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Red Sox minor league roundup: The tantalizing potential of Cody Kukuk, Henry Ramos; Henry Owens, top Sox pitching prospect?; why Alfredo Aceves represents best choice for Wednesday

June 11, 2013 - 8:18 am
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It would be very, very helpful if one could look at a player's statistical profile at a given level and know exactly what kind of future that suggested for a prospect. But it's not quite as easy as that. Left-hander Cody Kukuk is a 2011 seventh-round pick whom the Sox signed to an $800,000 bonus. The start of his career proved less than dazzling, as he missed most of the 2012 season after being suspended by the team following an arrest on suspicion of a DUI (charges that were subsequently dropped because the DUI ). This year, with the 20-year-old pitching in his first full professional season for Single-A Greenville, his 3-6 record and 4.64 ERA hardly jump off the page. But he has shown what one evaluator described as "pretty electric stuff at times." His delivery and hence ability to throw strikes have been inconsistent, but when the athletic 6-foot-4 left-hander can fill up the strike zone with a fastball that sits at 92-93 mph and sometimes touches the mid-90s, while also showing, at times, feel for a slider and changeup, he is a tantalizing talent with huge upside -- the evaluator even suggested that the upside could be comparable to that of Henry Owens, the top left-hander in the Sox system and arguably as impressive a pitching prospect as anyone in the Sox system -- but with quite a bit less probability of reaching that ceiling based both on the delivery questions and some questions about overall professionalism. There are times when Kukuk looks unfathomably far from the big leagues -- as when he had back-to-back starts on May 18 and 23 of just two-thirds of an inning and gave up a total of 10 runs, walked eight and struck out none. And then, there are moments like his two most recent appearances -- a three-inning relief effort in which he allowed one run on one hit and three walks while striking out eight, and on Monday, when he punched out nine batters in 5 1/3 shutout innings, yielding two hits and three walks. Glass half-empty, glass half-full... Kukuk has 37 walks in 42 2/3 innings, an unsightly 7.8 per nine innings. He also has 45 strikeouts, an impressive 9.5 per nine. And opponents are hitting just .177 against him, a mark that would place him among the top handful of opponents' batting averages in the league if he had enough innings to qualify. He's only given up one homer all year while getting excellent groundball rates. In other words, Kukuk's upside is huge. But the spectrum of outcomes for him is wider, the probability of hitting on it lower than it might be for other prospects with longer track records of consistent performance. TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: RAINED OUT AT SYRACUSE -- Alfredo Aceves was slated to start on Monday; he is not scheduled to pitch either end of the doubleheader on Tuesday in Syracuse, a fairly clear indication that he will be the call-up for the Sox on Wednesday. He has made just one start (on June 3) since returning to Triple-A, allowing four runs in 7 2/3 innings. -- Right-hander Allen Webster last pitched on June 6, so he would be working on five days of rest on Wednesday, but he's struggled since being returned to Triple-A following his ugly big league outing against the Twins (8 runs, 1 2/3 innings) on May 8. In five subsequent minor league starts, he has a respectable 3.91 ERA, but he's allowed five homers and 15 walks while hitting seven batters (and even earning a pair of ejections) in 25 1/3 innings, throwing just 58 percent of his pitches for strikes during that stretch, helping to explain why Aceves emerged as the better candidate. -- Rubby De La Rosa has been pitching well in Pawtucket, but given that he started (a threw a season-high five innings) on Saturday and would have just three days of rest prior to a theoretical start on Wednesday, he did not represent a consideration for a Wednesday start. DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: OFF HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 9-0 WIN VS. WILMINGTON (BOX) -- In a vacuum, the five shutout innings posted by left-hander Henry Owens might appear solid but not extraordinary. He gave up four hits (three singles and a double) while walking one and striking out five. But it was extraordinary in a literal sense, given its departure from normal routine. After a 1-2-3 first, Salem scored eight runs in an inning that included a pitching change. At one point, Owens had to return to the bullpen to stay loose. Despite the lengthy respite, he remained sharp enough over the rest of the outing to work around baserunners in each of his final four innings. '€œSometimes those 45-minute-inning rests, I don'€™t really like '€˜em too much,'€ Owens told the Roanoke Times. '€œEarlier in the year I had that in Myrtle Beach. We had a 40-minute inning, and I came out and gave up a four-spot in the first inning. '€œJust the fact that these last two outings I came out and got the job done in the second inning, it shows that I'€™ve figured out how to work with that. Throw some pitches, stay loose and just keep my mental game focused.'