Red Sox minor league roundup: Taking stock of who's on third; Jackie Bradley learns about the rumor mill; Anthony Ranaudo returns to form; Luis Diaz emerging in Greenville

July 31, 2013 - 8:18 am
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With Jose Iglesias being dealt to the Tigers in a three-team deal that brought Jake Peavy to Boston and '€œnothing imminent'€ regarding a trade for an infielder, according to general manager Ben Cherington, it'€™s time for the Red Sox to bring an infielder up from Pawtucket to man third base. Obviously one of those options would be Will Middlebrooks. Middlebrooks has not played in a major league game since June 20, and is batting .257/.323/.451 in 36 games with the PawSox. Middlebrooks has shown some signs that he'€™s improved his approach at the plate since being sent down, though he'€™s hit a cold streak after notching two hits in four straight games. He'€™s 2-for-his-last-18 with a single and a run scored on Tuesday. He also drew a walk, his third in his last five games, and struck out, his fourth time in the same span. '€œI'm being more picky with what I'm swinging at," Middlebrooks told Rob Bradford late last week. "I was really overaggressive and I got in a hole early in the year so I was trying to do too much to get everything back at once. I was trying to get three hits at once. You can't do that, and pitchers know that.'€ Since rejoining the PawSox, Middlebrooks has improved on what was a very lopsided strikeout to walk ratio in the big leagues this year. In 53 major league games, Middlebrooks walked only nine times (about 4 percent of his plate appearances) while striking out 60 times (a 28 percent rate). In 30 games in his second stint with Pawtucket this season (he spent a brief period there on a rehab assignment), Middlebrooks has already drawn more walks than he did in the majors this season, with 10 free passes, meaning his walk rate is up to about 7 percent, well above his career rate of 4.4 percent. He'€™s also cut down on the strikeouts, fanning 25 times in 134 plate appearances, or 18.7 percent of the time. Middlebrooks may not have compiled a slash line that makes one think that he'€™s forced his way back into the majors, but he has been quite productive for the PawSox. For a few weeks, the third baseman was averaging just about one RBI per game, and while that rate has slowed, he'€™s still driven in 23 in 30 games since returning to Triple-A. In his time with Pawtucket, he'€™s hitting .340/.411/.680 with runners in scoring position, with a .333/.407/.750 line in the same situation and two outs. Another option for the third base job would be top prospect Xander Bogaerts. He'€™s spent only 42 games in Triple-A, but what a spectacular 42 games they'€™ve been. Bogaerts has acclimated well to every level he'€™s played at, and Pawtucket is no different. The shortstop, who is getting his first exposure to third base, is batting .273/.381/.473 with six doubles, eight home runs and 24 RBI since joining the Triple-A club. Bogaerts just finds ways to get on base, while his power is starting to really develop. The highly-regarded prospect went 0-for-3 on Tuesday, only his second time in his last 11 games that he'€™s failed to reach base on a hit. He did reach base twice and scored twice, however, reaching on a walk and a hit by pitch. Bogaerts has posted good strikeout to walk ratios in just about every stop on his way through the system, and has been exceptional in that department so far in Triple-A, drawing 24 walks while striking out 31 times in 176 plate appearances. But, at least for the time being, Brock Holt will get the call. Holt has something that neither Bogaerts nor Middlebrooks have: experience playing second base. With Iglesias gone, the Red Sox currently have no one on the 25-man roster who could serve as a back-up at second base, and Holt has plenty of experience there. He'€™s played only seven games at third base in his minor league career, but he held his own in 10 games at the hot corner in his first stint with the Red Sox. In those 10 games, Holt was impressive with the bat as well, batting .290/.333/.290 with eight RBI, drawing three walks while fanning only twice, and coming through in some big situations for the Sox. The 25-year-old, who went 1-for-4 with a single while playing second base on Tuesday night, is hitting .276 with a .290 OBP in eight games since returning to Pawtucket. Holt has not had an extra-base hit in his last 26 games (that stretch includes games both in the majors and minors), but Holt is not known for his power. In fact, he has only four doubles and a home run in 69 games this season. Holt also provides a bit of speed, having swiped eight bases in 11 chances for Pawtucket this season. At this point, though Holt will be the one to receive the promotion on Wednesday, Middlebrooks or Bogaerts will likely get the call before too long. Here's more on the Sox' decision to call up Holt. TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 5-4 WIN AT NORFOLK (ORIOLES) (BOX) -- Twitter was abuzz with trade speculation when Jackie Bradley Jr. was lifted in the sixth inning of Tuesday'€™s game, pinch-hit for with the bases loaded and nobody out in what was, at the time, a two-run game. But Bradley was removed from the game because of a minor elbow injury, when he felt some