Red Sox minor league roundup: Taking stock of Matt Barnes; Jackie Bradley Jr. remains untouchable; Mookie Betts, Henry Ramos go deep

July 21, 2013 - 10:13 am
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It's been a strange season in which to try to evaluate Matt Barnes. On the one hand, the 23-year-old right-hander has a 4.75 ERA while walking more batters and giving up more home runs in 77 2/3 innings this year than he did in his 119 2/3 innings during his impressive pro debut in 2012. On the other hand, he's had moments of complete dominance in Double-A. Saturday represented one such occasion. Barnes fired seven shutout innings (his longest outing of the year), allowing three hits (all singles) with three walks while matching a season-high with 10 strikeouts. Six of those were swinging punchouts, the other four were looking -- suggesting a combination of both power to his arsenal and location (despite those walks). He elicited 14 swings and misses -- eight on fastballs (a pitch that was 92-96 mph, averaging 94), five on changeups (a secondary pitch that has made immense strides in his second year) and one on his curveball. And while Barnes' season has been inconsistent the fact that he's still striking out opponents at an elite rate commands notice. Barnes now has 98 punchouts in 77 2/3 innings this year. His 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings are tops in the Eastern League among pitchers who have thrown at least 50 innings. And it is outings like Saturday's that offer reminders to Barnes that, despite what the line scores might say, he feels like he is making progress in his player development. Barnes recently defined the pitch-by-pitch progress he feels he's made this year: On his fastball: "I feel more comfortable with command. ... I think the fastball to start the year last year, and maybe in the first half, was the best it had ever been in my career. To say that my fastball right now is better than it was last year might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I feel better with my fastball at this point in the season than I did last year [at this time]. ... When I get out of sync with it a little bit, it's easier for me to get back on track with it now this year. It doesn't take an inning or two or even a start. I'm able to make the adjustment within a batter or within an inning." On his changeup: "It's tenfold better. I have a lot of confidence in it right now, the ability to throw it in any count. It really helps me when I get in a 2-0 count or a 3-1 count and guys are sitting fastball, it's a pitch that I didn't really have until the end of the season last year." On his curveball: "I think over the last month and a half, I think I've made tons of strides. Last year, at the end of the season, my curveball was essentially non-existent -- even parts early this year. But I was able to switch the grip. Brandon Workman helped with that. I've just become more comfortable with the pitch. ... Obviously, sometimes it still gets away from me, but I think that's all part of the process of learning it and becoming comfortable with it." Overall, a year ago, Barnes got off to a dominant start to the year and sputtered at the end, a time when he felt he was hitting a wall from a physical standpoint. This year, Barnes feels as if he's equipped to handle the physical rigors of a full season. He struggled in the first half, but if he can finish strong at the stage when he slowed down last year, then he can underscore the impression of a positive step forward in his player development. TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 9-6 WIN AT DURHAM (RAYS) (BOX) -- Jackie Bradley Jr. missed a cycle the hard way, collecting a double, triple and homer and driving in four while going 3-for-6. It was Bradley's eighth homer of the year in Pawtucket (all against right-handers) with two more homers coming in the big leagues, meaning that with the 10 total homers in 71 overall games this year, he's exceeded the nine homers he hit in his first full pro season in 2012 over the course of 128 games. Still, power represents a secondary consideration for a player whose calling card will always be his incredible defense and the outstanding plate approach that makes him a high probability candidate for excellent on-base percentages that would allow him to emerge as a leadoff hitter. And after all the hype of spring training, Bradley's season has been able to proceed in relatively quiet but nonetheless impressive fashion in Triple-A, where his mostly steady play has resulted in a .295 average, .387 OBP, .540 slugging mark and 30 extra-base hits (19 doubles, three triples, eight homers). Despite the absence of constant attention, he still shows the skill set to suggest that he represents a fallback "[He's a] plus-plus defender, right away. He's ready to go. You plug him