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

August 24, 2013 - 9:57 am
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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. 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) (BOX) -- In a relatively quiet night for the Pawtucket offense, Jeremy Hazelbaker had one of only two extra-base hits, going 2-for-4 with a double and run scored. It was the third straight two-hit game for the outfielder. Hazelbaker has two doubles in his last three games after a stretch of 11 games (39 plate appearances) without an extra-base hit, a span over which he hit .143 with a .231 OBP. The 26-year-old is batting .265/.318/.381 with 53 RBI and 36 stolen bases in 43 chances this season. -- Catcher Ryan Lavarnway had an ugly night at the plate, going 0-for-4 for his second straight night, but this time, striking out twice and grounding into a double play. Lavarnway is just 3-for-16 in four games since returning to Pawtucket from the major league club, where he hit .288/.339/.385 and left with a five-game hitting streak. -- Reliever Brock Huntzinger allowed an unearned run in his two innings of work on Friday night in a messy turn of events that allowed the rehabbing Derek Jeter to advance to second on a routine ground out thanks to a Drew Sutton error. Jeter would eventually come around to score on a wild pitch from Huntzinger. The right-hander has been dominant in his time with Pawtucket, especially lately; Huntzinger has allowed only one earned run in his last 11 appearances (18 2/3 innings), good for a 0.48 ERA. Since being promoted from Portland, the 25-year-old has allowed just six earned runs in his 34 1/3 innings of work, posting a 1.57 ERA and 1.165 WHIP in 22 games. He's held opposing hitters to a .210 average, but has had some trouble with walks, giving up an average of almost four passes per nine innings with the PawSox. DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 3-1 LOSS AT TRENTON (YANKEES) (BOX) -- Matt Barnes was not hit particularly hard on Friday, but he wasn't necessarily sharp either, giving up three runs (though only one was earned) on six hits and two walks while striking out two. But he managed only four innings of work, throwing 91 pitches (58 for strikes). Barnes had to work hard in each of his four innings, and didn't help himself very much; though two of those three runs were unearned, they were a result of a throwing error by Barnes in the fourth inning. He also launched a wild pitch in the third, allowing a runner to advance to third with two outs, but he managed to escape that jam in what was actually his most stress-free inning of the evening. Barnes took the loss, dropping to 5-10 on the season,with a 4.33 ERA in 24 starts. -- Righty Miguel Celestino was a bright spot for Portland, relieving Barnes in the fifth and throwing three scoreless, hitless innings, allowing just one batter to reach base via a walk. He struck out three of the 10 hitters he faced. The near-flawless outing came after two rough performances from Celestino; the 23-year-old allowed a total of six runs over just 2 1/3 innings (two appearances, three runs in each outing), walking two while striking out only one and giving up a home run. Celestino has been effective in short spurts throughout the season, but overall, he's had a tough year, posting a 5.71 ERA in 37 games, though he has struck out an average of one batter per inning. -- With two singles, Shannon Wilkerson provided the only run production for the Sea Dogs, driving in Portland's sole run in the sixth inning, his 33rd RBI of the season. The 25-year-old outfielder has struggled in his second season in the Eastern League, batting .236/.314/.333, but has hit at a .312 clip with a .393 OBP in 20 games this month. HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 18-5 WIN AT MYRTLE BEACH (RANGERS) (BOX) -- On a night in which most other performances are bound to be overshadowed by Betts' ridiculous feats, Keury De La Cruz's evening shouldn't be overlooked. The outfielder was a big part of Salem's offensive attack on Friday, going 3-for-5 with a home run, double, walk, two runs scored and four driven in. De La Cruz has had an up-and-down season, but seems to be on the upswing right now. De La Cruz also had three hits in his previous game, and is 6-for-his-last-10 with three doubles, a home run, seven RBI and two walks. The 21-year-old is hitting .379/.438/.759 in his last seven games, a surge that was much-needed after he hit just .115/.152/.164 with three extra-base hits over a span of 14 games to begin August. De La Cruz actually has more RBI in his last two games than he did in those 14 contests earlier this month. De La Cruz looks to be getting his home run stroke back after hitting just one over the course of 102 at-bats between July 20 and August 16. He's hit two in his last seven games, bringing his total to nine on the season. Through 125 games with Salem this season, De La Cruz is hitting .269/.309/.417. -- Blake Swihart collected three hits (all singles), drove in a run and scored twice, his sixth three-hit game of the season. Swihart continues to mash, and is now hitting .353 with a .366 OBP over his last 16 games, blasting seven doubles and a triple while knocking in nine runs over that span. On the negative side, Swihart committed his ninth error of the season on a pickoff throw. Swihart is tied for the most errors in the Carolina League among catchers, but he's also played more games, recorded more putouts, has had more total chances, and has made more assists than any other backstop in the Carolina League. -- Sean Coyle had a strange day at the plate. On one hand, he launched his second home run in nine games since