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Red Sox prospects Henry Owens, Blake Swihart, Garin Cecchini among scheduled Rookie Development Program participants 01.07.14 at 10:08 am ET
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Garin Cecchini is among the participants in the Red Sox Rookie Development Program. (Salem Red Sox)

Garin Cecchini is among the participants in the Red Sox Rookie Development Program. (Salem Red Sox)

There have been years when the talent at the Red Sox‘ near-annual Rookie Development Program has seemed thin, with the majority of the participants seeming more likely to emerge as fringe rather than core contributors to the major league club. That is not the case this year.

Instead, the group that will convene in Boston for a week — from Jan. 13-18 — features several of the Red Sox’ top prospects, most of whom look like future big league regulars. It is one of the deepest group of Red Sox prospects to participate in the program, which seeks to bring prospects expected to impact the big league club within a 12- to 18-month window to Boston to gain familiarity with major league staffers, Fenway Park and the city of Boston. Of the 11 participants in the program last year, seven — Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Drake BrittonSteven Wright and Brock Holt — played in the big leagues at some point in the year.

According to industry sources, here are the known participants:

LHP Henry Owens — The 6-foot-7 left-hander (ranked the No. 2 prospect in the Red Sox system by Baseball America) authored a dominant 2013 season in High-A Salem and Double-A Portland, forging a combined 2.67 ERA with 11.3 strikeouts and 4.5 walks per nine innings in 135 frames. He gets swings and misses in volume with an 89-92 mph fastball that has touched 95 mph, a devastating changeup that ranks as the best in the Sox system and a curveball that looks like a solid average offering. The 21-year-old held opposing hitters to a .177 average, earning him the title of the most unhittable left-hander in the minors in 2013 — a designation underscored by a streak of 19 1/3 consecutive hitless innings at one stretch in Salem.  Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: anthony ranaudo, blake swihart, christian vazquez, dalier hinojosa
Buy high or buy low? A.J. Pierzynski vs. Jarrod Saltalamacchia 12.03.13 at 11:38 am ET
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Jarrod Saltalamacchia is coming off the best year of his career. A.J. Pierzynski is coming off one of his worst. And so, naturally, the Red Sox moved on from the former to sign the latter.

A.J. Pierzynski (AP)

A.J. Pierzynski (AP)

The decision wasn’t made in a vacuum. The Red Sox hold catching prospects Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart in tremendously high regard, with a sense that both have futures as major league starters, with Swihart representing a potential All-Star. The projected 2015 big league ETA of Vazquez and 2016 projection for Swihart’s big league readiness left the Sox in a position where a deal of no more than two years represented the ideal scenario to avoid a catching bottleneck.

As such, Saltalamacchia’s quest for a three-year deal represented an imperfect fit for the Sox. That said, the one-year deal for Pierzynski also represents a less-than-ideal scenario for the Sox, who are now somewhat exposed at catcher beyond the 2014 season, given that the team’s two anticipated big league catchers (Pierzynski and David Ross) both will be 37 years old in 2014 and both will be free agents after next year. If Vazquez struggles in 2014, then the Sox could be left to scramble to create another catching bridge. (Though it’s worth noting that a number of team officials view Dan Butler as a solid major league-ready catcher with a long future as a backup who is expected to open the year in Triple-A with Vazquez.)

Still, in order to accommodate that preference, the Sox look like a team that has made a willing decision to take an offensive step back in 2014. After all, Saltalamacchia was clearly and significantly the more productive of the two players last season. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: A.J. Pierzynski, blake swihart, christian vazquez, Dan Butler
Sources: Red Sox agree to one-year deal with A.J. Pierzynski at 8:11 am ET
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A.J. Pierzynski has agreed to a one-year deal with the Red Sox. (AP)

A.J. Pierzynski has agreed to a one-year deal with the Red Sox. (AP)

According to multiple industry sources, the Red Sox have agreed to a one-year deal with free agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Buster Olney of ESPN.com reported that Pierzynski, if he passes the physical, will be paid $8.25 million.

