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Red Sox minor league roundup: Record-setting Henry Owens in control; Mookie Betts stays on fast track; Joe Gunkel’s ‘dynamite’ stuff

06.15.14 at 12:11 pm ET
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A brief look at the action in the Red Sox system on Saturday:

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 3-0 LOSS, 3-0 WIN VS. CHARLOTTE (WHITE SOX)

(BOX GAME 1, BOX GAME 2)

– Though Clay Buchholz allowed three runs and two homers in 4 2/3 innings of work, a scout who saw the outing came away describing the right-hander’s performance as “solid” based on the pure quality of his stuff. More on Buchholz’s outing can be seen here, or for visual effect, here’s a look at the five pitches that resulted in strikeouts.

– Feats of Mookie: Staying on the fast track. Mookie Betts went 2-for-6 with a homer, a walk, a strikeout and his first Triple-A steal while starting both halves of the doubleheader in center field. He’s played eight of his 11 Triple-A games in center, and he’s reached base at least once by hit or walk in every one of them. The home run featured Betts unloading on a 1-2 curveball from right-hander Shawn Hill, a veteran of parts of seven big league singles.

Betts is now hitting .286 with a .388 OBP and .429 slugging mark while walking seven times and striking out just four times with Pawtucket. The fact that he’s figuring out ways to get on base even as he makes the transition to figure out how to drive the ball — with just two extra-base hits (albeit both homers) thus far — suggests the presence of survival skills that count as a check mark in his favor when contemplating his eventual promotion to the big leagues (something that likely wouldn’t happen until, at the earliest, the vicinity of the trade deadline).

The line suggests an uncommon adaptation to the highest rung of the minor league ladder for a player who spent just 54 games in Double-A. Betts certainly hasn’t looked overmatched in Pawtucket, and indeed, there are signs that the 21-year-old is more than capable of holding his own at a level where the average player is 27 years old.

Anthony Ranaudo had his second straight dominant outing, firing 5 2/3 scoreless innings in which he scattered four hits (three singles and a double) while walking just one and punching out four. Ranaudo has now walked just one batter in his last two starts, spanning 12 2/3 scoreless innings with 11 punchouts, at a time when he’s made delivery adjustments to improve his fastball command and also added a slider. He threw 62 of 96 pitches (65 percent) for strikes on Saturday. More on his recent alterations to his delivery out of the windup can be found in this story by WEEI.com’s Joon Lee.

– Third baseman Garin Cecchini went 0-for-3 in both ends of the doubleheader. He’s now 0-for-9 with a walk and two strikeouts in his last three games, continuing a slump that has extended over roughly three weeks. Since May 22, he’s hitting just .188 with a .243 OBP, .261 slugging mark, four walks and 16 strikeouts. One year after he walked more (94 times) than he struck out (86) in High-A and Double-A, Cecchini has 24 walks and 49 strikeouts.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 5-1 WIN AT AKRON (INDIANS)

(BOX)

Henry Owens finally allowed a run, but not before setting a Sea Dogs franchise record with 24 1/3 straight scoreless innings, passing Kris Johnson‘€™s 2008 streak of 24 consecutive scoreless. His streak would conclude at 27 2/3 innings, when he allowed a run in the sixth inning of Saturday’€™s contest, the only run he’€™d allow in his outing. It was more of the same from Owens on Saturday, allowing six hits and walking one over his 6 2/3 innings while punching out seven. The lefty threw 97 pitches with 64 going for strikes.

Owens allowed two base hits in the first but was able to induce a double play to escape any damage. He cruised through his next three innings, permitting just one baserunner on a walk. He ran into trouble after allowing a leadoff double in the fifth, but was able to keep the ball in the infield and get a force out at third base. The lone run scored on a pair of singles and a stolen base.

Owens’€™ recent run has been nothing short of brilliant. The 21-year-old has allowed just two runs over his last six outings and 36 2/3 innings, good for a 0.49 ERA. He’€™s stifled opposing hitters, holding them to a .136/.229/.160 line, allowing just three extra-base hits (all of them doubles). He’€™s averaging over a strikeout per inning with 40 punch outs in his 36 2/3 innings while issuing just 15 walks. Unsurprisingly, his ERA over the last month ranks as the lowest in all of Double-A.

Overall on the season Owens has posted a 2.16 ERA and 1.038 WHIP in 13 games, striking out an average of just over nine per nine innings.

Blake Swihart when 2-for-4 and clubbed his seventh home run of the season, a solo shot to right field. He also drew a walk and drove in a pair of runs. Swihart has been producing steadily over his last 10 games, batting .308 with five extra-base hits and 11 RBIs. It’d been a while since Swihart worked a free pass, however, going 50 plate appearances in between walks.