rejoining Salem and drove in three runs. On the other hand, he struck out four times, and has now fanned in seven of his last 10 plate appearances. Coyle still hasn't strung together many hits since coming back, batting just .171, but he has drawn nine walks in 45 plate appearances. He's also continued to show the same pop he had before going down with a knee injury, and has knocked 14 home runs across three levels in 57 games this season. -- Brian Johnson, who was a first-round (31st overall) draft pick in 2012, was promoted to Salem and will get the start on Saturday. The 22-year-old lefty was perfect through two starts in the GCL this year, giving up only one hit and no runs in five innings before being promoted to Greenville, where he went 1-6 with a 2.87 ERA and a 1.130 WHIP in 69 innings of work, striking out an average of nine batters per nine innings. SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 4-3 LOSS AT LEXINGTON (ROYALS) (BOX) -- Third baseman Keaton Briscoe notched his first three-hit performance of the season, going 3-for-4 with a triple, his second of the year. He also drove in a run for the first time since August 11. The 22-year-old has struggled this season, but has been swinging a pretty hot bat as of late, hitting .333/.419/.519 in his last 10 games. Briscoe is batting .207/.300/.313 with eight extra-base hits in 48 games this season. -- Jesus Loya went 1-for-4 with a RBI and his first triple since being promoted to single-A. The 21-year-old center fielder has hit safely in five of his last six games, and has been solid in his time with Greenville, batting .262/.311/.310 with five walks and 12 strikeouts after hitting .296/.345/.481 in eight games with the GCL Red Sox to start the season. SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 6-0 LOSS AT TRENTON (RAYS) (BOX) -- Starter Daniel McGrath was far from effective on Friday, giving up a season-high six runs on six hits and four walks while striking out five. After two straight hitless performances, the 19-year-old lefty has hit a rough patch, allowing nine earned runs over his last two outings (nine innings), giving up 11 hits while striking out eight but issuing six walks. McGrath has shown outstanding control in some stretches (two walks in 22 innings, compared to 26 strikeouts), but been susceptible to occasional command issues walking four batters in five innings on two separate occasions. Lack of command seemed to be the issue on Friday, and McGrath's missed locations resulted not only in four walks, but three extra-base hits. The two sub-par performances have inflated McGrath's ERA to 4.85 in his six appearances with the Spinners. -- Catcher and 14th-round draft pick Jake Romanski went 2-for-4, the first multi-hit game of his young professional career, collecting two singles. But more impressive is what the 22-year-old did behind the dish. He gunned down three of the four runners that attempted to steal, giving him a 57 percent success rate when it comes to catching runners. McGrath's relatively quick delivery may have played some role in Romanski's success with catching would-be basestealers, but he had a terrific day nonetheless. ROOKIE LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE RED SOX: 2-0 WIN VS. GCL TWINS (BOX) -- Jake Drehoff, a 12th round pick this year, was perfect in his three innings of work, his longest outing of the season, retiring all nine batters he faced while striking out three. The 21-year-old lefty has thrown three straight scoreless outing (two of those were hitless performances) after two one-run outings to kick off his professional career. Drehoff has cut his ERA down to 1.80 through five starts, and through 10 innings, has showed excellent command, striking out six batters without issuing a single walk. - Catcher Alixon Suarez was on base twice with a walk and his sixth double of the season. He also drove in a run and came around to score. After enduring a five-game hitless streak, the 19-year-old is 6-for-his-last-13 with a double and three RBI over his last four contests. -- Outfielder Bryce Brentz continued his rehab assignment, going 0-for-3 with a strikeout, pop out and ground out on the day. Brentz has played in six games since returning from knee surgery, batting .235/.316/.706 through 19 plate appearances. -- Kolbrin Vitek, currently on a rehab assignment, was removed from the game in the fourth inning on Wednesday and hasn't appeared in a game since. He's dealing with a stiff neck. DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: 6-2 LOSS AT DSL RAYS (BOX) - Luis Yovera , a 17-year-old right-fielder, went 2-for-4 on the day, the first multi-hit game of his short career. Yovera also swiped his first base. The outfielder has only played in 14 games for the DSL, and has collected hits in only three of those contests, going 3-for-7 in his last two games after beginning the season (and his pro career) with a 1-for-30 slide. -- Catcher Jhon Nunez didn't have a hit, but he reached base on a walk and scored one of the DSL Sox' two runs. Nunez, an 18-year-old catcher who is enjoying a solid season in his first year, batting .244 through 59 games, has shown plate discipline and the ability to draw walks, working 26 free passes while striking out only 22 times in 230 plate appearances. -- Second baseman Luis Benoit reached base twice in three at-bats with two singles, but he didn't stay on base for long. The 18-year-old showed he has some work to do on the basepaths, after he was caught stealing (his second time in two attempts) and picked off first base. The baserunning mistakes put a damper on what was otherwise a solid day, and Benoit's first multi-hit game.

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