Red Sox minor league roundup: Henry Owens and the building of 'the next great Red Sox team'; Steven Wright on a roll; Cody Kukuk finds his way

July 29, 2013 - 9:32 am

By the time Henry Owens had gotten through the third inning for High-A Salem on Sunday night with a zero in the "H" column, it had been roughly two and a half weeks -- in the fourth inning of a July 11 start, which he concluded with 4 2/3 no-hit innings -- since he'd given up a hit. Since that knock, he'd turned 21, and was making his third subsequent start, having turned in six no-hit innings on July 17, another five no-hit frames on July 22 and 3 2/3 more to start Sunday's game to total 19 1/3 consecutive no-hit innings. Think about that: opponents were a combined 0-for-55 over the course of that run. This would have been an extraordinary run for a reliever, who gets to see batters one time each while airing it out. But this wasn't done in relief. It was done as a starter, where the opposing hitters get multiple looks at a pitcher. Indeed, yesterday marked Owens' second consecutive start against the Nationals' High-A affiliate, yet he still managed to dominate them for most of the night. Owens made it through the first seven innings of the game having needed just 78 pitches to work , having permitted one hit and two walks in seven shutout frames of work. He faltered in the eighth -- the first time in his career that he'd worked into the eighth -- permitting three more hits and a walk, exiting with the bases loaded, two outs and one run having crossed the plate. All three of the inherited runners ended up scoring, and so not only did Owens see his no-hit streak come to an end, but he also took a loss with what ended up looking like something other than a spectacular performance from the line: 7 2/3 innings, four hits, four runs, three walks, seven strikeouts. Yet what Owens showed was the ability to carve up a lineup with ruthless efficiency as never before in his pro career, using the low-90s fastball, diving changeup and a big league quality curveball to dominate. Owens is now 8-5 with a 2.92 ERA, 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings, 4.6 walks per nine and a startling .180 opponents' batting average, fourth lowest among all starters in full-season minor league baseball. He's 21, he's left-handed, he's 6-foot-7 with an angle and release point that opposing hitters have almost never seen. At this point, now that he had his breakthrough with pitch efficiency, there's virtually nothing left for him to prove in High-A, so a promotion to Double-A in the near future would come as no surprise, despite his youth. But while his affiliate over the rest of the year might come into some question, his organization will not. The Red Sox are acutely aware of what the Rays have done to build a sustainable competitor. Tampa Bay simply doesn't trade its potential big league starters who have yet to reach the majors, instead collecting inventory (even adding to it) so that they can feature a rotation with arms like David Price and Matt Moore and Chris Archer. This is what the Red Sox want to become, with pitchers like Owens and Trey Ball and Brandon Workman and perhaps Allen Webster or Matt Barnes or Anthony Ranaudo eventually joining Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront to round out a rotation of largely homegrown talents who are in their career peaks.  It is too hard to find talents like Owens for the Sox to entertain the idea of trading him, perhaps even for a superstar return. A healthy organization for the long haul -- a sustainable, "next great Red Sox team," in the parlance of GM Ben Cherington -- requires a commitment to dominant homegrown pitching. The idea of using a potential future cornerstone to address a short-term need would seem to run counter to the Red Sox' stated ambitions dating to last August 25. TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 2-0 WIN VS. LEHIGH VALLEY (PHILLIES) (BOX) -- Knuckleballer Steven Wright tossed a complete-game shutout, allowing four hits and just one walk while striking out seven. Including his 5 2/3 scoreless innings in the big leagues, Wright now has a 1.88 ERA and two complete-game, nine-inning shutouts in his last six appearances spanning 38 1/3 innings. He's struck out 23 and walked 15, while opponents have simply been unable to square up his knuckleball -- Wright hasn't given up a homer in his last nine games spanning 57 2/3 innings, a stretch during which opponents are hitting .224/.306/.283 against him. -- Shortstop Xander