Red Sox minor league roundup: Henry Owens' eye-opening progress; Michael Almanzar's year as a prospect; Daniel Bard remains resolute; Mookie Betts remains astonishing

May 17, 2013 - 11:28 am

Though Henry Owens gave up a season-high eight hits (seven singles, one double), he showed an impressive ability to weave through and around a host of baserunners to limit his opposition to one run in five innings of work. He struck out four and walked none while throwing strikes with an impressive 59 of 84 pitches (70 percent), and he got a ton of groundballs -- resulting in eight groundball outs. Owens has been outstanding in all but one of his eight starts this year, and he's shown development in two areas that represented focal areas entering the year. First, he's getting groundballs at a much higher rate this year than he did last year in Single-A Greenville. A year ago, he was a somewhat extreme flyball pitcher, recording just 0.59 groundouts per flyout. This year, he's doubled the rate of groundouts per flyout, with 1.19 outs on the ground per air out. Secondly, he continues to show a consistent ability to attack the strike zone. He has permitted two or fewer walks in seven of his eight starts, and gave up only three in the other outing. Hence, after walking 4.2 per nine last year, he's trimmed that rate to 2.9 per nine this season -- a reduction of roughly 30 percent. Meanwhile, he's continuing to get swings and misses in volume thanks to a big-league-quality three-pitch mix (four- and two-seam fastball, changeup, curve), averaging 10.9 punchouts per nine. In short: There's a reason why the 20-year-old will receive considerable hype as one of the better pitching prospects in the game if he sustains what he's done to date this year. TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 6-4 LOSS VS. GWINNETT (BRAVES) (BOX) -- Right-hander Rubby De La Rosa gave up just one unearned run on one hit in four innings of work. He had command difficulties (throwing just 36 of 71 pitches for strikes and walking a season-high four), but nonetheless punched in with his fifth straight outing (spanning 18 innings) without allowing an earned run. In that time, he has 22 strikeouts and eight walks. Opponents are hitting .145 against him. -- Brock Holt went 2-for-4 with a double, his first extra-base hit of the season. -- Right-hander Chris Carpenter (triceps) and first baseman Mark Hamilton (broken wrist) both landed on the DL. DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 15-4 WIN AT NEW HAMPSHIRE (BLUE JAYS) (BOX) -- Daniel Bard remained a central topic of conversation on Thursday, one day after his disconcerting five-walk, 30-pitch, eight-strike performance. Manager John Farrell said that the Sox are not yet considering "drastic measures" with the right-hander, such as having him leave Portland for extended spring training in Fort Myers. For his part, Bard told the Portland Press-Herald that he remains confident, even with his recent struggles, that he is on a longer-term track back to the right place. "It hasn't looked good. I'm not immune to that," Bard said. "But it's a process. ... The last week's been tough, but the early work (before the game) has been good. I need to figure out what I need to do to carry that work into the game." It's undoubtedly been a difficult time for the 27-year-old. But he suggested that he has not been broken by his struggles. "I'm not letting this beat me up too much," Bard told the Press-Herald. "I'm confident it will happen. It's just a matter of time. I'm healthy. Everything feels good. It's a matter of when, not if." -- First baseman Travis Shaw continued his recent power surge with a monster game, going 4-for-5 with a homer and two doubles. The four hits represented a season-high matched a career high (his fifth such game) while the three extra-base hits were his most in any contest this year. Shaw did not homer in his first 27 games this year, but he's now gone deep in three of his last nine games. The 23-year-old is now hitting .248/.377/.406 this season. -- Michael Almanzar likewise had a huge game, going 3-for-5 with a double, his sixth homer of the year and driving in a career-high five. The homer was his first in 14 games, while the five runs batted in represented a new professional high. His 2013 season is being treated as something of a breakout, with the 22-year-old recapturing some of the prospect luster that greeted his debut in the Sox system in 2007 and 2008, and undoubtedly, he's been extremely impressive while planting a flag in the upper levels. He's not hitting .304/.373/.511 this year. However, this performance doesn't represent an aberration so much as a continuation of some of his work a year ago. It's now been almost a full calendar year during which Almanzar has been a highly productive hitter. Starting last May 23 in High-A Salem, he's been a steady force, hitting a combined .311/.373/.491 with 16 homers between the two levels -- with power numbers that were suppressed to a degree by both the offense-stifling environment of Salem and the Carolina League as well as (until recently) the cold Northeast climate while playing in Portland and the Eastern League. If he continues to show the ability to remain selective, it's possible that he could enjoy a power surge as the season progresses that would cement his status as a late-bloomer worthy of industry attention. -- Right-hander Brandon Workman delivered six innings in which he permitted three runs on seven hits (homer, double, five singles) while striking out six and walking one. He's averaging 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings this year in Portland. Even as he advances up the minor league ladder, Workman has seen his punchout rates climb, from 7.9 per nine with Single-A Greenville in 2011 to 8.4 per nine while spending most of last year in High-A Salem (before a late-season promotion to Portland). One talent evaluator said that he thinks that Workman is generating greater deception this year than he had in the past, leading to increased swing-and-miss rates even as he faces more advanced competition. -- Shortstop Xander Bogaerts went 1-for-3 with a double and two walks. The extra-base hit was his first in six games, and his second since returning from a minor oblique injury on May 8. HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 5-4 LOSS AT CAROLINA (INDIANS) (BOX) -- Sean Coyle broke out of a seven-game, 0-for-26 slump with a 2-for-4 game that also included a walk and three stolen bases. He's 10-for-10 in steals this year after having gone 16-for-16 in stolen base attempts in Salem a year ago. He had the most steals of anyone in the Carolina League not to get thrown out in 2012, and he's now repeating that feat this year. -- Brandon Jacobs went 2-for-4, and he now has a seven-game hitting streak during which he's hitting .333/.379/.667. He's pushed his average up to .203, the first time since April that he's been north of the Mendoza Line. SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 6-3 LOSS VS. CHARLESTON (YANKEES) (BOX) -- More Feats of Mookie: Mookie Betts went 1-for-3 and blasted his sixth homer (fourth in nine games) while also drawing a walk. He now has an 11-game hitting streak during which he's hitting .400/.510/.800 with nine walks and four strikeouts. He is tied for fourth in all of minor league baseball with 32 walks, and he's punched out just 16 times. On the season, though hitting .233, he has an OBP of .396 and a slugging mark of .448. -- If one looked merely at his 1-4 record and 5.56 ERA, Francellis Montas would look singularly unimpressive. But those numbers are misleading. Montas recovered from a two-run homer in the first to turn in five innings in which he gave up no further harm. He gave up a total of four hits while walking two and striking out three. As a 20-year-old with a fastball that can touch triple digits, he's showing an ability to harness his stuff in the strike zone -- he threw 39 of 62 pitches for strikes (63 percent), including nine swings and misses (15 percent) on Thursday -- while striking out opponents (10.9 per nine innings) at an impressive clip and walking them (2.4 per nine) infrequently. He has two pitches that project as big league-caliber (fastball, wipeout slider), and while his primary pitching numbers don't scream of a pitcher with a high ceiling, they aren't that far off of what Owens did in Greenville a year ago.