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Red Sox minor league roundup: Would Mookie Betts be a consideration for an injured Dustin Pedroia?; the riddle of Allen Webster; Wendell Rijo shows some pop 04.14.14 at 12:22 pm ET
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Right-hander Allen Webster got tons of groundballs but continues to struggle to throw strikes. (AP)

Right-hander Allen Webster got tons of groundballs but continues to struggle to throw strikes. (AP)

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

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 7-5 WIN (12 INNINGS) AT BUFFALO (BLUE JAYS)

(BOX)

– If Dustin Pedroia lands on the disabled list, Brock Holt would be in line for a call-up, with the possibility that the Sox could entrust everyday second base duties to him while keeping Jonathan Herrera in his current third base platoon/utility role. After all, Holt is off to a scorching start for Pawtucket — though 1-for-6 (with a double and walk) on Sunday, he’s now hitting .389/.476/.583 with five extra-base hits, four steals (in four attempts), five walks and two strikeouts in nine games. While Holt made little impact in the big leagues last year, hitting .203/.275/.237 in 59 plate appearances, he performed well in his only everyday opportunity in the big leagues, hitting .292/.329/.354 in 24 games with the Pirates at the end of 2012.

If Pedroia doesn’t end up on the DL and the Sox decide they need to make their bench deeper for the White Sox series with both Ryan Roberts and Herrera pressed into everyday duty, then utility man Mike McCoy — who can play virtually anywhere on the field — would become a consideration, as Holt cannot be called up until at least Thursday given that he was called up on April 7; barring a position player landing on the D.L., he needs to spend at least 10 days in the minors before he can return to the big leagues.

– Right-hander Allen Webster is at an interesting career stage, seemingly in a cocoon from which it is unclear if he will emerge as a butterfly or a moth. The 24-year-old had an outing that showed both his considerable potential and underscored the questions of whether he will be able to reach his ceiling, logging five innings in which he allowed four runs (three earned) on just three hits (one of which was a homer). He recorded a whopping 12 groundball outs, underscoring the degree to which his two-seam fastball can be a devastating offering, but he also had just one strikeout and walked four, while throwing a modest 58 of 96 pitches (60.4 percent) for strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to just half of the 24 batters he faced.

In three starts this year, the 24-year-old has seen last year’s strikeout rate of 9.9 per nine innings cut roughly in half to 4.9 per nine innings, and he’s also walked an identical 4.9 per nine innings. But he’s once again getting groundballs at a tremendous rate that had characterized much of his career prior to 2013.

If Webster can execute his two-seamer consistently in the strike zone, then it’s such a powerful weapon that it permits the possibility of opening up the rest of his arsenal and permitting him to have a starter’s pitch efficiency. But if he struggles to throw the pitch for strikes, then the possibility exists that concerns about his inability to give reliable innings will result in a move to the bullpen. Thus far in 2014, there are few indications of which outcome is more likely. Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox sign versatile Ryan Roberts to help fill Will Middlebrooks void 04.07.14 at 10:57 am ET
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The Red Sox have reached an agreement with Ryan Roberts, his agency announced. (AP)

The Red Sox have reached an agreement with Ryan Roberts, his agency announced. (AP)

With Will Middlebrooks on the disabled list, the Red Sox sought to make their roster deeper and more balanced by agreeing to a deal with utility man Ryan Roberts. News of the agreement was announced on twitter by Roberts’ agency, the Beverly Hills Sports Council, which announced that Roberts was added on a major league deal. (UPDATE: BHSC deleted the tweet. Nonetheless, an industry source confirms that there is an agreement between Roberts and the Red Sox does appear to be close, pending a physical for the 33-year-old.)

UPDATE 2: Per an industry source, Roberts will receive a $1 million base salary in the big leagues. He has no minor league options remaining.

