|Learning to win: Why PawSox playoff run matters for player development||09.07.13 at 8:52 am ET|
Even though Jacoby Ellsbury is dealing with a hand injury and the rosters have expanded to 40 players, Jackie Bradley Jr. remains in Pawtucket– as do Allen Webster, Brock Holt and pitchers like Brayan Villarreal and Pedro Beato, both of whom have contributed at the big league level this season.
For the third straight year, the Pawtucket Red Sox are in the playoffs, and it’s clear that the Red Sox feel that these players, each of whom could easily fill a spot on the club’s major league roster this month, would benefit from experiencing postseason play in Pawtucket. So it raises the question: why should we care about the Triple-A playoffs?
There’s not necessarily an obvious correlation between the success of high-level minor league teams and the success of the major league team, the players’ performance in that organization’s system, or even the depth of the organization. Sometimes clubs with strong farm systems will have poor records among their minor league teams because of the constant shuffling of rosters and movement of prospects throughout the levels or based on where players are in their maturation process.
But on an individual basis, getting a chance to play in the International or Pacific League playoffs is an important and positive experience. While there’s no way a minor league playoff appearance could compare to the atmosphere of a big-league postseason run, staying on the field into September has many benefits, included the added pressure of do-or-die situations, something that young players may not have experienced, and something that they would experience if they were called up to the majors.
“I think it mimics a regular season game in the majors more than anything, playing in that pressure,” former major league infielder Lou Merloni said. “Sometimes, in minor league games, when you play in front of crowds you’ll go out to win, but [in the postseason] you start to feel a little pressure. You start to get the nerves, and I think it’s the closest those guys will feel to playing in a big league game.”
Arnie Beyeler, who managed the PawSox last season and saw his team win the Governor’s Cup and advance all the way to the Triple-A National Championship, thinks that the playoff experience can really benefit young players.
“It’s great when guys get to win and go into the postseason and get playoff experience at any level,” Beyeler said. “Ultimately, when you get up here to the big leagues, it’s all about winning. So any of those experiences you can get, for guys to play extra or the pressure that you get going down the stretch trying to hold onto a lead, or playing and getting hot and getting to play in the playoffs, that do-or-die, day-to-day thing…you can’t get that experience anywhere else without being there.”
Will Middlebrooks, who was part of the PawSox club in 2011 when they finished first in the International League North division and clinched a playoff berth, thinks that while the postseason experience in the minors can’t duplicate what a playoff chase is like in the big leagues, it’s valuable nonetheless.
“Of course it’s a positive experience, it’s just a chance to play ball after the regular season is over, which is something not a lot of people get to do,” Middlebrooks said. “It doesn’t translate to anything up here [in the majors] as far as playoffs go, though. It’s another level.” Read the rest of this entry »
|Red Sox notes: John Farrell on potential Yankees retaliation for A-Rod; no word on who leaves rotation; shifting roles for Allen Webster, Brandon Workman||09.05.13 at 6:59 pm ET|
NEW YORK — With the Red Sox and Yankees primed to meet on Thursday for the first time since Ryan Dempster hit Alex Rodriguez with a pitch at Fenway Park on August 18, the question of whether or not the Yankees might retaliate and drill a member of the Red Sox has become a prominent topic in New York. As of Thursday afternoon, however, Sox manager John Farrell said that there had been no conversation with the Sox by either league officials or umpires about the possibility of the two sides being in a state of high alert.
“We haven’t heard anything to date leading into the series. If something is said at home plate, we’ll find that out right prior to gametime,” Farrell said about two hours before the scheduled first pitch. “But no, there’s been nothing said to our players or our team with the potential of what you just outlined.”
But what if the Yankees do appear to drill a member of the Red Sox intentionally? The manager’s response was intentionally vague.
“If there is to be retaliation, I don’t think there will be … but you never know,” said Farrell. “This game will find a way to take care of itself. If that’s to be the case, we’ll play the game.”
Dempster will not be pitching in this series. In a conversation with a group of reporters, the veteran didn’t have much to say about the incident or it’s aftermath.
