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Red Sox minor league roundup: Blake Swihart’s present and future power; Feats of Mookie; Wendell Rijo rising; Promise through struggle for Rubby De La Rosa

05.14.14 at 11:10 am ET
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A brief look at the action in the Red Sox minor league system on Tuesday:

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 6-2 LOSS (7 INNINGS) AT INDIANAPOLIS (PIRATES)

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Rubby De La Rosa had his worst start of the season, lasting just three innings (the first time this year he’s pitched fewer than five innings) while giving up a season-high six runs on six hits and four walks. It is worth noting, though, that his line was at least somewhat deceiving, given that a three-run rally in the first inning featured a pair of infield singles and an error.

Still, whereas De La Rosa had impressed with the consistency of his execution early in the season, he’s faltered of late, particularly with his control. He threw just 41 of 73 pitches (56.2 percent) for strikes on Tuesday, and after walking just four in his first 22 2/3 innings this year (a span in which he forged a 1.19 ERA), De La Rosa has now issued at least three free passes in each of his last four starts, issuing 16 walks in 19 2/3 innings with a 5.95 ERA in that time.

The one positive for De La Rosa that has been evident even throughout his struggles has been a high groundball rate. Thus far this year, of the balls put in play against him, a whopping 58.4 percent have been on the ground, up from 46.5 percent a year ago; his 2.07 groundout-to-flyout rate is fourth best in the International League.

“He’s got a very good changeup and gets a lot of groundballs on the changeup because it has a lot of action,” PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur noted recently.

However, while the ability to generate groundballs had allowed De La Rosa to work efficiently earlier this year, his recent control woes have served as an offset to that skill.

Brock Holt had his third straight two-hit game, going 2-for-3 with a double. Each of these three games has included an extra-base hit. The 25-year-old now has 11 extra-base hits in 24 Triple-A games this year after collecting just nine in 83 contests in Pawtucket a year ago. Holt is hitting .347/.421/.505 with nearly as many walks (8) as strikeouts (9). He also has seven steals in eight attempts.

Garin Cecchini went 1-for-2 with a single and walk but committed a pair of errors at third base — one fielding, one throwing. He now has five miscues in 34 games this year.

Christian Vazquez went 2-for-2 with a walk, improving his line to .279/.339/.365. He also threw out the only runner who attempted to steal against him, improving his caught stealing rate to 40 percent on the year.

— Pirates top prospect Gregory Polanco went 4-for-4 with a double and triple. The Red Sox players and coaching staff have a number of ties to one of the top five-tool prospects in the minors, as several played or coached with him in Escogido, where he was MVP of the Dominican Winter League.

“He’s unbelievable. Some of the things he did, I’d talk about with my mom and dad back home, my girlfriend. This kid’s the real deal. He’s a special player. Anybody who comes to watch him play is going to get a treat,” said PawSox outfielder Bryce Brentz earlier this month. “He could run, hit for power, hit for average, steal bases, throw guys out, cover a lot of ground. He’s sincerely one of the most blessed and gifted baseball players I’ve ever had the pleasure to play with. He’s a humble human being as well. I think he’s one of the special ones that our generation gets to have. I had a blast playing with him.”

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 4-2 LOSS AT NEW BRITAIN (TWINS)

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Blake Swihart checked off a lot of boxes, going 2-for-3 with a rocket of a home run to left field, a walk and a steal. The home run was his third of the season, one more than he hit last year in the Carolina League.

The homer offered a glimpse of why there is a belief that Swihart might grow into power and why he doesn’t currently hit home runs with great frequency. This was not a majestic skyscraper, but instead a low-flying missile that was barreled so well and with such strength and bat speed that it simply kept carrying over the high fence in left. Here’s a look:

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The ability to barrel the ball in such a fashion is uncommon. It suggests that Swihart has the ability to impact the ball in a way that could translate to power if he learns to generate loft and backspin. For now, however, the Sox will be more than happy to see Swihart sending rockets all over the field, even if they stay in the yard.

All three of Swihart’s homers this year have come with him batting right-handed. The switch-hitter owns a .378/.395/.703 line in 38 plate appearances against lefties, and a .260/.280/.384 line against righties.

