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Red Sox minor league roundup: Jackie Bradley Jr. starts road back; Blake Swihart adjusting to new level; Michael Kopech overpowering 08.19.14 at 2:32 pm ET
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Blake Swihart

Blake Swihart

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

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 2-0 LOSS VS. SCRANTON/WILKES-BARRE (YANKEES)

(BOX)

— In his first Triple-A game since being sent down from the big leagues Jackie Bradley Jr. went 0-for-5 with a pair of strikeouts. Manager Kevin Boles described the day — which did feature a loud fly ball — as having offered “some good signs.” Bradley said that he was responsible for the team’s decision to demote him.

— Left-hander Edwin Escobar, in his fourth start since being acquired from the Giants, threw just 55 of 96 (57 percent) of his pitches for strikes, matched a season-high with four walks and struck out just two. He did show increased velocity from his prior PawSox outings, registering as high as 94 mph on the radar gun, but even with that power, he seemed reluctant at times to attack with his fastball (perhaps because of some issues keeping it in the strike zone). Still, while his stuff generated few swings and misses, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre hitters had a difficult time squaring him up, as evidenced by the fact that he permitted just four hits (all singles) while recording 13 outs on the ground, including a pair via double play.

— Catcher Blake Swihart went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts, showing a somewhat overaggressive approach at times (from both sides of the plate) in which he chased balls both up and away and down and in. Thus far, he has one walk and 12 strikeouts in 10 games since moving up to Pawtucket, though it’s worth noting that he exhibited a similar pattern of early aggressiveness in Double-A Portland to start the year before he became increasingly selective, ultimately posting solid walk rates after April. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: blake swihart, edwin escobar, michael kopech, rafael devers
Catching on: Blake Swihart’s accelerating development behind the plate 08.05.14 at 9:47 am ET
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PAWTUCKET, R.I. — There were two outs in the fifth inning and Pawtucket Red Sox lefty Henry Owens had just walked his second batter of the game on a 3-2 count in the midst of a bid for a no-hitter. Owens seemed momentarily frustrated with himself and began to wander around the mound. Emerging from his crouch behind the plate, catcher Blake Swihart called time and began a slow jog to the mound where he was met by a look of relief from Owens.

As he stepped onto the mound, Swihart flipped down his catcher’s mask and put his arm around Owens, comforting the pitcher, as the pair began to plan their attack against Elliot Johnson of the Columbus Clippers. The look of comfort was evident in Owens’ eyes as Swihart jogged to set up behind the plate.

As Owens went into his windup, there was an extra oomph behind each of his pitches. Johnson was quickly set down on a fly ball to left fielder Bryce Brentz. Swihart, walking toward the dugout, gave a fist bump to Owens in celebration of the shared success.

Swihart’s ability to relate and talk to his pitching staff has become a huge area of growth in the last year. Catcher Matt Spring, who has been Swihart’s teammate for two years, said that Swihart’s ability to talk to and work with a pitching staff has become a huge factor in the catcher’s improvement on the defensive end.

“He gets on the same page as his pitchers and has a really good working relationship with them,” Spring said. “That was one thing where there is usually a longer process, especially with how young he is. He asks questions all the time and he is always listening and he’s just done an incredible job of being able to run a pitching staff on a day-in, day-out basis. Obviously, at the plate, he’s been fantastic.”

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No laughing matter: Henry Owens makes his mark in Triple-A debut 08.04.14 at 11:51 pm ET
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PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Henry Owens is a master of first impressions, and not just for what he does on the mound.

The first word that several teammates use in describing the Red Sox‘ top pitching prospect is goofy. The pitcher created an unshakable early memory for catcher Blake Swihart at the 2010 Aflac All-American Game, at which Swihart remembers seeing a lanky Owens run out to the mound, pick up the rosin bag and, instead of using it for its intended purpose, chuck it across home plate, rosin flying in the wind.

“That guy,” Swihart said pointing at Owens, “is an absolute goofball.”

On the mound, Owens does everything but goof around.

In his Triple-A debut Monday night for the Pawtucket Red Sox, Owens dominated the visiting Columbus Clippers. He carried a no-hitter through 5 1/3 innings before an infield single to Indians top prospect Francisco Lindor broke up the bid. He ended up delivering 6 2/3 innings, striking out nine (including the first four batters of the game), walking three, hitting one batter and allowing no runs.

Owens, who threw 70 of his 100 pitches for strikes, displayed a fastball that sat around 89 to 93 mph, a changeup that came in 77-79 mph and a curveball that was 69-72 mph. The 22-year-old displayed strong command of all three pitches and had the Clippers lineup guessing all night.

