Red Sox minor league roundup: Brian Johnson's amazing run, Mookie goes yard, Heath Hembree's PawSox debut, Rafael Devers keeps on mashing

July 31, 2014 - 6:37 am
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A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Wednesday: TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 3-2 LOSS VS. SYRACUSE (NATIONALS) (BOX) - Feats of Mookie: Portrait of Power. Mookie Betts led off the home half of the first with a home run that wrapped around the left field pole, fouling off three pitches before going yard on the sixth pitch of the at-bat. The shot was Betts' second in his last four games and fifth extra-base hit since returning to Pawtucket. Betts seems to have picked up right where he left off in Triple-A, hitting .318/.348/.545 in 10 games coming off of his major league stint. - Heath Hembree, the 25-year-old reliever acquired from the Giants in the trade that sent Jake Peavy to San Francisco, made his Pawtucket in the ninth inning of Wednesday's contest. The right-hander allowed a hit and a walk in his scoreless inning of work while fanning two. According to WEEI.com's Joon Lee, Hembree's fastball velocity ranged from 90-95 miles per hour on the stadium gun, while he also showcased his swing-and-miss slider. It took Hembree 27 pitches to get through the inning and record his first International League save, as he struggled with command. But, in just an inning, Hembree elicited five swings and misses. - Garin Cecchini launched his second home run in as many nights, sending an 0-2 pitch to right field in the second inning. The power Cecchini's displayed over the last couple of games is something that's eluded him for much of the season; prior to Tuesday night, Cecchini had just three extra-base hits (all doubles) in his last 17 contests. He's slugging .334 through 87 games on the season, markedly below his career slugging mark of .427. DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 2-1 WIN VS. READING (PHILLIES) (BOX) - For the second straight start, Brian Johnson allowed just one hit in his outing, going 7 1/3 innings on Wednesday night, giving up a run while walking three and striking out four. Johnson got off to a rocky start, issuing a free pass to the leadoff man, who swiped second and scored on the only hit of the game for the Fightin' Phils. But the lefty settled in and would retire the next 13 batters he faced. While Johnson didn't have the same kind of swing-and-miss stuff as he did in his previous start (when he struck out 12 and got 18 swinging strikes; he managed just four swinging strikes on Wednesday), he threw 68 percent of his 94 pitches for strikes. According to Kevin Thomas of the Portland Press-Herald, Johnson said his cutter, a pitch he's been working to develop, was the best it's been all season. To put into context just how good Johnson has been since his promotion to Double-A: the left-hander leads the Eastern League in ERA with a 2.05 mark now that he has enough innings under his belt to qualify. Teammate Henry Owens ranks second in the category with a 2.60 ERA. His recent stretch has been even more eye-opening. Johnson has allowed just two hits over his last 14 1/3 innings of work, and has permitted just two earned runs in his last four starts (27 1/3 innings). Aside from an eight-hit, seven-run clunker in early July, Johnson has allowed two earned runs or less in 15 of his 16 starts for Portland. Out of those 16 starts, he's lasted six or more innings in 11 of them. Johnson has emerged as a high-probability future big league starter. While his pure stuff doesn't wow scouts (mostly because he sits comfortably from 89-92 mph), his ability to command, mix and execute does stand out in a fashion that suggests a potentially valuable future rotation contributor -- perhaps not a top-of-the-rotation contributor, but based on his four-pitch mix, a No. 3 ceiling doesn't seem unreasonable. He, in turn, gives the Sox a wealth of upper levels starting pitching prospects, joining the likes of Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman, Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, newly acquired left-hander Edwin Escobar, Matt Barnes, knuckleballer Steven Wright and of course top pitching prospect Henry Owens. That is nine legitimate starting pitching prospects, all in Double-A or above. Not all will be future big league rotation members, but more likely than not, some will. And just as likely, there are more future big league starters in that group than there will be spots in the Red Sox rotation. In other words, the Sox will be in excellent position to make deals using starting pitching prospects, even as they use some of that inventory to address their own pitching staff needs. - Michael Almanzar extended his hitting streak to six straight games with a 2-for-3 night. The third baseman has been one of the Sea Dogs' hotter hitters since returning to the Red Sox organization in the beginning of July, batting .307/.390/.420 in 27 contests. Over the life of his small streak, he's gone 8-for-19 with three walks. But despite getting on base a ton lately, Almanzar hasn't been able to muscle an extra-base hit since July 22. - Reliever Noe Ramirez kept the one-hitter intact, taking care of the last inning and two-thirds without giving up a hit or a walk.  