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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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Matt Barnes has struggled to deliver innings this year in Pawtucket. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

Matt Barnes has struggled to deliver innings this year in Pawtucket. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

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 minor league roundup: Matt Barnes’ atypical stretch; Brian Johnson stumbles; Nick Longhi, Yoan Aybar intrigue 07.08.14 at 1:17 pm ET
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Matt Barnes worked around a career-high five walks to limit his opponents to one run. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

Matt Barnes worked around a career-high five walks to limit his opponents to one run. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

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

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 4-1 WIN AT COLUMBUS (INDIANS)

(BOX)

– Though right-hander Matt Barnes matched a career-worst with five walks, he worked around the combination of those free passes and five hits (four singles and a double) to limit Columbus to one run in five innings. After exhibiting tremendous control (one walk in 20 2/3 innings over four starts at the beginning of June), Barnes has struggled to stay in the strike zone in his last three outings, issuing 11 walks in 14 innings.

Meanwhile, the swing-and-miss stuff that was a staple of his arsenal in his first two full pro years hasn’t been present of late. A pitcher who entered the year with 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings in his minor league career has punched out just 6.8 per nine this year, a decrease of roughly 36 percent; he’s struck out two batters in four of his last five starts, with 5.3 strikeouts per nine in that stretch.

Will Middlebrooks went 1-for-3 while playing third base, and is now 4-for-15 with two walks, a triple and a home run in five games during his current rehab assignment, which started July 1.

– Outfielder Andres Torres went 2-for-4 with his second homer and first walk in nine games for Pawtucket. The 36-year-old, signed to a minor league deal last month, is hitting .323 with a .344 OBP, .581 slugging mark, one walk and seven strikeouts since joining the PawSox. But with Mookie Betts now in the big leagues, Torres’ role with the Red Sox is uncertain, and so he could be a low-cost veteran available to other teams looking to gain reinforcements in advance of the trade deadline.

Deven Marrero went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles and a steal, marking his third multi-hit game in six contests since his promotion to Triple-A. Marrero is hitting .409/.435/.500 in Triple-A, and .300/.376/.438 in 74 games overall this year.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 11-4 LOSS AT BINGHAMTON (METS)

(BOX)

– For the first time since his promotion to Double-A, left-hander Brian Johnson had his lunch handed to him. He allowed seven runs on eight hits (including two doubles and a homer) in just 2 1/3 innings, snapping a pair of dazzling streaks. Johnson hadn’t allowed more than two earned runs in any of his first 11 starts in Double-A, and aside from a rain-shortened three-inning outing, he’d logged at least five innings in every trip to the hill. The 23-year-old, named an Eastern League All-Star, saw his ERA sail north of 2.00, jumping from 1.73 to 2.64.

– Center fielder Derrik Gibson went 2-for-5 with a double and triple. The right-handed Gibson had both of his hits against righties, and he’s now hitting a solid .271/.376/.376 against righties — but the 24-year-old has rekindled some prospect status largely on the basis of his dominance against lefties, whom he’s hitting at a .398/.462/.495 clip.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 9-8 LOSS VS. FREDERICK (ORIOLES)

(BOX)

– Right-hander Joe Gunkel was shelled for nine runs (six earned) on 10 hits, including a pair of doubles and a two-run homer, in five innings. The 22-year-old walked one and struck out three on a night where he gave up more runs and earned runs than he’d allowed in his first three High-A starts combined.

Reed Gragnani, playing left field for the fourth time in 11 games after spending most of the year at second base with a sampling of third, went 2-for-5 and drove in four runs. The 23-year-old is second in the Carolina League in average (.326) and OBP (.419).

Mike Miller, who was playing shortstop, reached base four times, going 2-for-3 with a pair of walks. The 24-year-old is hitting .330/.403/.391 in 30 games since joining Salem following a season-opening spell on the DL with a broken hamate.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 4-3 LOSS AT CHARLESTON (YANKEES)

(BOX)

– Center fielder Manuel Margot went 1-for-3 with a walk and a steal. Since the start of June, the 19-year-old has walked 12 times while striking out just nine times, a span in which he’s 12-for-14 in stolen base attempts. On the year, Margot’s 29 steals are second in the South Atlantic League, and he’s stealing at a solid 83 percent success rate while hitting .265/.336/.412, in a league where the average line is .262/.332/.382, and where the average position player is two years older than Margot.

