The Red Sox currently have no plans to move Yoan Moncada to another position. (Jonathan Dyer/USA Today Sports)

Red Sox minor league notebook: Yoan Moncada likely will be exposed to new position, but not right now

Ryan Hannable
June 23, 2016 - 3:00 am
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1. As soon as Yoan Moncada was promoted to Double-A Portland, you knew the question was coming: When will the second baseman be exposed to a new position? Double-A is typically the level where positional players typically begin the shift to new positions and with Dustin Pedroia being under contact until 2021, Moncada likely will not stay at second base his entire career. "We don't have a specific time frame for him being ready," president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Monday. "He's a very good offensive player. He drives the ball. He hits for an average. He's walked a lot this year. He probably [needs to work on] just his overall skills of the game. He probably needs to work defensively rather than offensively. He's a situation where he's a fine offensive player. He steals a lot of bases -- probably going to learn some of the nuances of stealing bases. "He's a fine skilled offensive player and he has defensive abilities too, but the thing is as time goes on the question is inevitable, well, where are you going to play him? We'll just wait and see that. We'll probably get his feet wet at Double-A at second base, the position he's most familiar, and those are questions that we'll tackle in the future." One of the best examples of a player getting to Double-A and moving positions is Mookie Betts, who transitioned from second base to center field. He began his Double-A career at the start of the 2014 season and after roughly 35 games, he started playing center field for the first time. "You have to kind of get acclimated to hitting first," Betts said this week. "Before you make a position change you need to be fully acclimated to everything that is going on first before that change. They know what they are doing." It would seem that is the same approach the organization is taking with Moncada because as of now, there are no immediate plans to have Moncada be exposed to other positions. "We don't have any plans at this point," Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett said. "I think we're kind of taking it one step at a time and he'll be playing second base here in Portland as he makes that transition." "Any time you move into a new level I think having some familiarity of where you are playing defensively is important," he added. "When you're in a more challenging environment on the field, as you're making that initial adjustment, you're not making an adjustment to a new position." This is a big step in Moncada's development as many view Double-A as the level to truly gauge just how good a prospect can be. Crockett is one of those people, but also is quick to point out even if a player struggles early on, it doesn't mean the player will struggle for good. "I think Double-A is a challenging level and making that jump to A-ball to Double-A is an important one with these guys," Crockett said. "It doesn't mean their initial performance at that level is indicative of who they are going to be, but I think it is a challenging level. I think you start to have older players mixed in a bit more -- older guys with more experience. The more talented pitchers that are able to mix a little bit more and be more creative than they are at A-ball." 2. Many thought once Andrew Benintendi was promoted to Double-A Portland, Moncada would soon follow, but it took a few weeks before that happened. The 21-year-old Moncada was struggling a bit at the plate, as he hit just .277 in the month of May, but it didn't take much longer for Moncada to get things back into high gear. In 14 June games with Salem, Moncada slashed .345/.438/.618, so it was clear he was ready to join Benintendi in Portland. "He got a chance to struggle a little bit there for a stretch and was able to make some adjustments and finish June in Salem strong," Crockett said. "That was definitely a positive. I think for us, he also continued to work hard on the defensive side of things and that was an important piece of what we're looking at and what we're stressing to him as a player." Moncada has greatly improved his defensive skills. He made 23 errors in 71 games last season with Greenville, but with hours and hours of pregame work on his footing and positioning, he's miles from where he was last year at this point. "A significant difference," Crockett said. "The athleticism has always been there. The ability to make plays has always been there. He's more consistent in doing those things. There's still adjustments that he's making and he works really hard to be even more consistent, but from where he started in spring training last year to where he's now, there is a marketed difference." 3. Henry Owens desperately needed Tuesday night. The left-hander had struggled of late, posting an ERA of 5.71 in his last seven starts with 26 walks in 34 2/3 innings. Over that time, Owens worked extensively with Pawtucket pitching coach Bob Kipper and even got visits from minor league pitching coordinator Ralph Treuel to try and get him back on track. Finally, he was able to put it all together on Wednesday as in Game 1 of a doubleheader Owens tossed a one-hit, seven-inning shutout with three walks a five strikeouts. "He has worked his ass off," Treuel said. "It's almost at the point that sometimes he was trying too hard. For me, trusting his stuff, being aggressive, trusting his delivery. Everything picked up [Tuesday night]. All his stuff was better." Even though Owens hasn't made the most of his big league appearances in the last two seasons, there is still time to work through things as he is just 23 years old. "It's better that he's 23 than 28, obviously," Treuel said. "Henry always has had these hiccups. He just needs to get out of it quicker. That is the big thing. He's a big tall pitcher and I know we can always use that as an excuse, but sometimes it takes those guys longer to develop sometimes." 