Red Sox minor league roundup: Christian Vazquez is more than just a glove; Anthony Ranaudo brings back power; Mookie Betts remains outrageous

April 05, 2014 - 5:01 am

Over time, Christian Vazquez has developed a reputation as one of the top defensive catchers in the minors, someone whose arm behind the plate is a game-changing weapon that has earned the 23-year-old comparisons to perennial Gold Glover Yadier Molina. But increasingly, Vazquez is starting to earn more far-reaching comparisons to the Cardinals All-Star not just for his defense but for the trajectory of his offensive development. As a hitter, Molina was something of a late bloomer, putting up solid but unspectacular numbers in the minors (.278/.335/.368) and struggling in his first three big league seasons (.238/.291/.342 through his age 23 season in 2006) before taking a leap forward as one of the top two-way catchers in baseball, hitting .297/.353/.422 from 2007-13. It remains to be seen what kind of hitter Vazquez ultimately becomes, but his progress commands notice. In 2012, he walked 48 times and struck out 79 times; last year, he walked the same number of times (48) but cut his strikeout rate roughly in half (44) while posting a .287 average, .375 OBP and .391 slugging mark. His approach passes the eye test as a hitter who does not expand the strike zone and whose hand-eye coordination permits him to hit line drives to all fields. This spring, there were signs that Vazquez's improved knowledge of the strike zone could permit him to make more of an offensive impact as he takes some chances pulling the ball. He crushed a couple of homers in big league spring training, offering a glimpse of a catcher who could have the ability to hit for average, get on base and deliver a bit of sneaky pop -- in short, a player who may be ready to challenge his perception as a defense-first player whose limited offensive skill set profiles as that of a backup or a below-average everyday catcher. On Friday, Vazquez went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles -- one to right, one to left. While the one-year deal for A.J. Pierzynski resulted in a sense that Vazquez could emerge as the Sox' catcher by 2015, his offensive improvements suggest a player who will be ready before that if the need arises. "In my mind, he's ready now," manager John Farrell said of Vazquez on WEEI's Down on the Farm. Programming Note: Sunday on Down on the Farm: Red Sox hitting coordinator Tim Hyers will discuss Vazquez and other Red Sox prospects, and ESPN's Keith Law will discuss the shape of the different farm systems among American League East teams. Listen to the show on WEEI on Sunday morning from 8:30-9 a.m. TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 9-4 WIN VS. LEHIGH VALLEY (PHILLIES) (BOX) -- Left-hander Craig Breslow, pitching in the second of back-to-back games, logged a scoreless inning in which he allowed a double and struck out a batter. On Friday, Breslow said that it was his hope that he would be ready for activation from the disabled list after his second Triple-A outing, though he will meet with team officials on Saturday to make the determination of whether he will make any further rehab appearances. Breslow threw eight of 12 pitches for strikes, getting two groundouts and a punchout. -- Right-hander Anthony Ranaudo punched out seven batters, his highest strikeout total in seven Triple-A starts (he struck out no more than five batters in any of his six Pawtucket starts in 2013), though he also permitted four walks (also his highest total in Triple-A) en route to a four run (one earned) yield in which he gave up four hits, with a homer and double in the mix. Though he misfired on occasion, Ranaudo did show considerable power to his arsenal while eliciting (according to Gameday) 14 swings and misses among his 73 pitches. -- Brock Holt, batting leadoff this year with Jackie Bradley Jr. in the big leagues, went 3-for-3 with a double and a walk. The three hits and four times on base both matched Holt's Triple-A career highs. To date, he's reached base in six of eight plate appearances to open the year. DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 4-1 WIN AT READING (PHILLIES) (BOX) -- Feats of Mookie: Hitting everything, everywhere. Mookie Betts went 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles, with two hits up the middle and a double slammed to left field, to improve to 7-for-9 in the first two games of the season. His seven hits lead the minors, and matches his total from his first 11 contests of 2013. Indeed, it's worth noting that he started slowly last year before turning on the jets (heretofore known as "Mookie-ing"), hitting .347/.434/.554 with 13 homers and 34 steals over his final 104 games in Greenville and Salem. In a noteworthy act of humility, Betts did get thrown out on Friday in an "attempt" to steal third base. -- Third baseman Sean Coyle launched his first homer of the year, going 2-for-4. Though he struggles at time with his approach, there's no denying the power of the 5-foot-8 22-year-old, who launched 16 homers in just 276 plate appearances with High-A Salem in 2013. -- Catcher Blake Swihart threw out both runners who attempted to steal against him. He caught an impressive 41.5 percent of runners who tried to steal against him in the Carolina League last year. -- Shortstop Deven Marrero went 1-for-4 with a double and walk, giving him three doubles in the first two games of the season after he did not collect a single extra-base hit in Portland after a late-season callup in 2013. -- Right-hander Keith Couch did not give up an earned run in 5 2/3 innings, punching out six and walking one. HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 4-0 WIN AT MYRTLE BEACH (RANGERS) (BOX) -- Right-hander Austin Maddox, a 2012 third-round selection, took well to his move from the rotation to the bullpen last year in Greenville, but on Friday, he delivered his most dominant outing as a pro, retiring all six batters he faced and retiring five by punchout. -- Right-hander William Cuevas tossed six scoreless innings, allowing six hits, punching out three and walking none. Cuevas, 23, went 8-9 with a 5.05 ERA last year in Salem. -- Catcher Carson Blair went 1-for-4 with his first homer of the year. The 24-year-old has a homer and triple along with three walks in his first two games of the season. SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 7-2 LOSS AT KANNAPOLIS (WHITE SOX) (BOX) -- Right-hander Jamie Callahan, one of the most impressive performers for the Red Sox in minor league spring training this year, struggled in his first start of the year, allowing a career-high six walks along with four hits (all singles) and yielding three runs in his 3 2/3 innings. The control struggle was surprising for a pitcher who has developed the reputation of being an aggressive strike-thrower, having permitted just 2.6 walks per nine innings as an 18-year-old in Lowell last year. -- Second baseman Wendell Rijo, the third-youngest position player in the South Atlantic League, went 2-for-4 with a double. The Sox envision him as a player who will post strong averages and OBPs with the ability to hit 30-plus doubles, offering a portrait of a potential above-average second baseman well down the road.