|Red Sox minor league roundup: Reassessing Allen Webster’s big league readiness; Blake Swihart injured; Mookie Betts dazzles||05.20.13 at 12:18 pm ET|
This isn’t the same Allen Webster who opened eyes in spring training.
The right-hander currently in Triple-A Pawtucket bears some important similarities to the pitcher who showed off-the-charts stuff down in the Grapefruit League. His stuff verges on unhittable at times, as when he allowed one hit (a single) and permitted just two balls out of the infield in five innings on Sunday while punching out seven and getting swings and misses on 15 of his 92 offerings. Certainly, his 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings and .158 opponents’ batting average along with a 2.40 ERA are eye-openers. The pitch mix is electric.
But whereas his improved command in spring training — highlighted by a 14-to-1 strikeout-to-walk rate — was one of the biggest show stoppers in camp, Webster’s command has regressed recently in Pawtucket.
Sunday underscored the trend. Webster was filthy out of the gate, retiring the first 11 batters he faced in order. However, he then allowed five of the next six batters he faced to reach, walking four of them in the process and missing the strike zone badly with a number of pitches. As a result, on a day when he had incredible stuff, Webster managed to work just five innings while throwing 92 pitches (48 for strikes — just 52 percent).
He’s now walked nine batters in his last 10 innings. In 30 innings in Triple-A this year, he’s walked 15 batters, a rate of 4.5 per nine innings. As much as the 23-year-old’s extraordinary stuff and ability to get both swings and misses and tons of grounders creates general enthusiasm about his big league future, the fact that he has dominant major league stuff does not necessarily mean he’s major league ready. After all, with his current command and pitch efficiency issues, Webster confronts some of the same issues that have been areas of concern for left-hander Felix Doubront. In eight starts this year between Triple-A and the majors, he’s worked more than five innings just twice.
The temptation when seeing a remarkable talent such as Webster is to focus on his ceiling. But it will take time before he is capable of scraping it.
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 11-3 WIN VS. INDIANAPOLIS (PIRATES) Read the rest of this entry »
|Red Sox minor league roundup: The uniqueness of Mookie Betts; Anthony Ranaudo strong in struggle; Garin Cecchini’s standout year continues||05.19.13 at 11:29 am ET|
Daily Feats of Mookie: Mookie Betts went 2-for-4 with a homer (his seventh of the year and fifth in his last 11 games) and a walk for Single-A Greenville. During his current 13-game hitting streak, he’s now hitting .429/.533/.837 with 10 extra-base hits (five homers, five doubles). On the year, he’s now hitting .256/.413/.488.
The run remains singularly shocking, since prior to the streak, Betts had shown excellent excellent plate discipline but no real ability to drive the ball. He had just four extra-base hits in his first 25 games this year after collecting nine (with no homers) in 71 games in 2012 with the Lowell Spinners. So, in his last 11 games, with those 10 extra-base hits, he’s nearly matched his total from his previous 97 games as a professional.
The out-of-nowhere power-hitting stretch is even more impressive since it has occurred without Betts selling out his characteristically disciplined approach at all. During his hitting streak, he’s walked 11 times (including once in each of the last four games) and struck out just four times — meaning he has more than twice as many extra-base hits as strikeouts.
Context: Here’s the complete list of players in the minors with at least seven homers and at least as many walks as strikeouts:
Since 2001, the only player in the big leagues with at least seven homers in a season and twice as many walks as strikeouts has been Barry Bonds. The last player to do it who wasn’t Bonds was Mark Grace, who did it in 2000. The people who accomplished the feat in the 1990s: Tony Gwynn, Gary Sheffield, Wade Boggs, Eric Young, Mark Grace, Lenny Dykstra, Frank Thomas.
It remains to be seen what this remarkable run means for Betts. After all, he didn’t hit a home run all of last year. But for now, Betts is performing as a player with a profile that does not currently exist in pro ball, and that few have displayed in the last 25 years.
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 6-3 LOSS VS. INDIANAPOLIS (PIRATES)
– Franklin Morales yielded three runs while giving up three hits, a pair of homers and walking three in four innings. Despite the walks total, he was aggressive in the strike zone, throwing 43 of 65 pitches (66 percent) for strikes. However, he didn’t have overpowering stuff, as he elicited just four swings and misses in his four innings of work. Read the rest of this entry »
|Red Sox minor league roundup: Matt Barnes settles in; Jackie Bradley, Garin Cecchini hit the ground running; Bryce Brentz walks off||05.18.13 at 10:30 am ET|
Right-hander Matt Barnes has now settled into a string of consistently solid starts with Double-A Portland. On Friday, he allowed three runs on five hits with seven strikeouts and one walk in six innings on Friday. (Two of the runs came in his sixth and final inning.) Over his last four starts, he now has a 1.96 ERA with 28 strikeouts and seven walks in 23 innings.
