Red Sox minor league roundup: How scouts view Anthony Ranaudo; Christian Vazquez feels he's ready; Blake Swihart, Manuel Margot punctuate impressive June

July 01, 2014 - 8:13 am

A year ago at this time, right-hander Anthony Ranaudo was receiving accolades for a Double-A breakthrough that had netted him a spot in the All-Star Futures Game. By the start of July, he'd made 15 starts, going 8-2 with a 2.68 ERA. Opponents were hitting under .200 against him, he was striking out just over a batter an inning and just over three batters for every walk, looking like the player who had been the top pitching prospect in the Red Sox organization from the time that he signed after being drafted in 2010 through spring training of 2012 (before the emergence of 2011 draftees like Henry Owens and Matt Barnes, or the breakthrough by fellow 2010 draftee Brandon Workman). This year, though receiving less attention in Triple-A (at a time when Owens was named to the Futures Game and looms as the clear top pitching prospect in the Sox system), Ranaudo's results have been even more impressive. The 6-foot-7 right-hander continued a run of dominance unmatched in his career on Monday, pouring in seven shutout innings while giving up three hits (two doubles and a single), walking two and punching out five. There was some hard contact that resulted in outs, but by and large, Ranaudo continued a nearly seven-week run of putting up zeros. Monday marked the fifth time in nine starts that he did not allow a run in a start. During that run, he's 6-2 with a 1.13 ERA (the third best ERA in the minors over that time) while holding opponents to a .173 average. His strikeout totals have been largely modest (7.1 per nine during the stretch, 7.6 per nine on the year), but he's been increasingly aggressive throwing strikes (3.1 walks per nine during the run, compared to 5.2 walks per nine in his first eight starts -- and 1.7 walks per nine in his last five starts) and he's been more consistently down in the strike zone with a fastball that has typically been around 92 mph but getting up to 93 or 94 mph within outings. Fastball command has been just a part of what has appeared to be growth in pitch-mixing and execution. On Monday, for instance, Ranaudo effectively incorporated his changeup to attack a left-leaning Durham lineup. He's recently added a slider to give him a pitch with horizontal break in addition to his 12-6 curveball. In short, he's learning to execute to different parts of the strike zone with different pitches, with some recent mechanical alterations that have permitted him to do so with greater consistency. Yet in the eyes of some who have watched him, the results have exceeded the raw stuff, with one evaluator who has seen Ranaudo on a few occasions this year viewing him as a two-pitch (fastball/curveball) reliever in the big leagues. "To be a starter you have to have plus command of an average fastball or average command with a fastball that has plus movement -- he doesn't," noted the evaluator. "Or you need to have plus command of at least two average to above secondary pitches -- he doesn't." That evaluator felt that Ranaudo has gotten hitters to expand the zone with fastballs just off the plate, hadn't seen reliable execution with the slider and change and hadn't seen an ability to command the curve for consistent strikes. As such, he felt that at his current velocity, he'd have a hard time sustaining his success as a starter against more advanced big leaguers. With a potential bump in velocity and power out of the bullpen, the same evaluator concluded, Ranaudo might have a better chance at success. Yet those who see the right-hander as a potential big league starter suggest that Ranaudo's understanding of his stuff -- and the increased consistency of his mechanics, which have allowed him to do a better job of commanding his fastball in the lower-third of the strike zone (where another evaluator suggested it has shown good late life with mis-hits) -- give him a chance to offer greater value to a pitching staff as a starter. If the slider -- a pitch he's just started incorporating -- takes, for instance, then that could alter his outlook, getting hitters off his fastball. At times when his curveball is sharp and he commands it, particularly given the tremendous frame that suggests an ability to handle a significant workload, he looks like he has the potential to be a workhorse back-of-the-rotation starter. For now, Ranaudo is a pitcher who represents an interesting conflict of scouting and statistical viewpoints -- yet with a consistent minor league track record across Double-A and Triple-A over the last two years that demands consideration and suggests that, in some capacity, he's not far from ready to contribute at the major league level. TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 10-0 WIN VS. DURHAM (RAYS) (BOX) -- Catcher Christian Vazquez closed out his best month of the season by going 1-for-2 with a pair of walks, boosting his June line to .299/.368/.481 with three homers and five doubles in 22 games, improving his stats for the year to .276/.332/.387. The 23-year-old has heated up considerably starting in the summer months in each of the last two seasons (with Salem in 2012 and Portland in 2013), and may be amidst a similar run that could give him an opportunity to impact the big league team in the near future. "I think that I'm ready. I'd like to play a long time in the big leagues. I want to be there tomorrow. But I don't have that call. ... When it's time, it's time. I'll continue to have fun every day and continue to work hard every day," said Vazquez. "I feel great now at home plate. I was struggling a little bit, trying to do too much at the plate. I'm concentrating now on the middle of the field. I feel better. ... It's working now. I feel very good and I'll just continue to do that." -- Mike Carp, in the third game of his rehab assignment, went 0-for-3 with a strikeout while playing five innings at first base, his first work in the field since returning from a broken foot. He's 1-for-8 with two strikeouts through three games of a rehab assignment that's expected to last at least five or six games. -- Center fielder Andres Torres went 2-for-5 