Red Sox minor league roundup: Henry Owens’ dominance creates promotion dilemma; Mookie Betts blasts off in Triple-A; Allen Webster staying on track; Jamie Callahan struggles
|06.05.14 at 11:55 am ET|
The Feats of Mookie have made it to Pawtucket — and it seems very likely that the Feets of Henry will soon be reunited with them.
Left-hander Henry Owens, possessor of size 17 feet qua flippers, continued a breakthrough stretch in Double-A Portland. The 21-year-old, almost exactly three years after being taken by the Red Sox in the supplemental first round of the draft, delivered a career-high eight innings of shutout ball in which he permitted just two hits (both singles), struck out two, punched out six (with 15 swings and misses on his fastball and changeup) and recorded 14 outs via groundball. His fastball angle and execution down in the strike zone were little short of dazzling (on a night when he topped out at 93 mph and averaged 90 mph), complemented by a characteristically nasty changeup and a smattering of curveballs.
Through the first 58 outings and two-plus years of his pro career, Owens had never posted back-to-back outings of more than six innings. He’s now done so in three straight starts, with Wednesday’s eight-inning effort following consecutive seven-inning efforts. During that time, Owens has walked just five batters during 22 scoreless innings, a drastic departure from the three-start command struggle that preceded it in which Owens issued 14 free passes in 15 2/3 innings.
Owens has achieved new heights in his pitch efficiency and strike throwing. On Wednesday, he found the strike zone with 73 of his career-high 107 pitches (68 percent). He’s compromised his strikeouts (he’s struck out 17 in his 22-inning scoreless run) but he’s addressed the walks issues that had permeated his earlier outings this year while eliciting terrible contact on a consistent basis.
“Same as every time, he goes out there and competes and controls the strike zone with all three pitches,” catcher Blake Swihart told the Portland Press-Herald. “He’s pitching to contact ‘¦ get them in swing mode and get them out.”
This is what it means to be better than your competition: In his last six starts dating to May 8 — a period, it is worth adding, during which the left-hander had to work through the aforementioned control issues — Owens has held hitters to a .097 average, easily the best mark in the minors during that time. He has a 4-1 record and 0.72 ERA during that stretch. His *worst* start during the run came when he gave up one run on two hits (and four walks) in four innings; his second-worst came when he threw four no-hit innings but walked five.
On the year, in 12 starts, Owens is 7-3 with a 2.24 ERA, 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings and 4.0 walks per nine (a mark that has dropped like an anchor in his recent run) while holding batters to a .170 average. Astonishingly, one year after he was the most unhittable pitcher in the minors (11-6, 2.67 ERA, .177 average against while splitting the year between High-A and Double-A), he’s been even *more* unhittable while spending the entire year at the level where he finished 2013.
In short, he’s pitching like someone who has figured out the level where he’s pitching and who requires the challenge of a higher level of competition. That doesn’t mean that a promotion is imminent — unlike Betts, who had no intractable road blocks in front of him in Pawtucket — Owens faces some bottlenecks, particularly as the Red Sox will have to steer Felix Doubront and Clay Buchholz through their rehabs, with Brandon Workman and/or Rubby De La Rosa likely to move back down to Pawtucket once the two big leaguers demonstrate they’re ready to return to the majors.
Nonetheless, Owens has forced the conversation to a place where the Sox have to take stock of his readiness for a higher level whenever an opportunity presents itself, as the Red Sox‘ top pitching prospect continues to rocket through the system.
