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Red Sox minor league roundup: Blake Swihart dominating behind, at plate; Yoan Aybar turning heads 07.15.14 at 1:46 pm ET
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Catcher Blake Swihart has thrown out 54 percent of would-be base stealers. (Darrell Snow/Greenville Drive)

Catcher Blake Swihart has thrown out 54 percent of would-be base stealers. (Darrell Snow/Greenville Drive)

A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Monday:




– Catcher Blake Swihart went 2-for-4 with a double and a strikeout while also gunning down the lone runner who attempted to steal on him. In addition to a robust .296/.351/.485 offensive line with 32 extra-base hits in 77 games; he had 38 extra-base hits in 103 games last year in Salem.

But perhaps even more intriguing is the progress Swihart has made in controlling the running game. He has thrown out 27 of 50 runners attempting to steal against him this year — an astounding 54 percent. No other qualifying catcher in the Eastern League has a mark better than 47 percent. He’s gone from a 31 percent success rate in Single-A Greenville in 2012 to a 42 percent caught stealing rate in 2013 with High-A Salem to this year’s shutdown mark.

– Third baseman Michael Almanzar snapped a three-game, 0-for-9 stretch by going 2-for-3 with a double and walk. In 14 games since the 23-year-old returned to the Sox organization from the Orioles (who had selected him in the Rule 5 draft), Almanzar has hit .273/.373/.386 with three extra-base hits.


SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: OFF DAY Read the rest of this entry »

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Scott Boras on Red Sox as sellers, Xander Bogaerts, Stephen Drew, more 07.14.14 at 6:38 pm ET
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Scott Boras (AP)

Scott Boras expressed confidence that the Red Sox can make a run in the AL East. (AP)

MINNEAPOLIS — Agent Scott Boras doesn’t foresee a Red Sox sell-off as the July 31 trade deadline approaches. After all, despite the fact that the Sox enter the All-Star break tied for the AL East basement with a 43-52 record, 9 1/2 games behind the division-leading Orioles, they reside in a division that is highly flawed.

“I think the Red Sox don’t feel they’re out of anything, at least the Red Sox dialogue that I have,” said Boras. “I think they fully feel that the elasticity of the AL East is a rubber band that can take off or hit you in the face. I don’t think anybody in that division is taking where they’re at for granted, and they know it’s highly likely that this thing could well be decided for a number of teams in the next six to seven days. I think they’ve given themselves a core, a base to take that on. They’re getting some health out of their starting pitching. And I just don’t think that the club is concerned with retooling for next year when they’re in the hunt this year.”

Of course, the Sox’ outlook might be considerably different if a pair of Boras clients on the left side of the infield — Xander Bogaerts and Stephen Drew — were not ensnared in deep struggles. Drew is hitting .151 with a .218 OBP and .269 slugging mark in 28 games since joining the Sox in June (after sitting out the season’s first two-plus months while in free agent purgatory following his decision to reject the Sox’ one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer).

Boras said that while Drew is still working to regain his timing at the plate, he expects the 31-year-old to return to his career track record of a .261 average, .326 OBP and .430 slugging mark.

“The Drews take pitches. The Drews work the counts,” Boras noted, alluding to Stephen Drew and his brother, J.D. Drew. “I think to get that acumen of being comfortable in the batter’s box, that kind of started to unfold a little bit in Houston. He’s a lifetime .270 hitter. That’s not going to go away. And he’s in the prime of his career. So, I’m not concerned about that.”

As for Bogaerts, he closed the first half in a 29-game tailspin that saw him hitting .103 with a .140 OBP, .131 slugging mark and one extra-base hit (a homer) with 32 strikeouts in 114 plate appearances, dropping his season line to .235/.311/.348. That struggle commenced roughly a week after Bogaerts moved from shortstop to third base to accommodate the return of Drew. But Boras denied that there was a causal link between the position change and the offensive struggle.