The Red Sox initially called up Brock Holt with Middlebrooks landing on the disabled list on Sunday. However, Holt represented something of a roster redundancy with Jonathan Herrera. Both are utility infielders who can play short, second and third, though Holt’s best positions are short and second; he was introduced to third base by the Sox last spring. While Holt is left-handed and Herrera is a switch-hitter, both have significantly better splits against right-handed pitchers while struggling against lefties, something that led Sox manager John Farrell to acknowledge that the team might pursue more complementary options at third base.

“Right now, Brock is the one on the roster to get someone here currently to fill that spot and in response to need to put Will on the DL. Whether we look to find a better fit, that’€™s something we’€™re always looking for, not just in this case but every other case,” Farrell said on Sunday. “We’€™ll see what transpires over the two week period Will’€™s going to miss.”

Roberts, who has played third, second, left, right, first and short in his career — with the majority of his big league time coming at third base — is a career .245/.321/.392 hitter in 510 games spanning parts of eight seasons with the Blue Jays, Rangers, Diamondbacks and Rays, with a .266/.341/.444 line against left-handed pitchers, including a .305/.345/.500 line in 87 plate appearances against southpaws in 2013 for the Rays (when he hit .247/.295/.377 overall). He hit .237/.310/.342 in spring training with the Cubs, and opted out of his minor league deal at the end of camp. Throughout his career, his defense has graded as mostly average at second, third and first.

Roberts has gained a measure of fame for the saturation of his skin with ink. Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times offered an excellent profile of “Tatman” — and how his tattoos support noble causes — in this article.

While the Red Sox’ 40-man roster is currently full, the team does have the ability to place knuckleballer Steven Wright — currently working his way back from sports hernia surgery in extended spring training — on the 60-day disabled list to open up a spot.

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Why not Garin Cecchini? 04.06.14 at 3:21 pm ET
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Garin Cecchini led all of the minors in on-base percentage in 2013. (Salem Red Sox)

Garin Cecchini led all of the minors in on-base percentage in 2013. (Salem Red Sox)

With Will Middlebrooks on the disabled list, the Red Sox elected to call up Brock Holt — who likely will serve as a utility backup man, with Jonathan Herrera assuming primary duties at third base — from Triple-A Pawtucket. In a vacuum, the decision makes sense. The Sox need a versatile infielder, preferably one on the 40-man roster, in a world where Herrera is at third. But of course, the Sox did have another option: third baseman Garin Cecchini.

In a perfect world, calling up Cecchini is less than ideal. After all, the 22-year-old has played just three games above Double-A, having opened this season in Pawtucket by collecting five hits and walking twice in 11 plate appearances, good for a robust .556/.636/.667 line. That said, there have been other instances where inexperience in Triple-A has not prevented the Sox from promoting a position player, such as in 2009 when the team summoned Josh Reddick to the big leagues from Double-A, at the start of 2013 when Jackie Bradley Jr. opened the season in the big leagues without ever playing in Pawtucket, and when both Jacoby Ellsbury and Ryan Kalish were promoted with less than two months in Triple-A.

And in the case of Cecchini, there is an offensive maturity and polish to his approach as a hitter that suggest a player capable of being fast-tracked to the big leagues. Read the rest of this entry »

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For Brock Holt, a better start to second year with Red Sox at 12:30 pm ET
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Brock Holt

Brock Holt

Though the season is still in its first week, the start of the 2014 season for Brock Holt has already been significantly different than the 2013 campaign. Then, Holt was making an uncertain transition into a new organization, trying to familiarize himself with a new set of teammates (after being traded to the Sox by the Pirates) and learning a new position (third base) after spending his career in the middle of the diamond. He got off to a brutal start in Triple-A Pawtucket, hitting .149 with a .234 OBP and no extra-base hits.

And so, the beginning of 2014 has attested to a profound change of circumstance. Not only has Holt gotten off to a strong start, with four hits and two walks in his first 13 plate appearances in Pawtucket (.364 average, .462 slugging), but he’s also had reminders of the difference a year can make. When he showed up in Fenway Park after being called up on Sunday morning (with Will Middlebrooks on the DL), he saw a familiar group of players with whom he played in Triple-A and the big leagues last year. This was Holt’s second trip to Fenway in three days, as he received his World Series ring on Friday. The knowledge that he might be asked to serve as a utility player who can cover third is no longer a disorienting one.

