from another leadoff hitter, Jacoby Ellsbury, who spent just 17 games in Portland at the start of the 2007 season, hitting .452/.518/.644 before forcing his way up to Pawtucket. But Ellsbury was different in a few key respects: 1) He was a 23-year-old who had been drafted out of college; 2) He’d spent 50 games in Portland at the end of his first full pro season in 2006. So, Ellsbury didn’t force his promotion until he’d been in Double-A for 67 games rather than 50.

The Sox have had few position players who were drafted out of high school dominate like this. Will Middlebrooks was 22 when he arrived in Portland and had a great year, hitting .302/.345/.520 with 18 homers in 96 games before an end-of-year promotion to Pawtucket. Anthony Rizzo made it to Portland as a 20-year-old in 2010 and hit .263/.334/.481 with 20 homers in 107 games before getting traded that offseason.

Xander Bogaerts had 79 games in Double-A — 23 at the end of 2012, 56 more at the start of 2013 — before his promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket in his age 20 season.

So, as Kevin Thomas of the Portland Press-Herald pointed out (via twitter), the Sox haven’t had a top position prospect blitz through Portland in recent years in fewer than 61 games. That suggests that Betts may have a while to wait before he moves up to the top rung of the minor league ladder. Of course, it’s worth noting that no one else dominated Portland out of the chute in the fashion that Betts has. He may be forcing his own set of rules.

“Nobody knows why he’s still here. He’s a freak, man,” Portland pitcher Keith Couch told MiLB.com. “He should be in the big leagues. He has this electricity to his game. He’s just crushing balls and getting on base and scoring runs.”

Here’s video of the homer:

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TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 8-0 WIN (FIVE INNINGS) AT LEHIGH VALLEY (PHILLIES)

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Anthony Ranaudo submitted his most dominant outing of the year, firing five shutout innings in which he allowed just two singles, walked two and punched out seven. He filled up the strike zone with 53 of his 82 (65 percent) offerings, with rain helping him record the first complete game and shutout of his career. After a rough start to the year (6.14 ERA through three starts, 16 strikeouts, 8 walks in 14 2/3 innings), the 24-year-old has seemingly turned a corner in his last few outings, forging a 1.29 ERA. Interestingly, he’s had the same 16 strikeouts and eight walks in his last 14 innings over those three starts that he had in his first three. He has 10.0 strikeouts and 5.0 walks per nine innings in Pawtucket this year, a significant departure from the 6.2 strikeouts and 2.1 walks per nine he featured in Triple-A last year.

The fine line that Ranaudo has experienced between dominance and struggles in his starts in Pawtucket has been his ability to work down in the strike zone. When he uses his 6-foot-7 frame to power the ball downward with a dramatic angle — as he did on Tuesday, even when the horrific weather forced him into a fastball-heavy approach (with 92-95 mph velocity) and to eschew the rest of his arsenal for most of the day — opponents have shown little ability to do anything against him. But whereas Ranaudo could beat hitters up (and sometimes above the strike zone) in lower levels, hitters are more often refusing to chase heaters above the strike zone, and instead making hard contact with pitches that are up in the zone.

Of course, late in the outing, Lehigh Valley’s hitters were willing to expand the zone a bit (or by feet) in order to get off the field. Ranaudo concluded his outing by striking out the side on nine pitches, blowing fastballs past his opponents. The proof:

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– The most impressive streak (non-Mookie division) in the Red Sox farm system right now may belong to Bryce Brentz, who launched a first-inning grand slam on Tuesday and now has reached base at least once in 16 straight games in which he’s had a plate appearance while hitting .317/.391/.567 with three homers and eight extra-base hits. He has hits in each of his last 11 games in which he’s had a plate appearance, with a .350/.400/.650 line in that span.

Christian Vazquez went 2-for-4, and he’s now reached base multiple times in his last four games.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 10-2 WIN VS. READING (PHILLIES)

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– Right-hander Keith Couch retired the first 17 batters of the game before settling for a 6 2/3 inning, five-hit, two-run performance in which he punched out seven and walked none. The 24-year-old right-hander has been an outstanding performer early in the year, with a 4-0 record, 2.48 ERA, 25 strikeouts and just five walks in 29 innings. He has yet to give up a homer.

Couch features an unspectacular arsenal — a fastball that touched 90, sometimes a tick above, with a slider and changeup. None profiles as above average in terms of power, life or action.

Yet Couch shows an understanding for what he has and how to use it in a fashion that’s made him a consistent performer over a long haul. In parts of five minor league seasons, he’s 34-23 with a 3.58 ERA, 7.1 strikeouts and 2.0 walks per nine innings. He’s caught behind a wave of pitchers with higher ceilings in the Sox system, but Couch represents the type of pitcher who could easily find his way to the big leagues if given the right situation or environment. It may not come with the Red Sox, but no one should be surprised to look up in three years and to see Couch making meaningful contributions in the big leagues, perhaps in middle relief, perhaps as a back end starter who thrives when chance offers him the right opportunity, as it did for former Red Sox minor leaguer Miguel Gonzalez with the Orioles in 2012.

Travis Shaw has now been in Double-A for parts of three seasons, dating to August 2012. He is performing like a player who very much wants to move on.

He got off to a slow start this year but has started to thrive. He went 2-for-4 with a homer on Tuesday, and in his last 10 games, he’s now hitting .395/.458/.698 with all four of his 2014 homers coming in that stretch. It’s a run that has little resemblance to any stretch he’s had in Portland, but it has considerable similarity to what the 24-year-old did in the Arizona Fall League, when he hit .361/.452/.705 with five homers in 17 games.

– Shortstop Deven Marrero went 2-for-4 with a double, and he’s now reached six times in nine trips to the plate over a two-day span to improve to .306/.386/.403 for the year.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: RAINED OUT VS. WINSTON-SALEM (WHITE SOX)

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 4-3 LOSS (11 INNINGS) AT GREENSBORO (MARLINS)

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Manuel Margot went 2-for-3 with a double (and two sacrifice bunts), and he now has three straight multi-hit games. The 7-for-13 stretch has improved the 19-year-old’s line for the season to .289/.341/.474.

– Right-hander Jamie Callahan threw five innings in which he permitted three runs on seven hits (five singles, a double and a homer) while punching out five and, perhaps most notably, walking just one. The 19-year-old, a strike-thrower as an amateur and in his pro debut last year in Lowell, had issued 13 free passes in 17 frames spanning his first four starts. The homer was the first he’s allowed this season.

Wendell Rijo, Greenville’s 18-year-old second baseman, and Carlos Asuaje, a versatile 22-year-old, reached base three times, with Rijo going 2-for-4 with a walk to improve to .333/.468/.508, and Asuaje going 1-for-3 with a walk and a hit by pitch, leaving his line at .377/.506/.638. They join Betts to give the Red Sox three of the top 15 OBPs in the minors, with Asuaje ranking fourth, Betts ranking 12th and Rijo in 14th.

Read More: anthony ranaudo, Keith Couch, mookie betts, travis shaw
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