The catcher, who turns 37 this month, hit .272 with a .297 OBP and .425 slugging mark along with 17 homers in 134 games for the Rangers in 2013, continuing a track record of remarkable durability — he’s played 120 or more games in 12 straight seasons. He has a career line of .283/.322/.428. Pierzynski would offer the Red Sox a left-handed complement to David Ross while signalling the almost certain end of Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s tenure with the Red Sox.

While it’s not yet known whether Pierzynski’s deal is for one or two seasons, the Red Sox had wanted to limit the term of any deal with catchers to two seasons, in part to keep the door open for the emergence of their homegrown catching prospects. Saltalamacchia, a 28-year-old coming off a career-best season, has been seeking at least three years this offseason. That duration was problematic for the Sox, given the presence in their system of Christian Vazquez — considered one of the best defensive catching prospects in the minors, who will open the 2014 season in Triple-A — and Blake Swihart, who has the potential to be an above-average offensive and defensive everyday catchter and will open the year in Double-A. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: A.J. Pierzynski, blake swihart, christian vazquez, jarrod saltalamacchia
Red Sox minor league year in review: Catchers 09.24.13 at 4:17 pm ET
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As the major league season wraps up, WEEI.com will also wrap up its minor league coverage of the 2013 campaign by looking at the depth of prospects at the different position groupings in the farm system. Today: Catchers.

Catcher Blake Swihart was named Red Sox Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. (Darrell Snow/Greenville Drive)

Catcher Blake Swihart was named Red Sox Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. (Darrell Snow/Greenville Drive)

Overview: Overall, the minor league catching landscape is bleak. That is not the case, however, in the Red Sox system, where there are four players who will open next year in Double-A or above who either have big league futures or who have already played at the game’s highest level. Though it seemed reasonable to expect that the Sox might trade a catcher once they signed David Ross last offseason, the elected not to do so, resulting in an area where the Sox run deep.

Interestingly, however, there is no player who is under team control for 2014 who seems like an ideal candidate to assume starting/primary catching duties should Jarrod Saltalamacchia leave as a free agent. The team does not seem ready to entrust Ryan Lavarnway with primary catching duties (Saltalamacchia’s role, in fact, grew when Lavarnway was called up to fill in for Ross when he landed on the DL), while Ross is likely to remain a defense-first backup with pop. The fact that Dan Butler did not receive a September call-up underscores the view that he’s a depth option rather than a starter-in-waiting, while Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart have starting catcher potential but won’t be ready for the big leagues in 2014.

In other words, there’s a strong chance that even though the Sox are one of the only organizations that can boast multiple catching prospects who project to be above-average everyday options at their positions, the team will want to prioritize bringing back Saltalamacchia (who came into his own as the leader of the pitching staff while also producing his best, most consistent offensive season) or will have to dip into free agent waters to find a starter.  

Ryan Lavarnway (age 25 season in 2013)

Majors: 23 games, .311/.342/.446, 1 HR, 2 walks, 17 strikeouts, 19 percent caught stealing

Triple-A: 50 games, .250/.346/.350, 3 HR, 25 walks, 25 strikeouts, 40 percent caught stealing

Big league ETA: Already there. On the 40-man roster. One option left.

