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Red Sox minor league roundup: Youth served in Jamie Callahan’s perfect day; Allen Webster offers reminder; Will Middlebrooks’ frustration boils over; Matt Barnes striking out everyone; Tzu-Wei Lin shows sneaky pop 08.01.13 at 3:24 pm ET
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The Lowell Spinners of the short-season New York-Penn League enjoyed a flirtation with perfection, their pitchers retiring the first 25 batters of the game before Cody Dent — the son of one-time Red Sox tormenter Bucky Dent — singled with one out in the ninth inning. The pitcher who anchored that sterling effort now commands notice.

The Red Sox selected right-hander Jamie Callahan in the second-round of the 2012 draft knowing that he represented a player with considerable upside not only based on his outrageous high school performance (as a senior at Dillon High School in South Carolina, he was 7-1 with a 0.89 ERA and 113 strikeouts in 50 innings), physicality (at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, he showed the frame and quick arm of a starter while also retaining athleticism) and stuff (a 92-95 mph fastball, curveball and slider) to inspire promising projections. That combination of attributes was all the more impressive given that Callahan was just 17 while pitching his senior season, already showing an ability to dominate against older performers.

Increasingly, there’s evidence — at least for position players — that the ability to emerge as a top performer as one of the youngest high school draftees in a class is a significant indicator of star potential. While the aforementioned study did not dig into the correlation between the drafted age of pitchers and future stardom, the ability to dominate older competition will always be viewed as one of the most significant measures of potential big league talent.

In that context, Callahan’s performance is becoming increasingly interesting. At 18, he’s the youngest pitcher in the New York-Penn League, a level that is heavy with relatively advanced college talent (for instance, 2013 No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel is making his debut in that league this summer). And he’s showing some flashes of the ability to dominate.

Wednesday represented the most dramatic example, as he retired all 18 batters whom he faced, nine on strikeouts. But it wasn’t an isolated event. Callahan’s dazzling outing on Wednesday was almost a replica of his prior outing, in which he fired six shutout innings, allowing just one hit while punching out eight and walking none. So: two starts, 12 innings, no runs, one hit, 17 strikeouts, no walks. Dominance.

On the year, Callahan’s numbers aren’t quite as eye-opening — he has a 3.74 ERA with 32 strikeouts and nine walks in 33 2/3 innings spanning seven starts — but frankly, the fact that he hasn’t been overwhelmed by his level of competition, and instead appears to be gaining a growing sense of comfort, bodes well for his future.

As of now, he’s showing almost no ability to elicit groundballs, something that does offer an asterisk for his projection. Still, at 18, there’s time for Callahan to figure out a way to address that early deficiency. After all, he’s shown a propensity to demonstrate a steep learning curve on the field already.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 3-0 LOSS AT NORFOLK (ORIOLES) Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: allen webster, henry owens, jamie callahan, matt barnes
Red Sox minor league roundup: Is Xander Bogaerts big league ready?; Matt Barnes striking out everyone; Will Middlebrooks hitting; does Alex Hassan make Bryce Brentz a trade chip? 07.26.13 at 1:39 pm ET
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Is Xander Bogaerts big league ready?

The proposition seems absurd. He hasn’t even been in Triple-A Pawtucket for two months. Yet in terms of his consistency in the batter’s box, he’s already offering strong hints that he’s more than capable of holding his own against that level of competition, and perhaps that he’s ready to take the next one if needed.

On Thursday, Bogaerts went 3-for-3 with a walk and two doubles. It was his first three-hit game in Pawtucket (his second of the year) and his first Pawtucket contest with multiple extra-base hits. It was an excellent performance that represented the continuation of an eyebrow-raising trend.

Given how quickly he moved to Triple-A, one would have expected inconsistencies from Bogaerts, fallow stretches of games where he took an 0-for-10 with a bunch of strikeouts. Instead, the opposite is happening.

In 37 games with the PawSox, Bogaerts is hitting .273 with a .377 OBP and .492 slugging mark, all well above-average numbers for the Triple-A International league despite the fact that, at 20, he is seven years younger than the league average position player. Yet that only tells part of the story. Bogaerts now has a streak of 22 straight games in which he’s reached base, hitting .324/.444/.554 with four homers, 15 walks and 12 strikeouts. He’s managing the strike zone and controlling his at-bats with uncommon maturity for a Triple-A prospect, let alone one who is 20.