“That would be statistically undocumented because his great performance last year was at third base,” Boras said, referencing Bogaerts’ performance during the postseason as the team’s third baseman. “The biggest thing is the transition to the big leagues where everybody tests to see if you can hit the fastball. Also, you’re coming into the league and have a broad base of expectancy that you’re going to be successful, but you’ve got to learn how to hit the breaking balls. You’ve got to see breaking balls. And you’ve got to really see the slider. You’ve got to learn how to hit the slider your way. That takes time. It takes practice. And it takes him going through, because you don’t see those types of sliders in the minor leagues. You don’t see the type of velocity irregularity between a changeup and a fastball in the minor leagues, because the few that can do that are up here. So this is really, he has so few at-bats, he’s making that adjustment.

“I said it last year when he was doing well and I’ll say it now, he’s a generational player. He’s in that category of the [Mike Trouts] and the [Bryce Harpers] and the [Manny Machados]. Xander Bogaerts fits right into that group. He’s a great, great young player who showed on the most pressurized stage, the World Series stage, that he’s a baseball player of extraordinary skills. You have kids who are in junior college that are his age [while Bogaerts is] playing in the World Series and doing big things. He’s just that kind of guy.”

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Zack Greinke takes stock of Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, free agent pitching market 07.14.14 at 5:24 pm ET
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Zack Greinke's contract is a key reference point for potential free agents Jon Lester and Max Scherzer. (AP)

Zack Greinke‘s contract is a key reference point for potential free agents Jon Lester and Max Scherzer. (AP)

MINNEAPOLIS — Zack Greinke is the landmark. The right-hander is the primary point of reference for the top of the free agent pitching market, which, this year, means Jon Lester and Max Scherzer.

When Greinke arrived at free agency two years ago, he had just turned 29, pitched 1,492 innings and owned a 3.77 career ERA with 8.0 strikeouts and 2.3 walks per nine innings. He commanded a landmark six-year, $144 million deal from the Dodgers. Lester — in a more difficult division, but at an older age (30) — is nearing the open market with a career 3.66 ERA, 8.2 strikeouts and 3.1 walks per nine innings and 1,505 career innings under his belt. So, Greinke’s $24 million-a-year haul will undoubtedly be a point of reference for Lester, just as it was for Scherzer and the Tigers when Detroit offered (and Scherzer rejected) a six-year, $144 million offer this spring.

“There’s a lot more pitchers like me than there are pitchers like [C.C.] Sabathia when he got to the open market and [Clayton] Kershaw if he got to the open market,” said Greinke, referencing the left-handers who commanded deals of seven years and $169 million (Sabathia from the Yankees after the 2008 season) and seven years and $215 million (Kershaw from the Dodgers this spring. “It’s a lot easier to compare players to my skill level than theirs. Scherzer and Lester, they’re fantastic, but they’re not, I don’t think, at Sabathia’s level when he became a free agent, because he was pretty amazing.”

As a student of the game, Greinke has considered the cases of both Lester and Scherzer. He notes that the months ahead could transform their futures by nine-figure sums.

“They’re two different ones,” said Greinke. “Scherzer has been amazing to me, because he’s slowly gotten better every year. Even this year, his velocity has gotten down a little bit, but his ability to pitch has gotten much better. Even though he’s an older guy, it seems he’s still getting better, which makes him kind of exciting. Lester’s had more of an up-and-down career but he’s had a longer track record of success than Scherzer. They’ve both been healthy. It’s pretty interesting, those two. And they’re both pitching really good right now.

“There’s still a long time to go with the season. Their contracts could go from $100 million to $200 million or $100 million to $20 million over the next two months, depending on how they pitch, if they’re healthy and all that stuff.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox minor league roundup: Deven Marrero’s career day; Alex Hassan scorching; Blake Swihart’s power show 07.14.14 at 4:22 pm ET
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A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Sunday:



– Shortstop Deven Marrero, who’d been amidst a 1-for-16 slump over four games, broke out of the skid in emphatic fashion, going 4-for-5 with two doubles while driving in six. The 23-year-old set career highs in both hits and RBIs. He’s now hitting .326 with a .356 OBP, .419 slugging mark and four doubles in 11 games since moving up from Double-A.

