Red Sox minor league roundup: Garin Cecchini, Mr. Consistent; thieves abound (and caught) in Portland; Light on in Salem; a career minor-leaguer profiled

May 07, 2014 - 7:16 am

While the minor leagues are typically most fascinating for the promise of the Next Big Thing, there is another, more common reality that prevails below the highest level of baseball. While the minor leagues represent a series of progressive stops en route to the big leagues for a select few, for many, they are a reality unto themselves, an opportunity to play professional baseball but without the certainty -- or, in some cases, even the likelihood -- of ever stepping foot on a big league field. It is a phenomenon worth considering -- and a reality check for prospects who come face-to-face with players whose careers evoke that of Crash Davis and Bull Durham. This is a great story by Tim Healey on Matt Spring, now playing in Double-A Portland in his 11th minor league season, and the existence of a career minor leaguer. TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 4-1 LOSS VS. TOLEDO (TIGERS) (BOX) -- Third baseman Garin Cecchini went 2-for-4 with a double, and he's now reached base safely in 16 straight games with a .298/.424/.426 line during that time. For the season, Cecchini has a .309/.398/.392 line, and he's spent just one day this season with an average below .300. His current on-base streak -- which is statistically almost indistinguishable from his typical performance over the full expanse of the season -- underscores the value of Cecchini as a steady contributor who tends to be able to limit both the duration and impact of his slumps by controlling the strike zone and working walks. Consider his year-by-year statistical lines in his four professional seasons: 2011 (Short-Season Single-A Lowell): .298/.398/.500, 17 walks, 19 strikeouts 2012 (Single-A Greenville): .305/.394/.433, 61 walks, 90 strikeouts 2013 (High-A Salem and Double-A Portland): .322/.443/.471, 94 walks, 86 strikeouts 2014 (Triple-A Pawtucket): .309/.398/.392, 14 walks, 21 strikeouts The composite profile suggests a player whose track record suggests uncommon offensive reliability whenever he is deemed ready for the big leagues. There is still development that needs to take place with the glove, but if the Sox continue to find themselves bemused by their offensive inconsistency in the big leagues as the season progresses, the temptation to see what Cecchini might be able to contribute could be considerable. -- Right-hander Matt Barnes, in his third start with the PawSox, threw a season-high six innings while permitting a season-high two runs. He did not have his characteristic control, throwing just 53 of 91 pitches (58 percent) for strikes while walking four, but he gave up just three hits (all doubles). Barnes punched out four. In 16 innings, he has a 2.25 ERA with 12 strikeouts and eight walks. -- Outfielder Corey Brown, after getting off to a brutal start (a .114/.149/.159 line through 13 games), continued what has been a run of impacting the baseball. He went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles, and in his last eight games, he's now hitting .308 with a .406 OBP and .615 slugging mark with two homers and two doubles. -- Left-hander Drake Britton filled up the strike zone with 20 of his 31 pitches (65 percent), but he allowed a run on a hit and a walk while striking out one. Britton has walked at least one batter in each of his last five outings, and he now has as many walks (13) as strikeouts in 16 2/3 innings this year. DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 4-0 WIN AT READING (PHILLIES) (BOX) -- Left-hander Mickey Pena delivered his second straight scoreless start, working five shutout innings in which he allowed three hits (all singles) while punching out five and walking two. He threw 59 of 93 pitches (63 percent) for strikes. Pena, 23, a sixth-round selection in 2011, has punched out 10.1 per nine innings this year while issuing 3.3 walks per nine. His lack of overpowering stuff requires him to work with precision, but thus far in Double-A this year, he's been able to do just that. His 3.58 ERA was inflated by one derailment (an eight-run yield in five innings on April 25); he has not allowed more than two runs in any of his other five starts. -- Feats of Mookie: Thievery. Mookie Betts went 1-for-4 to extend his streak of consecutive games reaching base to 58 regular season contests dating to last year. Once on first, he offered a hint of his dynamism, swiping second for his fifth steal in his last six games and his seventh in his last nine. Betts has been successful in 15 of 18 stole base attempts this year, an 83 percent success rate, slightly below his 87 percent success rate as a professional. Betts is now hitting .407/.463/.610 for the year. He was named the Eastern League Player of the Month for April, a month in which the 21-year-old led the Eastern League in batting average (.430), hits (40), extra-base hits (15), total bases (64), runs scored (30), on-base percentage (.481), slugging percentage (.688) and OPS (1.169). In an effort to deny the suspicions that he might hail from Krypton, Betts demonstrated humility in committing an error at second base, his third of the season. -- Shortstop Deven Marrero went 1-for-3 with a single and walk, improving his line for the year to .287/.380/.448. He was caught stealing, however, for the first time this year (in six attempted steals) -- the first time in a dozen attempted steals in Double-A that Marrero has been thrown out. The 2013 Red Sox minor league baserunner of the year has been successful on 56 of 65 stolen base attempts in his professional career, an 86 percent success rate. -- Catcher Blake Swihart threw out the only runner who attempted to steal against him, and he's now thrown out eight of 19 attempted base thieves, a 42.1 percent caught stealing rate that ranks second in the Eastern League. For what it's worth, that's slightly worse than the 46.5 percent caught stealing rate that Christian Vazquez posted in Double-A last year (though better than the 31.8 percent caught stealing rate Vazquez is posting in the International League this year). The relative numbers between the two Sox catching prospects notwithstanding, both show the potential for above-average defense behind the plate. HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 6-3 LOSS VS. WILMINGTON (ROYALS) (BOX) -- Starter Pat Light had his best outing since being promoted to High-A, tossing five innings and allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits and three walks while fanning four. He was in line for his first Carolina League win, leaving with a 3-2 lead. Light allowed a solo home run, his second home run allowed this season and first since moving up to Salem. The 23-year-old had given up four earned runs in back-to-back outings to begin his High-A stint, but shaved more than two points off of his ERA with the solid start. It nows sits at 5.65. The right-hander was averaging almost 10 strikeouts per nine innings in 17 1/3 innings with the Greenville Drive this season, but that number has dropped since the promotion; he'€™s fanned 11 in 14 1/3 innings so far for Salem. "€œI think it'€™s big for me to get on top of the baseball, and today I did that," Light told Aaron McFarling of The Roanoke Times. "I was able to drive the ball down in the zone and stay on top of that pitch. Because when I get on the side of it --” my fastball, my slider, everything --€” it kind of just flails out there. So it'€™s nice to be able to get on top of my pitches for once and work the bottom of the strike zone." -- Reliever Austin Maddox came on to pitch the ninth, loaded the bases with two singles and a walk and then gave up a grand slam that put the Blue Rocks on top 6-3. It was the fourth home run he'€™s allowed in 17 2/3 innings this season. The grand slam ballooned the 22-year-old'€™s ERA to 6.62 on the year. -- Reed Gragnani stayed on pace with the two other red-hot second basemen in the Red Sox system, reaching base twice on Tuesday, going 1-for-3 with a single and a walk. The 23-year-old actually saw his average fall from .403 to .400 with the one-hit performance, but he upped his OBP a point to .490, which ranks as the best among qualifiers in the league. Gragnani has gone five straight games without a strikeout, and now has walked almost twice as much as he'€™s fanned (15 walks to eight strikeouts) and he'€™s driven in a team-high 20 runs, good for fifth in the Carolina League. SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: OFF DAY