Despite the outstanding stretch, he’s at a less-than-ideal point for a promotion. Because he’s spent just a month and change in Triple-A, he’s had more of an opportunity to adjust to the league than the league has had to adjust to him through the circulation of word-of-mouth scouting reports about potential weaknesses to exploit. If promoted to the big leagues, Bogaerts faces the prospect of a similar challenge to the one faced by Jackie Bradley Jr. when he opened the year in the big leagues, only to be quickly swallowed up when unable to handle the league’s exploitation of his vulnerability to fastballs on the hands.

Nonetheless, Bogaerts has more experience in Triple-A than did Bradley when he was opened the year in the big leagues without a day at that level. He has more Triple-A experience than did Manny Machado when the Orioles promoted him straight from Double-A shortly after his 20th birthday last year.

Machado was hitting .266/.352/.438 with 11 homers and 26 doubles in 109 games for Bowie prior to his callup in early August. He ended up hitting .262/.294/.445 with seven homers and 26 RBI over 51 games in the big leagues.

Bogaerts, roughly nine months younger than Machado, has performed at a higher level in a higher level. And right now, if a need opened up on the left side of the Red Sox infield (whether due to injury or offensive struggles from Jose Iglesias or Stephen Drew), Bogaerts is making a compelling case that, with his offensive approach, he’s more likely to be a consistent offensive contributor than Will Middlebrooks.

According to team officials, there are no imminent plans to call up Bogaerts. And in a perfect world, the Sox are able to give Bogaerts more time in Pawtucket. They’ll allow opponents to test his weaknesses and see if they can force him to adjust.

But while that is the ideal scenario, the temptation presented by the infielder’s considerable talent will be considerable. Increasingly, it should not be a surprise if by sometime in August — if he can sustain the consistently impressive approach he’s shown to date — Bogaerts is in the big leagues.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 6-5 LOSS AT NORFOLK (ORIOLES) Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: alex hassan, blake swihart, bryce brentz, matt barnes
Red Sox minor league roundup: Taking stock of Matt Barnes; Jackie Bradley Jr. remains untouchable; Mookie Betts, Henry Ramos go deep 07.21.13 at 2:13 pm ET
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It’s been a strange season in which to try to evaluate Matt Barnes. On the one hand, the 23-year-old right-hander has a 4.75 ERA while walking more batters and giving up more home runs in 77 2/3 innings this year than he did in his 119 2/3 innings during his impressive pro debut in 2012. On the other hand, he’s had moments of complete dominance in Double-A.

Saturday represented one such occasion. Barnes fired seven shutout innings (his longest outing of the year), allowing three hits (all singles) with three walks while matching a season-high with 10 strikeouts. Six of those were swinging punchouts, the other four were looking — suggesting a combination of both power to his arsenal and location (despite those walks). He elicited 14 swings and misses — eight on fastballs (a pitch that was 92-96 mph, averaging 94), five on changeups (a secondary pitch that has made immense strides in his second year) and one on his curveball. And while Barnes’ season has been inconsistent the fact that he’s still striking out opponents at an elite rate commands notice.

Barnes now has 98 punchouts in 77 2/3 innings this year. His 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings are tops in the Eastern League among pitchers who have thrown at least 50 innings. And it is outings like Saturday’s that offer reminders to Barnes that, despite what the line scores might say, he feels like he is making progress in his player development.

Barnes recently defined the pitch-by-pitch progress he feels he’s made this year:

On his fastball: “I feel more comfortable with command. … I think the fastball to start the year last year, and maybe in the first half, was the best it had ever been in my career. To say that my fastball right now is better than it was last year might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I feel better with my fastball at this point in the season than I did last year [at this time]. … When I get out of sync with it a little bit, it’s easier for me to get back on track with it now this year. It doesn’t take an inning or two or even a start. I’m able to make the adjustment within a batter or within an inning.”

On his changeup: “It’s tenfold better. I have a lot of confidence in it right now, the ability to throw it in any count. It really helps me when I get in a 2-0 count or a 3-1 count and guys are sitting fastball, it’s a pitch that I didn’t really have until the end of the season last year.”

On his curveball: “I think over the last month and a half, I think I’ve made tons of strides. Last year, at the end of the season, my curveball was essentially non-existent — even parts early this year. But I was able to switch the grip. Brandon Workman helped with that. I’ve just become more comfortable with the pitch. … Obviously, sometimes it still gets away from me, but I think that’s all part of the process of learning it and becoming comfortable with it.”