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 8-7 WIN (11 INNINGS) AT DURHAM (RAYS)
— Feats of Mookie (Triple-A edition): Winning. Mookie Betts recovered from a baffling 0-for-6 slump to open his Triple-A career (0-for-4 on Tuesday, hitless in his first two plate appearances on Wednesday) to collect hits in three of his next four at-bats — including a solo homer in the top of the 11th to send Pawtucket to victory. The home run showed Betts staying back on a hanging breaking ball before whipping the bat through the zone, clearing the Blue Monster in left field with the sort of stroke that suggests that he is likely to become fairly well-acquainted with a similar landmark in Boston:
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Betts now has eight three-hit games this year between Portland and Pawtucket — an average of one for every seven games he’s playing. And he’s showing across-the-board improvement in his performance while getting pushed to higher levels of competition. His home run rate is roughly the same as it was last year. Beyond that, compared to what he did in Single-A and High-A last year, his average is up (from from .314 to .353), his OBP is up (from .417 to .439), his slugging percentage is up (from .506 to .554), his strikeout rate is down (from just over 10 percent to just under 8 percent) and he’s stealing more bases (though at a slightly reduced effectiveness).
Betts did get picked off of first on Wednesday, and he also grounded into a double play in the ninth inning. Still, he’s doing a great deal to show that he has a chance to impact the Red Sox at the big league level down the stretch.
— Right-hander Allen Webster had his second straight solid outing since being passed over for a spot in the Red Sox rotation, delivering six innings in which he scattered seven hits (six singles and a double) while walking three and punching out four. Webster has now gone at least six innings in six of his 13 starts this year, matching his total number of outings of that duration in 21 Triple-A starts a year ago.
— With Betts playing second base in Pawtucket, Ryan Roberts made his first appearance in the outfield this year, playing left field. Roberts went 2-for-5 with a homer, double and walk. Both of his homers have come against lefties.
— Left-hander Rich Hill threw a season-high three innings. He gave up neither a run nor a hit, walked one and punched out four.
— First baseman Travis Shaw went 0-for-6 with four strikeouts.
DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 5-1 WIN VS. ERIE (TIGERS)
— Catcher Blake Swihart had his second straight multi-hit game, going 3-for-5 and driving in a pair of runs. Kevin Thomas of the Portland Press-Herald looks back on Swihart’s Red Sox origins in the draft three years ago.
— Outfielder Keury De La Cruz had his third straight 2-for-4 game with a double since joining Portland following his season-opening DL stint.
HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 4-4 TIE (SUSPENDED AFTER FOUR INNINGS) VS. FREDERICK (ORIOLES)
— Right-hander Simon Mercedes was roughed up for four runs (three earned) on four hits and four walks in 3 2/3 innings. It marked just the second time this year that the 22-year-old has given up more than three runs.
— Second baseman Reed Gragnani collected doubles in each of his two at-bats before rain suspended the contest.
SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 9-3 LOSS VS. LEXINGTON (ROYALS)
— Right-hander Jamie Callahan allowed five runs on 10 hits in five innings, though of the 10 hits, eight were singles (with two doubles), and he attacked the strike zone, with 64 percent of his pitches for strikes while walking just one. He also struck out just one. On the year, the 19-year-old has a 6.79 ERA with opponents hitting .326 against him. His velocity has been strong — up to the mid-90s — but even though he’s yielded just three homers, he hasn’t been missing the barrel (or the bat altogether) with the same frequency that he did last year in Lowell, where he had a 3.92 ERA with a .221 batting average against. Callahan also struggled to control the running game, as five bases were stolen while he was on the mound.
— Outfielder Kendrick Perkins went 2-for-3 with a walk (his fourth in 27 games) and didn’t strike out. The 22-year-old — a giant with considerable raw power but who came out of high school as a fairly raw baseball talent as a result of his two-sport pedigree — is amidst his best offensive stretch as a professional, hitting .302 with a .365 OBP (a mark inflated by a number of HBPs) and .453 slugging mark.
— First baseman Jantzen Witte didn’t double. Indeed, the 24-year-old didn’t get a hit, going 0-for-3 with a sac fly to drop his line for the year to a still whopping .355/.444/.589.
DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: 11-9 LOSS VS. DSL NATIONALS
— Catcher Roldani Baldwin, 18, had his third multi-hit game in four contests, going 3-for-5 and driving in two. He’s 9-for-17 thus far.
— Center fielder Luis Alexander Basabe reached base multiple times for his fourth straight game to open the year, going 2-for-5 with a walk. He’s reached in 11 of 21 plate appearances with six walks, five hits and six strikeouts thus far.
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