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Red Sox minor league roundup: Is Mookie Betts top Red Sox prospect?; return of Anthony Ranaudo; Shane Victorino’s rehab begins 04.20.14 at 8:42 am ET
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Mookie Betts leads all of the minors in batting average with a .453 mark. (John Corneau/Lowell Spinners)

Mookie Betts leads all of the minors in batting average with a .453 mark. (John Corneau/Lowell Spinners)

Feats of Mookie: Defying superlatives.

Mookie Betts recovered from his two-game slump — a doubleheader on Friday in which he went 1-for-4 in both contests — by reasserting himself as an unstoppable force for Double-A Portland. The 21-year-old went 4-for-5, launching his second homer of the season in his final at-bat of the night, for his second four-hit game of the year and his sixth in his professional career (all of which have come in the last 12 months). In the process, he reclaimed the minor league lead in batting average (.453). He also leads the Eastern League in OBP (.492) and ranks third in slugging (.717).

Entering this season, there was some question as to whether Betts’ extraordinary breakout season of 2013 was real or a mirage. The contrast between his first two pro seasons — a 2012 campaign where he spent all year in Short-Season Lowell, hitting .267/.352/.307 with no homers and nine extra-base hits in 71 games, compared to a 2013 season where he tore through Single-A Greenville and earned a promotion to High-A Salem, getting better along the way en route to a combined .314/.417/.506 line with 15 homers, 55 extra-base hits and 38 steals in 127 games — created some pause about how highly he should be regarded in the Red Sox prospect rankings. Plenty of tools — bat speed, excellent plate discipline and hand-eye coordination, some power, quick-twitch athleticism that lent itself to both strong defensive range and great jumps as a baserunner — were on display, but it was hard to ignore the idea that his year might, just might, be a one-hit wonder that he might never match.

His start to the 2014 season, against a higher level of competition in Double-A, suggests that his performance of a year ago was no mere illusion. Obviously, his willingness to conjure a couple weeks of Nintendo numbers is unsustainable, particularly given his obscenely high batting average on balls in play (though it is worth noting that Betts may well be in possession of The Force, permitting him to bend the wills of weaker-minded opponents in a fashion that permits him to steer opposing defenders away from anything with which he makes contact and thus to sustain unusually high BABIPs). Nonetheless, the tools that proved so fascinating last year remain on full display this year, as Betts continues to show the ability to transform games in numerous ways.

And so, it is worth asking: Where does Betts rank right now among Red Sox prospects, at a time when he is laying waste to a league in which he is one of the youngest position players, someone who would be amidst his junior year of college had he not signed with the Sox out of high school? Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: alex wilson, anthony ranaudo, blake swihart, jackie bradley jr.
Red Sox notes: John Farrell explains switch for Grady Sizemore 04.10.14 at 7:37 pm ET
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Jackie Bradley Jr.

Jackie Bradley Jr.

NEW YORK — Prior to his team’€™s series-opening game against the Yankees Thursday night, John Farrell explained why Grady Sizemore had been pushed over to left field, with Jackie Bradley Jr. manning center.

Farrell said the move had more to do with the venue then anything else.

“With the ground that’s going to be covered here in Yankee Stadium is almost the reverse of what we deal with at Fenway,” he said. “To keep Jackie in center field and Grady over in left is for that particular reason — to cover the vast space that’s on the left side of the field.”

The manager then added, “As we sat down and talked with Grady about this, well aware that he has defensively only played center field at the big-league level, he’s played a number of games at the minor league level in left field. The alignment being here at Yankee Stadium, that’s what we’re looking to cover.

“It’s an alignment we’ve talked about internally. It’s best fitting here with the ground to cover. Whether or not this is something we do, I’m not going to say on a permanent basis because we’ve shown we’re going to rotate Jonny Gomes through there and he’s going to get ample time in left field as well. This is the way we’re going at it tonight. This isn’t something that we’re looking to pencil in every day going forward.”

Then there was the matter of where Sizemore was hitting in the lineup.

For just the second time this season, the outfielder found himself at the top of the batting order, with Farrell moving Daniel Nava — who had gotten the majority of time at the top of the order against right-handed starters — down to fifth.

“It’s as much trying to get Daniel going,” Farrell said. “We still value the on-base, which Daniel has a strong track record of that, and yet right now we feel like we’ve got to give him an opportunity to get his feet on the ground offensively. Once he does, we feel like he’ll be in that spot. Just trying to make the most of the current streaks or the way guys are swinging the bat right now.”

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Read More: daniel nava, grady sizemore, jackie bradley jr., Jacoby Ellsbury
Red Sox-Yankees series preview at 2:18 pm ET
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The Red Sox will head to New York on the heels of a dramatic victory on Wednesday night, taking on the Yankees and former center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury in a weekend four-game set.

After being swept in their first Fenway series of 2014, the Red Sox were looking for some redemption against the Rangers, and thanks to some solid pitching and dramatics from David Ortiz, they took the rubber game of the set to win their second series of the season.