Ramirez used just 13 pitches to close out the contest. The 24-year-old's 1.79 ERA ranks among the best of Eastern League relievers. HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 13-6 LOSS VS. CAROLINA (INDIANS) (BOX) - Starter Simon Mercedes lasted just an inning and a third, his shortest outing of the season, allowing five runs on four hits and three walks. The right-hander, who took the loss and hasn't won a game since May (thanks in part to a lengthy DL stint),  has permitted five earned runs in each of his last two outings; prior to his last start, he'd only allowed that many runs once this season. For the first time this year, Mercedes was unable to strike out a single batter in his brief outing. The 22-year-old's ERA jumped to 5.34 after the ugly performance. He's averaging about one strikeout per inning and one walk every two innings in nine starts and five relief appearances this season. - First baseman Matt Gedman put together a two-hit night with a single and a double, his sixth extra-base hit in 128 at-bats this season. The 25-year-old Worcester native has put up subpar numbers this season (.227/.270/.273 in 35 games) but is 7-for-his-last-16 with two doubles in his last four games. - Carlos Asuaje smacked his second double in three games, going 1-for-4 on the evening. The second baseman has produced pretty steadily since being promoted from Single-A Greenville, hitting .275/.341/.450 with a couple of doubles, a triple and a home run to his credit in 10 games with Salem. SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: OFF DAY SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 5-4 LOSS AT STATEN ISLAND (YANKEES) (BOX) - Sam Travis is showing no signs of cooling off. The first baseman, who has been on a tear as of late, went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles and a run batted in on Wednesday, and has now hit safely in five straight. The 20-year-old has nine hits in his last 13 at-bats, and has compiled an impressive .325/.357/.444 line through 39 professional games. - Shortstop Mauricio Dubon, who was named the New York-Penn League Offensive Player of the Week on Tuesday, drove in a run and went 1-for-4 on the night. The accolade was well-deserved, as Dubon has been on fire over the last couple of weeks, hitting .368 with 14 RBIs since July 13. - Former independent league pitcher Aaron Wilkerson has made three starts for the Spinners, and so far, they've all been good ones. Wednesday night's outing was his shortest of the three, lasting five innings. But he allowed just one earned run; in fact, he's allowed one earned run in each of his starts. The 25-year-old walked three and struck out six on the night. He's averaged just over one strikeout per nine innings, while he's issued six walks in 18 frames. ROOKIE LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE RED SOX: 11-1 WIN AT GCL ORIOLES (BOX) - Third baseman Rafael Devers drove in three runs, going 1-for-3 with his seventh double in 21 games with the GCL Red Sox. Moving up a level has not affected Devers' performance in the slightest; the 17-year-old, who is more than 2 1/2 years younger than the average GCL player, has actually performed even better since making the jump, hitting .378/.440/.581 with 19 RBIs and 10 extra-base hits. -  Luis Alexander Basabe put together his second three-hit game since being promoted to the GCL, going 3-for-5 with a couple of runs scored. In nine games, Basabe is hitting .310 with two walks and six strikeouts. The outfielder also earned an assist, nailing a runner at home plate. - Starter Jose Almonte earned his second win of the season with five shutout innings, allowing just three hits and a walk while fanning three. While the 18-year-old has struggled with command at times and is averaging less than five strikeouts per nine innings, he owns a 2.73 ERA on the season and a 1.64 ERA in five starts. DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: 9-2 WIN VS. DSL ROCKIES (BOX) - Raiwinson Lameda, an 18-year-old outfielder, went 2-for-5 with a double and three runs driven in. It was his sixth multi-hit showing in his last eight games. Since July 18, Lameda boasts the second-highest average in the DSL; he's hitting .455 with a 1.167 OPS in his last eight games. Lameda has been productive all year long, however, compiling a .317/.374/.460 line in 33 games. - Second baseman Luis Benoit had a huge game, going 2-for-2 with a pair of walks, two RBIs, and his first couple of extra-base hits on the season, a double and a triple. The 19-year-old is hitting just .169 with a .220 slugging percentage on the season, though he owns a .355 OBP.

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