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Red Sox minor league roundup: Looking beyond Trey Ball’s struggles; Allen Webster finds consistency; Rafael Devers is unstoppable

06.10.14 at 1:51 pm ET
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A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Monday:

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 3-1 LOSS (6 INNINGS) VS. LOUISVILLE (REDS)

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— Right-hander Allen Webster delivered his third straight quality start, allowing three runs on four hits (including a homer and two doubles) while walking three and striking out eight in six innings. Webster has now worked eight, six and six innings in his last three starts, with 19 punchouts and seven walks along with a 2.25 ERA. After starting the year with relatively low strikeout totals, Webster has shown a return of his swing-and-miss stuff in recent outings, with 36 punchouts in his last 35 2/3 frames over six starts.

Though Webster’s strikeout rate is down from last year (from 9.9 strikeouts per nine to 7.0), and his walk rate has dipped only slightly from 3.7 per nine innings a year ago to 3.6 per nine this year, the 24-year-old’s sharp decline in hit batters (from 16 in 105 innings last year to just two in 79 2/3 innings this year) attests to improved consistency and execution with his fastball, permitting him to do a better job of game management, as Tim Britton of the Providence Journal attested (in very lyrical fashion).

— Feats of Mookie: Leading. Joon Lee explains how Mookie Betts is using his basketball background to help him in the transition to center field. Betts went 0-for-2 with a walk. He’s reached base in all seven of his Triple-A games, with six walks and three strikeouts.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: OFF DAY

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 3-1 LOSS AT FREDERICK (ORIOLES)

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— Though Reed Gragnani saw his six-game hitting streak come to an end, he walked three times (while going 0-for-1). In his last 10 games, he has an astonishing 12 walks and four strikeouts en route to a .371 average and .532 OBP and .600 slugging mark in that span. The 23-year-old now leads the Carolina League with a .337 average while his .433 OBP ranks second in the league.

— Right-hander William Cuevas logged a season-best seven innings in which he gave up two runs (one earned) on four hits (including a homer) and a walk while striking out three. Though he is just 2-6 with a 5.09 ERA, the 23-year-old has 7.6 strikeouts and just 2.0 walks per nine this year.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 6-2 LOSS VS. CHARLESTON (YANKEES)

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— On the surface, Trey Ball‘s performance in his first full pro season suggests a struggle. With a five-run yield in 5 1/3 innings on Monday, the 2013 first-rounder now has a 7.12 ERA in eight starts during which he has punched out 5.6 batters per nine and walked 4.2 batters per nine innings. He gave up two homers, and has now been taken deep four times in his 30 1/3 innings of work. Opponents in the South Atlantic League are hitting .351 against the 19-year-old.

Yet despite the appearance of struggle, Ball appears to be laying a solid player development foundation. As a two-way high school player from the Midwest whose seasons were far shorter than most other top prospects, there was the expectation that Ball would face a more significant transition to pro ball than recent high school pitching prospects whom the Red Sox have taken early (such as Henry Owens, who hails from California, and Casey Kelly, who was drafted out of Florida). Yet while the lanky left-hander has endured challenges in his transition, they’re also the sort of struggles that tend to be viewed as beneficial from a player development perspective.

Monday’s outing illustrated that notion. Ball got into immediate trouble, walking the first two batters he faced and permitting a double. But he got the inning under control, recording groundouts against the next two batters and then, after a single, punching out a batter to escape the inning. He then kept the game in check over the next four innings — working around multiple errors by his defense, showing an ability to control the running game while picking off a runner — while allowing one run (on a solo homer) before a homer and single led to his departure in the sixth inning.

Within the outing, there were plenty of positives, lessons in game management, impressive strike throwing (Ball threw strikes on 58 of 90 pitches, a 64 percent rate that is even more impressive considering that he walked the first two batters of the game) and the ability to work deeper into a game than he’d ever gone before. His fastball was 89-94 mph and averaged 91, showing steady gains as he’s getting further into the season. He’s throwing his curve for strikes with increased frequency (he threw six of seven for strikes on Monday), and he’s incorporating his changeup while learning how to pitch.

Though he faded at the end, Monday marked the first time as a professional that Ball had pitched into the sixth inning, and so in many ways, despite a less-than-stellar line, the outing suggested that the left-hander was building on rather than departing from his promising prior effort, in which he tossed five shutout innings on June 3.

Unquestionably, there have been struggles (some of which can be explained by Ball’s worst outings that were immediately before and after he landed on the DL for strep throat, some of which can’t) — but there are supposed to be struggles for high school pitchers going into full-season baseball. Henry Owens had a gigantic ERA in his first month in Greenville; another highly regarded prospect, Cody Kukuk, posted inflated ERAs in May and August of last year.

In short, the Red Sox are comfortable looking beyond the numbers to see the building blocks of a pitcher with tremendous potential.

“He’s been challenged at times during this year but has responded well,” Red Sox farm director Ben Crockett wrote in an email. “He continues to compete, maintain his poise and aggressiveness, while showing pitch improvement.”

Wendell Rijo went 1-for-3 with a walk, and after a rough May (.217/.293/.325), he’s showing evidence of a restored approach, hitting .333/.393/.500 with three walks and four strikeouts in seven June contests.

Outfielder Zach Kapstein, who’d been out of the lineup since May 30 due to a hamstring injury, went 2-for-4 in his return. The 22-year-old is hitting .337 with a .414 OBP and .419 slugging mark in 29 games this year.

DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: 13-1 WIN VS. DSL ORIOLES

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Luis Alejandro Basabe, the 17-year-old who appears to be splitting center field with his twin brother, Luis Alexander Basabe, went 2-for-5 with a triple, a walk and three steals. Basabe is 4-for-4 in stolen base attempts in his two games this year after going 9-for-11 in stolen base attempts as a 16-year-old in the DSL last year.

Rafael Devers once again reached base three times, going 1-for-3 with a single and two walks. The 17-year-old third baseman has hit in all eight games so far this year and reached base multiple times in seven of those, hitting .467 with a .564 OBP, .800 slugging mark, seven walks and six strikeouts in his professional debut.

— Left-hander Emmanuel DeJesus, a 17-year-old left-hander whom the Sox signed out of Venezuela last summer, picked up his first professional win, allowing one run on three hits and two walks in five innings while striking out four.

Read More: allen webster, rafael devers, Trey Ball,
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