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Jim Callis: Blake Swihart the most difficult Red Sox prospect to part with 07.29.14 at 1:45 pm ET
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It’s a hectic time for the shaping of the Red Sox. The team is currently in sell mode, with the possibility of dealing any number of key veterans such as Jon Lester and John Lackey. At the same time, the Sox are no doubt in the early stages of contemplating how they’re going to address some of their pressing needs for 2015, whether beefing up the middle of the order or identifying a starting pitcher who could serve as a replacement for Lester should he not be with the team in 2015.

That, in turn, has created scenarios in which the Sox could both sell (parting with players slated to reach free agency after this year) and buy (adding long-term assets). For instance, could a team that has an organizational commitment to limiting the risk associated with long-term deals let Lester walk (or trade him, as the case may be) rather than signing him to a five- or six-year deal at, say, $24 million a year, and instead seek to trade for a pitcher like Cole Hamels who is essentially Lester’s age (Hamels, 30, is less than a month older than Lester), but whose contract guarantee would count as just a four-year, $96 million commitment for luxury tax purposes? In essence, doing so would have the Sox acquiring prospects for Lester and trading other prospects away in order to avoid one or two years at roughly the same AAV that Hamels would be receiving.

The Sox would certainly appear to have the trade chips to acquire Hamels, certainly. As Jim Callis of MLB.com noted in this podcast (on whether WEEI.com and/or the baseball industry overrates Red Sox prospects), the Sox might have the best catching prospect (Blake Swihart), the best left-handed pitching prospect (Henry Owens) and the best second base prospect (Mookie Betts) in the game. That permits flexibility to strike a deal. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: blake swihart, Cole Hamels, giancarlo stanton, henry owens
Red Sox minor league roundup: Taking stock of Garin Cecchini’s struggles; Travis Shaw’s landmark; Blake Swihart mashing at 1:12 pm ET
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A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Monday:

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 6-4 LOSS AT SCRANTON/WILKES-BARRE (YANKEES)

(BOX)

Garin Cecchini, amidst the worst offensive stretch of his career, enjoyed a positive glimmer on Monday, going 1-for-4 with a homer, his first of the month and his fourth of the year. Still, the struggles of Cecchini represent one of the foremost puzzles of 2014 in the Red Sox farm system. A player with a tremendous ability to catch the ball on his barrel and to shoot hits all over the field — while staying back and drawing enormous numbers of walks — has seen his season enter something of a spiral over the last two months.

On May 15, he had a pair of hits to improve his line to a .306 average, .400 OBP and .379 slugging mark. In 49 games since then, he’s hitting .200 with a .262 OBP and .289 slugging mark. And his struggles don’t simply reflect bad luck and a poor batting average on balls in play — Cecchini has 12 walks (6.2 percent walk rate) and 44 strikeouts (22.6 percent rate) during that span, marks that represent a considerable shift from his career norms.

In short, Cecchini — a consistently excellent performer during his professional career — finds himself in an unfamiliar place in Triple-A, with a .243 average, .321 OBP and .326 slugging mark on the year. Evaluators — both inside and outside the Red Sox system — continue to believe that Cecchini will hit, and perhaps the homer on Monday represents the beginning of a strong finishing stretch to his minor league season. But for the first time, Cecchini’s player development path now includes something other than a straight line ascent through the minors, likely delaying his eventual timetable for a regular role in the big leagues.

Travis Shaw went 1-for-4 while launching an eighth-inning homer, reaching a career milestone. Shaw now has 20 homers on the year between Double-A Portland (11 in 47 games) and Pawtucket (9 in 54 games), one of 29 players in the minors with 20-plus homers at this point. He thus surpassed his previous career-high of 19 homers achieved in 2012. Shaw is hitting .290/.347/.491 in Triple-A and .297/.374/.517 between the two levels. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: blake swihart, garin cecchini, manuel margot, raiwinson lameda
Red Sox minor league roundup: Why Blake Swihart looks increasingly like an elite prospect; Allen Webster finds consistency; Jamie Callahan gets on track; Jantzen Witte, doubles machine 07.22.14 at 12:21 pm ET
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A brief look at the happenings in the Red Sox minor league system on Monday:

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 4-3 WIN AT SYRACUSE (NATIONALS)

(BOX)

— Feats of Mookie: Regaining a foothold. Mookie Betts, one day after he failed to get on base for the first time in 24 Triple-A games, went 2-for-5 with a double. The two-bagger came against left-hander Aaron Laffey, improving Betts’ line against southpaws in Triple-A to .379/.438/.517.

