Red Sox minor league roundup: Mookie Betts is on the radar; Brian Johnson’s prospect helium; Blake Swihart’s power show continues; Joe Gunkel strong in Salem debut
|06.22.14 at 9:30 am ET|
A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Saturday:
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 4-0 WIN AT SCRANTON/WILKES-BARRE (YANKEES)
— Feats of Mookie: Moving onto the radar. Mookie Betts, playing second base, went 1-for-4 with a single, a walk and his fifth stolen base since joining Pawtucket, while also committing his first Triple-A error. There was nothing exceptional about the game relative to the rest of his performance in Pawtucket. He’s reached base in all 18 games in which he’s played; he has a .319 average, .402 OBP and .475 slugging percentage; he has shown the ability to take his walks while making contact, with a 12.1 percent walk rate and a 13.4 percent strikeout rate.
What was noteworthy about his day was the fact that manager John Farrell brought up the 21-year-old’s performance — when asked about rehabbing veteran Andres Torres.
“I know Mookie Betts is swinging the bat well. Not to create anything,” Farrell told reporters in response to a question about Torres. “I’m not suggesting anything, other than that we recognize and watch what he’s doing daily. … The fact he’s in Triple-A means he’s clearly on the radar. The fact that he continues to swing the bat with some consistency, the time frame is no indication to it, but he’s doing everything he can to put himself on that track.”
— Will Middlebrooks went 0-for-2 with a walk and a pair of strikeouts. He’s 4-for-15 (all singles) with a pair of walks (good for a .353 OBP) in five rehab games with Triple-A Pawtucket.
— Right-hander Matt Barnes missed few bats, striking out two (matching his season-low) while giving up eight hits (seven singles and a double) in five innings. By and large, Barnes has been making hitters earn their way on base — on Saturday, he walked just one batter, though that snapped a three-start, 25 2/3 inning stretch without a free pass — but opponents are doing just that. He’s given up at least as many hits as innings pitched in each of his last seven starts. For the season, opponents are hitting .285 against him. With a loss on Saturday, he’s 2-5 with a 4.66 ERA.
— Catcher Christian Vazquez went 1-for-3 with a double and walk. The 23-year-old is having a strong June, hitting .276/.348/.448 with six extra-base hits in 17 games this month, a performance that bears notable similarity to his April (.292/.342/.417) and that represents a notable departure from his poor May (.237/.284/.263).
DOUBLE-A PORTLAND: 5-1 WIN, 3-2 WIN VS. ALTOONA (PIRATES)
— Left-hander Brian Johnson continued his Double-A dominance, throwing a seven-inning complete game in the first contest in which he permitted one run on six hits (including a solo homer) while walking none and striking out four. He’s pitched six or more innings in each of his last six starts, allowing one or no runs in five of those (with the lone exception being a two-run yield). Johnson’s consistency — the byproduct more of execution and pitch mix as opposed to overwhelming stuff — has been tremendous throughout the season, in a fashion that recalls the progression of Brandon Workman through the Sox system.
Like Johnson, Workman came from a decorated college program (Johnson went to Florida, Workman to Texas); both spent most (Johnson) to all (Workman) of their first pro seasons in Greenville, falling below the scouting radar in the process, but emerged in their second full pro seasons as remarkably consistent performers who were simply better than their competition, something that didn’t change between their starts of the year in High-A and their promotions to Double-A.
Whereas Workman dominated with his fastball and used breaking stuff (curve, cutter, change) off of that, Johnson shows a tremendous ability to use his full arsenal to both sides of the plate to get bad contact (.203 average against, two homers in 54 1/3 Double-A innings), though he does get some swings and misses, primarily on his curveball and change.
Though Johnson was typically ranked as no better than the Sox’ seventh best pitching prospect entering the year (behind Henry Owens, Allen Webster, Workman, Matt Barnes, Trey Ball and Anthony Ranaudo) entering the year, one evaluator recently noted that he wouldn’t be surprised if Johnson enjoyed a better big league career than all of that group except Owens. Johnson features an excellent pitcher’s frame (6-foot-3, 230 pounds), he’s left-handed, he throws strikes with four pitches, he understands pitch execution and sequencing, he works fast and he appears unafraid on the mound. The other Sox pitching prospects may ultimately have higher ceilings than Johnson, but he represents as safe a bet as the Sox have in their system (save, perhaps, for Owens).
Johnson discusses his 2014 breakout on Sunday morning on WEEI’s Down on the Farm at 8:30 a.m.
— Shortstop Deven Marrero went 3-for-4 with a walk, a sac fly and a steal in the double header. His June line, forged over 17 games this month: .367/.443/.517 (though he’s been caught stealing five times in seven attempts), improving his season line to .284/.367/.415. He’s playing like someone making a compelling case for a mid-year promotion to Pawtucket.