4. For the first time since last July, Michael Kopech stepped on a mound pitching in front of a crowd last Friday night in Lowell. After being suspended 50 games for using a performance-enhancing drug last year and then missing all of spring training this year with a broken hand following an altercation with a teammate, the 2014 first-round pick returned to the mound for the first time in live game action in the Spinners' season opener. Although he wasn't overly impressive -- going 4 1/3 scoreless innings, scattering four hits, walking four and striking out five -- he showed the minor league brass what they needed to see. "Good arm. Really good stuff," Treuel said. "He was just over-throwing that night for me. Didn't really pitch. He wasn't the same guy that I saw last year during the instructional league." Treuel was in attendance along with Crockett and other minor league front office members and they felt based off the performance the next step would be having him join his teammates from last year in High-A Salem for his next start. Given his stuff -- high 90s fastball and a sharp curveball and being one of the top pitching prospects in the system -- the organization wants him to be challenged. "With a guy with that type of ability, you have to challenge him," Treuel said. "As the hitters get better, he'll refine his stuff. He will realize he can't throw the ball past guys like he did in extended spring and in Lowell for the one outing." 5. It's been a special few weeks for the Lovullo family as Red Sox bench coach Torey had his son Nick drafted in the 20th round out of Holy Cross two weeks ago in the MLB draft. Nick signed almost immediately and was assigned to short-season, Single-A Lowell. Nick made his debut this past Sunday and given the 5 p.m. start, Torey was able to make the short drive from Fenway Park after the Red Sox' afternoon game and see most of the game. Nick recorded his first professional hit and after the game presented his dad with a special Father's Day gift. The younger Lovullo walked out of the clubhouse and handed his dad the baseball from his first hit and said, "Happy Father's Day, Dad." "It's hard to describe exactly how touching that was," Torey said. "It was one of those moments where you learn to appreciate special moments that is created by your children and for him to have an awareness to have it happen the way he did was really, really amazing. I had to fight back the tears. It was a moment I could have broke down because it was a special moment between me and him." 6. After dominating all of last year, things have come back to Earth for 18-year-old Anderson Espinoza with Single-A Greenville -- and it's totally OK and expected. The right-hander is 4-5 with a 4.06 ERA and has totaled 57 strikeouts in 57 2/3 innings. "He's 18 years old. He's one of the youngest guys in the league. He's had really good moments and then he's had other moments that he pitches like a high school senior," Treuel said. "That's basically what it is like. The stuff is good. This is a challenge for every first-year guy regardless coming out of college, high school -- it's their first full year. We have to do everything we can to maximize their ability to make those 24-25 starts this year." At the Single-A level it's OK to have poor outings, but the most important thing is how a player can bounce back. "All of the young guys do it. They are going to have the struggles," Treuel said. "We don't want to see them struggle consistently, but we want to see how they revert. How they adjust and they come back after a bad outing. I think Anderson has shown he's usually good after a bad outing. He comes back and works hard in between and has a better outing." 7. Shortstop Mauricio Dubon represented High-A Salem in the Carolina League All-Star Game Tuesday night in California. Dubon, perhaps overshadowed by Moncada and Benintendi, has put together a solid season for himself. The right-handed hitter is slashing .306/.387/.379 and in all likelihood will join Double-A Portland Thursday coming out of the All-Star break. "He's been very good," Crockett said. "I think he's got recognition within the organization, obviously. He's a good player. He's continued to progress and make improvements and adjustments from last year. He just continues to improve. He's done a really nice job." Besides what he does on the field, Dubon is a leader among his teammates. He's helped out with Moncada behind the scenes with helping him get comfortable in the states, as well as on the field with positioning and things of that nature. "Mauricio is a good team player," Crockett said. "He gets along with his teammates very well. I think he's a leader within that group and I think that does not over shadow the quality of a player that he is on the field." 8. It wasn't the best of starts to the season for 19-year-old third baseman Rafael Devers with High-A Salem. He had a great year with Single-A Greenville last year, even being named to the Futures Game, but was in a prolonged funk to open the year. Devers batted just .138 in the month of April, .245 in May, but has really started to figure it out this month as he's hitting .339 and looking more like the player he did for all of last year. "[Devers] has worked really hard to make a couple of adjustments with Nelson Paulino (Salem hitting coach) and Greg Norton (minor league hitting coordinator)," Crockett said. "He's done a really job of returning to some of the consistency he showed last year of using the whole field, controlling his effort level, things like that that have allowed him to be such a good hitter last year. Very young play at that level, one of the younger players in the league, I think this was an adjustment period." 9. One of the biggest trends within the Red Sox minor league system has been moving starters to the bullpen. These have included: Jake Cosart, Ben Taylor and the latest being Ty Buttrey. This transition can be quite easy and is better suited for hard-throwers and they can now let all their pitches go given the shorter outings, instead of holding back some. "I don't think it's been a significant change in philosophy, but I do think based on the group of guys that we've had in certain roles -- I think there's been a better fit for that transition," Crockett said. "Once you get to Double-A, Triple-A, those are the times when in the past we've made those transitions. I think there have been a few that have happened sooner than that this year. It's kind of case-by-case, but obviously there is a premium on successful arms in the big leagues and within these group of guys we've transitioned we've felt there is upside with these guys in this role." 10. Pawtucket first baseman Sam Travis suffered a torn ACL on May 30 and will miss the rest of the season. About a month after the injury, he's progressing well with his rehab and there have been no surprises during his rehab in Fort Myers. With Hanley Ramirez struggling of late and the number of injuries the Red Sox are dealing with, it's worth wondering whether or not Travis would have potentially been called up if he was healthy. But, the good news is he's on track for 2016 and he will likely be one of the options for the starting job at first base.