“We’re talking about a start a long time ago. You’re going to have games where you don’t pitch as well as you want to and that was the case in that game. I feel like I’ve been throwing the ball better so I’m just going to continue to try to build off of that,” said Dempster. “I’ve just been going about my work and getting ready for my next start after my next start and just trying to be as prepared as I can and just pitch better. That’s been my main goal.”
Of course, the precise date of Dempster’s start is in some question. With Clay Buchholz making what is expected to be his final start of his rehab assignment in Pawtucket on Thursday, and in position to return as soon as Tuesday in Tampa Bay on normal (four days’ rest), Dempster faces the possibility of being squeezed out of the rotation. Farrell acknowledged that someone would have to leave the rotation to accommodate the return of the 2013 All-Star, but said that a final decision hadn’t been made about who would be moved out of a starting role. Read the rest of this entry »
|Red Sox minor league roundup: Taking stock of Bryce Brentz’s prospect status; Garin Cecchini stops streaking; Mookie Betts makes it rain; Wendell Rijo and the Sox’ second base stockpile||09.01.13 at 10:44 am ET|
Outfielder Bryce Brentz went 1-for-4 with a double, his second extra-base hit in seven games since returning to Triple-A Pawtucket from the DL. He did, however, strike out twice, giving him nine whiffs (against just one walk) in 22 plate appearances since coming off the DL while recovering from his torn meniscus, with a .143/.182/.333 line since his return to Patwucket, dropping his season line in Triple-A to .263/.312/.477 with 17 homers.
Given that Brentz missed more than a month, the notion that he’s struggled to regain his timing at the plate is not a surprise. It would be misleading to view his current offensive results as a meaningful barometer of his prospect status. That said, the 24-year-old’s pre-injury offensive performance — a .272/.321/.487 line with 16 homers in 75 games — was solid but hardly the stuff that screamed of a future big league regular, particularly given his struggles to get on base.
Though he has a strong arm, his defense in the outfield corners has been spotty this year (he committed a two-base fielding error on Saturday, his eighth of the year). He’s not an impact baserunner. He hits for respectable average but, before his injury, was just a tick below league average in terms of OBP (.328 in the International League).
In other words, barring an improved approach that permits him to have an above-average OBP as a corner outfielder, Brentz’s prospect status is riding on one carrying tool: Power. And unquestionably, he has significant power from the right side of the plate, with his Pawtucket total of 17 homers in 81 games projecting out to 34 in a hypothetical 162 contests. But it’s not epic power that demands a spot as an everyday big league outfielder, at least not yet.
And so, while Brentz is a virtual lock to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason (the power potential is significant enough, and the proximity to the majors close enough, that he’d be snapped up in a heartbeat in the Rule 5 draft), he faces a 2014 season that may represent his most significant. The 2013 campaign was marred by his preseason handgun accident that prevented him from taking part in big league spring training and then the torn meniscus that wiped out much of his second half. Assuming he’s added to the 40-man roster, he’ll finally be assured of an opportunity to make a new first impression in big league camp this year.
There are outfield opportunities in the Sox’ system going forward — Jonny Gomes, for instance, is signed only through 2014, and so Brentz could position himself to inherit the veteran’s role as the right-hander power hitter off the bench. And the Sox system features a distinct lack of players who profile as future outfield regulars, with the best candidate after Jackie Bradley Jr. being Manuel Margot in Short-Season Single-A Lowell), but Brentz will need to do more in 2014 than what he’s done this year in order to assert his merits for such a role.
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 2-1 LOSS VS. SYRACUSE (NATIONALS) Read the rest of this entry »
A brief look at the action in the Red Sox minor league system on Monday:
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 2-1 (WALKOFF) VS. SCRANTON/WILKES-BARRE (YANKEES)
– No one doubts that Allen Webster has the sort of stuff that few others possess. His raw materials — mid- to upper-90s fastball that he can sink, swing-and-miss slider, swing-and-miss changeup — suggest the ability to dominate. But how that’s translated to results has been a different matter.
Prior to Monday, Webster’s challenges with control meant that he rarely proved capable of working deep into games. He had recorded just one out in the seventh inning in 26 starts between Triple-A and the majors. That being the case, Monday represented a landmark.