discomfort in his throwing arm after making a throw from the warning track to third base earlier that inning. The injury was a minor tweak for Bradley, who hopes to be in the lineup on Wednesday. Prior to being lifted, he was 1-for-2 with a single, walk and run scored. "It's crazy," Bradley told Tim Britton of the Providence Journal about the speculation regarding his inclusion in a trade. "Everyone has to make some kind of assumption, got to have something exciting to talk about. You might as well start off with me coming out of a game.... It's weird hearing that. Everybody's fighting to get who they want." -- Ryan Rowland-Smith, who missed over a month with appendicitis, made his return to the PawSox on Tuesday, going two-thirds of an inning and allowing two walks while striking out one. Rowland-Smith has had a great year for Pawtucket, posting a 1.02 ERA in 44 1/3 innings, walking 13 and striking out 39. The left-hander is a solid option for the big-league club should they need another reliever; he'€™s been extremely tough against both lefties and righties this season, with opposing hitters batting just .173/.240/.224 against him. -- Alex Wilson made a rehab appearance for the PawSox, working his way back from a sprained right thumb. The right-hander went an inning and gave up a run on two hits, including a line drive into the gap that allowed the tying run to score. Wilson also walked a batter and struck out one. He was credited with the win in the end, but also received a blown save. However, Wilson said he felt good during the outing, and the plan is to rest on Wednesday and then pitch in back-to-back games on Thursday and Friday, then reevaluate. Wilson pitched to a 4.88 in 27 2/3 innings with the Red Sox this season. DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 4-0 LOSS AT RICHMOND (GIANTS) (BOX) -- There was also some trade speculation when starter Anthony Ranaudo was lifted from the game, right around the time  Bradley was pulled from his game in Pawtucket. But both were just a coincidence, and Ranaudo was pulled because he had thrown 98 pitches, while there were two runners on with two outs in the seventh inning. Ranaudo wasn'€™t hit particularly hard on Tuesday, but did give up two solo home runs in his 6 2/3 innings, allowing a total of four earned runs on four hits and a walk, receiving his fourth loss of the season. The encouraging sign, however, is that Ranaudo'€™s command was back. After walking 16 and striking out 17 in his last five outings (30 innings), the 23-year-old issued only one walk on Tuesday while striking out seven batters, his highest strikeout total since his 13 strikeout performance back on June 13. Ranaudo threw 63 of his 98 pitches for strikes. -- The Sea Dogs offense was quieted by Richmond starter Ryan Vogelsong, making a rehab appearance on his way to rejoining the San Francisco Giants. But Shannon Wilkerson was able to notch two hits in two at-bats with a single and a double, while also laying down a sacrifice bunt. Wilkerson, 25, is struggling for the most part in his second season with the Sea Dogs, batting .221/.298/.311 in 93 games with 14 doubles, four triples and three home runs on the year. Prior to the two-hit day, the center fielder was mired in a particularly ugly slump, batting just .095/.132/.111 in his previous 19 games. -- Michael Almanzar has been slumping recently, a trend that continued as he went 0-for-4 on Tuesday. In his last six games, the 22-year-old has only two hits and a walk. Almanzar is enjoying a fine season for the Sea Dogs, however, batting .269/.332/.431 with 63 RBI in 103 games this year. HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 6-5 WIN (10 INNINGS) VS. POTOMAC (NATIONALS) (BOX) -- Keury de la Cruz may be heating up again. The outfielder reached on two hits for his second day in a row, this time with a single and his fifth triple of the year. He also drove in a run, adding to his team-leading total of 75. De La Cruz had come back to earth after a ridiculous showing in June (in which he hit .387), hitting only .235/.296/.382 in 26 games this month. On the season, the 21-year-old has offered very solid production, slashing .284/.323/.430 with 29 doubles and seven home runs in 104 games. De La Cruz also swiped two bases on Tuesday, part of Salem'€™s base-stealing attack on Potomac; Salem runners stole seven bases without any runners being caught on Tuesday. De La Cruz has stolen 24 bases in 30 attempts. He also had an outfield assist, his seventh of the season. -- Second baseman Mookie Betts reached base safely three times on Tuesday, going 1-for-3 with a double, two walks and two runs scored. Betts still has drawn more walks than he has strikeouts (seven walks to six strikeouts) in Salem after drawing 18 more walks than strikeouts in his time with Greenville. Betts has struggled a bit in High-A, batting .239/.304/.423 in 20 games, and is batting only .143 in his last eight games, though he has reached on five walks. Betts was one of the six players to steal a base on Tuesday, his eighth swiped bag with Salem. He has yet to be caught by a High-A catcher. -- Matt Price earned the win for Salem, throwing two shutout innings while allowing just one hit but walking two. Price had previously allowed runs in his last two outings after an 11 1/3-inning scoreless streak. The right-hander has