Red Sox minor league roundup: Williams Jerez's prospect rebirth; Sam Travis mashing; Keury De La Cruz goes for a rare walk

August 07, 2014 - 8:55 am
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A brief look at the action in the Red Sox minor league system on Thursday: TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: OFF DAY DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 7-4 WIN AT BOWIE (ORIOLES) (BOX) -- Outfielder Keury De La Cruz, who entered the game with three walks and 39 strikeouts in his first 47 games of the year, went 1-for-2 with a double and matched a career-high with three walks, thus matching his season total. It was his first game with multiple walks since 2012, and his first with three walks since playing in the Dominican Summer League in 2009. It is worth noting that two of the walks (including one of the intentional variety) came against a knuckleballer. Still, though De La Cruz's swing early and often approach makes him vulnerable to pitchers with command, the double underscored his ability to impact the ball when swinging at strikes, particularly against right-handed pitchers. The 22-year-old owns a .340/.366/.509 line this year against righties, with an overall .282/.303/.395 line in 48 games with Portland. -- Catcher Carson Blair, making his Double-A debut at 24, delivered the go-ahead RBI single in the ninth inning to cap a 1-for-3 day in which he reached twice by walk. Blair hit .261/.385/.471 in 67 games with Salem, in his first opportunity at being a primary catcher in his professional career. He performed well enough to suggest the potential tools of a late-coming big leaguer, though the fact that he ended up on the disabled list underscored concerns about whether he can withstand the physical wear of catching to the point that it will enable him to reach the big leagues. -- Right-hander Dayan Diaz worked around a hit to pitch a scoreless ninth for his first Double-A save. He struck out two. In six games spanning 9 2/3 innings with Portland, Diaz has a 0.93 ERA with nine strikeouts and two walks, showing a high-octane fastball that typically is in the mid-90s and can touch the upper-90s, which he combines with a slider that can be a wipeout pitch. The 25-year-old Diaz -- who had a 1.34 ERA with 40 strikeouts and 14 walks in 33 2/3 innings for Salem this year -- is old for traditional prospect status, but he has an atypical player development path, having essentially missed virtually all of what would have been his first two years in the States in 2009 and 2010 while dealing with injury. When healthy, he's been a strikeout-an-inning (or more) with legit stuff. -- Right-hander Luis Diaz saw his streak of eight straight Double-A starts without issuing more than two walks come to an end, as he handed out five free passes and struck out just one in 5 1/3 innings. Diaz permitted four runs, and after being scored upon nine times in his last two outings (spanning 10 1/3 innings), his ERA has jumped to 3.76 in Portland. -- Rehabbing corner infielder Kelly Johnson went 0-for-3 with a pair of walks while playing third base. He's expected to join the Red Sox in St. Louis on Thursday. HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 2-1 LOSS (14 INNINGS) VS. LYNCHBURG (BRAVES) (BOX) -- Though he struggled with is control for the second straight outing, left-hander Cody Kukuk once again proved all but unhittable. The left-hander worked around four walks (giving him 10 in his last 8 1/3 innings over two starts) to deliver five shutout innings in which he allowed just two hits (both doubles) while striking out six. In his last seven starts, the 21-year-old has a 1.72 ERA with 41 strikeouts and 19 walks in 31 1/3 innings (lowering his ERA to 5.24 in 17 High-A starts). His stuff is off-the-charts good, but his inability to control it with any consistency will leave a question about his ability to start hovering over his head. He has six games in which he's issued four or more walks in Salem. -- Matt Gedman, a first baseman, made his first professional pitching appearance. Though he took the loss by giving up a solo homer in the 14th, that came after a scoreless 13th that included a pair of strikeouts on breaking balls that, according to Roanoke Times reporter Aaron McFarling, were so slow they didn't register on the stadium's radar gun. Gedman retired six of the seven batters he faced. -- Jantzen Witte went 2-for-6 with a double, the 39th double of the year for the 24-year-old. He is tied for second in the minors in doubles, and he ranks in the top 20 in the minors with 54 extra-base hits. He's hitting .308/.382/.506 between Single-A Greenville and High-A Salem. SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 5-3 WIN VS. AUGUSTA (GIANTS) (BOX) -- First baseman Sam Travis continued to mash in Greenville, going 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles and a walk. In his first five games with the Drive, he's 9-for-19 with four doubles, three walks and three strikeouts, good for a .474/.545/.684 line. Dating to his time in Lowell, the 20-year-old -- taken in the second round of this year's draft -- has an 11-game hitting streak that features seven multi-hit games. In 45 games in his first pro summer, Travis is hitting .348/.385/.473 with 14 extra-base hits in 45 games. -- Right-hander