Notes: Lavarnway continued to exhibit excellent plate discipline in Triple-A, though that skill didn’t translate perfectly in his sporadic big league duty (witness the two walks and 17 strikeouts, and the disappearance of his power remains a puzzle to evaluators both inside and outside the Red Sox organization. He’s made considerable defensive strides during his pro career, to the point where a team might be comfortable with featuring him behind the plate if he were still a 30-homer threat. In the absence of power, however, his fit is less clear, a notion underscored by the fact that he’s gotten minimal playing time since Ross’ activation. For now, members of the Sox rotation still appear more comfortable working with Saltalamacchia and Ross. Pitch selection with Lavarnway behind the plate often requires more negotiation, which takes the form of shaking to different pitches or mound visits. Still, while some of Lavarnway’s limitations have been easier to spot in part time duty, the fact is that a) he’s in the big leagues and b) he’s shown the ability to have a solid offensive approach at that level despite sporadic playing time. And, given that he does have a 30-homer season under his belt, and that he’s made improvements in his career behind the plate, there’s meaningful upside. In other words, he’s at a stage in his career where a team might well try to buy low. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: blake swihart, carson blair, christian vazquez, Dan Butler
Henry Owens, Mookie Betts headline Red Sox minor league award winners 09.21.13 at 8:25 pm ET
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Left-hander Henry Owens was named the Red Sox minor league pitcher of the year. (Salem Red Sox)

Left-hander Henry Owens was named the Red Sox minor league pitcher of the year. (Salem Red Sox)

The Red Sox offered the following press release announcing their minor league award winners (more information about the recipients will be offered later):

The Boston Red Sox today announced left-handed pitcher Henry Owens has been named the team’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year and second baseman Mookie Betts has been named Minor League Offensive Player of the Year. The club has tabbed catcher Blake Swihart as the Defensive Player of the Year with shortstop Deven Marrero receiving the organization’s Base Runner of the Year Award. Left-handed pitcher Dedgar Jimenez and third baseman Victor Acosta represent the Dominican Summer League Red Sox as Minor League Latin Program Pitcher and Player of the Year, respectively.

Also being honored is right-handed pitcher Steven Wright, the organization’s winner of the Lou Gorman Award. Created in 2011, the award is given annually to a Red Sox minor league player who has demonstrated dedication and perseverance in overcoming obstacles while working his way to the Major League team.

The 2013 Minor League Awards are selected by the Red Sox baseball operations department and minor league roving instructors.

Owens combined to go 11-6 with a 2.67 ERA (40 ER/135.0 IP) and 169 strikeouts in 26 starts between High-A Salem and Double A-Portland. The 21-year-old led organizational leaders in strikeouts, the most for a Red Sox minor leaguer since Clay Buchholz’s 171 in 2007. He also tied for the most wins and ranked third among leaders in ERA. A Carolina League Pitcher of the Week for July 15-22, he was also a Mid-Season All-Star and threw 19.1 consecutive hitless innings from July 11-28 with the Salem Sox. Owens went 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA (6 ER/30.1 IP) for Portland following his promotion from High-A Salem on August 1. He struck out 46 and walked eight in six starts with the Sea Dogs. Named the No. 5 prospect in the Red Sox organization by Baseball America at the start of 2013, Owens was the Red Sox sandwich pick between the first and second round of the June 2011 draft. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: blake swihart, dedgar jimenez, deven marrero, henry owens
Red Sox minor league roundup: Mookie being Buxton/Springer; Henry Owens joins elite Red Sox pitching prospect pool; Blake Swihart, game-changer 09.02.13 at 8:09 am ET
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Mookie Betts' diverse offensive skill set this year compared to only two of the top prospects in the minors. (John Corneau/Lowell Spinners)

Mookie Betts’ diverse offensive skill set this year compared to only two of the top prospects in the minors. (John Corneau/Lowell Spinners)

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

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 5-0 WIN (5 INNINGS) AT LEHIGH VALLEY (PHILLIES)

(BOX)

– For the sixth time in 10 Triple-A starts since the beginning of July, knuckleballer Steven Wright did not allow an earned run. The right-hander logged five shutout innings, tossing a complete game (albeit of the rain-shortened variety) while allowing three hits, walking two and striking out two. In his last 10 minor league appearances, Wright now has a 2.04 ERA with 38 strikeouts and 23 walks while permitting just one homer in 61 2/3 innings. He has given up two or fewer walks in five of his last six starts.