– Outfielder Cole Sturgeon, promoted from Lowell to Greenville after just seven games, went 1-for-4 with a single and a walk. The 22-year-old was drafted by the Sox in the 10th round out of Louisville as a senior.

SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 6-3 WIN AT VERMONT (ATHLETICS)

(BOX)

Nick Longhi went 2-for-5 with a double to extend his hitting streak to nine games. In 19 games, the 18-year-old is hitting .357/.378/.486 with eight extra-base hits. He’s currently third in the New York-Penn League in average; the two players ahead of him are 21 and 22 years old.

Danny Mars, a 2014 sixth-rounder, checked off another box in his pro career. The 20-year-old hit his first homer for Lowell, and in nine games, the switch-hitter is hitting .405/.450/.622 with a homer, five extra-base hits and two steals.

– Second baseman Raymel Flores went 3-for-5 with a double. The 19-year-old is now hitting .267/.380/.383 with eight steals in nine attempts.

ROOKIE LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE RED SOX: RAINED OUT

DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: 10-5 LOSS VS. DSL GIANTS

(BOX)

– Outfielder Yoan Aybar went 2-for-3 with a triple and got hit by a pitch. It was his fourth multi-hit contest in six games in July, during which he’s hitting .474 with a .522 OBP and 1.053 slugging percentage thanks to seven extra-base hits (three doubles, four triples). Though he just turned 17, Aybar has seemed comfortable despite being on the young side of the league, striking out just twice in his last nine games. His lean, athletic frame (listed at 6-foot-2 and 165 pounds), in combination with his age, offers all kinds of grounds for potential upside projection, particularly given what he’s showing early in terms of hand-eye coordination and the ability to barrel the ball. Overall, he’s hitting .329/.376/.518, ranking 21st in average and 12th in slugging.

Jesus Perez, an 18-year-old outfielder who is in his first pro season, continued to show uncommon extra-base ability, going 1-for-4 with a double and two strikeouts. In 14 games, he has six extra-base hits. Though he represents an extremely raw talent whose baseball experience has been geared almost solely towards showcases, he’s made positive first impressions in his acclimation to pro ball.

Read More: jesus perez, matt barnes, nick longhi, yoan aybar
Red Sox minor league roundup: What is happening to Matt Barnes?; Manuel Margot’s power surge 07.03.14 at 5:21 pm ET
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Matt Barnes has never matched the dominant performance he exhibited at the start of his pro career in two subsequent years. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

Matt Barnes has never matched the dominant performance he exhibited at the start of his pro career in two subsequent years. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

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

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 8-7 LOSS VS. ROCHESTER (TWINS)

(BOX)

– Right-hander Matt Barnes gave up four runs on six hits in just 3 1/3 innings, striking out three and walking two. His season has never seemed to get on track after he was shut down at the start of spring training games with shoulder discomfort; even though he’s been generating velocity, he’s rarely generated the kinds of swings and misses with his fastball in the strike zone that defined his prospect status in previous years.

Yet whether it’s fair to judge him based on his 2014 results or not, Barnes’ performance track record is trending the wrong way. He displayed singular dominance (0.34 ERA in five starts) when starting his pro career at a level that was low for his experience, and carried that excellence forward (1.37 ERA) through his first eight starts in High-A Salem. But in his final 12 starts of that year, he had a 5.74 ERA.

He followed that with a 4.13 ERA in 2013, when he made 24 of his 25 starts in Double-A Portland (though, notably, he led the Eastern League in strikeouts per nine innings) and he now has a 3-6 record and 4.85 ERA in Triple-A, with his strikeout rate dipping to 7.1 per nine innings (with a walk rate of 3.0 per nine innings).

