Red Sox minor league roundup: Two years later, taking stock of Red Sox' 2011 draft class; Mookie Betts raises the roof; Anthony Ranaudo rolling in Pawtucket

August 21, 2013 - 7:54 am
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It's a dangerous thing to forecast the impact of a draft several years down the road. The twists of player development are too unpredictable to say that a draft class is franchise-transforming until it actually becomes franchise transformative. The Red Sox' 2006 draft offers a dramatic case in point. That one featured a wave of prospects whom the Red Sox thought had a chance to load the system for some years. Even when it become clear that the top pick from that draft, Jason Place, almost certainly would not pan out, the crop of players that entered the system that year -- first-rounder Daniel Bard, second-rounder Justin Masterson, ninth-rounder Ryan Kalish, 17th-round selection Josh Reddick, 18th-round pick Lars Anderson -- were all, at various point, among the top Red Sox prospects, players who looked like they would become Red Sox centerpieces for years. Though Bard, Masterson, Kalish and Reddick all did produce considerable impact for the Sox at one point or another, however, it proved far more fleeting than expected. Even so, while it takes years to determine the ultimate impact of a draft class -- at least five, often more -- there's a lot of information available about the potential of a draft class after the signees' initial couple of seasons as professionals. And right now, the Red Sox' 2011 draft looks like it has a chance to meet that standard of being a transformative one. The team had four of the top 40 picks in that year's draft. With those selections, they tabbed Matt Barnes (who still projects as a big league starter despite an up-and-down season in Portland), Blake Swihart (emerging as one of the top catching prospects in the minors), Henry Owens (now the team's top pitching prospect, a 6-foot-7 left-hander who has been unhittable) and Jackie Bradley Jr. (who profiles as a Red Sox lineup fixture for years starting in 2014). That would have been enough to define a draft class with outrageous upside. But the 2011 crop ran deeper. Fifth-rounder Mookie Betts is making a surprising claim to status as one of the top Red Sox position playing prospects. The 20-year-old forced his way from Single-A Greenville to High-A Salem this year, and with a 3-for-5 night that included a homer and a triple, the second baseman is now hitting .297 with a .403 OBP, .481 slugging mark, 13 homers, 47 extra-base hits and 35 steals in 37 attempts between his two levels this year. No one else in the Sox system this year has matched his across-the-board impact. Sixth-rounder Miguel Pena was promoted to Double-A Portland for a start on Wednesday. In his last seven starts in High-A Salem, the 22-year-old had a 1.96 ERA while averaging just under seven innings a start and holding opponents to a .214/.296/.289 line. He has a chance to be a big league starter. Seventh-rounder Cody Kukuk remains a lottery ticket, someone who on days when he can throw strikes is nearly as untouchable as Owens, but whose ability to do so is so erratic that it's impossible to know whether he might ever reach his more likely projection as a power arm out of the bullpen. Still, his ceiling is tremendous if he does uncover the secret to strike throwing. Ninth-rounder Travis Shaw has the sort of swing and advanced approach that, despite a year of performing poorly (a .222/.337/.398 line in Portland), still has team officials convinced of the potential for a big league impact as a first baseman. Some of these prospects will fizzle. But it's noteworthy that, two years out, so many members of the draft class of 2011 still look like they have a chance to play key roles as starters at the big league level. Time will tell how far-reaching that impact would be, but at this stage, the amateur talent that the Sox acquired in 2011 looks like it has a chance to play a considerable role in shaping the Sox for years to come.  TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 1-0 WIN VS. BUFFALO (BLUE JAYS) (BOX) -- Anthony Ranaudo was dominant through 6 2/3 shutout innings on Tuesday, allowing just three hits and two walks while striking out four. It's the second scoreless outing for the righty in four starts since joining the PawSox, and the first time since being promoted that he's lasted into the seventh inning. In his 6 2/3 innings, Ranaudo faced just one over the minimum amount of batters, thanks to three double plays turned by the Pawtucket infield and a caught stealing. He threw 92 pitches with 61 going for strikes. Ranaudo has been extremely effective in his short time in Triple-A, posting a 1.93 ERA in 23 1/3 innings, allowing four walks while recording 15 punch outs. He's allowed just over one hit per inning, and only five earned runs (with four of those coming in his second start).  