Jackie Bradley Jr. went 1-for-3 with a double and two strikeouts while getting hit by a pitch. In 79 games this year with Triple-A Pawtucket, he’s now hitting .273 with a .373 OBP and .470 slugging percentage — marks that look fairly similar to what he did last year after a mid-year promotion to Double-A Portland, but with more power. In 61 games last year with Portland, Bradley hit .271/.373/.437. While he was not among the Red Sox’ first wave of September call-ups on Sunday, given that both Shane Victorino and Jacoby Ellsbury left the contest with injuries, it’s possible that the Sox will choose to give themselves a bit more outfield depth by recalling Bradley.

– Outfielder Alex Hassan, in his first game since August 15 (he’d been on the DL with a broken finger), went 2-for-3 with a walk. Though his playing time has been limited severely by injuries, he’s had a spectacular offensive year when able to play. The 25-year-old is hitting .321/.434/.462. While the Sox’ decision to put Hassan on the 40-man roster last winter came as something of a surprise following a year in which he hit .256/.377/.365 as a 24-year-old in Pawtucket, his performance this year has been sufficiently outstanding that he would stand virtually no chance of clearing waivers if the Sox were to attempt to remove him from the 40-man roster.

– With catcher Ryan Lavarnway moving up to the big leagues, the Red Sox promoted catcher Christian Vazquez to Triple-A Pawtucket after a performance that suggests he deserves mention as one of the top catching prospects in all of the minors. In his age 22 season (Vazquez turned 23 just last month), the 2008 ninth-rounder hit .289 with a .376 OBP and .395 slugging mark while throwing out a whopping (and league-leading) 46.5 percent of attempted base stealers. For all of Vazquez’s exceptional defensive tools, it is necessary to note that he committed 23 passed balls — far and away the highest total in the league, and not just a product of the occasional presence of knuckleballers in Portland — but his potential to be an elite defender who controls the game along with a player capable of showing above-average hit and on-base skills (particularly for his position, where the big league norm this year was a .248 average and .314 OBP) suggests a player who now must be considered a potential everyday catcher by the 2015 season.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 9-4 LOSS VS. TRENTON (YANKEES)

(BOX)

It likely wasn’t the final note for which Henry Owens might have hoped with Portland. He suffered his first loss in Double-A, allowing three runs on six hits (five extra-base hits: two homers, three doubles) in 5 2/3 innings. Still.

The left-hander punched out eight and walked one while filling up the strike zone by throwing 67 of 100 pitches for strikes on Sunday. That capped a season-ending, six-start stretch in Portland in which Owens went 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA while racking up 13.6 strikeouts per nine innings (albeit with 4.5 walks per nine). Though he was the third-youngest pitcher in the Eastern League this year, Owens achieved dominant results against older opponents, as evidenced by his .167 opponents’ batting average.

On the year, between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland, Owens absorbed a considerable innings boost — he went from 101 2/3 frames in 23 outings last year to 135 in 26 starts this year — but sustained dominance throughout his increased workload. The 21-year-old left-hander held opponents to a .177 average on the year (the second lowest mark among all pitchers with full-season minor league affiliates). He went 11-6 with a 2.67 ERA. He punched out 169 batters (the highest strikeout total by a Sox minor leaguer since Clay Buchholz punched out 171 in 125 innings in 2007). He had a 0.89 WHIP.

There have been few seasons like that among recent Red Sox pitching prospects. The ability to generate swings and misses in such volume has been rare. Indeed, since 2000, Owens is just the sixth Red Sox minor leaguer to punch out at least 150 batters in a season. Here he is in comparison with the other five: Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: alex hassan, alfredo aceves, blake swihart, chris balcom-miller
Red Sox minor league roundup: The astounding feats of Mookie Betts; Keury De La Cruz stays hot; Matt Barnes, Daniel McGrath falter; Jake Drehoff shows superb command, Brian Johnson promoted 08.24.13 at 1:57 pm ET
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It was a career night for second baseman Mookie Betts on Friday. The second baseman collected five hits in High-A Salem’s 18-run offensive onslaught, driving in a career-high seven runs with two doubles and not one but two home runs. It was the first multi-homer game for Betts, his first five-hit game and first game with more than three extra-base hits. It was an unbelievable night for Betts, but it’s even more impressive when put into context.