In other words, his results have gotten steadily worse, not better, as he’s moved up the ladder — a potentially ominous sign. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: deven marrero, manuel margot, matt barnes, travis shaw
Red Sox minor league roundup: Matt Barnes’ quest for efficiency; Joe Gunkel, strikeout machine 06.03.14 at 11:44 am ET
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Matt Barnes matched a season high with six strikeouts in six innings. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

Matt Barnes matched a season high with six strikeouts in six innings. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

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

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 3-1 LOSS AT NORFOLK (ORIOLES)

(BOX)

– Right-hander Matt Barnes bounced back after a pair of rough starts (12 earned runs in 7 1/3 combined innings) to hold his opponents to three runs (two earned) in six innings. Though he gave up eight hits, seven were singles (with one double) and, for the first time this year, he didn’t walk a batter. He also matched his season high with six strikeouts, continuing a recent resurgence of familiar strikeout totals — after he opened the year with 15 strikeouts in 23 innings (5.9 per nine) in his first four starts, he’s had 10.8 punchouts per nine innings in his last four outings.

That uptick reflects the fact that Barnes has been rebuilding arm strength gradually after being shut down in spring training due to shoulder tenderness. Barnes suggests that he still hasn’t seen his arm strength come all the way back, but even as he works to regain his peak velocity, he’s assumed a more efficient, attacking mentality that has allowed him to work deeper into games. (He has pitched six or more innings in three of his eight starts; last year, he lasted at least six innings in just six of 25 starts.) Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: forrestt allday, joe gunkel, matt barnes, roldani baldwin
Red Sox minor league roundup: Matt Barnes struggling; Daniel McGrath dealing 05.28.14 at 10:23 am ET
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Matt Barnes endured his second straight rough outing on Tuesday. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

Matt Barnes endured his second straight rough outing on Tuesday. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

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

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 8-3 LOSS VS. GWINNETT (BRAVES)

(BOX)

Matt Barnes turned in his second straight start where he allowed six earned runs, walked three batters and failed to complete five innings. The righty also allowed a home run for the third straight start. Barnes left several pitches over the middle of the plate, as nearly all six of the hits (including a double, triple and home run) by the Braves were scorched.

The 23-year-old posted a 53.7 percent (51 strikes, 95 pitches) strike percentage, the second straight start where Barnes’ strike percentage has dropped. The righty posted a 56.7 percent (42 strikes, 74 pitches) strike percentage in his prior start against Syracuse, when he went three innings, allowing eight hits, six runs, walked three and struck out four. Prior to his start at Syracuse, the righty was averaging 61 percent strikes in his starts.

– Catcher Christian Vazquez went 1-for-3 with an RBI single, a run scored and a walk. After striking out in four straight contests heading into Tuesday’s contest, Vazquez managed to not punch out. Vazquez had struck out eight times in his last 10 games. Vazquez continues to work on his approach at the plate. Vazquez has struggled with his strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2014 after drawing 48 walks and punching out 44 times in 2013. So far this season, Vazquez has struck out 26 times and walked 11 times. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: daniel mcgrath, matt barnes,
Red Sox minor league roundup: Matt Barnes and the quest for efficiency; Feats of Portland in offensive explosion; Teddy Stankiewicz laying a foundation 05.12.14 at 12:36 pm ET
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Matt Barnes has emerged as one of the top Red Sox prospects because of his ability to miss bats. No one in the system over the last few years has shown the ability to blow away hitters with his fastball like Barnes.

Matt Barnes matched a career high with seven innings on Sunday. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

Matt Barnes matched a career high with seven innings on Sunday. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

Yet while that ability has offered the foundation to consider Barnes a very impressive young pitching prospect, the long view of him as a future starter with a mid-rotation ceiling has required a degree of projection for much of the last two years given some of his inefficiencies on the mound. As a pitcher who relies primarily on his fastball, even with his ability to incorporate a solid changeup, the absence of a reliable third pitch (the curveball) has resulted in opponents sitting on his heater and, even when he punches out opponents, driving up his pitch count to the point of shortening his outings. In 2013, while spending almost all of the year in Double-A Portland, he averaged fewer than five innings a start.