with a homer, his second in nine minor league games since signing with the Sox. Between Lowell and Pawtucket, he's hitting .219/.242/.500. DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 2-0 LOSS AT TRENTON (YANKEES) (BOX) -- Right-hander Luis Diaz continued his methodical success, making his third quality straight since his promotion from High-A Salem in June. He tossed six innings, allowing two runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out three. Through three starts, the 22-year-old is 2-1 with a 1.80 ERA, showing an ability to attack the strike zone (1.8 walks per nine) but without many swings and misses to this point (5.0 per nine innings). -- Right-hander Noe Ramirez continues to dominate out of the bullpen. He threw two perfect innings in which he struck out three and got three groundballs. Since the beginning of May, the 24-year-old has a 0.67 ERA with 7.0 strikeouts and 2.0 walks per nine innings. On the year, the right-hander with a low arm slot has been effective against both lefties (.190 average against) and righties (.202), though with a head-turning 11.5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against righties (compared to a 2-to-1 rate against lefties). -- Catcher Blake Swihart closed out a tremendous June with a 2-for-3 game, the final stamp on a page of the calendar that saw the switch-hitting 22-year-old hit .303 with a .379 OBP, .506 slugging mark, four homers, nine extra-base hits, 12 walks and 13 strikeouts in 24 games. With Mookie Betts in the big leagues, Swihart is clearly the Sox' top position playing prospect and the organization's second-best prospect in the minors, behind only Henry Owens. -- Second baseman Sean Coyle went 1-for-4 with a double, on the day that he was named the replacement for Mookie Betts in the All-Star Futures Game as well as Eastern League Player of the Week. The 22-year-old played third base on Monday, just his second game there in June following the promotion of Betts to Pawtucket (which cleared out second base -- Coyle's primary position throughout his pro career). Coyle finished June with 15 extra-base hits in 26 games, good for a .652 slugging mark in that time. -- Center fielder Derrik Gibson concluded a standout month by going 1-for-2 with a pair of walks, hitting .404 with a .505 OBP and .562 slugging mark, with the 24-year-old offering a fascinating late-career rekindling of some of the organizational prospect status that he had when he was ranked the No. 10 prospect in the Red Sox system after a strong pro debut in Lowell in 2009. HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 7-5 WIN VS. WILMINGTON (ROYALS) (BOX) -- Left-hander Corey Littrell logged a career-high seven innings, scattering eight hits with two walks while punching out five. The 22-year-old has shown considerable improvement in his strike-throwing as the season has progressed, with Monday marking his sixth straight outing of two or fewer walks, a span in which he's issued 2.1 walks per nine. -- First baseman Jantzen Witte went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles, giving the 24-year-old a .262/.304/.476 line in 11 games since his promotion from Single-A Greenville. SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 10-3 LOSS AT HICKORY (RANGERS) (BOX) -- Right-hander Teddy Stankiewicz gave up six runs for the second straight game, allowing nine hits and a walk in four innings while striking out four. After going 11 straight starts without allowing a homer, Stankiewicz has now been taken deep in each of his last two outings, in which he's given up 12 runs in nine innings, with the 20-year-old's ERA ballooning from 3.39 to 4.38. -- Second baseman Wendell Rijo closed out June by going 1-for-3 with a double and a walk, giving the 18-year-old a .268/.322/.390 line for the month. His eight extra-base hits (six doubles, two triples) represented his second highest total for any month in his career, behind only a nine extra-base hit outburst last July. -- Outfielder Manuel Margot went 1-for-3 with a walk, as the 19-year-old closed out an outstanding month of June with more free passes (9) than strikeouts (8) while hitting .291/.356/.481 with eight extra-base hits and eight steals in 21 games, displaying the five-tool potential that suggests he belongs in a conversation about the handful of Sox prospects with the highest ceiling. SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: OFF DAY ROOKIE LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE RED SOX: 11-8 WIN VS. GCL ORIOLES (BOX) -- Shortstop Javier Guerra went 3-for-5, his sixth career game of three or more hits but his first in the GCL. Through nine games, the 18-year-old Panamanian is hitting .294 with a .333 OBP and .412 slugging mark. -- Ben Moore, a 21-year-old drafted in the eighth round by the Red Sox, made his pro debut by going 2-for-4 with a double and a walk. Moore served as designated hitter, but the Sox plan to have the University of Alabama product (who spent most of the last two years playing the outfield) develop as a catcher. -- Outfielder Jordon Austin, a high-ceiling but raw player taken in the sixth round of last year's draft, went 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles and a steal. After starting the year 0-for-21 in his first seven games, the 19-year-old is 4-for-8 with three doubles and a walk in his last two contests. DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: 8-2 WIN VS. DSL ORIOLES (BOX) -- Though right-hander Gerson Bautista allowed a run in his five innings, it was unearned, keeping his 0.00 ERA intact through five starts and 26 innings. The 19-year-old allowed two hits and two walks while striking out four. Opponents are hitting .108 against him this year. -- Rafael Devers went 1-for-2 with a pair of walks, extending his hitting streak to seven games. Through his first 26 pro games, he's hitting .343/.451/.556 with more walks (20) than strikeouts (19), with the 17-year-old ranking in the DSL's top 20 in average (14th), OBP (13th) and slugging (6th). -- First baseman Gerardo Carrizalez , an 18-year-old out of Venezuela, went 1-for-3 with his first homer of the year and a walk. Through 12 games, he's hitting .419/.526/.645 with four extra-base hits.