Red Sox minor league roundup: Blake Swihart's offense takes off; Anthony Ranaudo roughed up; Bogaerts still torrid; Mookie the machine; Alex Hassan plays

June 05, 2013 - 7:53 am
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The Red Sox made some serious noise in the 2011 draft, when they had four of the top 40 picks in a year that was considered loaded with amateur talent. Yet of the four players whom the team selected -- right-hander Matt Barnes, catcher Blake Swihart, left-hander Henry Owens and outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. -- it was arguably Swihart who turned the most heads as a selection. There were considerable questions about whether the switch-hitting catcher with impressive defensive tools and the potential for well above-average offense could be signed out of a commitment to the University of Texas. Ultimately, it was Swihart who received the largest bonus ($2.5 million) of any Sox selection that year. Yet while Barnes, Owens and Bradley offered periods of dominance in their first full pro seasons in 2012, Swihart's year was modest by comparison. He made nice defensive gains behind the plate, but as a 20-year-old in the South Atlantic League, he hit just .262/.307/.395 with seven homers in 92 games. It was a solid but unspectacular performance. Now, however, Swihart is starting to offer glimpses for High-A Salem of why he was so highly regarded when the Sox took him. On Tuesday, the catcher slammed his first home run of the year, going 2-for-4 with a two runs scored, an RBI and a walk. Swihart also knocked his 10th double of the season. The catcher saw his offensive production get going in the May, hitting .324/.420/.471 last month, and his good numbers have carried over into June. Over his last nine games, Swihart is batting .414 with seven extra-base hits. "He's just continuing to get better at the plate. From what we've seen at the beginning of this year, even compared to last year, he's just more comfortable in the box, more comfortable going deeper into counts, doing a better job with keeping his approach in the middle of the field. He's showing smooth hitting ability," Red Sox farm director Ben Crockett said recently. "He's a ocnfident and determined kid who works really, really hard, and we're seeing some of that at the plate." For the year, Swihart is now hitting .288/.371/.445, with success as both a left-handed hitter (.279/.362/.441) and from the right side of the plate (.314/.400/.457). TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET: 5-1 LOSS VS. CHARLOTTE (WHITE SOX) (BOX) -- Will Middlebrooks made his first rehab appearance in Triple-A while working his way back (no pun intended) from a back injury. The third baseman went 1-for-2 with a walk, a strikeout, and a single to deep short on the day. Middlebrooks was replaced in the sixth inning. '€œFelt great," Middlebrooks told reporters after the game. "I really expected to come here and feel some tightness. I don't feel any, so that's a good sign." Middlebrooks will play seven innings on Wednesday night and nine innings on Thursday, and is expected to be activated from the disabled list on Saturday. -- Outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker was on base four times in the contest, going 2-for-3 with two singles and two walks while driving in Pawtucket'€™s only run of the night. Hazelbaker has been a solid source of production in the Paw Sox lineup, coming in third on the team in runs scored and tied for third in RBI, while leading the team with 16 stolen bases. After his OBP took a hit in 2012 (.335 overall) while spending most of the year in Double-A Portland (the same level where he spent much of the 2011 campaign, a season when he had a .360 OBP), he's raised his mark back to .351. He's offered particularly impressive performance against right-handed pitching, with a .323/.393/.492 line against pitchers of the opposite handedness. -- Brock Holt went 1-for-4 on the evening, extending his hitting streak to 13 games. Holt'€™s bat has come alive as of late, to say the least. The infielder is hitting .449/.526/.469 over the life of his streak, which dates back to May 23. Holt is proving his capability to be a reinforcement at the major league level should the need arise, though that capability was in doubt after his dismal start to the season, in which Holt hit .143 in April. Holt has raised his line to .281/.359/.305 through 48 games. DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 8-7 LOSS (12 INNINGS) AT ERIE (TIGERS) (BOX) -- Anthony Ranaudo, who was coming off his most impressive start of the season his last time out (7 innings, 1 hit, no walks, 8 strikeouts), endured his worst outing of the year on Tuesday night. The right-hander was lifted with two outs in the fifth, allowing season-highs in runs (seven), hits (eight) and walks (four). He did strike out five. The start caused his ERA to rise almost an entire point, from 1.48 to 2.43 on the year. Ranaudo was hit hard on Tuesday, and a lack of control was partially to blame. Two of the four batters issued a free pass by the starter came around to score, while he threw at least three balls to six hitters. Ranaudo did get 11 swings and misses on the night, however. The righty had to use 104 pitches in the outing, throwing 64 for strikes. Prior to Tuesday, Ranaudo had not given up more than three runs in an outing in 2013. -- Xander Bogaerts is on some kind of tear offensively. He extended his hitting streak to eight games with a 2-for-4 day on Tuesday, scoring a run, driving in a run, and walking twice in the 12-inning contest. The shortstop'€™s double in the first inning scored Wilkerson, while he came around to score on an RBI single from Tony Thomas.  