On Friday, he had his best velocity of the season, sitting at 95 mph and reaching 97 mph, all with command down and on the corners. Still, that comes as little surprise given that Barnes was comfortably in the mid-90s with command for most of his first professional season in 2012.
That being the case, his secondary stuff will always be the most significant aspect in determining the pace of his development and his ultimate projection. One evaluator who saw Barnes recently spoke highly of the progress that the right-hander has made with his changeup, which has developed at times into being his primary secondary offering. His curveball has been an effective pitch at times, but he’s made considerable strides in the ability to pull the string on a legitimate changeup since he started his pro career, giving him a pitch capable of keeping hitters from cheating on his powerful fastball.
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 5-4 WIN VS. GWINNETT (BRAVES)
– Outfielder Bryce Brentz went 2-for-5 with a double and a three-run, walkoff homer with one out in the ninth. He’s starting to heat up, hitting for average, power and driving in runs in bunches. In his last nine games, Brentz is hitting .389/.421/.639 with two homers, five doubles and an RBI per game, bringing his line for the year to .280/.335/.510 with seven homers. He’s tied for fourth in the International League in RBIs with 29, thanks to a .328/.384/.612 line with runners on base (compared to a .237/.293/.421 line with the bases empty).
As Tim Britton of the Providence Journal recently noted, Brentz, 24, is trying to put his offseason gun accident behind him through his play. Though he still hears taunts from fans about the incident, he is trying to bring the focus to what he’s accomplishing on the field.
“Anytime something like that happens, your play is going to get the past behind you,” Brentz told Britton. “For anybody who’s ever done anything in baseball or had an offseason accident, their play is what makes people forget. It’s just bad that I put the organization through that situation, that the fans had to read about it.”
– Jackie Bradley Jr., 23, returned from a stint on the disabled list with biceps tendinitis and, serving as the designated hitter, went 1-for-3 with a triple, walk and hit by pitch. The walk was arguably his most impressive plate appearance of the night, an 11-pitch marathon against a left-handed reliever (Ryan Buchter) to lead off the ninth inning and set in motion a three-run, game-winning rally. It was Bradley’s first game in two weeks. He’s now hitting .304/.418/.391 in 12 Triple-A games this year. Read the rest of this entry »
|Red Sox minor league roundup: Allen Webster’s command issues, Jose Iglesias readjusts, Garin Cecchini avoids another scare, Sean Coyle slumps, a daily Mookie-ism||05.15.13 at 11:42 am ET|
A brief look at Tuesday’s action in the Red Sox farm system . . .
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 5-3 WIN VS. GWINNETT (BRAVES)
– Shortstop Jose Iglesias went 1-for-2 with a walk and a sacrifice bunt in four plate appearances. In seven games since returning to the lineup following a four-game spell in which manager Gary DiSarcina had him sit, Iglesias, 23, is hitting .192/.300/.192. However, DiSarcina told Tim Britton of the Providence Journal that more important than the shortstop’s numbers has been his approach to the game since returning to the field.
“One of the great traits he has is his love for the game. Sitting down for a couple days, he realized how much he loves the game, how much he misses playing with that joy,” DiSarcina said. “When he plays free and plays creative, he’s a lot of fun to watch, and I’m sure he has a lot of fun doing it because he has skills other people don’t have.
“The five or six games he’s been back, that’s kind of what we wanted from him. Enjoy yourself. You have an opportunity to go out there and be a leader out there. He’s been doing it.”
– Right-hander Allen Webster, in his first start back in Pawtucket since getting shelled for eight runs in 1 2/3 innings in a big league start, worked around issues with his fastball command (which led to both a solo homer and four walks) to allow just one run on three hits in five innings. He struck out five, recorded seven groundball outs and produced 11 swings-and-misses.
While Webster, 23, had enjoyed an eye-opening spring in which he demonstrated an ability to attack the strike zone that ran counter to his minor league career norms, he’s shown some regression during the season. He’s now issued 10 walks in 25 innings, a rate of 3.6 per nine frames, and on Tuesday, he threw strikes on just 53 percent (49 of 92) of his pitches. Read the rest of this entry »
|Red Sox minor league roundup: The Anthony Rizzo void leaves long-term questions at first||05.14.13 at 1:21 pm ET|
Throughout the Red Sox organization, news of the seven-year, $41 million deal between the Cubs and first baseman Anthony Rizzo was cause for considerable celebration. The 23-year-old’s fan base with his former organization remains strong, with ties that run deeper than usual for a player who has left the organization given the connection between the Sox and Rizzo’s family that was formed over the course of his treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2008.
Now five years removed from those months of treatments, Rizzo has continued to build upon the considerable promise he showed as a member of the Red Sox organization, when he slammed 25 homers between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland in 2010.
