Red Sox minor league roundup: A year of Feats of Mookie (and the change that set them in motion); Allen Webster breaks through; Alex Wilson is ready; Henry Ramos is hitting
|05.05.14 at 12:48 pm ET|
Feats of Mookie: A year of dominance.
Mookie Betts went 2-for-5 and scored a run on Sunday for Portland in its victory. Though his average actually declined from .406 to .405, the 21-year-old extended his streak of consecutive contests reaching base to 56 regular-season games dating to last year with High-A Salem. But the consistency of his excellence extends far beyond even the start of that streak in Salem last August.
Betts entered play last May 5 with a .150 average, .340 OBP and .263 slugging mark. Though he’d launched a pair of homers, he otherwise showed little ability to impact the ball, and indeed, he primarily seemed to be a curiosity given that his on-base percentage was more than double his batting average.
Behind the scenes and unnoticed, Betts did some work at that time with U.L. Washington, the hitting coach of the Single-A Greenville Drive. He worked to replace a drastic leg kick — “like a pitcher,” Betts said in this Minor Details podcast — with an approach meant to improve his timing at the plate.
“[Washington] told me, ‘Just stride. Stride so you’re on time consistently.’ That’s been working for me,” Betts said. “That week, I started driving the ball and I didn’t even realize I could do it. From then on, I realized, ‘Now I can do it, I might as well try to drive the ball.’ ”
Drive it he has.
On May 5 — after he’d had a couple of days off for that work with Washington — a 1-for-4 performance with a walk represented the start of a phenomenon that couldn’t have been predicted at the time. That contest represented the first of 19 straight in which Betts collected a hit, and set in motion a run of steady excellence that has led Betts to the point where he went from prospect obscurity (the No. 31 prospect in the Red Sox system after the 2012 season) to someone who now likely belongs among the top 31 prospects in all of baseball.
Over a full calendar year while blitzing from Single-A Greenville to High-A Salem to Double-A Portland, Betts is now hitting .360 (tops among all minor leaguers with at least 400 plate appearances in that time) with a .436 OBP and .569 slugging mark while launching 17 homers as part of his 66 extra-base hits, stealing 47 bases, walking 70 times and striking out just 54 times, someone who has been performing so well that his 2-for-5 day on Sunday lowered his batting average from .406 to .405.
Now, he represents a statistical anomaly of a different sort than he did a year ago.
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 3-2 WIN VS. INDIANAPOLIS (PIRATES)
— Though he allowed a season-high seven hits (five singles, two doubles) and was charged with two runs, Allen Webster had arguably his most impressive start of the season. He logged 6 2/3 innings — the second-longest start of his year-plus in the Red Sox organization — and for the first time this year, he combined the ability to get groundballs (he recorded eight outs on the ground) with the ability to get swings and misses. He punched out a season-high six and (according to GameDay data) got 15 swings and misses.
Prior to Sunday, Webster had struck out just 17 while walking 15. However, that decrease in his strikeout rate in part reflected a conscious effort to emphasize his two-seam fastball to get groundballs instead of trying to avoid contact.
“I’m throwing a lot more two-seamers this year, focusing on that. … It’s still a work in progress, but I feel comfortable [with it],” Webster explained last week. “I’m just trying to force contact and get quick outs. I’m not getting as many strikeouts as I’d like, but I’m getting outs, so I can’t complain. An out’s an out. I’m trying to go deeper in games.”
On that front, in some ways, this year already has shown signs of success, as the 24-year-old has pitched at least six innings in four of his seven starts, including each of his last three. Last year, he had just six outings among his 21 starts in which he recorded at least six innings, and he never accomplished that feat in more than two straight starts.
— If Edward Mujica lands on the disabled list, Alex Wilson represents a likely candidate for a call-up in his place. Wilson has been consistently excellent this year, with his most impressive outing of 2014 coming on Sunday, when he needed just 17 pitches to retire all five batters he faced while fanning three. While Wilson was walking batters earlier in the season (five in his first 5 2/3 innings of the year), he’s now attacking the strike zone, having issued two free passes in his last seven frames. He has a 0.71 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings, and opponents are hitting just .163 against him.
