Red Sox minor league roundup: Anthony Ranaudo's reintroduction; Sean-o-Meter in High-A; an improbably diminutive home run hitter

April 10, 2013 - 7:31 am
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Last year, Anthony Ranaudo's season was derailed before it ever had a chance to get under way. The huge 6-foot-7 right-hander looked dominant for much of spring training, but then a groin injury near the end of camp delayed the start of his season and left his mechanics out of whack when he finally got on the mound for Double-A Portland. Scouts who saw him were left to scratch their heads and wonder what had happened to someone with the reputation of a power pitcher. He sometimes struggled to get his fastball over 90 mph, and his command was erratic. The groin injury and then a subsequent shoulder impingement combined to yield what proved, essentially, a lost season for the right-hander. He made nine starts of dubious distinction in Double-A in 2012 en route to a 1-3 mark and 6.69 ERA before he was shut down for the year due to his shoulder issues on July 3. That unhappy chapter in the prospect's career may now be closed. In his 2013 unveiling, Ranaudo looked like the kind of pitcher who wasn't seen a year ago in Portland. He tossed five innings (something he did in just four of his nine starts last year) while allowing one run (matching his 2012 best) on five hits (four singles and a double) while striking out six (a Double-A best) and walking just one. His fastball was around 93-95 mph throughout the night -- better velocity than at any point last year -- and his command of the pitch allowed him to overpower Reading's lineup. He pitched with the sort of confidence that he rarely possessed last year, something made evident by his willingness to pump strikes (48 of 71 pitches, 68 percent) throughout the night. He elicited 12 swings and misses. He was, in short, a different pitcher, more closely resembling the one who as recently as last March ranked as the top Red Sox pitching prospect than the right-hander who could not find a way out of the depths in 2012. Ranaudo is still just 23, so even though he's repeating Double-A, it's still an age-appropriate level for him. If he can sustain the stuff that he showed both in late spring and in his first regular season start, there's still time for him to re-establish himself as one of the more prominent pitching prospects in a Red Sox system that appears deeper in arms than it's been at any point in recent years. TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 5-1 WIN AT LEHIGH VALLEY (BOX) -- Knuckleballer Steven Wright built upon where he finished his first start of the year, logging six innings in which he permitted one run on just two hits (both singles) while striking out six and walking three, and he faced the minimum over his final three innings of work. His knuckleball was active enough to lead to a pair of wild pitches and two passed balls. One intriguing aspect of Wright's knuckleball: Though the pitch typically yields a heavy volume of flyouts, Wright has been able to generate a ton of groundballs with his version of the pitch. On Tuesday, he recorded 11 outs via groundball (with a pair of double plays in the mix) and just two in the air. Between that trait and the fact that he has been relatively stingy in terms of home runs allowed (9 in 151 2/3 minor league innings dating to the start of last year), there is reason to be intrigued about his consistent ability to generate bad contact. -- First baseman Brandon Snyder continued his strong start, going 2-for-4 with a double (his third) and homer (his second). The 26-year-old signed with the Sox just before the start of the minor league season, after being granted his release by the Rangers. -- Catcher Dan Butler, making his second start of the year, went 2-for-4 with his second double in as many games. DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 3-2 LOSS VS. READING (PHILLIES) (BOX) -- Michael Almanzar continued his torrid start, going 2-for-4 with a double -- though his single was arguably more impressive, given that he made an adjustment to handle a slider from a right-hander, a pitch that had been giving him trouble earlier in the game. He's now 8-for-14 with two walks, two homers and three doubles. -- Right-hander Chris Martin is pitching like a future big leaguer. He tossed three innings of scoreless relief on Tuesday, allowing just one hit while striking out three. In two appearances spanning six innings, the 6-foot-7 right-hander has yet to allow a run while punching out 10 and walking just one in six innings. Sox officials were somewhat surprised that the 26-year-old wasn't taken in last winter's Rule 5 draft, particularly given that he had a terrific Arizona Fall League performance. Perhaps it's a function of his unusual path to pro ball (he was out of organized baseball until 2010, when he rekindled his career with Grand Prairie of the independent American Association; he was signed by the Sox in March 2011) and his lack of prospect profile, but regardless, he looks like someone who can contribute out of a big league bullpen in the not-too-distant future. -- Though Daniel Bard threw strikes (just three of his 18 pitches missed the zone), his stuff was hittable. He topped out at 94 mph and didn't record any strikeouts while giving up two runs on two hits (both singles). "I'm happy with my delivery. Maybe I could be more down in the zone," Bard told the Portland Press Herald. "I've got to put people away. Not enough swings and misses." Indeed, Bard did not have a single swing and miss in the outing. -- Catcher Christian Vazquez gunned down a pair of runners on stolen base attempts. Opponents are 3-for-7 (43 percent success rate) against him this season. However, he's 0-for-11 at the plate. HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 12-4 LOSS AT POTOMAC (NATIONALS) (BOX) -- Sean-o-Meter: Sean Coyle had his fifth straight game of reaching base multiple times, going 1-for-4 with a walk, a triple and his second steal of the year. He is 7-for-19 with four walks and four extra-base hits in the season's first week. -- Third baseman Garin Cecchini had his third straight multi-hit game, going 2-for-4. Notably, the left-handed Cecchini singled in his only at-bat of the game against a left-handed pitcher, and for the year, he's now 6-for-8 against southpaws, with his lone extra-base hit of the young season (a double) coming against a lefty. -- Outfielder Brandon Jacobs went 1-for-4 with his first homer of the season. -- Right-hander William Cuevas' worst month in short-season Lowell last year was July. In that turn of the calendar, he permitted a total of eight runs (while forging a 2.18 ERA). On Tuesday, the 22-year-old right-hander permitted eight runs in a single outing as he made his first start in High-A. Though he did strike out four in 2 2/3 innings, he got tattooed for eight runs on nine hits (two homers) while issuing a walk. SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 5-3 WIN AT HICKORY (RANGERS) (BOX) -- The smallest player in the Red Sox system, Jose Vinicio, is capable of impacting the ball in a way that exceeds his 137-pound frame. The 19-year-old switch-hitter, batting left-handed in all of his plate appearances, went 3-for-4 with his first homer of the year. During spring training, he appeared to have taken a step backwards in terms of showing an approach and selectivity at the plate, but there's a lot to like in terms of the raw tools, particularly the way in which his hands work both on defense and as a hitter. -- In his first minor league regular season start, left-hander Cody Kukuk turned in a strong performance. Pitching one day before his 20th birthday, Kukuk tossed a career-high five innings while allowing just three hits (all singles), walking three and striking out four. He also recorded eight outs via groundball, inducing a pair of double plays. -- Third baseman Nick Moore snapped an 0-for-14 season-opening stretch by pulling a homer to right. He also had a walk.