Red Sox minor league roundup: Is Mookie Betts a better prospect than Garin Cecchini?; Blake Swihart's strong finish; Sergio Gomez impresses

September 03, 2013 - 6:47 am
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Feats of Mookie:Rising like helium. Mookie Betts was ranked by Baseball America as the No. 31 overall Red Sox prospect entering the year. He was an afterthought in most prospect rankings. Not anymore. The 20-year-old wrapped up his breakout year by going 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles and driving in four for High-A Salem on Monday. Thus concluded a season-ending run that was little short of absurd. In 31 games from Aug. 1 through the end of the year, Betts hit .404 (the second-best mark in all of full-season minor league baseball) with a .481 OBP (fourth), .632 slugging mark, five homers, 15 extra-base hits, 16 walks, 11 strikeouts and 12 steals. It was the sort of performance that turns heads, and that forces some very interesting questions to come to the surface. Betts has asserted himself as one of the best prospects in a deep and impressive Red Sox system. Indeed, there is a chance that he may have vaulted himself not just into the top handful of top Red Sox prospects, but even into the top three. Xander Bogaerts, of course, is probably the best Red Sox prospect in more than two decades. (Indeed, Jim Callis concluded in this podcast that Bogaerts is the best Red Sox prospect who he's ranked in his run ranking the team's farm system from 1992-2013.) Jackie Bradley Jr. is next in the list of position players, given his proximity to the big leagues and the likelihood of Gold Glove-caliber outfield defense and high on-base percentages. After that, third baseman Garin Cecchini -- who played in this year's All-Star Futures Game -- seemed a lock for the No. 3 spot among position players. But not anymore. And that is no slight on Cecchini so much as it is a reflection of the unbelievable level at which Betts has performed. Here's a comparison of the performances of the two players in Salem: Cecchini (3B), 22 years old: 63 games, .350 average, .469 OBP, .547 slugging, 5 homers, 28 extra-base hits, 15 steals (7 caught stealing), 12 errors Betts (2B), 20 years old: 51 games, .341 average, .414 OBP, 551 slugging, 7 homers, 22 extra-base hits, 20 steals (2 caught stealing), 6 errors Assessments of prospects typically represent a snapshot in time, nothing more. But at this moment, based on the comparison of the players' performances in Salem, Betts showed a comparable ability to hit for average, more power, more speed, more baserunning impact and better defense, with a chance that his athleticism and glove could permit him to forge a path forward in the Red Sox system as a Ben Zobrist type who plays any number of positions. (Second base appears to be taken for a little while to come in Boston . . . ) He has a chance to be a force as an up-the-middle player who impacts the game in numerous ways. Cecchini (whose future will be at a big league corner, where the offensive standards are higher), of course, showed greater on-base skill and demonstrated a tremendous ability to barrel the ball for line-to-line line drives while also continuing to demonstrate a feel for the game that permitted him to steal bases despite the fact that his speed grades as below average. But Betts also has the crucial advantage of youth on his side, as a player who is about a year and a half younger than Cecchini. And the position factor is a considerable one. Again, that's not to take away from Cecchini, who would be the best position prospect in several minor league systems, and who looks very much like he could be ready to be an everyday big leaguer by 2015. It is merely to point out that Betts has gone from prospect obscurity to potentially ranking not just as one of the top prospects in the Sox system, but potentially one of the more complete prospects in all of minor league baseball -- if he can find a way to continue wearing the Superman cape that he donned throughout the 2013 season in Greenville and Salem. TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 4-0 WIN AT LEHIGH VALLEY (PHILLIES) (BOX) -- Catcher Christian Vazquez made his Triple-A debut behind the plate for the PawSox on Monday, going 0-for-3 batting in the nine hole but drawing a walk. Vazquez allowed two stolen bases, after leading the Eastern League with a 47 percent caught stealing rate. The 23-year-old finished his season in Portland with a .289/.376/.395 line, enjoying one of his best offensive years to date. -- With Ryan Lavarnway up with the big-league club, Dan Butler will get more regular at-bats again, and he's already showing what he can do with those consistent plate appearances. Butler went 2-for-4 serving as the DH for the day, clubbing his 19th double of the season. Butler's bat had been quiet recently, with the catcher batting .179/.217/.339 with three doubles and two home runs in his last 17 games, but he's compiled a solid line on the season, hitting .262/.350/.479 and setting a new career-high with 14 home runs. -- Alex Wilson, who was just transferred to the 60-day DL to make 40-man roster room for the newly acquired John McDonald, threw a scoreless inning in his second outing since resuming his rehab stint with Pawtucket. Wilson suffered a setback in early August while recovering from a thumb injury, but has tossed two scoreless innings and allowed just one hit while striking out two in his last two appearances, spaced four days