“It was a big one for our team. Getting swept, coming back in we needed to bounce back and win the series,” said starter Jake Peavy, who delivered 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball. “So I knew coming in that it was a big start, and we needed to find a way to scratch and claw and get a win out of this. Especially going to New york, it’€™s always a fun and intense rivalry, and it’€™s nice to go in there with a little momentum.”

The Red Sox, like much of the rest of the AL East, have stumbled out of the gate a little bit, going 4-5 over their first three series. The big hit, which came from none other than Ortiz on Wednesday, has been elusive for the Red Sox, who have grounded into 17 double plays over just nine games, which stands as the most in the majors (four more than the team with the second most).

After going 85-77 in 2013 and missing the postseason for just the second time in 19 years, the Yankees sought to rebuild their roster and restore their dominance in the AL East during the offseason, which resulted in all kinds of turnover during the winter. The Yankees lost star second baseman Robinson Cano, starting pitcher Phil Hughes and outfielder Curtis Granderson to free agency, saw legendary closer Mariano Rivera and longtime starter Andy Pettitte retire, and had to fill the void left by Alex Rodriguez‘€™s 162-game suspension.

They responded by dishing out $555 million in salaries to the likes of Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Brendan Ryan, Brian Roberts, Matt Thornton, Kelly Johnson, Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka, and of course, Ellsbury. They also signed outfielder Brett Gardner to a four-year extension, as well as re-signing starter Hiroki Kuroda and face of the franchise, Derek Jeter, who announced that 2014 would be his final season.

But the Yankees already are experiencing some of the same problems that plagued them in 2013. First baseman Mark Teixeira hit the disabled list with a hamstring strain, and new closer David Robertson joined him Monday after suffering a groin strain. The injuries weaken the two biggest question marks for the Yankees: their infield and their bullpen. They’ll be forced to use a combination of relievers to fill the void left by Robertson, and the infield will be spread thinner to compensate for Texeira’s absence.

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Read More: David Ortiz, jackie bradley jr., Jacoby Ellsbury, Yangervis Solarte
Wednesday’s pregame notes: Red Sox contemplating outfield of Jackie Bradley Jr., Grady Sizemore, Shane Victorino 04.09.14 at 3:20 pm ET
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Grady Sizemore could move to left field once Shane Victorino is activated. (AP)

Grady Sizemore could move to left field once Shane Victorino is activated. (AP)

Once Shane Victorino works his way back from a hamstring injury (and a case of the flu), the Red Sox outfield may get a little crowded. Both Jackie Bradley Jr. and Grady Sizemore have been playing well, and manager John Farrell said that the Red Sox are contemplating scenarios that would feature all three of those outfielders once Victorino is activated, given the possibility boost such a grouping would have on the team’s run prevention.

“All of those alignments are thought of,” said Farrell. “How we get to that point remains to be seen with roster adjustments. The one thing that continues to bear out is the outfield defense and placing a premium on that.”

An alignment of Bradley, Sizemore and Victorino would undoubtedly give the Red Sox one of the defensive outfields in the league, but carrying all three would require some roster shuffling, with Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp all part of the outfield mix. If Bradley and Sizemore remain in the big leagues when Victorino is activated, the Sox will likely have to make a move to clear one of those other three outfielders off the 25-man roster.

For more on the Sox’ incentive to feature a Sizemore/Bradley/Victorino alignment, click here.

OTHER RED SOX NOTES Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Craig Breslow, grady sizemore, jackie bradley jr., Shane Victorino
Buster Olney on M&M: Red Sox believe Jackie Bradley Jr. could be ‘best defensive center fielder in the American League’ at 1:54 pm ET
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Buster Olney

Buster Olney

ESPN MLB insider Buster Olney joined Mut & Merloni on Wednesday to talk about the Red Sox outfield, Jackie Bradley Jr. and how the Red Sox view him, if Stephen Drew could still return and if A.J. Pierzynski is at risk of losing his job. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

With so many moving parts in the outfield, following Jacoby Ellsbury‘€™s departure to the Yankees, the Red Sox already have seen a variety of lineups there. For Olney, he could see the Red Sox going with Bradley Jr., Shane Victorino (once healthy) and Grady Sizemore.

“They definitely wanted to develop Jackie Bradley Jr. and they believe he is, if not the best defensive center fielder in the American League, they think he could be,”€ Olney said. “They want to get him established. Shane Victorino, has probably played right field better than any Red Sox player since Dwight Evans. Then you put Grady in left and you potentially have a shutdown outfield. I think the biggest question at that time was of course whether Grady was going to hold up, and I think that’€™s going to be a question all season.”

Bradley had a rough spring training, batting .158 and striking out 17 times, losing the starting job to Sizemore. However, because of injuries to Victorino, Bradley quickly got an opportunity again, batting .400 in 20 at-bats. Olney knows that the Red Sox were always confident in Bradley.

“A lot of the doubts that were reflected were in the media based on his performance,”€ Olney said. “€œI know that when you talked to the Red Sox during the winter time about what their plans were, and this is before Grady came into the equation in any serious way, their feeling was like, ‘Look, Jackie Bradley Jr.’€™s got a ton of talent and he’€™s going to do what we like and that’€™s get on base and play great defense at that position.’ I talked to evaluators with other teams during spring training leading up to those two broadcasts we did and they talked about how they thought that Jackie’€™s confidence was down.”

