Red Sox minor league roundup: Breakthrough for Allen Webster; Jackie Bradley Jr., Christian Vazquez finishing strong; Justin Haley's upward trajectory; Simon Mercedes punches out everyone; the returns of Daniel Bard, Alfredo Aceves

August 27, 2013 - 8:54 am
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A brief look at the action in the Red Sox minor league system on Monday: TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 2-1 (WALKOFF) VS. SCRANTON/WILKES-BARRE (YANKEES) (BOX) -- No one doubts that Allen Webster has the sort of stuff that few others possess. His raw materials -- mid- to upper-90s fastball that he can sink, swing-and-miss slider, swing-and-miss changeup -- suggest the ability to dominate. But how that's translated to results has been a different matter. Prior to Monday, Webster's challenges with control meant that he rarely proved capable of working deep into games. He had recorded just one out in the seventh inning in 26 starts between Triple-A and the majors. That being the case, Monday represented a landmark. Webster was hardly pinpoint with his command, as he issued three walks and hit a batter while throwing 61 percent of pitches for strikes (60 of 98). But when he did lose the strike zone, he quickly found his way back and attacked the opposing lineup, permitting just one run on two hits (one solo homer accounting for the only damage against him) while punching out five. That Webster logged eight innings (the second time in his career that he's worked eight or more frames -- in 2011, he had a nine-inning complete-game shutout in Double-A) was significant in its own right. But it becomes even more meaningful in that it's part of a broader trend. In his last seven starts, Webster now has a 2.63 ERA while averaging a tick under six innings per outing. During that time, he has more than a strikeout per inning (45 in 41 frames) while averaging 3.1 walks per nine innings. Opponents are hitting just .177 against him during that time -- the lowest mark of any pitcher in the International League -- while his 0.98 WHIP is seventh in the International League since July 26. It is a strong finishing leg for a season in which Webster has explored divergent performance extremes. -- Jackie Bradley Jr. went 3-for-4 with a double, and he's now reached base in all 16 games since coming off the DL on August 9. During that time, he's hitting .279 with a .375 OBP and .459 slugging mark. Yet rather than being an outlier, that stretch has reflected what has been Bradley's norm in Pawtucket this year. In 74 Triple-A games, he's hitting .279 with a .378 OBP and .483 slugging mark. Moreover, whereas Bradley appeared to have hit a wall by this point in his first full professional season, this year, he is showing an ability to sustain his performance down the stretch in a fashion that suggests improvement over where he was as a player in Double-A at this time in 2012. In short, he's performed in a fashion that has done nothing to alter the view that he'll be ready for an everyday role in the big leagues by next year. DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 10-5 WIN AT NEW HAMPSHIRE (BLUE JAYS) (BOX) -- Garin Cecchini went 2-for-4 with a double and a walk. He's now reached base by hit or walk in 35 consecutive games, and he's gaining a slight measure of separation in the race for the top OBP in the minors. Cecchini is now at .445 for the year between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland, ahead of current second-place occupant Allan Dykstra (.440). The double snapped a stretch of seven straight games without an extra-base hit. -- Catchers are supposed to endure offensive struggles at this time of year, in deference to the physical punishment engendered by their workloads. Not so, evidently, for the top catching prospects in the Red Sox system. Christian Vazquez went 2-for-4 with a double and a walk. He is hitting .395/.448/.474 in August, the second highest average of anyone in Double-A this month, and his .354 average (which comes with a .424 OBP and .431 slugging mark) in 39 games since July 1 is tops among all Double-A players. Increasingly, Vazquez -- who turned 23 last week -- looks like one of the top catching prospects in all of minor league baseball, given the ability to hit for average (.291 for the year), get on base (.377 for the season) and play tremendous defense. -- Shortstop Deven Marrero was moved down from second to seventh in the lineup, but the move did little to shake him from his post-promotion struggles. The 2012 first-rounder, who turned 23 on Sunday, went 0-for-4, and since going 5-for-8 in his first two games with Portland, he's 6-for-45 (.133/.188/.133) in 11 subsequent contests with three walks and 12 strikeouts. -- Juan Carlos Linares went 2-for-5 with a pair of homers while driving in a career-high six runs. It was his second career multi-homer game, with the other coming in July 2012 with Pawtucket. In an otherwise disappointing year, the 28-year-old is amidst a strong finishing kick. In 22 games in August, he's hitting .315/.374/.539, and four of his six homers have come this month. HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 6-4 WIN (11 INNINGS) AT CAROLINA (INDIANS) (BOX) -- Second baseman Mookie Betts went 1-for-5 with a single and a walk to extend his streak of consecutive games on base to 24. Betts was named the Carolina League Player of the Week on Monday for the second straight week. Salem play-by-play man Evan Lepler chronicles the Feats of Mookie and helps to explain why the 20-year-old's season has been nothing short of a breakthrough. -- Outfielder Keury De La Cruz went 2-for-6 but had four strikeouts, continuing to fan at an alarming rate. De La Cruz now has 37 punchouts this month (his most of any month this year) in 115 plate appearances, a 32 percent rate, in what has been his worst month of the year. The 21-year-old has an August line of .196/.235/.327. But while those marks represent season lows in average, OBP and slugging, it's worth noting that aside from his scorching June (when he hit .387 with a .415 OBP and .523 slugging mark), De La Cruz has posted poor numbers in every other turn of the calendar, with averages of .256 and worse and OBPs of .305 or worse in every