apart. -- Brayan Villarreal also tossed a scoreless inning, striking out two of the three batters he faced while using only eight pitches (seven going for strikes). The righty has allowed a run in 5 1/3 innings in Pawtucket on three hits and four walks while striking out six. Three of those four walks came in his last outing, in which he allowed a run in an inning of work. DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: RAINED OUT -- Garin Cecchini OBP watch: a .443 mark that remained unchanged with the rainout, and that clinched the top OBP in all of full-season minor league baseball for the 22-year-old. His closest competitor, 26-year-old Allan Dykstra (also in the Double-A Eastern League), went 1-for-3 on Monday to finish with a .436 mark. -- Vazquez was named Team MVP, Anthony Ranaudo was named Sea Dogs Pitcher of the Year, catcher Matt Spring received the 10th Player of the Year award for his on-field and clubhouse contributions in a reserve role while right-hander Pete Ruiz was named the Citizen of the Year for his extensive community activities. HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 4-3 WIN VS. LYNCHBURG (BRAVES) (BOX) -- William Cuevas, 22, wrapped up his solid second half by permitting one run in six innings, punching out three and walking none. In his last 16 outings, Cuevas averaged 5 2/3 innings per start, punching out 7.7 per nine innings with 2.7 walks per nine -- recovering from a rough start in which he had a 7.04 ERA through his first 10 outings. -- Blake Swihart, 21, went 1-for-2 with a double and a walk to wrap up his year with a .298 average, .366 OBP and .428 slugging mark. He was particularly impressive down the stretch, hitting .372/.406/.500 in 23 games in August and September, at a time of year when a catcher might be expected to wilt. Swihart has positioned himself along with Vazquez in the next group of Sox prospects behind Bogaerts/Bradley/Cecchini/Betts. SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 1-0 WIN AT SAVANNAH (METS) (BOX) -- Right-hander Sergio Gomez, for the second straight start, tossed six shutout innings. The 19-year-old permitted three hits (all singles) while striking out six and walking just one, concluding a promising five-start campaign in Greenville with a 2.96 ERA, 25 strikeouts and 10 walks in 27 1/3 innings as a 19-year-old. Indeed, while pitching against older competition in both Lowell and Greenville, Gomez compiled an impressive 2.08 ERA with 80 strikeouts and 24 walks in 78 innings, representing a promising building block for what will be his first complete year pitching for full-season affiliates in 2014. -- Right-hander Austin Maddox tossed a scoreless inning, and the 2012 third-rounder wrapped up the year with nine straight appearances in which he didn't allow an earned run. He struck out eight and walked just two in 15 1/3 innings in that span. -- Right-hander Kyle Martin wrapped up what amounted to one of the best pro debuts of any of the 2013 Red Sox draftees. The ninth-rounder punched out four in two shutout innings (in which he gave up no hits and walked one) for the save. In 36 innings between Lowell and Salem, the 22-year-old had a 1.25 ERA while punching out 30, walking 10 and holding opponents to a .154 average while getting a ton of groundballs. SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 7-3 LOSS AT ABERDEEN (ORIOLES) (BOX) -- In recent weeks, evaluators who have seen him suggested that starter Daniel McGrath looked as if he was tiring as he neared the end of his very impressive first professional season, and he performed as if that was the case in his final outing of 2013 on Monday. The left-hander received his third loss of the season, giving up four runs in his inning and a third, though only one of the runs was earned. McGrath gave up a season-high five walks while recording just four outs. The start was his shortest of the season. He struck out only one batter and allowed two hits, with both those hits coming as doubles. Two of the four outs recorded in McGrath's short outing were runners caught stealing by catcher Jake Romanski. McGrath gave up the two hits in his first inning of work while also recording a swinging strikeout and a ground ball force out while walking one batter, but walked four straight batters to open up the second inning and was removed after his ninth batter faced. This was only the second subpar start for McGrath, though he'll finish the regular season with a 4.86 ERA and 1.260 WHIP with Lowell and a 3.54 ERA in 53 1/3 innings this season, splitting time between the New York Penn League and the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League. Prior to the five-walk outing, McGrath had allowed an average of just over two walks per nine innings in his first seven appearances with the Spinners, though that average has been bumped up to 3 1/2 batters per nine. McGrath, who turned 19 on July 7, is one of the youngest players in the New York Penn League. -- Outfielder Aaron King had the only multi-hit effort of the day for Lowell, going 2-for-4 with a triple (his first of the season), RBI and two runs scored. The 24-year-old has hit safely in each of his last five games, going 7-for-19 with two doubles and a triple while driving in six. King, who was converted from a pitcher to an outfielder, has hit .261/.324/.394 in his first season as a position player, and has put up a .241/.303/.335 line in 175 plate appearances for Lowell this season.

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