– Hottest hitter in the Red Sox system: Still Alex Hassan. Hassan went 3-for-6 with a double and a homer, and in 29 games since returning to the minors on June 10, he’s hitting .367/.448/.615 with three homers and a whopping 20 extra-base hits. On the year, he’s now hitting .341/.418/.541 against lefties and .280/.372/.433 overall — up from .217/.318/.303 before his big league callup.

– Right-hander Brandon Workman, in his first start in Triple-A after nearly two months in the big league rotation, tossed five innings in which he allowed four runs on 10 hits (including three doubles and a homer) with two walks and three strikeouts. Triple-A hitters have a .296 average against Workman this year, while big leaguers have just a .225 mark against him.

Allen Webster, relegated to a piggyback role, allowed four runs on six hits (four doubles and a triple) in four innings, though he walked just one and struck out four.



– Catcher Blake Swihart continued to show his emergence as a player capable of hitting homers. He went 1-for-4 with a key eighth-inning homer as part of a game-winning Portland rally. The solo shot was Swihart’s 10th of the year, giving him more homers this season than he had in his first two seasons combined (9). The 22-year-old is hitting .293/.349/.481, and he’s viewed as the best catching prospect in the minors. Though he wasn’t in the All-Star Futures Game, he belongs in the conversation about the elite prospects in the minors.

“It’s been unbelievable. He gets better every year. He should be in this locker room right now. He should be catching me,” said Henry Owens. “Every single year he progresses. From the first year on, he matures every year. He’s a great guy in the clubhouse. Great batterymate. He has an unbelievable feel for all of our pitchers, not just me. He’s just unbelievable.” Read the rest of this entry »

How did the industry miss on Futures Game star Joey Gallo? 07.14.14 at 10:36 am ET
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Joey Gallo homered in the All-Star Futures Game after a memorable batting practice. (AP)

Joey Gallo homered in the All-Star Futures Game after a memorable batting practice. (AP)

MINNEAPOLIS — Joey Gallo brought the All-Star Futures Game to its knees. And in so doing, he offered a frustrating reminder to about 29 teams.

Gallo’s power display — first an epic batting practice in which Target Field proved incapable of holding his massive blasts within its confines, then a 95 mph blast to right field — elicited awe from all onlookers. While the Futures Game is a showcase for the top power hitters in the minors, the 20-year-old was in a class by himself.

“Did you watch his batting practice? That was probably the most incredible batting practice that I’ve ever seen in my life,” Red Sox pitching prospect Henry Owens said. “He was hitting balls that were in a random parking lot.”

Indeed, Gallo busted the windshield of an SUV beyond the right field bleachers.

“I think I win it,” Gallo joked. “But I feel bad. They told me I hit it and I said, ‘Oh, man, I hope I don’t have to pay for that.’ ”

Based on the scarcity of power in baseball right now, one can assume that Gallo will be able to afford whatever bills might come his way for his assault on metropolitan areas surrounding ballparks. But his face-melting display of power on Sunday raised a perplexing issue: How on earth did a player with top-of-the-scale power last until the Rangers tabbed him with the 39th pick in the 2012 draft? Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox left-hander Henry Owens throws scoreless inning in All-Star Futures Game 07.13.14 at 6:10 pm ET
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Red Sox left-hander Henry Owens threw a scoreless inning in the All-Star Futures Game on Sunday. (AP)

Red Sox left-hander Henry Owens threw a scoreless inning in the All-Star Futures Game on Sunday. (AP)

MINNEAPOLIS — Hours before his start in the All-Star Futures Game, left-hander Henry Owens had a message.