Mookie Betts set career highs in hits, home runs and RBI on Friday night. (John Corneau/Lowell Spinners)

Mookie Betts set career highs in hits, home runs and RBI on Friday night. (John Corneau/Lowell Spinners)

Betts has amassed nine hits in his last two games, making an out in just two of his 11 plate appearances. He’s driven in nine runs and clubbed five extra-base hits. In his last four games, he’s hitting .667 with three home runs and three doubles. But Betts’ offensive tear extends much farther than his last four games.He’s reached base safely in 21 straight, and is hitting .430/.500/.722 over the life of that streak. Since August 1, Betts has been the hottest hitter in the Carolina League, boasting the highest average (.410), highest OPS (1.165), most RBI (26, eight more than the player ranking second) and home runs (five).

There was certainly an adjustment period for Betts upon his promotion to Salem. After hitting .296/.418/.477 with 24 doubles and eight round trippers in 76 games with Greenville, the 20-year-old scuffled against the more advanced competition at first, hitting just .227 with a .689 OPS through his first 84 plate appearances. Betts still put the bat on the ball plenty, however, striking out only eight times, and displayed decent power with three doubles, two triples and two home runs through those first 21 games.

The amazing thing about Betts’ 2013 campaign is his ability to do well in just about every aspect of the game. He showed the ability to take walks and get on base at a good clip in 2012, posting a .352 OBP and drawing walks in 11 percent of plate appearances while striking out in only 10 percent. That capability certainly hasn’t disappeared this year against older and better competition. In Greenville, it was enhanced. Betts drew 58 walks in 340 plate appearances, or almost 17 percent of his times up to the plate, while striking out only 40 times, which, while representing a small spike (up to 12 percent of plate appearances), was a small sacrifice for the large spike in the number of free passes and power. In Salem, he’s drawn as many walks as he has strikeouts, 17, in 174 plate appearances, or about 10 percent of plate appearances.

His speed is also an important part of his game. Betts was caught stealing for the very first time in 18 attempts earlier this week, but he maintains a 92 percent success rate this season. Although he’s played in 47 more games this season than in 2012, Betts has stolen an impressive number of bags compared to his 20 last season, swiping 35 bases through 118 games.

But it’s obviously Betts’ power that’s turning heads in Salem. And this power seems to have developed out of nowhere this season. Betts slugged only .307 in his time with the Lowell Spinners in 2012, but leads the Salem ballclub with a .565 slugging percentage after leaving Greenville with the highest slugging percentage among those with more than 50 at-bats (.489). After going homer-less in the first 76 games of his career, Betts now has 15 to his credit, along with 33 doubles and four triples this season.

Betts was not regarded as one of the organization’s top 10 prospects this offseason. He even failed to make Baseball America’s top 30 list (he was ranked No. 31). But the second baseman has made himself into a legitimate prospect worthy of attention, not just because of his performance, but the fact that he’s been so impressive throughout the season all while being notably younger than his competition. Betts is thriving in a league in which the average age is 22.4 years old; he doesn’t even turn 21 until October. In the Carolina League, he’s hitting well above many league averages, including batting average (Betts is hitting .331, the league average is around .259), OBP (Betts: .399, league average: .338) and slugging percentage (Betts: .565, league average: .382), while he’s walking slightly more than the league average of 9.5 percent and striking out a whole lot less than the 18.6 percent average among Carolina League hitters.

Maintaining the pace that Betts has hit at recently seems unlikely, but he’s definitely proven that his success in Greenville this season was not a fluke, and that his many talents translate well across levels. The Feats of Mookie have truly been one of the most eye-opening phenomena in the Red Sox system this year

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 4-1 LOSS AT SCRANTON WILKES-BARRE (YANKEES) Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: blake swihart, brian johnson, brock huntzinger, jake drehoff
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