— Ryan Lavarnway, making the start at catcher, went 3-for-4 with a double. Over his last seven games, he’s 10-for-25 with four doubles and three walks, improving his season line to .277/.365/.366.
DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 4-1 WIN AT BINGHAMTON (METS)
— For the second time in 10 days, Henry Ramos matched a career-high with four hits, going 4-for-4 with a double. In his last 10 games, the 22-year-old switch-hitter is hitting .439/.465/.610 with five doubles and a triple. Ramos is hitting .314/.346/.402 in Portland this year. He’s has one of the more interesting across-the-board tool sets in the upper levels of the Red Sox system, a terrific athlete who excelled at soccer while growing up in Puerto Rico. He has speed that translates into good outfield defense (though not stolen bases to this point) and the ability to hit the ball hard, while there have been stretches when he’s shown the ability to control the strike zone and get on base. When looking for potential late bloomers in the Sox system, Ramos fits the profile given his athleticism and the fact that he played far less baseball as an amateur than most of his peers in Double-A.
— Travis Shaw continued his tremendous stretch, going 2-for-4 with a double for his fourth straight multi-hit game and his ninth in his last 15 contests dating to April 18. During the run, he’s hitting .426/.478/.721 with 10 extra-base hits and six walks. He did strike out once on Sunday, just his third whiff during the 15-game stretch.
— Right-hander Mike McCarthy tossed six innings in which he allowed only one unearned run, and the 26-year-old has now logged 12 innings without permitting an earned run in his last two outings.
— Outfielder Shannon Wilkerson went 0-for-4, snapping his streak of consecutive games reaching base at 23. He hit .329/.396/.482 during the run.
HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 7-1 LOSS AT LYNCHBURG (BRAVES)
— For the second straight start, Luis Diaz allowed five earned runs, though through five innings, he’d been enjoying an outstanding outing in which he’d permitted just one run on three hits before he permitted a two-out hit by pitch, walk and three straight hits before getting pulled with a yield of five runs in 5 2/3 innings. The 22-year-old is now 2-3 with a 3.95 ERA in 27 1/3 innings.
— Mookie Betts is not the only second baseman in the Red Sox system who is hitting .400. Reed Gragnani went 2-for-3 to boost his average to .400 with a .477 OBP and .547 slugging mark in 20 games this year. With Betts and the 23-year-old Gragnani, the Sox have two of the four players in the minors who are hitting .400 or better, while Gragnani (.477), Carlos Asuaje of Greenville (.476) and Betts (.456) give the Sox three of the top 15 OBPs in the minors.
SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 12-2 WIN AT AUGUSTA (GIANTS)
— Shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin collected a career-high four hits in six at-bats, a notable departure from the 9-for-61 slide (with a .148/.257/.230 line) in which the 20-year-old had found himself over the prior 15 games.
— First baseman Jantzen Witte went 3-for-5 with three extra-base hits (2 doubles and a triple), and the 24-year-old now owns a robust line of .337/.426/.537.
— Right-hander Jamie Callahan offered his third straight solid start. The 19-year-old logged five innings in which he allowed two runs on six hits (four singles, two doubles), walked none (the first time this year that he didn’t deliver a free pass) and struck out six. In his last three starts, he has a 3.00 ERA with 13 strikeouts and four walks in 15 innings.
— Right-hander John Ely pitched in a game for an affiliate for the first time since April 6, 2013. The left-hander had been sidelined by Tommy John surgery, but signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox this offseason. The 27-year-old is 4-13 with a 5.70 ERA in 115 1/3 big league innings.
— Right-hander Joe Gunkel struck out four in a pair of scoreless innings of relief. The 22-year-old has 25 punchouts and four walks in 18 innings this year while holding opponents to a .182 average.
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