Through 38 games this year, he’s hitting .277 with a .348 OBP, .527 slugging mark and nine homers in 38 games — looking very much like the future middle-of-the-order force that he projected to be when the Sox sent him to the Padres following the 2010 campaign (along with Casey Kelly, Reymond Fuentes and Eric Patterson) for Adrian Gonzalez.
The Sox’ opinion of Rizzo — as a person and player — never waned, but with Gonzalez slated to man first base through 2018, there seemed no place for the sweet-swinging left-hander. And so, a potential future middle-of-the-order slugger seemed to represent an acceptable cost of business for a player who was expected to deliver elite production more immediately.
But with Gonzalez now having been spun off to the Dodgers, Rizzo’s absence is felt more acutely in an organization that lacks a clear-cut long-term option at first. Mike Napoli is signed through this year, not beyond. Both Daniel Nava and Mike Carp can play first, and both are under team control for a number of years to come (Nava through 2017, Carp through 2016), but it remains to be seen what the two of them look like over a broader sample of games, and whether either could emerge as an everyday option at a position that requires considerable offensive production.
Put another way: While there’s a chance that the team could turn to any of those three beyond 2013, none of the three current Sox first basemen represents a clear-cut answer at the position for years to come, at least at this point. And beneath them, in the minors, there isn’t a prospect who obviously fits that description, either.
In Triple-A, the Sox have players such as Brandon Snyder and Mark Hamilton who could offer serviceable depth to the big league team, but for whom (at ages 26 and 28, respectively) something more than that seems unlikely.
In Double-A, the team has a pair of players who offer intrigue in Travis Shaw and Michael Almanzar. Shaw displays both plate discipline and an offensive approach that the organization loves, working deep into counts, letting the ball travel, driving pitches to the opposite field in left-center. The 23-year-old has considerable raw power, though it’s translated only sporadically to games. He projects as a more likely source of doubles and solid OBPs than middle-of-the-order slugging. And, at 23, it’s worth noting that he’s the same age as Rizzo, with Shaw hitting .231/.369/.364 in the Eastern League while Rizzo is comfortably enmeshed in the heart of the Cubs lineup in the big leagues.
Also in Double-A, Almanzar (primarily playing third base) is off to the best start of his career, hitting .303/.380/.492 with five homers in 32 games. Still, given that this is the first time in years that the 22-year-old has merited legitimate prospect status, and that he’s a career .249/.301/.366 hitter in the minors, it’s difficult to say that he’ll emerge as the long-term answer at first.
Perhaps there will come a time in 2014 or 2015 when the presence of Xander Bogaerts leads the Sox to feature the impressive 20-year-old and Will Middlebrooks on opposite corners of the diamond, most likely with Bogaerts at third and Middlebrooks at first. Both players have the power profiles for the two corners, though, of course, there’s also a reasonable chance that Bogaerts reaches the big leagues as a shortstop and Middlebrooks stays at third. Further down, with third baseman Garin Cecchini dominating in High-A, in two or three years, there’s potential for further crowding on the corners that could ultimately be resolved by one player moving to first (though in the case of both Cecchini and Bogaerts, there are those who believe that if they are to move from their current positions, they are better suited for the outfield than a different infield position).
At this juncture, none of the players whom the Sox have at first base at any level below Double-A profiles as a future everyday big league first baseman. That could change, but in all likelihood, there’s going to be a gap of some years before the Sox feature a homegrown first baseman. And given Rizzo’s performance to date and age — he’s one year younger than Middlebrooks — it’s more unlikely still that the team has a homegrown amateur who thrusts himself into his offensive class.
The Sox were able to undo the major league component of their fateful offseason of 2010-11, shedding Gonzalez and Carl Crawford and the enormous financial constraints that both presented. And the team acquired high-ceiling prospects in Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa who contribute to the team’s best homegrown pitching outlook in years.
But without Gonzalez, the absence of Rizzo is felt, and likely will continue to be for some time to come.
A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Monday night:
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 6-1 LOSS AT CHARLOTTE (WHITE SOX)
– Through Franklin Morales gave up a solo homer, he had an impressive rehab appearance, allowing just the one run on two hits while striking out four and walking none in three innings. He also picked a runner off of first base, got three groundouts (and one flyout) and threw 30 of 48 pitches for strikes (63 percent). Read the rest of this entry »
|Garin Cecchini, Anthony Ranaudo among Red Sox’ April minor league award winners||05.09.13 at 8:33 pm ET|
The Red Sox announced their Minor League Players of the Month for April. The envelope:
Hitter: Garin Cecchini, 22 (High-A Salem) — .392/.478/.709 with 15 extra-base hits, 13 RBIs
Starting pitcher: Anthony Ranaudo, 23 (Double-A Portland) — 3-0, 0.83 ERA, 26 strikeouts, 5 walks, 21 2/3 IP, .159 opponents’ batting average
Reliever: Chris Martin, 26 (Double-A Portland) — 8 games, 15 1/3 innings, 0.00 ERA, 19 strikeouts, 5 walks, .140 opponents’ batting average. A note on Martin: Though he’s ready to move up and compete in Triple-A, the promotion of Jose De La Torre to the big leagues will not result in his graduating to Pawtucket, since the PawSox staff had 13 pitchers (and a shortage of innings to distribute) prior to De La Torre’s addition to the Sox’ big league roster.
