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Red Sox minor league roundup: Sean Coyle’s well-timed breakthrough; Chris Hernandez dazzles; Mookie Betts, Triple-A on-base machine

06.09.14 at 1:07 pm ET
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A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Sunday:

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 4-3 WIN VS. LOUISVILLE (REDS)

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— Left-hander Chris Hernandez had perhaps the most impressive start of his career, carrying a no-hitter through six innings before rehabbing Reds star Joey Votto broke up the bid with a ground ball single to center to lead off the seventh. That was the only hit Hernandez would allow in 7 1/3 innings (his longest career outing in Triple-A). He was charged with one run (the byproduct of a one-out walk in the eighth — one of two free passes he issued on the day — that ended Hernandez’s day and was permitted to score by the bullpen) while striking out a career-high nine.

Hernandez, a 25-year-old taken in the seventh round of the 2010 draft, is in the PawSox rotation only because Rubby De La Rosa and Brandon Workman are in the big leagues. But the left-hander is making the most of his opportunity. In his last three starts, he has a 1.37 ERA with 21 strikeouts and six walks in 19 2/3 innings.

— Feats of Mookie: Keeping the on-base machine revving at every level. Mookie Betts went 1-for-3 with a single and two walks (as well as a strikeout), and he’s now reached base in all six of his games since being promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket. In his adjustment to Triple-A, he’s hitting .292 with a .414 OBP and .417 slugging mark in 29 plate appearances, and he continues to show both control of the strike zone (five walks) and the bat-to-ball skills to permit him to minimize strikeouts (he’s whiffed three times).

Garin Cecchini had a day off after getting hit by a pitch below the knee in Saturday’s game. Cecchini is 1-for-21 with a double, three walks and 10 strikeouts in his last six Triple-A games.

— Catcher Dan Butler went 2-for-3 with a double and walk, and he’s showing signs (for the second straight year) of hitting up in the summer. In June, he’s now hitting .259 with a .412 OBP (though a modest .370 slugging mark) with six walks and six strikeouts.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 5-4 WIN (10 INNINGS, WALKOFF) VS. BOWIE (ORIOLES)

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Sean Coyle could be positioning himself for some interesting opportunities going forward. Once again playing second base with Mookie Betts now in Pawtucket (Coyle had played third to start the year in deference to the Sox’ top prospect), Coyle is showing uncommon middle-of-the-field pop. On Sunday, he went 2-for-4 while launching a homer to center and also collecting a double.

At a time when he is still young for the level — at 22, Coyle is more than two years younger than the league average — the 2010 third-rounder is raking at a .347/.403/.551 clip with 16 extra-base hits (four homers, 12 doubles) and nine steals in as many attempts in his 34 games. Though his walk rate is down (6.9 percent), his strikeouts are likewisedown from a year ago (from 29.0 to 23.1 percent of plate appearances), when he spent the year repeating in High-A Salem.

He has right-handed pop, baserunning ability and solid defensive tools — showing off a skill set that resulted in the Sox signing him to a $1.3 million bonus. Yet as a second and third baseman, he’s behind Dustin Pedroia, Mookie Betts and Brock Holt on the depth chart; as a third baseman, he’s now behind players like Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks and Garin Cecchini. Meanwhile, one of the best offensive stretches of his career is coming at a time when he’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft if not added to the 40-man roster this winter.

If Coyle can sustain anything like what he’s done to date — or at least not experience the sort of dramatic falloff that characterized what happened to him following a tremendous first five weeks in 2013 while in Salem — then his career could gain significant forward definition. He could either find himself on a major league 40-man roster by the end of the year, he could end up being traded (more than the versatile Betts, Coyle appears more unalterably blocked if he remains at second and third, particularly given the crowd of right-handed hitters ahead of him) or both. For a player who seemed like he was spinning his wheels while spending all of the previous two years in Salem, that possibility represents a significant change of course.

— Shortstop Deven Marrero went 2-for-4, the seventh time in nine games that he’s reached base multiple times, a span in which he’s hitting .343/.429/.486.

— Right-hander Miguel Celestino, a 24-year-old who is likely the hardest thrower in the Red Sox system (he’s broken the triple digits barrier), is amidst a potential breakthrough as a reliever. He fired two perfect innings on Sunday, punching out three and walking none, and he’s now walked just two batters over his last 15 innings while punching out 16. One year after he struggled to a 6.13 ERA with nine homers allowed (along with 8.7 strikeouts and 4.5 walks per nine), Celestino has a 3.33 ERA with one homer allowed, 11.1 strikeouts per nine and 2.2 walks per nine while repeating in Portland.

— Versatile 24-year-old Derrik Gibson went 2-for-4 with a double and a walk, his fifth multi-hit contest in his last seven games, as well as a walkoff single. He’s hitting .462 during the seven-game run, boosting his average for the year to .296 with a .382 OBP, though with virtually no power (in 42 games, he has four extra-base hits — all doubles).

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 12-11 LOSS (WALKOFF) AT LYNCHBURG (BRAVES)

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— Left-hander Corey Littrell had his third derailment in his last five starts. The 22-year-old, a 2013 fifth-rounder, allowed six runs on a season-high nine hits while walking two and striking out none in 3 2/3 innings. It was the third time in his last five starts in which Littrell failed to log four innings, but he’s separated his worst starts with strong showings (prior to Sunday, for instance, he allowed three runs in six innings while punching out nine and walking none in his previous start — correcting course after giving up eight runs in 3 1/3 innings in his final start of May). Littrell has punched out just over a batter an inning this year, but his recent cluster of rough outings has elevated his ERA to 4.80.

— Second baseman Mike Miller went 2-for-5 with a walk and a steal. He’s hitting .357 with a .400 OBP in eight games since joining Salem, following a season-opening stint on the DL due to a hamate fracture.

— Left fielder Kevin Heller went 2-for-4 with a walk and got hit by a pitch. He’s now reached base in 14 straight games, with a .283 average, .476 OBP and .500 sluggig mark (along with three homers) during that time.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 5-4 LOSS (WALKOFF) AT ROME (BRAVES)

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— Right-hander Joe Gunkel continues to give opposing batters fits as a starter. He permitted three runs on just three hits (all singles) in 6 1/3 innings of work, walking three and striking out five. In four starts, the 22-year-old has seen his ERA rise (from 1.50 in 24 relief innings to 3.80 in 21 1/3 innings as a starter), but he’s punching out 9.7 batters per nine, walking 2.1 per nine and holding opponents to a .155 average (with one homer). After opening the year as a reliever, resulting in a gradual progression as he’s been stretched out, Gunkel has increased his innings with every start, going from four to five to six to Sunday’s 6 1/3 inning effort.

Manuel Margot went 0-for-3 (with a walk), and is now 2-for-17 to open June, lowering his season line to .249/.319/.362 in 51 games.

DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: OFF DAY

Read More: chris hernandez, miguel celestino, mookie betts, sean coyle
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