Jamie Callahan threw six shutout innings to earn his first win in 15 starts. The 19-year-old worked around three hits (all singles) and four walks to match a season-high in innings and to hold his opponents scoreless for the second time in three starts. -- Center fielder Manuel Margot had his third straight multi-hit game and his fourth during a six-game hitting streak to open August, going 2-for-5 while recording his 36th steal of the season. After he endured his worst month of the season in July (.209/.303/.358), the 19-year-old has bounced back with a .462/.517/.615 line in the first six games of August, improving his season line to .274/.345/.421 with nine homers, 29 extra-base hits and 36 steals. Though a bit young for the South Atlantic League, Margot continues to perform at an above-average level, where the average line for the year is .262/.331/.382. SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 7-0 LOSS VS. STATE COLLEGE (CARDINALS) (BOX) -- Right-hander Aaron Wilkerson suffered his first loss since signing with the Sox out of indy ball last month. The 25-year-old gave up six runs (five earned) in four innings -- getting tagged for a couple of homers -- though he did strike out eight and walked just one, giving him 27 strikeouts and seven walks in 22 innings. -- Outfielder Danny Mars went 2-for-4, extending his streak of multi-hit games to five. The 20-year-old switch-hitter, a sixth-round selection out of Chipola College this year, is second in the league in batting average (.363), third in OBP (.419) and eighth in slugging (.496). ROOKIE LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE RED SOX: 6-1 WIN, 4-2 WIN VS. GCL RAYS (BOX GAME 1, BOX GAME 2) -- When the Red Sox took Williams Jerez in the second round of the 2011 draft, they saw a potential five-tool lottery ticket, a 19-year-old with the potential to do anything in the outfield. But he was raw coming out of high school in New York, and it showed in his early pro career. He spent three years struggling with both health and professional pitching, amassing a .221/.254/.275 line in one year in the GCL and two in Lowell, walking 12 times and striking out 69 times in 353 plate appearances. The absence of one of the tools (hitting) was sufficiently glaring that none of the other tools could be realized. And so, the Sox decided instead to harness one of Jerez's tools and trying to give him a path forward. They shifted the Brooklyn-born 22-year-old to the mound, hoping that his strong arm would permit him to make headway as a right-handed pitcher. The early returns have been head-turning. On Wednesday, Jerez had his most dominant outing to date, firing three shutout innings in which he allowed one hit, walked no one and recorded seven of his nine outs by strikeout. He now has 13 strikeouts in seven innings over his last two outings, and there is a sense that he is on the cusp of something he never was as an outfielder: A prospect. Jerez has been sitting in the low-90s but working at up to 94 mph with his fastball while showing some feel for a slider and changeup. And he's attacked the strike zone aggressively, walking no more than one batter in any of his nine outings, with 27 punchouts and five walks in 24 1/3 innings during which he's forged a 2.22 ERA. Perhaps nothing comes of it. Jerez, after all, is a 22-year-old in the GCL. But maybe something does occur, and perhaps Jerez finds a path forward in his second baseball incarnation. At the least, there is now something that wasn't present in his first three seasons of pro ball -- a sense of possibility and promise that the lottery ticket has a chance of paying off. -- Rafael Devers brushed off an 0-for-4 first game by launching a three-run homer in the second contest. In 27 games in the Gulf Coast League, he's hitting .337/.400/.541 with three homers and 12 extra-base hits -- nearly mirroring his performance in 28 games in the Dominican Summer League prior to his promotion, when he hit .337/.445/.538 with three homers and 12 extra-base hits. All three of his homers and 10 of his 12 extra-base hits in the GCL have come against righties, whom Devers is pummeling at a .368/.405/.632 clip. -- Shortstop Javier Guerra went 3-for-7 with a pair of doubles. The 18-year-old is hitting .299 with a .314 OBP and .440 slugging mark, showing both the defense and the swing to suggest a path to the big leagues. -- Right-hander Michael Kopech, a Red Sox first-rounder this year, was lifted after facing just three batters (one out, one double, one walk) due to heat exhaustion. DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: 18-1 WIN AT DSL NATIONALS (BOX) -- On a day when his lineup scored 18 runs, the most impressive performance may well have come from left-hander Jhonathan Diaz. The 17-year-old left-hander had his fifth straight outing in which he didn't give up an earned run, tossing five shutout frames in which he gave up two hits, walked none and punched out a career-high eight. In 12 starts, he's now 5-2 with a 1.28 ERA, 8.0 strikeouts and 1.8 walks per nine innings while holding opponents to a .194 average. -- First baseman Pablo Urena, a 19-year-old from Panama, had a career day, going 4-for-6 with a homer (his first of the year and second of his career) and two doubles. He now has seven hits in his last two games.