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Red Sox minor league roundup: Christian Vazquez is more than just a glove; Anthony Ranaudo brings back power; Mookie Betts remains outrageous 04.05.14 at 9:01 am ET
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Christian Vazquez (AP)

Christian Vazquez (AP)

Over time, Christian Vazquez has developed a reputation as one of the top defensive catchers in the minors, someone whose arm behind the plate is a game-changing weapon that has earned the 23-year-old comparisons to perennial Gold Glover Yadier Molina. But increasingly, Vazquez is starting to earn more far-reaching comparisons to the Cardinals All-Star not just for his defense but for the trajectory of his offensive development.

As a hitter, Molina was something of a late bloomer, putting up solid but unspectacular numbers in the minors (.278/.335/.368) and struggling in his first three big league seasons (.238/.291/.342 through his age 23 season in 2006) before taking a leap forward as one of the top two-way catchers in baseball, hitting .297/.353/.422 from 2007-13.

It remains to be seen what kind of hitter Vazquez ultimately becomes, but his progress commands notice. In 2012, he walked 48 times and struck out 79 times; last year, he walked the same number of times (48) but cut his strikeout rate roughly in half (44) while posting a .287 average, .375 OBP and .391 slugging mark. His approach passes the eye test as a hitter who does not expand the strike zone and whose hand-eye coordination permits him to hit line drives to all fields.

This spring, there were signs that Vazquez’s improved knowledge of the strike zone could permit him to make more of an offensive impact as he takes some chances pulling the ball. He crushed a couple of homers in big league spring training, offering a glimpse of a catcher who could have the ability to hit for average, get on base and deliver a bit of sneaky pop — in short, a player who may be ready to challenge his perception as a defense-first player whose limited offensive skill set profiles as that of a backup or a below-average everyday catcher.

On Friday, Vazquez went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles — one to right, one to left. While the one-year deal for A.J. Pierzynski resulted in a sense that Vazquez could emerge as the Sox’ catcher by 2015, his offensive improvements suggest a player who will be ready before that if the need arises.

“In my mind, he’s ready now,” manager John Farrell said of Vazquez on WEEI’s Down on the Farm.

Programming Note: Sunday on Down on the Farm: Red Sox hitting coordinator Tim Hyers will discuss Vazquez and other Red Sox prospects, and ESPN’s Keith Law will discuss the shape of the different farm systems among American League East teams. Listen to the show on WEEI on Sunday morning from 8:30-9 a.m.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 9-4 WIN VS. LEHIGH VALLEY (PHILLIES)

(BOX)

– Left-hander Craig Breslow, pitching in the second of back-to-back games, logged a scoreless inning in which he allowed a double and struck out a batter. On Friday, Breslow said that it was his hope that he would be ready for activation from the disabled list after his second Triple-A outing, though he will meet with team officials on Saturday to make the determination of whether he will make any further rehab appearances. Breslow threw eight of 12 pitches for strikes, getting two groundouts and a punchout. Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox minor league affiliate roster analysis: Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox 04.01.14 at 1:58 pm ET
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Anthony Ranaudo (AP)

Anthony Ranaudo (AP)

The Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox roster:

Pitchers

Drake Britton

Rubby De La Rosa

Chris Hernandez

Rich Hill

Dalier Hinojosa

Jeremy Kehrt

Tommy Layne

Anthony Ranaudo

Chris Resop

Brayan Villarreal

Allen Webster

Alex Wilson

Catchers Read the rest of this entry »

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Xander Bogaerts goes deep, but Anthony Ranaudo and Chris Capuano hit hard as Red Sox fall to Cardinals 03.05.14 at 6:37 pm ET
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Anthony Ranaudo struggled in his second spring outing. (AP)

Anthony Ranaudo struggled in his second spring outing. (AP)

In a game of slightly less consequence than the last time the Red Sox faced the Cardinals, St. Louis beat the visiting Sox, 8-6, in a reacquainting of the two World Series competitors. Daniel Nava led off the game with a homer off St. Louis starter Shelby Miller, but Miller then retired the next eight batters he faced. With Sox starter Chris Capuano (two runs in two innings) and piggyback starter Anthony Ranaudo (1 1/3 innings, five runs (three earned) on six hits) both getting hit hard, the Sox found themselves in a 7-1 hole by the time they showed renewed signs of offensive life starting in the sixth inning, when Xander Bogaerts launched a two-run homer (his first of the spring) to left.

Between the performances of both Capuano and Ranaudo (who consistently pitched behind in the count), three errors committed by the Sox (one each by Will Middlebrooks, Heiker Meneses and Deven Marrero) along with a passed ball by catcher Christian Vazquez, it was a sloppy performance for the Sox. Manager John Farrell told reporters that his team needs to tighten up its play.