“Last year [I] was the new guy, so I wasn’t too comfortable last year. But this year I feel a lot better. It helped me in spring training, being around the guys again, and going into the season as well,” said Holt, who played 26 games with the Sox in the big leagues last year, hitting .203/.275/.237. “I actually haven’t gotten as many reps at third this year as opposed to last year, but the times that I was over there in spring training, I felt comfortable and felt like I had actually played there before, as opposed to last year when I had no idea what was going on. I feel great. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sunday notes: Will Middlebrooks (right calf) heads to DL, Brock Holt recalled, Garin Cecchini on hold for now at 11:40 am ET
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After feeling a twinge in his lower right leg during pre-game sprints Saturday night, Will Middlebrooks was diagnosed Sunday with a Grade 1 strain of his right calf and immediately placed on the 15-day disabled list.

The third baseman underwent an MRI Sunday morning that revealed the nature of the injury. Taking Middlebrooks place on the roster is utility infielder Brock Holt, who was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket.

In playing the first four games of the season, Middlebrooks was 4-for-13 (.231) with one homer, one double and four strikeouts.

“He was disappointed when he first felt the calf grab him,” Farrell said. “The exam probably confirmed some of the thoughts based on the way he was reacting and responding to the sprints he went through and what he felt afterward. Unfortunately, we’re missing a power right-handed bat that was getting off to what looked to be a pretty darned good start.”

“It’s going to be case. He’ll be back on the field when he’s first available but it’s not going to be for another two weeks.” Longer? “Could be but we don’t know that yet.”

Farrell said the organization decided against promoting top infield prospect Garin Cecchini due to the desire to see Cecchini get more defensive reps with Triple-A Pawtucket.

“While he’s had some good at-bats there there’s still some development defensively that’s taking place,” Farrell said. “His time is coming but we didn’t feel like it was right now.”

Cecchini is hitting 5-for-9 (.556) in his first four games with Pawtucket this week.

Holt comes to Boston after being one of the last cuts in camp, when the team decided to keep infielder Jonathan Herrera.

“We’ll see what the best matchup might provide with those two guys,” Farrell said of Herrera and Holt. “Right now, Brock is the one that is on the roster. To get someone here currently to fill that spot and then in response to put Will on the DL. Whether we look find a better fit, that’s something we’re always looking for, not just this case but every other case so we’ll see what transpires over the two-week period that Will is going to be missed.”

Herrera was thrown into the fire Saturday night as the emergency fill-in at third base when Middlebrooks was initially scratched.

“This is a veteran guy who’s been accustomed to that role,” Farrell said of Herrera. “He finds a way to contribute based on his skills and he was able to do that [Saturday] night. Short notice, given the level of experience he has, he’s been in that position before and did everything we could’ve asked.”

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Thursday notes: Jonathan Herrera wins utility job, Brock Holt, Rubby De La Rosa sent to minors, Brandon Snyder reassigned 03.20.14 at 4:54 pm ET
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Jonathan Herrera fields a ball in spring training drills. Herrera won the utility infielder job on Thursday. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Jonathan Herrera fields a ball in spring training drills. Herrera won the utility infielder job on Thursday. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jonathan Herrera will be the Red Sox utility infielder to start the 2014 season.

In a move that was expected, the Red Sox optioned infielder Brock Holt and pitcher Rubby De La Rosa to their minor league camp Thursday while reassigning infielder Brandon Snyder, who was in camp on a minor league deal and doesn’t have to be designated off the 40-man roster.

With Thursday’s moves, the Red Sox now have 40 players in big league camp, including 31 players from the 40-man roster, and nine non-roster invitees.

The decision to award Herrera the job was based on the solid and versatile play he displayed while playing shortstop, third base and second base through camp. But it was Herrera’s advanced play at short that was the key determining factor.