Deven Marrero went 0-for-4 with a walk, but he made an outstanding diving play to rob Akron’s Francisco Lindor of a hit and to grab a force out at second. Check out the grab:

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 6-3 LOSS VS. LYNCHBURG (BRAVES)

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Corey Littrell allowed just one run on six hits over his 5 2/3 innings of work, walking one and striking out three. It was the first time Littrell allowed less than three runs since May 16. The 22-year-old has been plagued by some command problems all season, walking an average of almost four per nine innings, but he’s stayed in the strike zone more recently, walking just three in his last 15 1/3 innings. However, staying in the strike zone also means he’s been getting hit. Littrell has allowed 22 hits over that same span, with the opposition batting .328/.365/.493 against him.

– Playing second base for the third time this season, Mike Miller went 2-for-3 with two singles and two walks while scoring a run. The 24-year-old continues to swing a hot bat for Salem; since rejoining the team on June 1, he’s hit .340/.426/.383 in 13 games. Though he’s gone 8-for-24, Miller doesn’t have an extra-base hit in his last six games, but he has drawn five walks.

Kyle Stroup was knocked around in relief of Littrell, allowing three runs on four hits in just one inning, taking the loss. The 24-year-old has struggled mightily in his second season with Salem, compiling an 8.25 ERA in 18 games.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 3-1 WIN AT HAGERSTOWN (NATIONALS)

(BOX)

– In a game where he opposed an elite prospect in Lucas Giolito, it was right-hander Joe Gunkel who proved the most dominant presence in Saturday’s game. The 22-year-old, an 18th-round selection in last year’s draft, delivered six overpowering innings of shutout ball, giving up just one hit and one walk while punching out six. Over his final 4 1/3 innings, Gunkel allowed neither a hit nor a walk, with the only baserunner he permitted a) reaching on an error and b) quickly getting erased on a caught stealing.

The right-hander has been overpowering in his first full pro season, going 3-0 with a 2.28 ERA, 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings and 1.9 walks per nine while holding opponents to a miniscule .149 batting average against in 51 1/3 innings this year; if he had enough innings to qualify, he’d rank second in all of minor league baseball in terms of batting average against.

Right now, Gunkel looks like a tremendous find for the Sox, a pitcher whose combination of size (he’s listed at 6-foot-5), power, pitch mix and arm slot suggest a player with a very real chance of a big league future in any number of potential roles.

“He’s been light’s out,” said Greenville pitching coach Paul Abbott. “He’s got this really broad wingspan. He’s coming from being a right-hander’s ear. It’s tough to stay in there. Plus, where that ball’s going to go… His fastball is lively, it’s low- to mid-90s consistently with heavy sink. He’s a three-quarters guy who’s got deception, and he can command outer side, he can command glove side. And from that same slot, he’s got a really good slider that really keeps the hitters from picking up what particular pitch it is. And he’s also developed a dynamite changeup to work into that mix. It keeps left-hander’s honest.

“You don’t see very many [pitchers with that arm slot as starters]. But he’s a strong guy, and a guy who comes to my mind when I think of those type of pitchers is Kevin Brown, who was another strong, strong guy. Can he be a starter? Yeah. He’s got the pitches to go with it. … He’s got three pitches, he’s strong, he’s durable. Yeah, he can start. There’s a lot of roles he can be exceptional at.”

Carlos Asuaje added to his June power surge, going 2-for-4 with his fourth homer of the month. The 22-year-old is now hitting .308/.357/.635 in the first half of the month, and given his age and performance, he would appear a candidate for a mid-year promotion to Salem.

– Center fielder Manuel Margot went 2-for-4 with a double and, for the fourth straight game, didn’t strike out. Indeed, the 19-year-old is showing uncommon hand-eye coordination and bat-to-ball skills, having walked 21 times and struck out 28 despite facing considerably older pitching. The absence of strikeouts, in turn, suggests the presence of an approach at a young age that makes Margot’s performance more impressive than his statistical line (.261/.330/.379) might suggest.

SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 6-3 LOSS VS. VERMONT (A’S)

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- Mauricio Dubon followed up his solid debut with the Spinners on Friday with another multi-hit performance on Saturday, going 2-for-5 with a run scored. The 19-year-old shortstop also swiped his second base in as many games.

- Nick Moore, a 21-year-old first baseman who was drafted in the 30th round in 2011, went 2-for-4 with a home run, a solo shot to right center field. Moore has not shown much power over the course of his three professional seasons, never finishing a season with a slugging percentage above .330, but Moore already has two extra-base hits to his credit through as many games in 2014.

- Right-hander Oscar Perez, who is embarking on his first full season as a pitcher after being converted from a catcher in 2013, tossed four scoreless innings in relief, allowing just three hits and a walk while fanning two. Perez posted a 2.67 ERA in 27 innings of work in 2013, walking an average of three per nine innings while striking out five per nine. Perez was signed as a international free agent in 2008, and was converted to a pitcher after compiling a .193/.248/.250 line over five professional seasons.

DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: 6-5 LOSS AT DSL GIANTS

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– Third baseman Rafael Devers bounced back from his first hitless game of the year by going 1-for-3 with a walk. He has reached base in each of his first 13 pro games, hitting .408 (fifth in the DSL), .508 OBP (fifth in the DSL), .735 slugging mark (1st) and 19 RBIs (1st).

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