Webster was hardly pinpoint with his command, as he issued three walks and hit a batter while throwing 61 percent of pitches for strikes (60 of 98). But when he did lose the strike zone, he quickly found his way back and attacked the opposing lineup, permitting just one run on two hits (one solo homer accounting for the only damage against him) while punching out five.
That Webster logged eight innings (the second time in his career that he’s worked eight or more frames — in 2011, he had a nine-inning complete-game shutout in Double-A) was significant in its own right. But it becomes even more meaningful in that it’s part of a broader trend.
In his last seven starts, Webster now has a 2.63 ERA while averaging a tick under six innings per outing. During that time, he has more than a strikeout per inning (45 in 41 frames) while averaging 3.1 walks per nine innings. Opponents are hitting just .177 against him during that time — the lowest mark of any pitcher in the International League — while his 0.98 WHIP is seventh in the International League since July 26. It is a strong finishing leg for a season in which Webster has explored divergent performance extremes.
– Jackie Bradley Jr. went 3-for-4 with a double, and he’s now reached base in all 16 games since coming off the DL on August 9. During that time, he’s hitting .279 with a .375 OBP and .459 slugging mark. Yet rather than being an outlier, that stretch has reflected what has been Bradley’s norm in Pawtucket this year. In 74 Triple-A games, he’s hitting .279 with a .378 OBP and .483 slugging mark. Moreover, whereas Bradley appeared to have hit a wall by this point in his first full professional season, this year, he is showing an ability to sustain his performance down the stretch in a fashion that suggests improvement over where he was as a player in Double-A at this time in 2012. In short, he’s performed in a fashion that has done nothing to alter the view that he’ll be ready for an everyday role in the big leagues by next year. Read the rest of this entry »
|Red Sox minor league roundup: Why Allen Webster will have something to prove next year; an oddity for Rubby De La Rosa; Miguel Pena keeps cruising; Manuel Margot’s memorable homer; Mookie Betts denied a feat||08.22.13 at 11:53 am ET|
Allen Webster once again showed stuff against which his opponents could do little. He allowed just three hits (two singles and a double), struck out seven and got six groundball outs in 5 2/3 innings. But his ongoing struggle to throw strikes continues to limit him. He threw just 61 of 104 pitches (59 percent) for strikes while walking three and yielding three runs. That is in line with a season in which he’s likewise thrown 59 percent of pitches for strikes in Triple-A, helping to explain why in 19 starts this year, he has recorded exactly one out in the seventh inning. Though he’s moved beyond his extreme midseason command woes, the 23-year-old has pitched fewer than six innings in each of his last four starts.
Still, the remarkable upside remains apparent. In his last six starts, he has a 2.91 ERA with 40 strikeouts and 11 walks in 34 innings while holding opponents to a .195/.270/.268 line with one homer and six doubles. He has the stuff to shut down opposing lineups, and the potential pitch mix to work through lineups a third time.
But in 2013, the still-young — and still relatively-new-to-pitching — right-hander has yet to transform the dazzling raw materials into sustainable success that would allow him to thrive right now at the major league level. The pieces may yet come together, but for now, Webster seemingly requires more development time, and almost certainly will open next year back in Pawtucket as a depth option — albeit one with tremendous upside — for the Sox. Read the rest of this entry »
|Red Sox minor league roundup: More no-hit magic from Henry Owens; explaining Dan Butler’s surge; Allen Webster in the zone; Manuel Margot returns; Luis Diaz dazzles||08.17.13 at 11:16 am ET|
If there were any questions about whether Henry Owens was the top pitching prospect in the Red Sox system, the left-hander has done a pretty compelling job of answering them.
The 21-year-old continued his amazing late-summer performance on Friday night by throwing five no-hit innings for Double-A Portland. He did permit an unearned run in the first inning — a wild frame in which Owens walked three, uncorked a wild pitch, encountered a passed ball and recorded all three outs by strikeout — but settled down to retire the final 12 batters he faced, including the last five by strikeout.