in at center. Great approach at the plate," said Keith Law of ESPN on WEEI's Down on the Farm. "Let him spend the rest of the year in the minors and plug him in, hopefully, on Opening Day next year. I don't think he's a power hitter at all. I think he's got doubles power. I think he posts a high on-base percentage but might be 10-15 homers a year. When I have seen him in the past getting into trouble, it's when he tries to hit for too much power. ... If he's hitting 10 homers a year but he's posting an OBP near .400 and playing great defense in center, that's awesome. That's an incredibly valuable player." And, as Law also suggested, given the uncertainty surrounding Jacoby Ellsbury's future with the Red Sox, Bradley represents a virtually untouchable asset for the Sox as the trade deadline nears. His proximity to the big leagues and his ability to impact the game with high OBPs, standout defense, strong baserunning and a bit of pop suggests that if the Sox remain true to the perspective that they can't compromise too much of their future for emerging in-season needs, then it would be virtually impossible to consider dealing Bradley. -- Right-hander Brandon Lyon threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings, permitting one hit and striking out none in his PawSox debut, one day after he signed a minor league deal with the Sox. DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 5-1 WIN VS. READING (PHILLIES) (BOX) -- Infielder Derrik Gibson remained scorching hot, launching his second homer of the year and walking twice. In July, the 23-year-old is now hitting .368/.467/.579 with seven walks and seven strikeouts. HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 9-0 WIN AT FREDERICK (ORIOLES) (BOX) -- Feats of Mookie, Salem edition: Second baseman Mookie Betts launched his first homer in 11 games since getting promoted to High-A, going 2-for-4 with a triple and the roundtripper. The 20-year-old is hitting .300, though while he's still showing an uncanny ability to put his bat on the ball (just two strikeouts in 11 games), he's also somewhat surprisingly drawing virtually no walks, having received just one free pass, resulting in a .310 OBP. Still, a .300/.310/.475 line with five steals in as many attempts over 11 games represents a very strong transition to High-A for a 20-year-old. -- Center fielder Henry Ramos is now performing at a consistent level that may make him a candidate for a promotion to Portland. The-21-year-old went 1-for-4 with a sac fly and his 12th homer of the year, and since June 5, he now has nine homers in 41 games, with a gaudy .324/.390/.620 line in July. -- Right-hander Heri Quevedo fired five shutout innings and gave up one hit, walking four and punching out six. He now has 14 1/3 shutout innings in his last three starts. For the year, the 23-year-old is 4-3 with a 4.77 ERA, but while showing the kind of power stuff that creates intrigue about a prospect who is making his professional debut. SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 4-1 LOSS VS. LEXINGTON (ROYALS) (BOX) -- Right-hander Francellis Montas fired a career-high seven innings, allowing three runs (two earned) while scattering six hits (five singles and a double), walking none and punching out five. The 20-year-old has nine punchouts and no walks in his last two starts, a period in which he's given up just two runs (1.64 ERA). SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 6-2 WIN AT WILLIAMSPORT (PHILLIES) (BOX) -- Shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin had a standout day, going 2-for-3 with a double and two walks. In 27 games, the athletic 19-year-old shortstop who demonstrates maturity both on defense and in his plate approach is hitting .252/.355/.359. -- Right-hander Ty Buttrey continued his strong, consistent showing in Lowell, allowing one run on six hits while punching out four and walking just one. The 6-foot-6 20-year-old has walked just six batters in his last 25 innings while forging a 1.08 ERA. ROOKIE LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE RED SOX: 3-2 WIN (10 INNINGS) AT GCL TWINS (BOX) -- Second baseman Wendell Rijo continued his outstanding start, going 2-for-5 with a double. Over his last four games, he's 8-for-16 with four doubles, one walk and one strikeout. Of the 15 players who are 17 years old in the GCL, he is the only one with either an average of .300 or better (Rijo is hitting .319) or an OBP of .400 or better (Rijo has a whopping .442 OBP). -- Left-hander Randy Perez, 19, allowed two runs (one earned) in five innings, giving up three hits, walking one and striking out five. Perez has a 3.04 ERA while holding opponents to just a .165 average and an impressive 3.5 groundouts to flyball outs. DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: OFF DAY

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