“Tough day. No doubt. Tough day defensively. We’€™ve got work to do, let’€™s face it,” Farrell told reporters in Jupiter, Fla. “We’€™re a week into the game schedule but we’€™ve got a lot of work to do as a team. It was a tough for Will to defensively but in addition to that it was compounded by pitching behind in the count. And I think overall we’€™ve got to do a much better job of commanding the strike zone, much better than we have so far. … I think in general, as a staff, what we’€™ve shown through the first six days of games, we’€™ve got to pitch better in terms of controlling the count.”

The game featured the Red Sox‘ first umpire replay of the spring, as Cardinals manager Mike Matheny challenged a ruling that the Red Sox had successfully turned an inning-ending double play to conclude the eight. The ruling on the field was upheld.

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Allen Webster knocked around in spring debut, Grady Sizemore falls down, passes a physical test 03.01.14 at 2:16 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — If Saturday was any indication, 24-year-old Allen Webster has fallen behind Anthony Ranaudo in the Red Sox pitching prospect race.

Webster, who made his debut with the Red Sox last season in seven spot starts, was roughed up by the Minnesota Twins in his first start of spring training at Hammond Stadium. The Twins beat the Red Sox for the second straight day, 6-2, before a Hammond record crowd of 8,547. Daniel Nava homered from the right side of the plate in the first inning and Grady Sizemore overcame a mild fall before the center field wall to go 1-for-3 in the loss.

After getting Aaron Hicks to ground out to Garin Cecchini at third to open the first inning, Webster allowed three straight hard-hit balls to the outfield that all found the grass. Brian Dozier then crushed a ball to left-center that caused Sizemore to truly test his body when he lost his footing on the warning track just shy of the wall trying to field it. Sizemore stayed in the game.

“He lost his footing when he went down,” manager John Farrell said. “You recognize he’s going to pivot and torque on the leg. He came out of it fine and there were no issues. It’s just good to see him get three at-bats and continue to build.”

Webster then gave up an RBI single to right by Joe Mauer. Josh Willingham followed with a double. Webster then hit Chris Parmelee and walked Trevor Plouffe to force in a run. Lefty Chris Hernandez began warming in the bullpen as Webster appeared as if he wouldn’t make it out of the first. But a sacrifice fly and a fielder’s choice ended the inning with Minnesota up, 3-1.

Manager John Farrell allowed Webster to start the second inning and Webster responded with getting the first two outs quickly before Dozier singled to right to end his day. Webster allowed four hits and three earned runs in his inning and two-thirds of work.

“I just got in there and got a little anxious, left a few balls up, fell behind and they made good contact with it,” Webster said. “I need to get the ball down and get ahead of the batter.”

Webster’s spring debut comes in contrast to that of Ranaudo a day earlier. Ranaudo retired all six batters he faced in two innings, striking out four. He needed just 24 pitches (19 strikes). Webster needed that many to get through the first inning.

As for Sizemore, he singled to right on a grounder past the second baseman with one out in the fifth on his third at-bat of the day. Farrell immediately substituted Mike McCoy in his place as a pinch-runner at first. Sizemore flew out to left to open the game, struck out looking in the third before singling in the fifth.

Drake Britton was a highlight for the Red Sox, as the lefty allowed one hit while striking out four in his two innings.

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Anthony Ranaudo shines, Jonny Gomes leads off, Andrew Miller struggles, Twins spoil Grapefruit League opener 02.28.14 at 4:18 pm ET
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All players in Red Sox camp were introduced Friday in the Grapefruit opener at JetBlue Park. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

All players in Red Sox camp were introduced Friday in the Grapefruit opener at JetBlue Park. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Leading pitching prospect Anthony Ranaudo looked overpowering in two perfect innings while Andrew Miller struggled as the Minnesota Twins spoiled the official Grapefruit League opener for the Red Sox, 8-2, Friday afternoon in a sunbathed JetBlue Park.

Ranaudo, the 24-year-old righthander who was selected 39th overall in the 2010 supplemental draft, came out blazing. He fanned Minnesota regulars Alex Presley, Trevor Plouffe and Jason Kubel as part of his four strikeouts on the day. He needed just 24 pitches (19 strikes) to get through two perfect innings.

Jonny Gomes batted three times in the leadoff spot in the order, opening the first inning with a line out to short on a 2-1 pitch. He also flew out to left in the fourth and tapped back to the mound in the sixth.

David Ortiz was 0-for-2 with a check-swing on strike three for a strikeout.

The biggest struggles on the day came for the Red Sox relievers. After walking a batter in a scoreless third, Cuban defector Dalier Hinojosa was hit hard in the fourth, allowing four hits and three runs as the Twins took a 3-0 lead. He recorded just two outs in the fourth before being relieved by minor leaguer Robby Scott.