In five innings of work, the 2011 supplemental first-round pick (No. 36 overall) allowed four baserunners (three walks and the HBP) but punched out 10 while recording four outs via groundball. And so, his overmatched opponents from Harrisburg managed to hit just one ball into the outfield against him. They swung and missed 22 times at his 94 offerings, reminiscent of a spring outing when he struck out 13 of 15 batters he faced.
For most pitchers, the start would have represented the highlight of a season. For Owens, it’s now become commonplace. It’s the third time in the 6-foot-7 pitcher’s last seven starts (dating back to his time in High-A Salem) that he hasn’t allowed a hit. In that seven-start stretch between two levels, he has a 1.32 ERA, 13.0 strikeouts per nine innings and 4.4 walks per nine. Opponents are hitting .112 with a .242 OBP and .149 slugging mark against him over that period.
Clearly, Owens has not been fazed by his promotion to Double-A. In three starts since that move, he has a 1.20 ERA with 29 strikeouts and six walks in 15 innings — a ludicrous 17.4 strikeouts per nine innings. And he’s shown some ability to rein in his walks total, having knocked down his free passes to 3.6 per nine innings. Friday’s outing showed the ability to make in-game adjustments to surmount early-command struggles and attack the strike zone, leading to his complete domination over his final four innings.
“I felt like I was ready to face these hitters and I felt like I could compete,” Owens told MILB.com of his transition to Double-A. “That goes back to the confidence level. You can never be timid. Everyone says it’s a very mental game and that the game is not for the mentally weak. There’s a difference between flamboyantly loud confidence and quiet confidence.
“I like to lead by example. I try to inflict fear in batters so they don’t know what page I’m on. And that’s not fear like, ‘He’s a big guy, look at the size of him,’ but more like, ‘I’ve swung and missed at the first two pitches, I wonder what he’s going to throw next.’ ”
He’s seemingly accomplishing that, as he has for much of the year. On the year, opponents are now hitting just .176 against the lefty (the third lowest rate in the minors among full-season pitchers). He’s punching out 11.4 batters per nine innings. Control is unquestionably a question for a pitcher who is issuing 4.4 walks per nine innings, but considering that he just turned 21 and is still making strength gains that are permitting him the ability to repeat his delivery with increased consistency, he appears capable of progress in that regard.
Indeed, it is Owens’ strength gains and ability to sustain his performance throughout this year that have been among the most noteworthy elements of his year. The fact that he’s been so dominant at this stage of the year — at a time when he’s matched his number of outings (23) from last year while blowing past last year’s 101 2/3 innings total to reach 119 2/3 frames — represents an impressive payoff on his offseason and in-season conditioning work.
Owens is still dominating opponents with all three of his pitches — fastball (a pitch that averaged 91 mph and produced 11 swings and misses on Friday), changeup (9 swings and misses on Friday) and curve — even as he works deeper than ever into a season and even as he faces more advanced competition than ever. He likely has two remaining starts in Double-A, which should push him to about 130 innings pitched for the year, a couple final opportunities to punctuate what has been a spectacular season that points to a pitcher who looks like a potential long-term building block of the Red Sox rotation. Read the rest of this entry »
|Can Allen Webster help the Red Sox down the stretch?||08.16.13 at 9:13 am ET|
When John Lackey landed on the disabled list in April and the Red Sox needed a spot starter, rookie Allen Webster got the call. An impressive performance led to another spot start in May, and later, a place in the rotation (at least briefly) to fill the void left by Clay Buchholz.
An 8.68 ERA in his four turns in the rotation (18 runs allowed in 18 2/3 innings, 10 walks to 14 strikeouts) resulted in a demotion to Pawtucket in July for Webster, and since then, he’s seen the Red Sox opt for the likes of Brandon Workman and Steven Wright to make spot starts, while prospects like Rubby De La Rosa and Drake Britton have earned their places in the bullpen with the major league club. Webster remains in Triple-A, struggling to string together consistent starts and working to improve his command, something that has eluded him at times in both the minors and majors this season.
Webster acknowledged that watching his Triple-A teammates move past him and join the major league club is disheartening.
“It sucks,” Webster said. “But they went up there and got the job done. I have to get back down here and work on a few things.“ Read the rest of this entry »
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