— Blake Swihart, who caught Johnson in the first game and served as DH in the nightcap, went 3-for-6 with a homer while driving in four in the doubleheader. While all of his early homers (his first five of 2014) came against lefties, he’s recently enjoyed a surge against righties, against whom the switch-hitter has now gone deep four times. The result is that his numbers have now balanced out while batting from both sides of the plate, as the 22-year-old is hitting .296/.337/.556 against lefties and .297/.340/.466 against righties. And, as his four RBIs on Saturday suggest, he’s been tremendous with runners in scoring position, hitting .342/.393/.550 in such situations. His nine homers this year match his total from his previous two years in Greenville (7 in 2012) and Salem (2 in 2013).
— David Chester continues to mash in Portland. The 25-year-old first baseman/DH went 3-for-5 with a double in the double header, improving his eight-game line in Double-A to .370/.414/.593 with four extra-base hits.
— Left-hander Robby Scott made his first start as a Red Sox minor leaguer in the second game of the double header, allowing a run on four hits (including a solo homer) while punching out three and walking none. With that solid effort, the 24-year-old actually saw his ERA go up to 1.02. He’s struck out 6.6 and walked 2.3 per nine innings in 35 1/3 innings with Portland this year.
— Right-hander Joe Gunkel made his High-A debut, allowing three runs on just three hits (a single and two doubles) while walking two and punching out three in 5 1/3 innings. Opponents were 3-for-18 against him, consistent with a Greenville first half in which the 22-year-old right-hander held opponents to a .149 average.
— With Gunkel up, there was an interesting change in Salem’s pecking order, as 2012 supplemental first-rounder Pat Light entered the contest in relief of Gunkel. Though he gave up a run, Light had perhaps his most dominant outing since moving up to High-A at the end of April. He did give up a run on three hits in 2 1/3 innings, but all three hits were of the groundball variety (two to infielders). He walked three but struck out five — his most punchouts with Salem. Of his seven outs, all came via either punchout or grounder.
— Reed Gragnani, playing third base, had yet another multi-hit game, going 2-for-4 with a walk. The 23-year-old is second in the Carolina League in average (.327) and OBP (.423).
SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 7-6 LOSS (11 INNINGS) VS. SAVANNAH (METS)
— Left-hander Trey Ball, for the ninth time in 10 starts, gave up at least a hit an inning, this time yielding seven hits (four singles, three doubles) in four innings en route to a four-run yield. He walked just one and struck out two, with his ERA bumping up to 7.26.
— Outfielder Manuel Margot went 2-for-5, extending his on-base streak to 11 games. During the run, the 19-year-old is hitting .366/.447/.537 with six walks and just two strikeouts, in the process elevating his season average from .247 to .269 and his OBP from .316 to .342.
— Outfielder Forrestt Allday went 3-for-5 and got hit by a pitch, with the 23-year-old now featuring a .304 average and .399 OBP along with a .407 slugging mark. He did get caught stealing twice, making him 3-for-9 in stolen base attempts.
SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 11-0 LOSS VS. TRI-CITY (ASTROS)
— Of Lowell’s three hits, two came from shortstop Mauricio Dubon, who went 2-for-4 with a double. Through eight games, the 19-year-old is hitting .273 with a .324 OBP and .394 slugging mark, putting the occasional charge into a ball (he homered on Opening Day) while also showing enough hand/eye coordination not to get beaten by pitches, as he has three walks and just two strikeouts in 37 plate appearances.
— Second-round pick Sam Travis entered the game in the ninth as a defensive replacement at first base and committed his third error in four pro games. That is one more error than he committed in 59 games as a junior at Indiana.
— Corner infielder Nick Moore moved from first base to the pitcher’s mound in the ninth inning, giving up three runs on two hits (both singles) and a walk as well as Travis’ error, which rendered two of the three runs unearned.
— Granted, it was the GCL on a rehab assignment, but Jose Vinicio (serving as DH) had his first career three-walk game and, for the first time since 2011, reached base as many as four times in a game, going 1-for-2 with three walks.
— For the second time in as many games, shortstop Javier Guerra drilled an opposite field double, his only hit in a 1-for-4 day. The 18-year-old is 3-for-8 so far.
— Rafael Devers went 0-for-3, though he did reach base the hard way, getting hit by a pitch in four plate appearances. The 17-year-old is hitting .356/.456/.589, and has reached base in 18 of 19 games to date.
— Shortstop Carlos Tovar went 0-for-3 (with an HBP), as his 11-game hitting streak came to its terminus.
— Starter Ritzi Mendoza somehow limited the damage to one run on eight hits and two walks with no strikeouts. The 18-year-old has given up one earned run in 18 innings over four games (0.50 ERA), mostly thanks to getting groundball after groundball, as he did on Saturday, when he recorded 11 of his 15 outs via groundball.
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