That reality made Barnes’ outing on Sunday particularly noteworthy, highlighting an intriguing early indicator of some of his development as a pitcher to start this year. The 23-year-old matched a career-high with seven innings pitched (just the third time in his pro career that he’s recorded more than 18 outs), requiring just 96 pitches (60 strikes, a 62.5 percent rate) to navigate to that point in the contest. In four starts (in which his pitch count has been building after a delayed start to the year due to shoulder tendinitis), he’s logged at least five innings in each, with six- and seven-inning efforts in his last two turns. He has yet to allow more than two runs in any outing, a pattern that continued on Sunday, when he gave up two runs on five hits (four singles and a double) and a walk in his seven innings of work.

Barnes is getting fewer swings and misses this season than he did in 2013. On Sunday, he struck out just three and, according to GameDay data, had just three swings and misses. So far this year, he’s punching out just 5.9 batters per nine innings, a substantial decline from his strikeout rate of 10.6 per nine innings.

Yet while the ability to overpower opponents hasn’t been visible, the ability to pitch — and pitch efficiently — has been. A year ago, he averaged 4.1 pitches per plate appearance. He pitched as many as six innings in just six of his 25 starts, and recorded an out in the seventh inning just once (when he pitched a season-high seven frames on July 20). This year, in his four starts since joining the PawSox from extended spring training, he’s averaging 3.9 pitches per plate appearance.

Ultimately, Barnes’ future as a starter will rely on his ability to combine the ability to miss bats with the efficiency necessary to deliver innings at the big league level. He’s not demonstrating both of those traits now. Still, he’s offered plenty of the former trait and little of the latter in the initial seasons of his pro career. And so, what he’s shown so far in 2014 en route to a 2.35 ERA through four starts suggests a pitcher who may be reaching a pivotal stage in his career progression.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 3-2 WIN AT LOUISVILLE (REDS) Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: deven marrero, jantzen witte, matt barnes, teddy stankiewicz
Red Sox minor league roundup: Daniel Nava begins the road back; Matt Barnes starts the road forward; Brian Johnson dominating 04.26.14 at 12:56 pm ET
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Matt Barnes made his first start for Triple-A Pawtucket on Friday. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

Matt Barnes made his first start for Triple-A Pawtucket on Friday. (Jillian Souza)

A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Friday . . .

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 6-2 WIN VS. ROCHESTER (TWINS)

(BOX)

– Right-hander Matt Barnes, who joined the PawSox after opening the year in extended spring training after early spring shoulder tenderness resulted in a gradual buildup pace, tossed five innings in his first start of the season in Pawtucket, allowing two runs (one earned) on six hits (five singles and a double) while walking two and striking out two. He struggled with his control, throwing just 44 of 81 pitches for strikes (54 percent) and, according to the MiLB.com’s Gameday tracker, he elicited just four swings and misses. Still, he showed good arm strength for his first outing, as Brendan McGair of the Pawtucket Times reported that Barnes touched 96 mph and sat at 93-94 on the stadium scoreboard.

Daniel Nava, in his first game in Triple-A since being optioned, went 1-for-2 with a pair of walks and a steal. (He was also credited with a caught stealing at the plate while trying to advance during a Cecchini rundown.) Two of that plate appearances came against lefties, with Nava reaching on a hit and walk in those two plate appearances.

Nava suggested that even though he hadn’t anticipated being sent down, he wasn’t shocked once he was shipped to the minors.

‘€œIt was something that I definitely wasn’€™t expecting, but at the same time, when it was brought to my attention, I understood why,” Nava, who was hitting .149 with a .240 OBP and .269 slugging mark, told the Pawtucket Times. “I just want to go out and play better, and this is an opportunity to do that.

“I feel that there’€™s no one to blame or get mad at them for anything. It also doesn’€™t matter if I view (getting sent down) as this or that,” he added. “The whole goal for everyone in that clubhouse is to get up or back to Boston. For me, this is an opportunity to get back on track, which is the best way I can really look at it.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: daniel nava, matt barnes,
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