€ Owens seemed to experience something of a modest three-start hiccup in mid-May (13 hits, six walks and six runs in 13 innings), but since then, he's once again been putting up the sort of lines that underscore his tremendous prospect potential. He's gone five shutout innings in back-to-back starts, and in his last three outings, he's allowed just one run in 16 innings (0.56 ERA) with 18 strikeouts and seven hits allowed. On the year, he's 5-2 with a 2.95 ERA with 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings (fourth in the Carolina League, min. 40 innings), a .193 average against (second in the Carolina League) and a 1.10 WHIP (third in the Carolina League), all at age 20. Owens is outperforming a league of older players. He's showing a legitimate big league pitch mix -- a low-90s fastball, swing-and-miss changeup, good curveball. He's shwoing the ability to learn and improve along the way. While Xander Bogaerts is in a prospect class by himself, a compelling case can be made for Owens as the second best prospect in the Red Sox system. -- Outfielder Henry Ramos continued one of the most impressive stretches of his career. The 21-year-old center fielder went 2-for-3 with a homer and two walks, matching a career high (previously achieved four times) by reaching base four times and extending a nine game stretch of games in which he's reached base during which he owns a .444/.545/.963 line with six walks and five strikeouts. The switch-hitter has launched four homers -- two from each side of the plate -- in his last seven games, improving his line on the year to .258/.352/.426 with seven homers and 16 extra-base hits in 58 games. In many respects, Ramos falls into a similar class of player as Kukuk. He was somewhat raw as a baseball player when the Sox drafted him out of Puerto Rico in the fifth round of the 2010 draft, having spent more time playing soccer for much of his youth. But he's a terrific athlete, with natural speed and strength, and at 21, he's holding his own in a league where he he is not only outperforming the average offensive line of the league (.252/.328/.382) but is also two years younger than the league average. The tools are significant enough and performance solid enough to intrigue. If one was looking for a sleeper who was capable of developing an interesting prospect profile in the Sox system, Ramos would be an interesting bet. -- Outfielder Keury De La Cruz remained torrid, going 1-for-3 with a double, extending his hitting streak to 10 games (he's hitting .444/.462/.639 during the stretch). He also worked a walk -- his first in a dozen games and second in 28 contests, though as Salem play-by-play broadcaster Evan Lepler observed, the free pass came against the Carolina League leader in walks, Sam Selman, who has issued 39 free passes in 50 1/3 innings and was lifted without retiring any of the eight batters he faced on Monday. -- Right-hander Matty Ott, 23, had a dominant relief outing, tossing three shutout innings with five punchouts. Indeed, that was his second straight relief appearance of three shutout innings with five strikeouts. Over a slightly broader sample, Ott has 19 strikeouts in his last six appearances spanning 12 1/3 innings. SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: GM. 1: 6-3 WIN (COMPLETION OF GAME SUSPENDED ON 6/5),  1-0 WIN AT CHARLESTON (YANKEES) (BOX GAME 1, BOX GAME 2) -- The Drive ended up playing (almost) two games on Monday, and the first game of the day was a long one -- given that it started on Wednesday. Greenville resumed play with two outs in the third of a game that had been suspended due to rain last week. Before play was suspended during the June 5 game against Charleston, Mookie Betts was 1-for-2 with a double. He picked up where he left off when play was continued, adding another double (giving him 19 for the season and 10 in his last 11 games) and a single. Betts went hitless in the day'€™s regularly scheduled game in the evening, but did draw a walk and stole his 12th base of the season, his first in 10 games. He'€™s been caught only once in 13 attempts. The second baseman has gone 13 games and 50 at-bats without a home run, his longest home run drought of the season, but that doesn'€™t mean he'€™s not exhibiting power; Betts leads team qualifiers with a .518 slugging percentage through 54 games, ranking 11th in the South Atlantic League in that category and eighth in extra-base hits with 28. -- Alex Hassan has looked extremely comfortable at the plate in six rehab games, going 3-for-4 in the first game with his second double of 2013. He reached base a total of four times in the game, drawing a walk in the first inning back on Wednesday. The outfielder is now batting .556/.692/.667 in his six games with Greenville, drawing eight walks without striking out once in 18 at-bats. -- Kukuk got his first win since April in his first start since May 23. His nine strikeouts (in five shutout innings) represented a career-high. The 20-year-old attributes part of his recent success to is ability to utilize both his fastball and his offspeed pitches effectively. '€œI could throw my changeup any time I wanted to,'€ Kukuk told Richard Breen of GoUpstate.com. '€œBeing able to have that second and third pitch really helps.'€ Manager Carlos Febles also noted that Kukuk'€™s slider was working for him on Monday, saying it'€™s '€œbeen more of a factor lately.'€ -- First baseman David Chester went 3-for-7 between the two games of the double-header, plating the Drive'€™s only run in game two after leading off the second inning with his 16th double of the season. Chester is batting .310/.348/.571 with five doubles and two home runs over his last 11 games. Chester is fourth in the South Atlantic League with 50 RBI on the year, the most on the Drive. -- One of the top performers in the GCL last year, right-hander Sergio Gomez, is slated to make his Single-A debut on Tuesday. Gomez, signed out of Colombia prior to the 2010 season, was a standout in the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League last summer, going 5-4 with a 2.83 ERA, 56 strikeouts and just 10 walks in 57 1/3 innings while showing the ability to sit in the low-90s. The fact that the Sox feel comfortable having him skip Lowell and pitch in full-season ball as a 19-year-old underscores his high standing in the organization. DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: 6-3 WIN VS. DSL MARINERS (BOX) -- Center fielder Luis Alexander Basabe snapped a four-game hitless streak, with the 16-year-old going 2-for-4 with a double and walk. He has three doubles in eight games this year. -- Third baseman Victor Acosta, a 17-year-old right-handed hitter out of Venezuela, went 2-for-5 with two doubles. He's hitting .314/.385/.429 through eight games. -- Left-hander Carlos Garcia, an 18-year-old out of Venezuela, allowed two runs in five innings while punching out seven. In two outings this year, he has 11 strikeouts and three walks in 9 1/3 innings, with opposing hitters just 3-for-30 against him.