Red Sox minor league roundup: Deven Marrero, champagne shortstop; Mookie Betts, Travis Shaw keep streaking; Wendell Rijo, precocious on-base machine; Anthony Ranaudo’s puzzling outing
|05.06.14 at 11:50 am ET|
Deven Marrero was making his way through the back fields during spring training, preparing for his second full minor league season. His first — in which he hit .252 with a .338 OBP and .317 slugging mark for High-A Salem and Double-A Portland in 94 games — had offered little statistical distinction. And so, the words that followed about Marrero may have seemed surprising.
“There is a shortstop,” said an evaluator that morning, “who you can drink champagne with.”
It was high praise indeed for a 23-year-old, yet such accolades were a reflection of an appreciation of the all-around package that Marrero offers as a baseball player. His defensive work is tremendous, the steadiness of Stephen Drew with the athleticism to make some premium plays in the field. He’s got a swing geared for line drives and in both his amateur career at Arizona State and the early stages of his pro career, he’s shown an understanding of the strike zone to permit him to get on base. He’s a standout baserunner (Marrero was awarded the Red Sox minor league baserunner of the year distinction).
And now, Marrero is adding to that array of skills with a new one that wasn’t evident in 2013. So far this year in Double-A Portland, Marrero’s been driving the ball with an authority that was rarely on display last year. A player who did not amass a single extra-base hit last year in his year-ending 19-game, 85 plate appearance spell in Portland now has collected 10 in 21 games (96 plate appearances) in 2014.
On Tuesday, the 2012 first-rounder went 2-for-4 with his second homer of the year, a walk and he drove in four. While the homer — a low-flying rocket that barely cleared the fence in right — might not have gotten over the wall in many parks, the impact Marrero made while driving the ball to the opposite field commands notice.
He’s currently hitting .286 with a .375 OBP and .452 slugging mark. If those statistics are more of an indication of the kind of player he can be as he moves up, then given his defensive work, which mixes reliability — an error he made on Monday was his first of 2014 — with the occasional ability to make standout plays, then Marrero could emerge as a well above-average shortstop, one with well above-average on-base skills for his position who could profile in the second spot in the lineup or, perhaps more likely, make an impact by lengthening out the bottom of the order while playing a critical role in a team’s run prevention.
In short, he could resemble the type of shortstop who, even if not a star, would represent someone who could offer the basis for visions of autumn champagne.
Here’s Marrero’s home run on Monday:
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TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 6-4 WIN VS. TOLEDO (TIGERS)
— Starter Anthony Ranaudo earned his third win of the season with a rather inconsistent performance, allowing three runs on three hits and four walks through five-plus innings of work. Ranaudo cruised through the first four innings, allowing just one hit (a single) and one walk. Fastball command began to escape him in the fifth; at one point, according to the Providence Journal, he located only two of 15 fastballs in the strike zone. Ranaudo relied more heavily on his curve and allowed just one walk in the fifth. However, things fell apart in the sixth against the top of the Mud Hens’ order. Ranaudo allowed a four-pitch walk to the leadoff hitter followed by a single and ground rule double before walking his final batter of the game.
“It looked like he was guiding the ball a bit,” manager Kevin Boles told Tim Britton of The Providence Journal. “He wasn’t aggressive as we saw early on. He tried to quicken up his arm, but he just lost a little bit of his command at the end.”
Ranaudo had thrown just 71 pitches through five, but ended up tossing 89 pitches (49 strikes) on the evening. The righty has not gone more than six innings in any start, and has only completed six once. Ranaudo tied his season-high in walks with four (which he’s done two other times) and struck out only two; prior to Monday he hadn’t struck out fewer than four batters in any start.
— Reliever Dalier Hinojosa closed out the game with two spotless innings of work, striking out one and using just 24 pitches. The impressive performance comes after three straight rough outings for Hinojosa, who allowed a total of seven earned runs on six hits and three walks over his previous three innings. Though the Cuban right-hander has held opponents to a .170 batting average, he’s walked (12) almost as many batters as he’s fanned (13).
— Christian Vazquez added two RBIs with a pair of two-out singles. With the two hits, Vazquez is now 8-for-19 with eight RBI when runners are in scoring position. The catcher has been hitting righties well; both RBI singles came off Toledo’s starter, a right-hander, and he’s hitting .321/.350/.429 against righties compared to a .192/.323/.308 line versus southpaws. Vazquez had been hitless in his last two games, but has reached base in seven straight. He’s batting .280/.341/.390 on the season.
DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 8-1 WIN AT READING (PHILLIES)
— Feats of Mookie: <Insert superlative here.>
Other members of the Sea Dogs are trying to figure out how best to describe the remarkable performance of their teammate. Left-hander Henry Owens took to twitter on Monday night, after Mookie Betts went 2-for-3 with two walks and a steal to improve to .412/.469/.623 with 14 walks, nine strikeouts, four homers, 15 extra-base hits and 14 steals — along with 35 runs in 27 games — this year.
— Henry Owens (@______H______O) May 6, 2014
Marrero joined the chorus, telling the Portland Press-Herald, “People need to come watch this. It’s fun to watch.”
Betts has reached in all 27 games this year for Portland, and he’s gotten on base in 57 straight regular-season contests dating to last August in High-A Salem. He has hits in 25 of his last 27 games. In the 131 games since he broke through in Greenville last May 5 following a mechanical adjustment, Betts has had just 10 games in which he’s failed to reach base at least once. In other words, he’s emerged as the sort of reliable on-base machine — with the ability to make an impact on the bases — who represents an ideal top-of-the-order fit.
— Not to be lost in the shuffle in Portland’s infield, Travis Shaw continued his torrid stretch. The first baseman went 1-for-3 with a pair of walks. The homer was his fifth of the year and improved his line for the year to .313/.414/.525 with five homers and 11 extra-base hits in 26 games. Yet perhaps the most striking thing about his recent excellence following a slow start — Shaw is 10-for-17 with a homer, five doubles and three walks in his last five games, good for a .588/.650/1.059 line — is the fact that he’s hammering the ball but not striking out.
A player who struck out in roughly nine out of 10 games in his first two full pro seasons has simply stopped whiffing. In 13 games since April 22, he’s hitting .392/.475/.686 with eight walks and two strikeouts in 59 plate appearances. That sort of infrequency of strikeouts would be a surprise if it came from smaller hitters with a compact stroke. But the fact that Shaw — an imposing 6-foot-4 hitter who is driving the ball — is now eliminating strikeouts is striking.
Shaw is one of four players in the minors with more walks (16) than strikeouts (11) and at least five home runs.
— Right-hander Michael Olmsted fired a season-high 2 1/3 innings without permitting a run, allowing just one hit. He struck out two and walked one. On the year, Olmsted — who turned 27 last week — has allowed just one run in 12 innings with 15 strikeouts and six walks.
HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 2-1 WIN VS. WILMINGTON (ROYALS)
— Left-hander Corey Littrell threw five scoreless innings, allowing five hits (four singles and a double) and three walks while punching out five. The 22-year-old has been a solid early-season performer in his first full season of pro ball, forging a 2.20 ERA with 34 strikeouts and 13 walks in 32 2/3 innings while holding opponents to a .235 average.
— Reed Gragnani, 23, went 1-for-2 with a pair of walks, to improve his season line to .403/.489/.545 with 14 walks and just eight strikeouts in 21 games.
— Outfielder Matty Johnson‘s 2-for-5 day included a walkoff double to right. The hit came against right-hander Zeb Sneed, with Johnson’s line against righties improving to .322/.404/.391.
SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 13-3 WIN AT AUGUSTA (GIANTS)
— Second baseman Wendell Rijo, who recently graduated from the bottom of the order (he’d been hitting eighth) to the middle of it (he hit fifth for the sixth time on Monday), continued to perform at a level that suggests an advancement well beyond his years. The 18-year-old went 2-for-3 with a triple and a pair of walks to elevate his line to .321 with a .461 OBP and .494 slugging mark.
Rijo’s on-base percentage is 16th in all of the minors. No other prospect who is in the top 25 in the minors in that category is younger than 21. Among players 18 and younger with at least 50 plate appearances so far this year, no one else is within 100 points of Rijo’s OBP (the next best mark for an 18-year-old is .353).
— Right-hander Teddy Stankiewicz, who had punched out no more than four batters in any of his prior five outings, struck out a season-high seven and walked none in six innings. He permitted three runs on 10 hits, but eight of the 10 hits were singles (many of the groundball or infield variety). While the 2013 second-rounder hasn’t been getting a ton of swings and misses — even with his seven punchouts on Monday, four were looking — Stankiewicz is attacking the strike zone and forcing his opponents to swing. In 32 innings, he’s walked just six (1.7 per nine innings) and he’s issued one or no free passes in five of his six starts. That aggressive approach has permitted him to deliver innings with unusual consistency for a 20-year-old.
— First baseman Jantzen Witte continued his hot streak, going 3-for-4 with three doubles and a walk while driving in three. In his last four games, the 24-year-old has eight hits — seven doubles and a triple. For the year, the TCU product is hitting .354/.438/.576 with 14 doubles and 17 extra-base hits. He ranks second in all of minor league baseball in doubles (14) and is tied for ninth in extra-base hits (17).
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