A National League scout discussing the Red Sox system last week paused to contemplate the status of Will Middlebrooks‘ rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket.
“I’d love to get him,” the scout said flatly.
At a time when the scarcity of power in the game is a widely examined phenomenon, Middlebrooks continues to show tantalizing glimpses of that increasingly rare trait. The third baseman followed a home run for Pawtucket — where he remains amidst a Triple-A rehab assignment, more than two months after he suffered a fractured finger — on Wednesday (in a game suspended by rain) by going deep again on Thursday. In 15 games in July, he’s now gone deep four times for the PawSox, hitting .291 with a .333 OBP and .564 slugging mark.
The average and slugging mark suggest a player who can impact the ball with rare authority. The on-base percentage (a product of three walks and 15 strikeouts in 60 plate appearances this month) does little to dispel valid questions about how often his offensive approach will permit him to apply that skill.
But even with those questions, there is unquestionably talent — and value — with a fascinating question looming about whether a Red Sox organization that was burned this year by getting too young, too quickly can be the one to give Middlebrooks the opportunity to try to realize his talents at the big league level.
The 25-year-old likely needs to be in the big leagues soon, whether for the Red Sox to see if he can emerge as a more reliable power threat that they’ve been lacking or for another team that wants to afford the still young third baseman that opportunity, at a time when he still retains value and intrigue.
“He’s well aware of the need to get regular at-bats. We’ve got to do some things to maybe adjust the roster to accommodate that,” manager John Farrell told reporters in Toronto on Thursday. “Whether that happens naturally through this upcoming week, that remains to be seen, with the roster adjustments and any potential trades. Before even saying anything about that, I’d be gettingtoo far ahead of myself. Most important, Will is healthy, swinging the bat well and playing daily.”
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 7-2 WIN (COMPLETION OF SUSPENDED GAME), 5-1 WIN AT LEHIGH VALLEY (PHILLIES)
(BOX GAME 1, BOX GAME 2)
– Feats of Mookie: Renewing a familiar pattern. Mookie Betts collected hits in both contests, following a 1-for-5 contest with a 1-for-3 effort that also included a walk in the second game. That’s hits in four straight games, during which the 21-year-old is 6-for-18 with a triple and a walk. Interestingly, however, Betts is striking out more than usual, having fanned five times in those four contests — atypical for a player who has 52 walks and 39 strikeouts in 82 minor league games this year. (Betts walked once and struck out five times in his 10 big league contests.)
– Travis Shaw maintained his outrageous July run, going 5-for-7 with a double and a walk in the two contests. His 20-game July on-base streak now features a .342 average, .437 OBP and .562 slugging mark with more walks (13) than strikeouts (12). Overall, the 24-year-old is hitting .289/.347/.473 in Triple-A, including .322/.379/.545 against righties. At a time when some teams are examining Mike Carp as a potential complementary piece who might be able to round out a roster if acquired in a trade, Shaw now gives the Sox prospect depth — left-handed at that — to be able to contemplate such a possibility.
– In what could be the prelude to a return to the big leagues (if the Red Sox find a buyer for Jake Peavy in the coming days), right-hander Brandon Workman tossed six innings and allowed one run on five hits while walking one and punching out six. In his last two starts, the 25-year-old has allowed one run in 11 innings while punching out 12 and walking three.
– Outfielder Alex Hassan walked in all four plate appearances in the first contest, with the four free passes representing a career high for a player whose plate discipline has long been a hallmark. Hassan is hitting .277/.375/.439.
DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 7-1 LOSS AT NEW BRITAIN (TWINS)
– It’s a matter of if, not when, Henry Owens is promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket. At this point, it would be a surprise if the left-hander doesn’t move up by next week — almost exactly a year after he moved to Double-A Portland.
That being the case, there is a chance that Owens just experienced an anticlimactic end to what has been a spectacular run in Portland. In his first start since turning 22, Owens allowed five runs on five hits (including a homer and double, both by Kennys Vargas, whom Owens struck out in the All-Star Futures Game) and four walks while punching out six. The outing interrupted a string of nine straight starts in which Owens had logged at least 5 2/3 innings while permitting two or fewer walks. It was also just the second game in his last 14 starts in which the left-hander was taken deep.
Still, if that was Owens’ final start in Portland, his overall results attest to dominance over an extended stretch. In 25 combined starts in Double-A between 2013 and 2014, the 2011 supplemental first-rounder is 16-5 with a 2.40 ERA, 10.4 strikeouts per nine and 3.7 walks per nine with opponents hitting just .191 against him. That broader track record suggests that it’s a more than appropriate time for him to be challenged by a higher level of competition — assuming that he doesn’t end up being the centerpiece of a blockbuster.