Overall, a year ago, Barnes got off to a dominant start to the year and sputtered at the end, a time when he felt he was hitting a wall from a physical standpoint. This year, Barnes feels as if he’s equipped to handle the physical rigors of a full season. He struggled in the first half, but if he can finish strong at the stage when he slowed down last year, then he can underscore the impression of a positive step forward in his player development.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 9-6 WIN AT DURHAM (RAYS)

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Jackie Bradley Jr. missed a cycle the hard way, collecting a double, triple and homer and driving in four while going 3-for-6. It was Bradley’s eighth homer of the year in Pawtucket (all against right-handers) with two more homers coming in the big leagues, meaning that with the 10 total homers in 71 overall games this year, he’s exceeded the nine homers he hit in his first full pro season in 2012 over the course of 128 games. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: henry ramos, jackie bradley jr., matt barnes, mookie betts
Red Sox minor league roundup: Garin Cecchini being Kevin Youkilis and Jackie Bradley; Rubby De La Rosa struggles; Xander Bogaerts mashes; Brandon Jacobs surging 07.08.13 at 11:23 am ET
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The typical adjustment period to a new level has not been a hindrance for third baseman Garin Cecchini. Quite the contrary. The 22-year-old went 2-for-4 with a double. He’s now reached base at least once in all 15 games since his promotion to Portland from Salem, with a current streak of six straight games in which he’s reached base multiple times.

Cecchini has not merely adapted to the league — he’s dominated it in his early exposure. He’s hitting .418 (tops in the Eastern League since his promotion) with a .522 OBP (tops in the Eastern League, third in the minors) and .600 slugging mark (ninth in the Eastern League). On the year, Cecchini now has an outrageous .364 average (third in all of minor league baseball among players in full-season affiliates) with a .480 OBP (tops among all full-season minor leaguers), .558 slugging mark, 36 extra-base hits (rapidly closing on the 46 he had in Greenville last year) and 1.038 OBP (fifth among all full-season minor leaguers).

At this point, it’s worth taking stock of Cecchini’s development in the context of the other on-base standouts to come through the Red Sox system in recent years.

At 23, in his first full pro season, Kevin Youkilis zipped from Single-A (15 games) to High-A (76 games) to Double-A (44 games), amassing a combined .310/.436/.424 line with 39 extra-base hits in 135 games while playing most of the year at the levels where Cecchini has played this year as a 22-year-old. Like Cecchini (to this point), Youkilis also saw his numbers improve following his promotion from High-A to Double-A, hitting .344/.462/.500 with Trenton (then the Sox’ Double-A affiliate).

Last year, as a 22-year-old (same age as Cecchini) who opened the year in Salem and then was promoted (just as was Cecchini) at the All-Star break to Portland, Jackie Bradley Jr. had a combined line of .365/.473/.521 through July 7 (including a .384/.446/.507 line with Portland in 18 initial games following his promotion). From that point forward, it’s worth noting, the Eastern League adjusted to Bradley — who also was limited by injuries down the stretch — and the center fielder hit just .218/.340/.404 in 43 games from July 8 through the end of the season in Portland.

So, in terms of on-base skill, based on his age, levels and statistics, Cecchini bears a number of similarities to those two predecessors. Indeed, to date, his season looks almost like a replica (albeit at a different, less impactful defensive position) of the one that Bradley had a year ago. Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether Cecchini will experience the sort of power bloom that Youkilis encountered in his mid- to late-20s, but even if he doesn’t, his on-base skills and ability to hit for average suggest a potentially well above-average big league regular.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 12-7 LOSS AT ROCHESTER (TWINS)

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Xander Bogaerts went 2-for-4, including an assault on a fastball that he slammed over the bullpen in left field for his fifth homer. Though he did not walk for the first time in nine games, Bogaerts has reached in nine straight contests, hitting .357/.500/.464 in that stretch against Triple-A pitching.

Here’s video evidence of the 20-year-old’s considerable power potential: Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: brandon jacobs, corey littrell, garin cecchini, henry ramos
Red Sox minor league roundup: Xander Bogaerts and Garin Cecchini, on-base machines; Matt Barnes avoids a scare; Deven Marrero streaking 07.07.13 at 1:00 pm ET
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A look at the action in the Red Sox minor league system on Saturday:

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 3-2 LOSS AT ROCHESTER (TWINS)

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Jackie Bradley Jr., after an uncharacteristic stretch in which he walked just twice in 11 games from June 22 to July 2, appears to have recalibrated his approach to get on base with more typical frequency. He went 1-for-2 with three walks on Saturday, and now has walked five times in his last three games. Bradley is hitting .300/.397/.539 for the year.

