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Henry Owens, Matt Barnes, Blake Swihart headline Red Sox non-roster invitations to big league camp 01.17.14 at 2:31 pm ET
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Left-hander Henry Owens  (Salem Red Sox)

Left-hander Henry Owens (Salem Red Sox)

The Red Sox announced that eight prospects — seven of whom are currently taking part in the team’s Rookie Development Program in Boston — have received non-roster invitations to take part in big league spring training. The group:

Matt Barnes

Dalier Hinojosa

Deven Marrero

Henry Owens

Noe Ramirez

Travis Shaw

Blake Swihart

Heiker Meneses Read the rest of this entry »

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Gary DiSarcina: Allen Webster has most dominant potential of Sox’ Triple-A pitching prospects at 7:41 am ET
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Right-hander Allen Webster (AP)

Right-hander Allen Webster (AP)

As the manager of the Red Sox‘ Triple-A team in Pawtucket in 2013, Gary DiSarcina saw a compelling group of pitchers making its way across the top rung of the minor league ladder. The pitching prospects who stopped in Triple-A for varying durations included right-handers like Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes along with a one-start cameo by left-hander Drake Britton.

Yet when asked to identify the pitcher who has the most big league impact potential, DiSarcina — in an interview on WEEI’s Hot Stove show — had little trouble identifying one arm that separated himself from the rest.

“When Allen Webster is right, when Allen Webster is finishing his pitches, he was the most impactful, dominant right-hander that we saw,” said DiSarcina. “One of the best matchups that we saw in the International League was (Pirates prospect and 2011 No. 1 overall pick) Gerritt Cole vs. Allen Webster, and Webster beat him, 3-2 or 3-1 — a real tight, low-scoring game. If Allen can put it together and iron out some delivery issues and just finishing his pitches, he’s dominant with the heavy, heavy sinker. Read the rest of this entry »

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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 »

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Red Sox minor league roundup: A teachable moment for Matt Barnes; Christian Vazquez’s aggressiveness; Heri Quevedo dominates; Sean Coyle returns 09.08.13 at 2:01 pm ET
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Matt Barnes lasted four innings in his first playoff start. (Darrell Snow/Greenville Drive)

Matt Barnes lasted four innings in his first playoff start. (Darrell Snow/Greenville Drive)

A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system in Saturday’s playoff games:

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 9-1 LOSS VS. ROCHESTER (TWINS); BEST-OF-FIVE SERIES TIED, 2-2

(BOX)

– Right-hander Matt Barnes, after an excellent Triple-A debut at the end of the regular season (in which he threw 5 1/3 scoreless frames), struggled in his second outing at the level on Saturday. He yielded five runs (four earned) on six hits while walking two and striking out three in just four innings, throwing just 44 of 75 pitches (58 percent) for strikes. Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal reported that Barnes hit 97 mph on the McCoy Stadium gun — with his increased velocity and diminished command offering suggestions that he may have been too amped, with consequent diminution in location and touch as well as, ultimately effectiveness.

Of course, from a player development perspective, that suggests that there was considerable value to the outing in the increasingly consequential setting of a playoff start. Barnes has now experienced increased adrenaline and the challenge of regulating it, something that he will need to do when he is exposed to the big league setting. As such, even in defeat, there was career value to the experience.

“He was overthrowing a little bit,” DiSarcina told MacPherson. “He was missing arm-side with his fastball. When he was in the zone, he was missing his spot. It was more of a command issue as well as overthrowing, but it’s a tremendous learning experience for him.”

Katie Morrison offers a tremendous look at the player development experiences afforded by minor league playoff opportunities. Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox right-hander Matt Barnes moving up to Triple-A Pawtucket 08.28.13 at 7:46 pm ET
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Matt Barnes is reportedly scheduled to make his Triple-A debut on Thursday. (Darrell Snow/Greenville Drive)

Matt Barnes is reportedly scheduled to make his Triple-A debut on Thursday. (Darrell Snow/Greenville Drive)

According to Brendan McGair of the Pawtucket Times, Red Sox right-hander Matt Barnes is in Pawtucket, where he will make his Triple-A debut on Thursday following a promotion from Double-A Portland. Barnes, 23, has endured an up-and-down season with Portland. In 24 starts, he has a 5-10 record and 4.33 ERA with 3.8 walks per nine innings. However, he’s also leading the Eastern League with 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings.

