Red Sox minor league roundup: Is Xander Bogaerts big league ready?; Matt Barnes striking out everyone; Will Middlebrooks hitting; does Alex Hassan make Bryce Brentz a trade chip?

July 26, 2013 - 9:39 am

Is Xander Bogaerts big league ready? The proposition seems absurd. He hasn't even been in Triple-A Pawtucket for two months. Yet in terms of his consistency in the batter's box, he's already offering strong hints that he's more than capable of holding his own against that level of competition, and perhaps that he's ready to take the next one if needed. On Thursday, Bogaerts went 3-for-3 with a walk and two doubles. It was his first three-hit game in Pawtucket (his second of the year) and his first Pawtucket contest with multiple extra-base hits. It was an excellent performance that represented the continuation of an eyebrow-raising trend. Given how quickly he moved to Triple-A, one would have expected inconsistencies from Bogaerts, fallow stretches of games where he took an 0-for-10 with a bunch of strikeouts. Instead, the opposite is happening. In 37 games with the PawSox, Bogaerts is hitting .273 with a .377 OBP and .492 slugging mark, all well above-average numbers for the Triple-A International league despite the fact that, at 20, he is seven years younger than the league average position player. Yet that only tells part of the story. Bogaerts now has a streak of 22 straight games in which he's reached base, hitting .324/.444/.554 with four homers, 15 walks and 12 strikeouts. He's managing the strike zone and controlling his at-bats with uncommon maturity for a Triple-A prospect, let alone one who is 20. Despite the outstanding stretch, he's at a less-than-ideal point for a promotion. Because he's spent just a month and change in Triple-A, he's had more of an opportunity to adjust to the league than the league has had to adjust to him through the circulation of word-of-mouth scouting reports about potential weaknesses to exploit. If promoted to the big leagues, Bogaerts faces the prospect of a similar challenge to the one faced by Jackie Bradley Jr. when he opened the year in the big leagues, only to be quickly swallowed up when unable to handle the league's exploitation of his vulnerability to fastballs on the hands. Nonetheless, Bogaerts has more experience in Triple-A than did Bradley when he was opened the year in the big leagues without a day at that level. He has more Triple-A experience than did Manny Machado when the Orioles promoted him straight from Double-A shortly after his 20th birthday last year. Machado was hitting .266/.352/.438 with 11 homers and 26 doubles in 109 games for Bowie prior to his callup in early August. He ended up hitting .262/.294/.445 with seven homers and 26 RBI over 51 games in the big leagues. Bogaerts, roughly nine months younger than Machado, has performed at a higher level in a higher level. And right now, if a need opened up on the left side of the Red Sox infield (whether due to injury or offensive struggles from Jose Iglesias or Stephen Drew), Bogaerts is making a compelling case that, with his offensive approach, he's more likely to be a consistent offensive contributor than Will Middlebrooks. According to team officials, there are no imminent plans to call up Bogaerts. And in a perfect world, the Sox are able to give Bogaerts more time in Pawtucket. They'll allow opponents to test his weaknesses and see if they can force him to adjust. But while that is the ideal scenario, the temptation presented by the infielder's considerable talent will be considerable. Increasingly, it should not be a surprise if by sometime in August -- if he can sustain the consistently impressive approach he's shown to date -- Bogaerts is in the big leagues. TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 6-5 LOSS AT NORFOLK (ORIOLES) (BOX) -- Will Middlebrooks went 2-for-4 with a double, homer and walk, continuing what has been a strong week. Middlebrooks now has four straight multi-hit games, going 8-for-18 with two doubles and a homer as well as a pair of walks, good for a line of .444/.500/.722. In 25 games since being optioned to Pawtucket, he's now hitting .274/.319/.481 with six homers. -- Outfielder Alex Hassan went 1-for-4 with a homer and a walk. The 2009 draftee is now hitting .319/.432/.500 in 34 games in Triple-A this year, performing at an offensive level that suggests the ability to offer the Sox a right-handed-hitting corner outfield depth option who appears a solid outfield depth candidate. That, in turn, raises an intriguing question of whether Hassan has rendered Bryce Brentz expendable as a potential trade deadline chip. Brentz's upside is considerably greater than Hassan's, given that the 2010 supplemental first-rounder possesses the kind of raw power that is unmatched among outfielders in the Red Sox farm system. However, over the last two years, he's been an inconsistent performer, someone whose aggressive plate approach results in boom-or-bust stretches and, at times, a lineup vulnerability given the possibility of low OBPs. From a depth perspective, consistency and solid on-base ability might be more valuable than upside and power when those two traits are accompanied by uncertainty about he would be able to sustain the grinding offensive approach that has been the hallmark of the Sox' offensive success at the big league level this year. At a time when teams are placing a premium on prospects with the ability to hit for power, the Sox -- who face a crowded 40-man roster situation this offseason, with Brentz representing one of the players whom the team would have to protect from the Rule 5 draft -- Brentz's value as a Sox trade chip may match or even exceed his value to the organization, particularly given the presence of Hassan as a potential fourth or fifth outfielder. DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 2-1 LOSS VS. HARRISBURG (NATIONALS) (BOX) -- Right-hander Matt Barnes once again posted big strikeout numbers, punching out eight and walking three while permitting just one run on two hits (a triple and a single). Thus continued Barnes' most impressive stretch of the year. Over his last eight starts, he now has a 2.91 ERA with 50 strikeouts (13.2 per nine innings) and 19 walks (5.0 per nine innings). While his ERA for the season remains high (4.57 ERA), his walks total (3.6 per nine) is surprisingly high and he's averaging fewer than five innings a start, it's difficult to overlook both the recent run and his strikeout totals for the year. Barnes now has 106 punchouts in 84 2/3 innings, with his 11.3 srikeouts per nine innings leading the Eastern League. -- Travis Shaw blasted a solo homer, his 12th longball of the year, and he's now 3-for-7 with a double, triple and homer in his last two games. -- Garin Cecchini accounted for two of the Sea Dogs' five hits, collecting a pair of singles in four plate appearances. After a brief quasi-slump, Cecchini now has a seven-game hitting streak in which he's hitting .367/.367/.433 with no walks and four strikeouts. HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 5-3 LOSS VS. FREDERICK (ORIOLES) (BOX) -- Blake Swihart had his second straight multi-hit game, going 2-for-4 following his 3-for-5 performance on Wednesday. Though he's endured some degree of struggle in July (.235/.288/.294), Swihart's numbers for the year remain strong, particularly for a catcher. The 21-year-old is hitting .273/.350/.410 with strikingly similar performances from both sides of the plate. Swihart is hitting .281/.349/.421 as a right-handed hitter against lefties and .271/.350/.407 as a lefty against right-handers. -- Outfielder Keury De La Cruz went 2-for-4 with a triple. The typically aggressive 21-year-old is amidst a streak of seven straight games of reaching base during which he's hitting .320 with four walks (resulting in a .387 OBP) and .560 slugging mark. SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 5-4 WIN (12 INNINGS) AT LAKEWOOD (PHILLIES) (BOX) -- Third baseman Mario Martinez had quite the day in Greenville's 12-inning battle, going 5-for-6 with a double in the 12th inning that would drive in the winning run. The 23-year-old is batting .414/.433/.517 with three doubles and nine RBI in his last seven games, and has eight hits in just his last two games. Since coming over to the Red Sox organization, Martinez is batting .316/.353/.449 in 40 games. -- Austin Maddox, Boston's third-round pick in last year's draft, has struggled in his first year with Greenville, posting a 6.94 ERA in seven starts and 15 relief appearances. But the right-hander closed out the game for the Drive, throwing two perfect innings, striking out two. Lately, Maddox has been getting the ball over the plate, giving up just one walk in his last 9 2/3 innings, but is still being hit hard, allowing 11 hits and five earned runs in that same span. -- Shortstop Jose Vinicio recorded his first multi-hit game in five days, going 2-for-6 and scoring a run. The 20-year-old has been struggling recently, batting .196/.196/.216 with only one extra-base hit in his last 13 games. He's also failed to draw a walk in his last 15 games, striking out 16 times in that span. Vinicio is batting a modest .219/.258/.285 in 82 in his second year with Greenville, collecting 13 doubles, two triples and a home run while swiping 18 bases and being caught six times. He's walked only 12 times in comparison to 79 strikeouts. -- Right-hander Luis Diaz sustained his strong run of performances. Though he gave up three runs in five innings, he punched out six and walked just one. Over his last six starts, he's 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA, 36 strikeouts and six walks in 37 1/3 innings while opponents are hitting .164/.200/.219 against him. The 21-year-old hasn't allowed a homer in that span. SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: RAINED OUT ROOKIE LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE RED SOX: 8-3 LOSS AT GCL RAYS (BOX) -- Outfielder Nick Longhi, a 30th round selection whom the Red Sox signed away from LSU, made his pro debut, entering the game as a pinch-hitter and going 0-for-2. Longhi, 18, is considered a potential impact bat as a corner outfielder. -- Righty Willie Ethington got the start and received his third loss of the season, going four innings and giving up three runs (only one was earned) on five hits and two walks while striking out seven. He even struck out the side in the bottom of the second, getting all three batters swinging. The 19-year-old has been solid in his second year with the GCL, compiling a 2.05 ERA in six starts, giving up 13 runs (but only five earned) in 22 innings, striking out 23 while walking only five. -- First baseman Jake Davies went 2-for-2 with two singles on the day. The 23-year-old is really scuffling in his second year in the GCL, batting .174/.204/.196 through 17 games. DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: 7-5 WIN (19 INNINGS) AT DSL ASTROS (BOX) -- Right-hander Samir El Halaby pitched the final two innings to earn the victory in the marathon. In eight games (15 innings), the 18-year-old (he turned 18 earlier this month) has struck out 11, walked two and held opponents to a .155 average en route to a 4-0 record and 1.60 ERA.