Xander Bogaerts likewise continues to show an impressive ability to reach base in his first exposure to Triple-A. He went 2-for-3 with a walk, and has now walked once in each of his last eight games — a span in which he’s hitting .333 with a .500 OBP. He hasn’t had any extra-base hits in that run, and indeed, hasn’t had any extra-base hits in 10 straight games, but much as was the case in Double-A Portland, when Bogaerts hit for average and got on base at a strong rate while adapting to the fact that the league was feeding him a heavy diet of breaking balls. The 20-year-old is currently hitting .250 with a .355 OBP and .400 slugging mark in 22 games in Triple-A.

— Third baseman Will Middlebrooks went 1-for-4 with an RBI single. He’s hitting .293/.369/.621 in Triple-A this year, including .346/.414/.846 with runners in scoring position.

— Right-hander Steven Wright extended his scoreless innings streak to 17 2/3 with seven shutout innings in which he gave up just two singles. He walked three and struck out six to drop his ERA to 3.81. Over his last five starts, he has a 1.80 ERA while averaging seven innings per start. He has not allowed a home run in that stretch.

— Outfielder Bryce Brentz has been on crutches since Friday due to what one team source characterized as soreness in his left knee.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 9-4 LOSS VS. NEW BRITAIN (TWINS)

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— Right-hander Matt Barnes took a line drive off the wrist from the first batter of the game, suffering what was described based on his initial exam as a contusion. “Hopefully, it looks worse than it is,” Barnes told the Portland Press-Herald of the bump on his wrist. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: cleuluis rondon, deven marrero, garin cecchini, henry ramos
Matt Barnes after liner off the wrist: ‘Hopefully, it looks worse than it is’ 07.06.13 at 10:49 pm ET
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Red Sox right-hander Matt Barnes lasted just one batter for Double-A Portland on Saturday night, getting knocked out of the game when New Britain (Twins) leadoff hitter Danny Santana lined a 1-2 pitch off the right wrist of Barnes. Though he was removed from the game, the 23-year-old told Kevin Thomas of the Portland Press-Herald (as reported via twitter) that he believes he avoided significant injury after a preliminary examination.

“I was able to do all the strength tests when I first came in,” Barnes told Thomas. “Hopefully, it looks worse than it is.”

Santana came around to score, and so despite facing just the one batter, Barnes was charged with the loss. The 2011 first-rounder is now 4-5 with a 5.32 ERA with 11.0 strikeouts per nine innings and 3.3 walks per nine in 67 2/3 innings spanning 16 starts.

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Red Sox minor league roundup: The peculiar year of Brandon Jacobs; Matt Barnes’ adversity and development; Sergio Gomez dominates 06.30.13 at 9:57 am ET
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Outfielder Brandon Jacobs punctuated a 3-for-4 night for High-A Salem with a two-run walkoff homer and a walk. Jacobs told Aaron McFarling of the Roanoke Times that it was his first walkoff homer since middle school. With 10 homers, Jacobs is now tied for the Salem team lead with Sean Coyle — though it’s taken Jacobs roughly twice as many games (71) as Coyle has played (36) to reach double digits.

Nonetheless, the fact that Jacobs has reached that power plateau is intriguing. His year has been rough. The 22-year-old is hitting .227/.313/.414 after posting almost identical numbers while spending all of last year in Salem (.252/.322/.410), a year when he was restricted due to his recovery from a broken hamate. In that sense, it’s difficult to view Jacobs’ year as anything but a disappointment.

Still, while that is the overall sense of his season, there have been specific areas in which he’s shown some progress. He’s hitting a homer per every 29.1 plate appearances, up from one every 37.5 last year; he’s walking in 9.3 percent of his trips to the dish, up from an 8.0 percent rate last year. His extra-base hit frequency is likewise up slightly, as he’s bumped that number up from 8.8 percent of plate appearances last year to 9.6 percent this year.

In other words, there are areas in which Jacobs has made incremental forward strides this year, albeit in a campaign where those silver linings have typically been difficult to glimpse.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 12-4 LOSS VS. SCRANTON/WILKES-BARRE (YANKEES)

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Xander Bogaerts went 1-for-3 with a two-run single and a walk. The hit with runners in scoring position came as something of a departure in the shortstop’s early stages in Triple-A. In 20 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, he’s 3-for-20 (all singles, no walks) for a .150/.150/.150 line. With the bases empty, by contrast, he’s hitting .308/.419/.654. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: brandon jacobs, bryan hudson, keury de la cruz, Kyle Kraus
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