Just two of the 24 hits he's allowed have gone for extra bases, and both of those extra-base hits came in one outing. -- Jackie Bradley Jr. didn't have a hit, but he managed to reach base three times with a walks and two hit by pitches. Bradley has been hit by seven pitches this year, good for second on the team, and has been somewhat of a hit-by-pitch machine in the past couple years. He was hit by a total of 14 pitches last year, including 10 times in just 67 games in Salem. The outfielder has been getting on base just about any way he can this season with Pawtucket, ranking third on the club (and first among those with more than 200 plate appearances) with a .384 OBP in 69 contests. Despite going hitless for just the second time in his last 10 games, Bradley is hitting .314/.442/.571 over that span. -- The PawSox bullpen was impressive, with scoreless outings from Ryan Rowland-Smith, Jose De La Torre and Anthony Carter. Carter notched his 20th save of the season with a clean ninth inning, striking out two of the three batters he faced. The righty has been impressive as of late, compiling a 0.69 ERA in his last 10 appearances (13 innings), striking out 19 batters while allowing only one walk, while holding opposing batters to a .159/.196/.182 line. Carter has posted a 3.79 ERA and 1.298 WHIP in 57 innings as the PawSox closer this season. DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 8-6 LOSS VS.NEW HAMPSHIRE (BLUE JAYS) (BOX) -- Garin Cecchini reached base three times with a single and two walks on the evening while driving in one run. It's the seventh time in his last 21 games in which Cecchini has drawn multiple walks, drawing an average of a walk per game while striking out only 18 times over that stretch. The hit extends Cecchini's hit streak to 10 games, and he's hitting .368/.457/.421 over the life of the streak. He also owns a 29-game on-base streak, reaching base in every game in the month of August. The third baseman ranks in the top five in the Eastern League with a .436 OBP this month. -- Catcher Christian Vazquez went 1-for-4 with a walk and clubbed his 16th double of the season. Vazquez has been on a tear offensively all month long, hitting .390/.433/.458 in 15 games since July 31. In that span he's hit four doubles and driven in seven, while working six walks in comparison to only six strikeouts. Vazquez hasn't shown some of the power he displayed in previous years (he slugged .505 with 19 home runs and 27 doubles in 2011 with Greenville), but otherwise, he's matching the numbers he put up in his breakout year, hitting .283 on the season with a .368 OBP through 86 games. -- Mickey Pena, who went 6-7 with a 4.00 ERA in 15 starts for Salem, has been promoted to Portland. He'll get the start for the Sea Dogs on Wednesday night. Pena, a left-hander taken in the sixth round of 2011's draft, has been stellar in his last seven starts, with a 1.96 ERA over 46 innings. Each of his last seven outings counted as quality starts. HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 10-9 WIN VS. CAROLINA (INDIANS) (BOX) -- Feats of Mookie: A meteoric rise. Mookie Betts had little prospect profile entering 2013. He was ranked the No. 31 prospect in the Red Sox system by Baseball America on the strength of a 2012 season with the Lowell Spinners in which he hit .267 with a .352 OBP (but just a .307 slugging mark) along with 20 steals in 24 attempts. He showed an offensive approach, defense and speed that made him look like a player with the potential to emerge as a big league utlity player. He looks like he has a chance to be more than that now. Betts went 3-for-5, falling a double short of the cycle, adding to a standout performance that has seen him reach base by hit or walk in 18 straight games, hitting .379/.461/.591 in the process. The 20-year-old continues to show that his offseason strength gains are translating to the batter's box, as he launched his fifth homer in 39 games with Salem and his 13th in 115 combined games between Single-A Greenville and Salem. Betts is three years below the league average position player's age in the Carolina League, yet he is outperforming league-average levels by a considerable margin. The league-average offensive line is a .254 average, .333 OBP and .380 slugging mark. Betts has left those in the dust, hitting .298/.371/.489 since his promotion, after posting a .296/.418/.477 line in Greenville. He's also 17-for-17 in stolen base attempts and 35-of-37 in attempted thefts this year, a 95 percent success rate that