“Prioritizing shortstop play, and while Brock has made strides on the left side of the infield, particularly from the start of last year, we felt with the acquisition of Jonathan there was more middle-of-the-field experience and that’s the choice made,” manager John Farrell said in making the announcement before the game with the Yankees.

The 29-year-old Herrera was acquired on Dec. 18 for pitcher Franklin Morales and minor-league pitcher Chris Martin as the Red Sox eyed a veteran insurance policy in the middle of their infield with Stephen Drew‘s uncertain future hanging over their offseason plans.

“His instincts inside the game,” Farrell said of Herrera, who played his first six seasons with the Rockies. “You get a two-to-three game glimpse across the field. But when you’re in camp with someone in camp for a month and a half, you get more of a sense of their instincts and how they react and respond to game situations and the energy he brings. It’s a good fit.”

The Venezuelan was 8-for-29 (.276) in 13 games entering Thursday’s contest against the Yankees at JetBlue Park. Herrera was penciled in as the starting third baseman against the Bombers.

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Red Sox minor league year in review: Second basemen 09.28.13 at 11:47 am 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: Second basemen. Wednesday: Corner infielders. Tuesday: Catchers.

Overview: Why not lump together shortstop and second basemen in a review of middle infielders? Two reasons.

Mookie Betts had a prospect year unlike any other in the Red Sox farm system. (John Corneau/Lowell Spinners)

Mookie Betts had a prospect year unlike any other in the Red Sox farm system. (John Corneau/Lowell Spinners)

First, shortstops are typically examined in a different light by the industry than those on the opposite side of the bag owing to the specific defensive demands of the position. One assumes that a shortstop can move to second. The converse is not true. Perhaps that helps to explain why, to date, no second basemen have ever received an annual salary in excess of $15 million a year. (Robinson Cano will change that assessment this winter, but he has yet to do so.) Five shortstops have cleared that hurdle, topped, of course, by the first free-agent contract received by Alex Rodriguez, a 10-year, $252 million pact.

Secondly, and perhaps more significant from the standpoint of this prospect examination, the Red Sox have a pretty good idea of who their second baseman will be for the rest of the decade, and it’s not anyone in the farm system. Dustin Pedroia is under contract through 2021. He’s a fairly compelling obstacle to any Sox second base prospects as they move up the ladder, barring a change of position.

That, in turn, engenders an intriguing dynamic in the organization, given that the team has a significant amount of talent at second base. While the Sox prefer to let players develop at one position until they reach Triple-A — at which point there are clear major league needs that the players can fill through a position shift — in this case, the presence of Pedroia could result in a somewhat earlier exploration of positional alternatives for some of the players in this group. Foremost, the mind-blowing breakout year of Mookie Betts lends itself to questions about whether, if he continues to perform as he advances up the ladder, the wildly athletic second baseman might have an opportunity to move all over the field, cultivating a rare versatility that could allow him to bypass the second base bottleneck with numerous pathways to the big leagues.

Here’s a look at a position where the Red Sox are loaded in the lower levels, suggesting some decisions to make in the not-too-immediate future:

Brock Holt (2ge 25 season in 2013)

Big leagues: .203/.275/.237, 0 HR, 7 walks, 4 strikeouts

Triple-A: .258/.327/.309, 3 HR, 30 walks, 54 strikeouts

Big league ETA: He’s there now. On 40-man roster. Two options remaining.

Notes: After Joel Hanrahan blew out early in the year, Holt is the remaining return that the Sox have to show for Mark Melancon, Stolmy Pimentel, Jerry Sands and Ivan DeJesus Jr. Holt isn’t likely to even the scales with that Pirates trade, given that Melancon emerged as an All-Star for Pittsburgh, but his strides as a third baseman in the spring and during the season give him value as a utility backup option who can cover the Sox at three positions (second (his best position), short and third) while delivering competitive at-bats — particularly against right-handed pitchers — and offering some speed on the bases. Certainly, he could stick on the roster next year in a Pedro Ciriaco-type role. Read the rest of this entry »

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