Andrew Miller ran into bad control issues in the fifth. He walked the bases loaded and allowed a sacrifice fly to make it 4-0. He was also relieved by a minor leaguer, Mike McCarthy, who allowed a two-run double to Chris Calobello that put another two runs on Miller’s line. He finished allowing three runs on no hits with a strikeout in two-thirds innings of work.

Other highlights included Mike Napoli singling twice to left field on the afternoon and minor league outfielder Bryce Brentz homering over the center field wall on an 0-2 pitch in the sixth to finally put the Red Sox on the board.

Brock Holt, whose throwing error in the ninth allowed the Twins to make it 8-1, got the run back with a bases-loaded ground out to first in the bottom of the inning to account for the final score. The game took three hours, 10 minutes.

Before the game, all three World Series trophies from 2004, ’07 and last year were on display on the infield and everyone in major league camp was introduced during a 15-minute ceremony honoring the defending World Series champions.

The two teams will meet again on Saturday across town as Allen Webster starts for the Red Sox against the Twins at Hammond Stadium at 1:05 p.m.

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Red Sox notebook Friday: Grady Sizemore, Daniel Nava to play Saturday, Christian Vazquez takes ‘big step forward’ at 11:18 am ET
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Christian Vazquez is not just sitting and waiting for his time to become to Boston's next great catcher. (AP)

Christian Vazquez is not just sitting and waiting for his time to become to Boston’s next great catcher. (AP)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — All the reports on Grady Sizemore came back very positive Friday morning so his return to game action will continue on Saturday at Hammond Stadium against the Twins.

“Grady feels great,” manager John Farrell said. “He came out of yesterday’s three innings, two at-bats feeling good. I’m sure he was eager to get going. First time in a couple of years being in a live game but he has responded well.”

Sizemore, who missed all of 2012 and ’13 with back and knee injuries, flied out to center in his first at-bat in the first inning and flew out to left in the second inning. It was his first game action of any kind since Sept. 2011. Farrell said Sizemore will play center after playing left field on Thursday against Northeastern.

Another rehabbing outfielder will get his first taste of game action on Saturday when Daniel Nava returns from a neck ailment and plays left field. Nava missed some time early in camp after waking up one morning with stiffness and soreness in the back of his neck.

Christian Vazquez continues to impress the Red Sox with his offensive development. On Thursday, he homered over the Jet Blue Monster in left against Boston College. The ninth-round pick from 2008 has always had shown signs of power, hitting as many as 18 homers with Single-A Greenville in 2011, driving in 84 runs in 105 games and batting .283. He seemed to be on the fast track in 2012 when he batted .266 in 81 games for High-A Salem. But he dropped to .205 in 20 games with Double-A Portland to close out ’12.

Last year, mostly spent at Portland, he had a breakout season of sorts, batting .289 with a .376 OBP in 96 games.

“Big step forward last year. Improved average but I think more than anything, when you start to see the walks and strikeouts start to even out, I think that speaks to his confidence in the [batter's] box and be comfortable and remain calm in some of those two-strike situations. He’s an exciting-looking player and a solid step forward, offensively, last year.”

With a gun for an arm and very quick feet, his defensive skills have never been doubted from the moment he was drafted as a 17-year-old out of Puerto Rico. Farrell says Vazquez will take the next step in developing game-calling skills and handling a pitching staff.

“Those [skills] are evident,” Farrell said. “The game-calling are to hinge a lot on the strengths of the given pitcher on the mound and how familiar is he with that individual. There’s a good foundation already in place, and that starts from the time they’re in rookie ball and that building block is there. But what he has also shown is the ability to read some swings and use that to make some pitch selections. He’s on a very good path as far as the position is concerned, all phases.”

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Gary DiSarcina: Allen Webster has most dominant potential of Sox’ Triple-A pitching prospects 01.17.14 at 7:41 am ET
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Right-hander Allen Webster (AP)

Right-hander Allen Webster (AP)

As the manager of the Red Sox‘ Triple-A team in Pawtucket in 2013, Gary DiSarcina saw a compelling group of pitchers making its way across the top rung of the minor league ladder. The pitching prospects who stopped in Triple-A for varying durations included right-handers like Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes along with a one-start cameo by left-hander Drake Britton.

Yet when asked to identify the pitcher who has the most big league impact potential, DiSarcina — in an interview on WEEI’s Hot Stove show — had little trouble identifying one arm that separated himself from the rest.

“When Allen Webster is right, when Allen Webster is finishing his pitches, he was the most impactful, dominant right-hander that we saw,” said DiSarcina. “One of the best matchups that we saw in the International League was (Pirates prospect and 2011 No. 1 overall pick) Gerritt Cole vs. Allen Webster, and Webster beat him, 3-2 or 3-1 — a real tight, low-scoring game. If Allen can put it together and iron out some delivery issues and just finishing his pitches, he’s dominant with the heavy, heavy sinker. Read the rest of this entry »

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