— Right-hander Allen Webster allowed three runs on six hits (one double) and a walk in seven innings, striking out three and getting 10 groundball outs. In what has become an increasingly common development, Webster threw a high percentage of pitches (64 of 95, 67 percent) for strikes, permitting him to work efficiently. A year ago, Webster averaged exactly five innings per start in Pawtucket (in 21 starts), going 8-4 with a 3.60 ERA. This year, he’s striking out fewer batters (7.4 per nine innings) but is getting more early-count grounders, in the process forging a better ERA (3.10) while averaging just under six innings per start (118 innings in 20 starts). A year ago, he worked into the seventh inning just twice; this year, in one fewer start to date in Pawtucket, he’s worked into the seventh six times.

— Outfielder Corey Brown had the game-winning homer in the ninth inning, his 14th homer of the year coming against the team with whom he’d spent the previous three years. Brown, hitting .223/.291/.432 overall this year, has enjoyed a strong month of July, hitting .333/.388/.667 with four homers in 12 games.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 6-4 WIN VS. BINGHAMTON (METS)

(BOX)

— Catcher Blake Swihart went 1-for-3 with a pair of walks and a stolen base. The walks offer growing evidence of Swihart’s ongoing development in Double-A, as he’s shown improvements in his strike zone management and on-base skills as the season has progressed. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: allen webster, blake swihart, jamie callahan, jantzen witte
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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A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Monday:

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: OFF DAY

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 6-2 WIN VS. NEW HAMPSHIRE (BLUE JAYS)

(BOX)

— 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.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: RAINED OUT AT WILMINGTON (ROYALS)

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: OFF DAY 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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A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system:

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 10-5 LOSS AT TOLEDO (TIGERS)

(BOX)

— 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 »

Read More: blake swihart, brian johnson, manuel margot, matt barnes
Red Sox GM Ben Cherington on team needs, talks with prospective free agents, youth movement 07.09.14 at 8:51 pm ET
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Red Sox GM Ben Cherington is well aware of the foremost issue facing his team. A Red Sox offense that led the majors in 2013 in runs per game is now dead last in the American League in that category, entering Wednesday’s game with 3.74 runs per night. Fixing that will be a focus for the Sox both leading up to the July 31 trade deadline and into the offseason.

“We need more offense, clearly. I still believe a lot of that is going to come from guys already here. But clearly offense has been an issue so we’€™d like to add to the offense so we’€™re going to look for ways to do that whether that’€™s now or after the season or both. We’€™ve got to find ways to improve the offense.”

With A.J. Pierzynski not hitting, the Sox felt that it was time to remove the catcher from the roster.

Cherington touched on several additional topics. Among them:

— Cherington said that the status of talks about contract extensions with prospective free agents could have some bearing on what the Sox try to do at the trade deadline. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: ben cherington, blake swihart, deven marrero, xander bogaerts
Red Sox minor league roundup: How scouts view Anthony Ranaudo; Christian Vazquez feels he’s ready; Blake Swihart, Manuel Margot punctuate impressive June 07.01.14 at 12:13 pm ET
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A year ago at this time, right-hander Anthony Ranaudo was receiving accolades for a Double-A breakthrough that had netted him a spot in the All-Star Futures Game. By the start of July, he’d made 15 starts, going 8-2 with a 2.68 ERA. Opponents were hitting under .200 against him, he was striking out just over a batter an inning and just over three batters for every walk, looking like the player who had been the top pitching prospect in the Red Sox organization from the time that he signed after being drafted in 2010 through spring training of 2012 (before the emergence of 2011 draftees like Henry Owens and Matt Barnes, or the breakthrough by fellow 2010 draftee Brandon Workman).

This year, though receiving less attention in Triple-A (at a time when Owens was named to the Futures Game and looms as the clear top pitching prospect in the Sox system), Ranaudo’s results have been even more impressive. The 6-foot-7 right-hander continued a run of dominance unmatched in his career on Monday, pouring in seven shutout innings while giving up three hits (two doubles and a single), walking two and punching out five. There was some hard contact that resulted in outs, but by and large, Ranaudo continued a nearly seven-week run of putting up zeros.

Monday marked the fifth time in nine starts that he did not allow a run in a start. During that run, he’s 6-2 with a 1.13 ERA (the third best ERA in the minors over that time) while holding opponents to a .173 average. His strikeout totals have been largely modest (7.1 per nine during the stretch, 7.6 per nine on the year), but he’s been increasingly aggressive throwing strikes (3.1 walks per nine during the run, compared to 5.2 walks per nine in his first eight starts — and 1.7 walks per nine in his last five starts) and he’s been more consistently down in the strike zone with a fastball that has typically been around 92 mph but getting up to 93 or 94 mph within outings. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: anthony ranaudo, blake swihart, christian vazquez, gerardo carrizalez
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