closed out 24 games for Salem, recording five saves and fives wins and posting a 2.62 ERA in 44 2/3 innings pitched. He'€™s issued 18 walks while striking out an average of 9.5 batters per nine innings. SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 5-1 WIN AT GREENSBORO (MARLINS) (BOX) -- The Drive lost two members of their pitching staff when Francellis Montas and J.B. Wendelken were involved in the deal that brought Peavy to the Red Sox. Montas, 20, was 2-9 with a 5.70 ERA for Greenville this year, with the hard-throwing righty striking out 96 batters in 85 1/3 innings. Wendelken, who made his last appearance for Greenville on Tuesday, throwing a perfect ninth inning, was 2-0 with a 2.77 ERA pitching in relief, with 20 walks and 54 strikeouts in 65 innings. -- Starter Luis Diaz turned in a fine performance, going six scoreless innings while allowing five hits and a walk and fanning eight batters. The 21-year-old righty has compiled an impressive 4.19 strikeout-to-walk ratio with 67 strikeouts and 16 free passes in 70 innings this season. Diaz has pitched to a 1.33 ERA in his last eight starts, allowing just seven earned runs in 47 1/3 innings. In that span, opposing batters are hitting .195/.238/.254 against him. Overall on the season, Diaz is 6-4 with a 2.44 ERA and 1.114 WHIP. -- Reed Gragnani hit the first home run of his professional career on Tuesday, going 3-for-4 and driving in three runs. Gragnani, a 22-year-old second baseman who was drafted in the 21st round this year, hit .333/.411/.417 with the Spinners before earning the promotion to Greenville. In 14 games with the Drive, he'€™s slumped, hitting .231/.317/.288 with only one extra-base hit. He'€™s drawn five walks as compared to seven strikeouts, and has stolen two bases. SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 6-4 WIN VS. AUBURN (NATIONALS) (BOX) -- Second baseman Cleuluis Rondon was the other member of the Red Sox organization to go over to the White Sox in the Peavy deal. The 19-year-old was batting .276/.326/.350 in 37 games for the Spinners. -- Left fielder Kevin Mager had a big day for Lowell, going 3-for-5 with a triple (his first this season) and three runs batted in. Mager, who has split time between Greenville and Lowell this year, is batting .423/.444/.615 over his last seven games, and currently owns a five-game hitting streak. The 24-year-old is batting .314/.394/.436 in 39 games with the Spinners this year. -- Forrest Allday, the Red Sox eighth round pick in the 2013 draft, continues to hit well in his first professional season, going 2-for-3 with a walk and two RBI on Tuesday. Allday has walked 13 times in his 63 plate appearances while striking out only 11 times, and currently owns a line of .313/.476/.375 in 15 games. -- Ty Buttrey was solid in his seventh start, giving up a run on five hits and three walks in four innings. He struck out four. Buttrey, a 20-year-old right-hander, has allowed only two earned runs in his last four starts (19 1/3 innings), good for a 0.93 ERA, allowing seven walks while recording 14 strikeouts. Buttrey has posted a 2.23 ERA and 1.206 WHIP in his first seven outings with Lowell, though he'€™s walked almost as many batters as he'€™s struck out (13 walks compared to 17 strikeouts). ROOKIE LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE RED SOX: 3-1 LOSS VS. GCL RAYS  (BOX) - Jake Drehoff, who was drafted in the 12th round this year, made his professional debut on Tuesday, going an inning and giving up a run on three hits. Drehoff, a 21-year-old drafted out of the University of Southern Mississippi, is a tall lefty who throws a fastball in the high-80s to low-90s, a changeup and a slider. -- Center fielder Jordon Austin went 2-for-3 with a double, his third extra-base hit this season. Austin, a 18-year-old drafted in the sixth round out of Forest High School in Ocala, Florida this year, is hitting only .229 in his 18 games with the GCL Red Sox, though he has drawn a total of 18 walks (as well as 18 strikeouts), and owns a .439 OBP. -- Wendell Rijo'€™s 16-game on-base streak was snapped when he went 0-for-4 on Tuesday. The 17-year-old hit .415/.508/.585 during the streak, and is batting .310 with a .430 OBP in 26 games, drawing 16 walks while clubbing nine doubles. -- Sean Coyle went 0-for-4 in his third game with the GCL Red Sox. Coyle is working his way back from a knee injury and playing his third game in almost two months. DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: 12-2 LOSS AT GCL MARINERS (BOX) -- First baseman Darwin Pena provided most of the offense for the DSL Red Sox, going 2-for-4 with a double, RBI and run scored. For the 20-year-old, it was his third double and seventh extra-base hit of the season. Pena is batting .244/.305/.317 in 46 games on the season. -- 18-year-old Carlos Garcia was knocked around a bit in his 10th start, giving up four runs (though only three were earned) on six hits, one of those being a home run, his third home run allowed in 44 1/3 innings this season. Garcia didn'€™t walk a single batter for only the second time this year. In his first four starts, Garcia managed t strike out 26 batters, but since then, he'€™s totaled only nine in his last 27 1/3 innings. Garcia owns a 2-3 record and 3.45 ERA in his second year in the DSL.

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