Over the life of this eight-game streak, Bogaerts is hitting .519/.632/1.000 with four doubles, three home runs, nine walks, and 10 RBI. Also impressive is the fact that Bogaerts has fanned only twice in 38 plate appearances during the run, striking out for the first time in five games on Tuesday. -- Shannon Wilkerson had an outstanding night at the plate, going 4-for-5 in 12 innings with a walk, while scoring three runs and driving in two. It was the first four-hit performance of Wilkerson'€™s Double-A career. The speedy center fielder sparked a three-run rally in the top of the eighth for Salem, clubbing his fourth triple of 2013 and coming around to score on a wild pitch. Wilkerson has been enjoying an extremely productive stretch offensively, batting .378/.472/.533 over his last 11 games with two doubles, a triple and a home run. After a disappointing May in which the outfielder batted .222 with a weak .260 OBP, he'€™s managed to raise his line to .277/.345/.398 on the year. One area Wilkerson has struggled in is producing with runners in scoring position. He'€™s hitting only  .227 with RISP, while his average drops to .160 when there are two outs. Wilkerson has driven in 20 runs on the year, with six of those coming in his last 12 games. With two RBI on Tuesday night, Wilkerson had his first multi-RBI game since April 28. HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 12-5 LOSS VS. WINSTON-SALEM (WHITE SOX) (BOX) -- Keury De La Cruz notched his third multi-hit game in a row, going 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored. The outfielder has been struggling to get his offense going all season, but shows stretches where he looks to be poised for a breakout. Though De La Cruz is hitting only .256 on the season with a .286 OBP, third baseman Garin Cecchini says he'€™s confident in De La Cruz'€™s abilities at the plate. "He drove balls like no other last year," Cecchini told MiLB.com. "This year, he's hitting balls hard. They're just going right to people. He's had some bad luck.'€ De La Cruz'€™s recent stretch of good games could jumpstart his season: The outfielder is hitting .355/.364/.484 over his last eight games with eight RBI. -- Starter Mike Augliera got rocked in his 11th start of the year, failing to get more than one out in the game while allowing eight runs on seven hits. Needless to say, it was the right-hander'€™s worst start this season. Augliera had been solid to this point, going at least five innings in all of his previous starts in 2013 while allowing no more than four runs in an outing. The rough start inflated Augliera'€™s ERA from 3.70 up to 4.76 on the season. - Fans who attended the Salem Red Sox and the Boston Red Sox game on Tuesday have something in common: they got to see a rare pitching performance from a position player. With the game essentially being decided after an eight-run offensive barrage put on by the Winston-Salem Dash in the first inning, Salem sent utility infielder Nick Natoli out to pitch the ninth. Natoli walked two batters and allowed a hit, but got Jeremy Farrell (John Farrell'€™s son) to fly out and end the inning. Out of the five pitchers used by Salem, Natoli was one of only two to hold the Dash scoreless. SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 6-2 WIN AT CHARLESTON (YANKEES) (BOX) -- Alex Hassan, who is a member of the Red Sox 40-man roster, played in his first game of 2013 on Tuesday night, beginning a rehab assignment with the Drive. Hassan is recovering from a stress fracture in his foot. The outfielder, who served as the designated hitter in his first game back, went 1-for-2 with two walks and a run scored. -- Daily Feats of Mookie: Second baseman Mookie Betts went 2-for-5, hitting his 16th double of the season and scoring twice. Betts, a 20-year-old who has been having an outstanding season, shows no signs of slowing down, going 6-for-his-last-13 with three doubles in his last three games while scoring five times. -- Center fielder Cody Koback had a big night offensively for Greenville, going 3-for-4 with two doubles while driving in two of the Drive'€™s six runs. Koback, 23, is in the midst of a 16-game hitting streak, batting .333/.386/.429 since the streak began back on May 16. DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: 2-0 LOSS VS. DSL ASTROS (BOX) -- Third baseman Victor Acosta was the lone Sox player with multiple hits, going 2-for-4 with a double. The 17-year-old from Venezuela has now hit in all three games this year. Alex Speier contributed to this report.