other month of the year. In spring training, De La Cruz looked like he might be a breakout candidate, ready to build on his impressive 2012 campaign in which he launched 20 homers and swiped 20 bases with Greenville and in a year-ending week with Salem. Instead, his season line of a .266 average, .305 OBP and .409 slugging mark (along with nine homers and 16 steals) tell the story of a player with the ability to impact the baseball but without the necessary approach to do so on a consistent basis. Given that Brandon Jacobs ended up being assigned back to Salem for a second straight year this season after posting a .252/.322/.410 line there in 2012, it seems like De La Cruz may well find himself in a similar position of having to prove in 2014 that he's ready to move on from High-A. SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 9-6 LOSS VS. CHARLESTON (YANKEES) (BOX) -- Though right-hander Justin Haley allowed five runs in five innings, only one was earned, as the 22-year-old dropped his ERA to 3.61 for the year and 2.77 in 12 starts since the All-Star break. Haley has quietly had a very interesting year from a prospect standpoint. Hitters simply don't seem to pick up the ball well out of his hand, resulting not just in solid strikeout numbers (8.8 per nine innings) but also a dearth of solid contact, as suggested by a .219 opponents' batting average that ranks as the 27th lowest mark among all pitchers in full-season affiliates this year. While the 2012 sixth-rounder endured woeful command struggles at the start of the year, he's made steady gains in that area throughout the season. He punched out four and walked just one on Monday, and he's now recorded four straight starts of one or no walks. His breakdown by month: April: 4.74 ERA, 9.5 K/9, 9.0 BB/9 May: 4.56 ERA, 9.9 K/9, 6.9 BB/9 June: 3.27 ERA, 8.2 K/9, 5.3 BB/9 July: 2.88 ERA, 6.8 K/9, 5.4 BB/9 August: 3.00 ERA, 9.6 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 August clearly represents something of a breakthrough, but the overall trend lines for the year are promising, suggesting that the pitcher has improved as he's progressed through his first full pro season. -- Outfielder Aneury Tavarez went 3-for-4 with a double and triple, pushing past 40 extra-base hits (to 41) for the year. The 21-year-old is hitting .262/.299/.400 for the year while leading Greenville in extra-base hits and steals (27). SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 8-3 LOSS (11 INNINGS) VS. ABERDEEN (ORIOLES) (BOX) -- Right-hander Simon Mercedes was signed due to his potential to emerge as a power pitcher, and he's given some evidence of an ability to live up to that billing in recent outings. Though the 21-year-old allowed four runs and yielded his first homer since June, he also punched out eighth and recorded eight more groundball outs in 5 2/3 innings. In his last five appearances, Mercedes has 33 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings, a rate of 12.7 per nine frames, and he's walked just 2.3 per nine in that stretch. -- On the one hand, right-hander Ty Buttrey struck out a season-high six batters. However, the 20-year-old also matched a season-high with four walks, resulting in a pitch count that got driven up to prompt his exit after 4 2/3 innings. In his pro debut, Buttrey -- a 2012 fourth-rounder who received a signing bonus commensurate with a first-round pick -- has a 2.41 ERA. He's dominated righties (.191/.257/.223 line) while proving vulnerable against lefties (.284/.378/.321), and overall, he's demonstrated an ability to keep the ball in the park (no homers in 56 innings). -- Outfielder Manuel Margot had his fifth straight multi-hit game, going 2-for-6 with a double. In eight games since coming off the DL, the 18-year-old is hitting .447/.475/.658 with five extra-base hits and three steals. ROOKIE LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE RED SOX: 7-0 WIN VS. GCL ORIOLES (BOX) -- In his first game since May 15 (when he was with Double-A Portland), Daniel Bard threw a scoreless innings. He worked around a leadoff single, walk and one-out error to avoid getting scored upon, though the complexion of his inning was changed when he uncorked a fastball that skipped away from catcher Alixon Suarez but did not go so far astray as to prevent the catcher from tagging out the runner who was trying to advance from third to home. Bard (who was placed on Portland's DL in early June due to an abdominal strain) did finish his outing with a strikeout on a slider. His fastball registered as high as 93 mph. -- Alfredo Aceves appeared in his first game since July 9, recording a scoreless inning in which he walked a batter but promptly erased him with a double play grounder. Aceves had been on the DL of Triple-A Pawtucket due to an oblique strain. -- Second baseman Wendell Rijo, 17, went 2-for-4 and drove in four runs. He's hitting .270/.365/.356, continuing to outperform the standard being set by the league (.244/.323/.340) despite being one of the youngest players in the Gulf Coast League. -- Outfielder Bryan Hudson, 18, went 3-for-4 with three singles and a walk to boost his average to .311 and his OBP to .422 (seventh best in the GCL). He also stole his fifth base in six attempts. DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: 6-2 WIN AT DSL GIANTS, UP 1-0 IN BEST-OF-THREE PLAYOFF SERIES (BOX) -- Though left-hander Dedgar Jimenez was listed in the box score as throwing a nine-inning, complete-game shutout, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound 17-year-old actually threw five innings. Still, the southpaw was dominant, sailing through four no-hit innings before yielding a pair of groundball singles in the fifth frame. He recorded seven of his 15 outs via groundball and three more by strikeout while issuing just one walk. That furthered a strong regular season performance in which Jimenez had a 1.50 ERA with 55 strikeouts and just nine walks in 60 innings, and he will get a further look from the Red Sox in the forthcoming instructional league. -- Center fielder Luix Alexander Basabe went 3-for-5 and scored a pair of runs. The 16-year-old had finished the regular season by hitting .303/.432/.364 in August.

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