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Read More: A.J. Pierzynski, grady sizemore, jackie bradley jr., Red Sox
Closing Time: Felix Doubront’s poor start too much for Red Sox to overcome in loss to Rangers 04.08.14 at 9:25 pm ET
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Felix Doubront submitted the shortest start of his career on Tuesday. (AP)

Felix Doubront submitted the shortest start of his career on Tuesday. (AP)

The Red Sox harbored high hopes that this might be the year in which Felix Doubront took a significant step forward, that he emerged with the sort of dependability that could make him a staple of the rotation for some years to come. He showed up in spring training in improved shape as compared to the start of the 2013 season, and so the Sox thought he might be in better position to harness his well above-average pitch mix every five days.

“We’re expecting that he somewhat evens out some of the peaks and valleys he experienced a year ago,” manager John Farrell said before Tuesday’s game.

Hours later, Doubront plunged into canyon.

The left-hander submitted the shortest start of his career, lasting just 2 2/3 innings in which he allowed five runs on six hits, walked three, struck out two and threw just 53 percent (31 of 59) of his pitches for strikes. Unquestionably, his night was made worse by some defensive inefficiencies, but Doubront showed little ability to bounce back from them, as when he walked back to back hitters after Grady Sizemore broke in the wrong direction to turn a potential third out into a double.

Doubront’s mound struggles resulted in too great a deficit for the Sox to overcome, as their attempts to rally in the late innings proved an act of futility in the face of an insurmountable obstacle. The Sox endured a 10-7 loss to the Rangers, the team’s fourth in five games this homestand, and renews questions about whether the talented 26-year-old will ever emerge as reliable enough to solidify completely his place in the rotation.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

– The Red Sox grounded into five double plays, coming within one of the team record (reached three times, most recently on July 18, 1990). Thus did the team fail to capitalize on the fact that it had the leadoff runner reach in each of the first seven innings. Dustin Pedroia grounded into a pair of those, marking the fifth time in his career that he’s had two DPs in the same game. Four of those have come since the start of the 2013 season. He went 1-for-5 one day after going 0-for-5.

– The Red Sox continued to struggle to convert balls in play into outs, a trend that has become commonplace at the start of the season. The Sox entered the game having turned 66 percent of balls in play into outs, tied for the third worst mark in the majors.

Xander Bogaerts went 0-for-4 and stranded six runners. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Brandon Workman, felix doubront, grady sizemore, jackie bradley jr.
A.J. Pierzynski: Jackie Bradley Jr. has ‘the ability to be a great player’ 04.07.14 at 11:52 pm ET
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Jackie Bradley Jr. (AP)

Jackie Bradley Jr., pictured here with then-Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski, matched his career high with three hits Monday. (AP)

Off the bat, Red Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski knew that teammate Jackie Bradley Jr. had a chance. Yes, the ball hit by Rangers catcher J.P. Arencibia had no business being playable, but Pierzynski saw his right fielder taking flight towards the corner and recognized a player with uncommon defensive skill who had a chance to make the play. And so, Pierzynski was thoroughly impressed but not shocked when Bradley made a running catch in the far reaches of right field, just as he’d appreciated yet hadn’t been baffled by Bradley’s ability to make a sliding catch on a Donnie Murphy liner to right-center.

‘€œI tell you what, he gets some amazing jumps in the outfield,” said Pierzynski. “I just see the jumps he gets. For me, one good thing about being catcher is you get to see jumps on balls hit, and see how quickly they react, I saw him react not only that one but one [Donnie] Murphy hit too, got him coming in. just gets incredible jumps on balls. I don’€™t know if he’€™s fastest guy in world but jumps he gets on balls , gets to top speed right away is impressive.”

On Monday, those plays were pivotal. The Murphy hit would have scored a run with two outs; Arencibia’s ball would have been at least a double had it landed. And so, Bradley played a key role in the dominant line posted by John Lackey, while his offense — three hits, including a pair of RBI singles and a bunt single — contributed directly to four runs.

It was the sort of performance that Bradley has rarely delivered in the big leagues, but one that teammates like Pierzynski believe are within reach of the 23-year-old. While Bradley’s performance hasn’t always aligned with his prospect hype, Pierzynski suggested that his talent remains significant.

“He’€™s a great player — he’€™s got the ability to be a great player,” said Pierzynski. “You don’€™t understand how hard this game is until you actually do it every day and play and get out there and try to understand what it’€™s like to compete against the other guys because the other guys are really good too. Sometimes we try to put people in places ahead of when they’€™re ready to be where they’€™re supposed to be at and Jackie tonight had a great game, had three huge hits for us. It’€™s good for him to get those hits and get confidence and make plays in the outfield like he made, and do some things. It’€™s fun to watch because he has all the ability in the world to be a special player and hopefully this is the start to something special all year.’€

Read More: A.J. Pierzynski, jackie bradley jr.,
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