— Feats of Mookie: Overmatching the competition. Mookie Betts went 2-for-4 with a double, a walk and two steals. He’s reached base in nine of his last 15 plate appearances over the past three games, running his current hitting streak to 10 games. Of course, his numbers are worse during the 10-game hitting streak (.366/.447/.463) than they are over the entire span of 33 games he’s played this year in Double-A, in which he’s reached base in every one of them while hitting at a .399/.462/.601 clip.

The 21-year-old continues to lead the minors in average. He ranks eighth in OBP, 16th in slugging and is tied for seventh in steals.

Betts has now reached base in 63 straight regular season games — 68 including his time in the playoffs with High-A Salem last year. During those 68 contests, he has a .408 average, .479 OBP, .615 slugging mark, 10 homers, 29 steals, 36 walks and 23 strikeouts.

— Hard-throwing right-hander Miguel Celestino, who has registered his fastball in the triple digits in the past, tossed a perfect ninth inning that included a pair of punchouts. One year after he endured a disastrous season in Portland after being converted to the bullpen (1-9, 6.13 ERA, 10 homers in 72 innings), the 24-year-old is off to a far better start. Through 13 2/3 innings, he has 17 strikeouts (11.2 per nine innings), five walks and a 1.98 ERA while having allowed just one homer to date.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 4-1 LOSS AT WILMINGTON (ROYALS)

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— Left-hander Cody Kukuk, who showed considerable progress in his strike-throwing at the start of the year in Greenville, continued his struggles to find the plate since his promotion to Salem. He lasted just 2 2/3 innings, throwing 35 of 65 pitches (53.8 percent) for strikes and walking three while permitting three runs (one earned).

Kukuk’s performance in his first three starts in Salem is somewhat reminiscent of what characterized the 21-year-old’s work last season in Greenville: Opponents can’t do much against him when he throws strikes (.186 average, no extra-base hits), but the strike-throwing is an issue (12 walks in 11 2/3 innings).

— Though right-hander Kyle Martin allowed a run on two hits, he struck out two and walked none in two innings of work, bringing his strikeout-to-walk rate to 31-to-3 in 23 innings to date, translating to an average of 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings and 1.2 walks per nine.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 7-5 WIN VS. WEST VIRGINIA (PIRATES)

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— Second baseman Wendell Rijo hit his third homerun of the season, a two-run jack in the fourth inning. Rijo has been outstanding in May, hitting .324/.432/.541 with three doubles, one triple, one home run and six RBI. The 18-year-old is making one of the more notable steps forward in the system in the early-going of 2014, showing improved power (he’s hit three homers after not going deep in 2013) and unexpected plate discipline, as he’s walked in 16.5 percent of plate appearances thus far this year, up from a 10.8 percent rate in the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League in 2013. Rijo is showing those signs of improvement even though he’s one of the youngest players at his level.

— Third baseman Carlos Asuaje played the role of hero, hitting a walkoff two-run home run to give the Drive the win. Asuaje has been one of Greenville’s best hitters so far this season. A 2013 11th-round pick out of Nova Southeastern University, the 22-year-old is hitting .333/.440/.622 with 20 extra-base hits.

— Starter Ty Buttrey put together his first solid start of the season, turning in a 4 2/3 inning effort with three hits, three walks, three strikeouts and one earned run on 85 pitches (52 strikes, 61.1 percent). Buttrey, a 2012 fourth round pick, struggled out of the gate this season, posting a 29.70 ERA with a .450 batting average against, four strikeouts with five walks and allowing 11 earned runs in 3.1 innings pitched over his first two starts.

— Shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin scored two runs on no hits and two walks in five plate appearances. Lin, who has a season batting average of .239, has been showing improvement so far in May, posting a .273/.359/.364 slash line. He stole his fifth base of the year.

— After a strong performance on Monday, Manuel Margot continued his struggle in May with a 0-for-4 performance with one strikeout. Margot has had a tough go-around so far in May, hitting .189/.286/.324 with two doubles, one home run, four RBI, five walks, four stolen bases and six strikeouts.

Zach Kapstein, 21, went 2-for-3 with a double and a key ninth-inning homer to help set in motion Greenville’s game-winning five-run rally. The homer was Kapstein’s first since 2011. In 18 games this year, he’s hitting .308/.410/.385.

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