– Catcher Blake Swihart continued his climb towards .300, going 2-for-4 with a double. A five-game hitting streak that has featured three multi-hit games and during which the 22-year-old is 8-for-21 with two walks, a homer and two doubles (.381/.435/.619) has elevated his season line to .298/.353/.489. Given the pairing of Swihart and Owens on Thursday, it’s not difficult to figure out why (according to ESPN’s Jayson Stark) the Phillies sent scouts swooping in to New Britain to watch the Sea Dogs play on Thursday.
HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 5-0 LOSS AT LYNCHBURG (BRAVES)
– Right-hander Simon Mercedes, in his second start back in Salem after spending time on the sidelines to work on strengthening and condition before a rehab assignment with Lowell, allowed five runs on seven hits (including a homer) while walking one and striking out six in five innings. Mercedes has now given up a homer in each of his last four starts in Salem (four in 19 2/3 innings) after permitting just two in his first 34 2/3 innings at the level. Still, he’s typically featured high groundball rates and swing-and-miss stuff (he’s punched out 55 in 54 1/3 innings in Salem this year), suggesting that he’s shown an arsenal that has been more impressive than his 2-7 record or 4.64 ERA in Salem might suggest.
– Right-hander William Cuevas had a dominant outing in a three-inning piggyback outing, giving up no hits, walking one and punching out seven. The 23-year-old is averaging 7.7 strikeouts and 2.8 walks per nine innings while forging a 4.68 ERA.
SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 8-3 LOSS AT LAKEWOOD (PHILLIES)
– Right-hander Myles Smith, a 2013 fourth-rounder, had one of his best outings of the year. Through five innings, he’d given up just two runs on four hits and a walk before he was touched for three singles and a walk while recording one out in the sixth. Given that it was just the second time this year that Smith had worked into a sixth inning, the more useful relative measure of his performance (in comparison to the rest of his challenging first pro season) was likely to be found in those first five frames. Still, with the three runs that ended up being charged to him for the sixth, Smith is now 3-7 with a 6.46 ERA and more walks (51) than strikeouts (47) in 76 2/3 innings.
SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 9-3 LOSS VS. HUDSON VALLEY (RAYS)
– First baseman Sam Travis went 3-for-4 with a double, extending his hitting streak to 10 games during which he has a .370/.370/.500 line. In his pro debut, the 20-year-old second-rounder is now hitting .299/.329/.394 in 33 games, and while his OBP is modest, he hasn’t been getting beaten by the pitching he’s facing, as evidenced by a relatively low strikeout rate of 10.5 percent.
– Right-hander Ty Buttrey allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits in five innings of work, walking three and striking out five. In three rehab outings with Lowell, the 21-year-old now has a 3.09 ERA with 12 strikeouts and seven walks in 11 2/3 innings.
ROOKIE LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE RED SOX: 5-4 LOSS VS. GCL RAYS
– Bryce Brentz, in his second GCL rehab game, went 0-for-2 and played left field for four innings. He’s 1-for-4 with a double in his two rehab games.
– Outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe, in his second game following a promotion from the DSL, went 3-for-4 with a double. The 17-year-old now has 19 extra-base hits in 42 combined games between the GCL and DSL this year — an uncommon number for a player that young. Indeed, teammate Rafael Devers has 19 extra-base hits in his 43 games between the two levels (though whereas Basabe has yet to go deep, Devers has cleared the fences five times).
– Right-hander Brayan Villarreal, on the shelf since mid-April for Pawtucket, made his first appearance since April 13, working around three hits allowed to toss a scoreless inning.
DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: 4-1 WIN AT DSL REDS
– Right-hander Gerson Bautista continued his impressive year, tossing six shutout innings in which he allowed four hits, punched out one and didn’t issue a walk. The 19-year-old has a microscopic 0.43 ERA with 23 strikeouts and 17 walks; opponents are hitting .133 against him. Somehow, despite the fact that he’s given up two earned runs in 42 innings, Thursday was his first win.
– Roldani Baldwin, an 18-year-old who plays third and catches, added to a scorching July that has demonstrated uncommon power for the DSL. He went 2-for-4 with a homer — his fourth of the year and third of the month — and is now hitting .325/.404/.519 in 20 games in July. Though a bit old for the level at 18, he’s impressed evaluators with his swing and strength.
– Another intriguing 18-year-old, Jesus Perez, a raw, athletic player who is making his pro debut this year, hit his first career homer, going 1-for-3 and getting hit by a pitch. Given his inexperience in game settings (most of Perez’s baseball experience was spent preparing for the showcase circuit), the 6-foot-3 outfielder has made some positive impressions in hitting .250/.360/.405 in 24 games.