Defensive: Catcher Christian Vazquez, 22 (Double-A Portland) — 11 caught stealing in 16 games
Baserunner: Center fielder Shannon Wilkerson, 24 (Double-A Portland) — .222/.260/.344 with 13 runs, 2 SB, 1 CS in 21 games
Base stealer: Cecchini, 10 for 13 in SB attempts (worth noting — Deven Marraro was 5-for-5 in steal attempts before his hamstring injury put him on the DL)
|Red Sox minor league roundup: Garin Cecchini continues ‘clinic’; Sox’ best 3B depth option; why Anthony Ranaudo’s struggles highlight success; the riddle of Mookie Betts||05.08.13 at 12:09 pm ET|
Garin Cecchini spent all of last year in Single-A Greenville, playing in a league and park where home runs tend to fly. Yet in 526 plate appearances, Cecchini cleared the fences just four times.
The 22-year-old now is in High-A Salem, playing in a league and home park that is anathema to power hitters. (Xander Bogaerts, for one, talked about the feeling of relief when he got to Double-A Portland last year and discovered that balls crushed to right-center actually could clear the fence again.) Cecchini has 120 plate appearances with Salem, and on Tuesday night he launched his fourth homer of the young season, going 2-for-4 with a double (his 10th two-bagger and 18th extra-base hit in 27 games this year).
“That was crushed,” noted Salem broadcaster Evan Lepler. (To hear his call, click here.)
Cecchini looks physically like a big leaguer. At a strong 6-feet-2, 215 pounds, he looks like someone capable of driving the ball. But he’s always been a believer in honing his offensive approach, using all fields, swinging at strikes and working deep into counts with the knowledge that, as he refines his approach, he’d likely see power emerge in his game.
To this point in 2013, amidst a dazzling start, that prognostication is proving spot on. He’s hitting .379/.467/.670 with 17 walks and 16 strikeouts. As much as the emergence of his power has been a headline development in his career, however, it’s the consistent quality of his plate appearances that has been his most impressive attribute both this year and in his career.
“It’s like if you go to a hitting camp and the coach is giving you a speech about hitting, what you should be doing. I feel like that’s Cecchini everyday. He’s out there demonstrating what you should be doing at the plate. It’s ridiculous. It’s like a clinic,” said teammate Sean Coyle. “It’s something I really like watching. I’d love to take some parts from his game. It’s great to watch and learn from.”
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 7-3 WIN AT GWINNETT (BRAVES)
At a time when Will Middlebrooks and David Ross may need rest following their injurious collision, the Red Sox face vastly different depth equations when it comes to replacing the two players.
In the case of Ross, the Sox are well-stocked in terms of upper-levels catchers, with three players (Ryan Lavarnway and Dan Butler in Triple-A, Christian Vazquez in Double-A) on the 40-man roster. Lavarnway would be the obvious choice to fill in for Ross given both his experience with the Sox pitching staff as well as his ability to offer an impact right-handed bat. He’s hitting .328/.402/.500 in Pawtucket.
Third base, on the other hand, could represent an organizational problem — part of the reason why, as of last week, the Red Sox hadn’t even discussed the question of whether Middlebrooks’ struggles might warrant some consideration to a roster change. There are no options in the minor leagues who a) have experience playing third base and b) are on the Red Sox’ 40-man roster.
Drew Sutton, who had been Pawtucket’s primary third baseman this season, is currently on the seven-day DL due to a strained muscle in his side. Utilityman Justin Henry has hit for average (.309) and gotten on base (.391 OBP), but without the power (four extra-base hits in 110 plate appearances) that a team would like to see at a corner spot. Another utility option, Brock Holt, is on the 40-man, but he’s played just one minor league game in his career at third base, and he’s off to a woeful offensive start (.181/.278/.181).
The most intriguing option at the position might be Brandon Snyder, who has been the PawSox’ best hitter this year. The 26-year-old, who signed a minor league deal with the Sox after requesting his release from the Rangers at the end of spring training, was 2-for-4 while driving in a pair of runs on Tuesday, and now is hitting .330/.423/.628 with six homers and 10 doubles. While he’s played mostly first in Pawtucket, Snyder suggests that third base is his natural home on a baseball field. Read the rest of this entry »
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