“Tune in to the first pitch tonight,” Owens chuckled. “Maybe I’ll make a point.”

That point came in the form of a game-opening 70 mph curveball to Blue Jays outfield prospect Dalton Pompey. Though the pitch was a ball, Owens wanted to make a point. The left-hander is aware of suggestions that he’s primarily a fastball-changeup pitcher whose success occurs in the absence of a reliable curveball. And so that first pitch of the game was one of a number of curves he threw over the course of a scoreless inning in which he gave up an infield single, retired Pompey by a line out to left, got Francisco Lindor to bounce to Owens’ Portland teammate, Sean Coyle and punctuated his outing by getting Kennys Vargas to strike out swinging on a changeup. His fastball registered at 89-92 mph and his changeup elicited both of his swings and misses among his 19 pitches (12 strikes).

But the willingness to use a curve had a little bit of an edge for the Red Sox’ top pitching prospect.

“My curveball, I’ve always believed in. I don’t know if someone else didn’t. I get it — I throw a lot of change ups — but my curveball, I’m kind of overusing it in my starts now, trying to prove a point,” Owens explained before his outing. “I’ve used it a lot more [in 2014]. It’s developed. I’ve gotten a greater feel. Even the four days in between, I’m throwing it more playing catch, throwing it more in the bullpens and it’s really helped me out so far. … [The point he's making is for] anyone who doesn’t think I have one. Anyone who just thinks I have a changeup and a fastball.”

Owens’ curve was the last addition to his arsenal when he was growing up. Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox minor league roundup: Matt Barnes and the role question; Blake Swihart belongs; Rafael Devers is ridiculous 07.13.14 at 4:59 pm ET
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Matt Barnes has struggled to deliver innings this year in Pawtucket. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

Matt Barnes has struggled to deliver innings this year in Pawtucket. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system:



– Right-hander Matt Barnes was pitching in the All-Star Futures Game two years ago, at a time when it appeared he might be on a fast track to the rotation as the Sox’ top starting pitching prospect. The memory of that time feels increasingly distant.

Barnes got hammered for seven runs (six earned) on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings on Saturday. He struck out four and walked four — his second straight outing with at least that many walks, fourth straight with at least three walks and this straight in which he had at least as many walks as strikeouts — while throwing 57 of 93 pitches (61 percent) for strikes. The outing marked the 10th time in 14 starts this year that Barnes has not been able to record a single out in the sixth inning. It was the third time that he’s allowed at least six earned runs and the fifth time he’s yielded four or more.

Barnes is now 4-7 with a 5.06 ERA. He’s averaging a tick over five innings a start, typically requiring his bullpen to record 12 or more outs. That suggests one of two things: 1) He still could end up being a big league starter, but will end up taking far longer to get to that point than anyone expected when he blazed a trail to the Futures Game in his first full pro season; or 2) He might simply be a late-innings bullpen arm who hopes to see his typically powerful fastball play up in short stints.

The former possibility shouldn’t be dismissed given that Barnes’ year started behind the eight-ball due to a shoulder injury and a shutdown; that sort of health issue can leave a pitcher to play catch-up all year. But the latter possibility of Barnes as a future bullpen option is becoming more real than ever, at a time when the Red Sox’ upper levels are getting more and more crowded with other starting options.

Alex Hassan added to a scorching run by going 2-for-4 with a two-run homer, his third longball of the year. Since he returned to Pawtucket from the his first big league summons, Hassan is hitting .359/.445/.583 with 18 extra-base hits in 28 games.

– Outfielder Derrik Gibson, who spent most of the last two and a half years in Double-A Portland, moved up to Pawtucket, where the 24-year-old went 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout in his Triple-A unveiling while playing center. Gibson hit .314/.404/.424 in Portland, including .389/.454/.484 against lefties.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 5-2 WIN, 2-0 LOSS VS. NEW HAMPSHIRE (BLUE JAYS) Read the rest of this entry »

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