Bogaerts went 2-for-4. He's now reached base in 25 straight games, with a .318/.437/.518 line during that time. -- Will Middlebrooks went 0-for-3, but for the fourth time in five games, he took a walk, continuing to show advances in his plate approach that the Sox wanted to see from him in his time back in the minors. Since being optioned almost five weeks ago, he's now hitting .256/.310/.444. -- Alex Hassan, playing first base on Sunday, went 1-for-2 with a pair of walks. The 25-year-old has a streak of 19 straight games in which he's reached base, hitting .364/.481/.576 with 15 walks and 20 strikeouts in that time. He seems almost certain to be called up as a right-handed bat off the bench by September, if an opportunity doesn't arrive sooner. DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 3-2 WIN VS. HARRISBURG (NATIONALS) (BOX) -- Right-hander Noe Ramirez did not give up a hit, struck out two and walked one in a pair of shutout innings. It was his fourth straight scoreless appearance, during which he's allowed two hits in 8 2/3 innings while striking out nine and walking two. In 63 2/3 combined innings between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland, Ramirez has a 2.26 ERA with 61 strikeouts and just 13 walks in 63 2/3 innings while holding opponents to a .225 average. -- Garin Cecchini, serving as DH, did not put a ball in play in four plate appearances in which he both walked and struck out twice. He's walked five times in his last three games, giving him a .500 OBP in that span despite a 1-for-7 stretch at the plate. Cecchini has a .426 OBP in 34 games in Portland and a .454 mark on the year between High-A Salem and Portland, the second highest OBP among all players who have spent the season with full-season affiliates. HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 6-4 LOSS VS. POTOMAC (NATIONALS) (BOX) -- Blake Swihart went 1-for-3 with a pair of walks, and he's now 6-for-12 with a pair of walks in his last three games. -- Second baseman Mookie Betts, 20, went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles and a walk to snap a three-game, 0-for-10 stretch. In 18 High-A games, he's now hitting .246/.286/.431 with six extra-base hits, four walks and five strikeouts. -- Outfielder Keury De La Cruz, 21, went 1-for-5, with the one hit being his seventh homer of the year. The 21-year-old's power numbers are down from a year ago, when he hit 20 homers, but he's made incremental strides in his walk rate (5.6 percent this year, up from 5.1 percent last year) and strikeout rate (18.8 percent, down from 19.3 percent a year ago) to suggest that he hasn't been overwhelmed by more advanced pitching after spending last year in High-A Salem. SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 4-3 LOSS AT LAKEWOOD (PHILLIES) (BOX) -- Left-hander Cody Kukuk, 20, matched a season-high by throwing six innings during which he gave up one run on five hits and two walks while punching out five. Since his return to the rotation in early June, Kukuk now has a 2.14 ERA with 45 strikeouts (and 29 walks) in 42 innings, with opponents hitting just .163/.299/.218 against him. In those nine starts, he's allowed just six extra-base hits -- five doubles and one homer. The big league ceiling for the 6-foot-4 left-hander is plainly apparent, if the 2011 seventh-rounder can refine his control to the point where he reliably throws strikes. -- Left-hander Jack McGeary struck out three and walked three in two innings. In nine innings with Greenville, McGeary hasn't allowed a run while punching out nine, walking five and permitting just three hits. SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 1-0 WIN AT VERMONT (ATHLETICS) (BOX) -- Outfielder Manuel Margot has been sidelined since pulling a muscle in his lower body on July 24. He appears a candidate for the 7-day disabled list. -- Right-hander Kyle Martin, 22, the Red Sox' ninth-round selection out of Texas A&M, continued his strong pro debut with a scoreless ninth inning in which he punched out two. In 19 innings, Martin has a 0.47 ERA with 15 strikeouts and three walks along with an impressive 2.67 groundout-to-flyout rate. Opponents are hitting .159 against him. -- Left-hander Francisco Taveras, 23, a 2012 New York-Penn League All-Star on a rehab assignment from Greenville, tossed five shutout innings in which he allowed one hit, walked one and punched out five. ROOKIE LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE RED SOX: OFF DAY DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: OFF DAY