Barnes has shown a quality, big league-caliber fastball that he can command while sitting comfortably at 92-94 mph and topping out higher than that. He also has developed a changeup that grades as a solid big league offering. At this point, while he flashes an ability to spin a decent curveball, his ability to do so has been inconsistent — and, according to a number of scouts who have seen him, infrequent — with the inability to develop a consistent third pitch he can throw for strikes resulting in high pitch counts and pitch inefficiency. The result has been a year in which Barnes has found it difficult to work deep into games. He’s worked more than six innings just once this year. Indeed, he’s averaging just 4 1/2 innings per start.

That said, there have been some extended stretches of promise that pointed to why Barnes entered the year as the consensus top pitching prospect in the Red Sox system, and why he still has a shot at living up to the mid-rotation potential that the Sox saw in him when they made him the No. 19 overall pick in the 2011 draft. The development of his curveball (or, if that pitch doesn’t take hold, a slider) likely will determine whether he will come closer to scraping that ceiling or be more of a back-of-the-rotation starter.

“This year obviously hasn’t been everything I’ve wanted it to be so far,” Barnes said on Down on the Farm in July. “I’ve gone through times this year where I’ve had really good stretches of outings and times where I’ve had really bad stretches of outings. It’s one of those developmental things where you keep trying to work hard, keep trying to refine your pitches, learn how to pitch better and get through it.

“I feel close. That’s part of the frustration. I think my stuff right now is better than it was at any point last year,” he added, noting that he feels that his fastball command is comparable to what it was last year and that his changeup has made considerable strides to become a consistent secondary weapon, while his curve has been, at times, better in part thanks to the tutelage of former Portland teammate Brandon Workman. “It’s maybe one pitch that hurts me. I feel like I’m on the cusp of getting back to stringing together a bunch of good outings again.”

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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 »

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Red Sox minor league roundup: Is Victor Acosta the next Red Sox power hitting prospect?; tough day for Xander Bogaerts; more mixed results for Matt Barnes; Bryce Brentz returns 08.18.13 at 1:26 pm ET
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Aside from Xander Bogaerts, there are few obvious power-hitting prospects in the Red Sox system. (DVM Sports)

Aside from Xander Bogaerts, there are few obvious power-hitting prospects in the Red Sox system. (DVM Sports)

The Red Sox aren’t an organization overflowing with future power hitters. Xander Bogaerts, of course, looks like someone who projects to hit for considerable power in the big leagues, with the possibility of 30-homer seasons not too far-fetched to imagine. Aside from him, there is Bryce Brentz – who certainly has the strength and raw power to launch 30-plus homers (indeed, he has already done so in a single minor league season back in 2011), but whose aggressive approach raises questions about whether he will emerge as an everyday big leaguer, let along a middle-of-the-order slugger.

And beyond those two? There really isn’t much in terms of players who project to hit a lot of homers at the big league level, barring a later-career jump in the home run totals of a player with an incredible ability to barrel the ball such as Garin Cecchini, or, perhaps a rediscovery at some point by Ryan Lavarnway of the swing that made him a 30-plus home run hitter in 2011.

Perhaps one of the amateurs signed by the Sox this summer — 16-year-old third baseman Rafael Devers, or 18-year-old catcher Jon Denney or 17-year-old outfielder Nick Longhi — will emerge as such a player down the road. But there’s no performance data on any of them as professionals to reach such a conclusion.

So, if one is trying to scour the Sox system in search of the next emerging slugger based on a performance in 2013, one might have to look far and wide in order to find such a player. And while it is insanely early to suggest that a 17-year-old will become such a player, there is at least one player who is performing as if he could have a chance to do so long, long, long down the road.

Aside from Bogaerts, there is precisely one power display occurring in the Red Sox system this season that bears notice for the fashion in which it stands out relative to league norms. That is coming from third baseman Victor Acosta, a 17-year-old who on Saturday blasted his seventh homer of the 2013 season for the Dominican Summer League Red Sox as part of a 2-for-4 day that improved the teenager’s line to .256/.332/.406.

Context: Since 2006 (as far back as baseball-reference.com’s records go), only one other DSL Red Sox player has hit that many homers, and that occurred when 19-year-old Roberto Feliz also hit seven homers in 2007. As a 17-year-old in the DSL, Bogaerts had three homers and a .423 slugging mark. Read the rest of this entry »

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