ranks as best of any minor leaguer with at least 30 steals. Whereas a big league utility player looked like the likeliest ceiling for Betts entering the year, his performance in 2013 -- which also has included excellent defense at second base, where he's displayed the athleticism and arm strength to be a credible infielder at either short (his position in high school) or third -- suggests a player for whom a utility role is a likely floor. But the upside could be considerably greater. After all, second basemen who play good defense, can hit double-digit homers and perhaps steal 30 bases are a fairly rare breed. In the last 10 years, the only second basemen to hit those marks in the big leagues have been Jason Kipnis, Ian Kinsler, Brian Roberts, Alfonso Soriano and Brandon Phillips. In other words, Betts is performing at a level that suggests at least the possibility of All-Star potential (all five of the aforementioned players having been named to the summer showcase event). While it will take another year or two to figure out if his 2013 performance is sustainable or instead a one year exercise in everything coming together, it is a performance that should change the way in which the 20-year-old is viewed going forward. -- Sean Coyle went 2-for-5 with a double. Though hitting just .192 (5-for-26) in seven games since returning to Salem, he's reached base at least once by either walk or hit in each of those seven contests, giving him a .391 OBP in that time. SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 4-2 LOSS VS. ROME (BRAVES) (BOX) -- Left-hander Cody Kukuk allowed four runs on eight hits. Yet in some ways, it was one of his most intriguing performances of the year. The 20-year-old threw strikes as never before, firing 68 of his 95 pitches (72 percent) for strikes. He featured fewer swings and misses than usual -- with eight whiffs among his 95 offerings, resulting in three strikeouts -- but for the second time in three outings, he didn't walk a batter, a particularly noteworthy development given that he didn't manage to avoid issuing a free pass in any of his first 19 starts of the year. And, the pitch efficiency and control permitted Kukuk to work into the seventh inning for the first time in his pro career, as he logged 6 2/3 innings. While he yielded two runs, two came in the first and two more in the seventh. In between, he mowed through the opposing lineup in five scoreless frames, in a performance that had few comparisons to anything he's done to date in his career. For the year, Kukuk has a 4.59 ERA with 8.9 strikeouts per nine and 6.8 walks per nine. Opponents are hitting just .197/.334/.272 against him. -- Shortstop Jose Vinicio remains mired in a dreadful skid. The 20-year-old hasn't reached base in any of the last eight games, going 0-for-25 in the process to drop his line to .205/.238/.271 for the year. SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 6-1 LOSS VS. CONNECTICUT (TIGERS) (BOX) -- One outing removed from a nine-strikeout, six-inning performance, Simon Mercedes got lasted just 2 1/3 innings, permitting three runs on five hits with a walk and two strikeouts. For the year, the 21-year-old has a 2.96 ERA with 7.4 strikeouts and 2.5 walks per nine innings. -- Outfielder Manuel Margot, 18, went 1-for-4, and he's now hit in each of his three games since returning to Lowell from the DL. He's shown the ability to hit for average (a .260 mark) and get on base (.345) at an above-average clip. Though he hasn't shown power in Lowell (just five extra-base hits in 35 games), he squares the ball and has shown the capacity to backspin it to generate pop, while also showing the ability to be an impact presence on the bases (14 steals in 20 attempts). Margot and Betts represent the two most dynamic prospects in the Red Sox system right now. ROOKIE LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE RED SOX: 3-2 LOSS VS. GCL ORIOLES (BOX) -- Kolbrin Vitek, rehabbing in the GCL in working his way back from a concussion suffered in Portland in mid-July, went 2-for-3 with a double while serving as DH. -- Bryce Brentz played outfield for the first time since surgery to repair a torn meniscus on July 16, playing five innings in right. He went 0-for-2 and saw little action in the field, with his only defensive play coming on a line drive single to him. -- Left-hander Randy Perez allowed his first homer of the year (in 46 innings), but that was the only run he yielded in three innings in which he recorded eight of his outs by strikeout (3) or groundout (5). The 19-year-old has a 2.54 ERA with opponents hitting .194 against him. DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: RAINED OUT

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