Garin Cecchini is enjoying a dominant year in Salem. (Salem Red Sox)
In the same way that Jackie Bradley Jr. forced an expectation and presumption of his mid-year promotion in 2012, Garin Cecchini is starting to do the same this year. The situations aren’t precisely analogous, since a) as an outfielder, Bradley didn’t face the same kind of positional bottlenecks that will confront Cecchini and b) Bradley had the experience of being a top college performer, making it easier to put him on a fast track.
Still, Cecchini has now been a metronome for almost all of two months. He can’t be kept off base. On Friday, he went 1-for-2 with a walk and was hit by a pitch. In his last six games, he’s stepped to the plate 26 times and reached in 16 of those. Through 40 games, he’s hitting .376/.485/.638 with 23 extra-base hits. With runners in scoring position, his numbers are a joke: .474/.608/.763.
Cecchini is 22 — so not young for his level. He is, in fact, the same age as Almanzar. Because he was drafted as a 19-year-old, the Sox will have to decide whether or not to add him to the 40-man roster this offseason for the purposes of protecting him from the Rule 5 draft — though, of course, that will be no decision at all, since he now joins Bradley and Bogaerts as the top position prospects in the organization.
In short, barring an injury or what would seem a wildly unlikely prolonged tailspin, the clock will likely start ticking on his time in Salem. Bradley went up after the All-Star break, and if he sustains anything like what he’s done, Cecchini, too, would appear in line for a similar promotion a few weeks down the road.
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 4-3 WIN AT LOUISVILLE
– Jackie Bradley Jr. continues to offer reminders of why he captivated the Sox during spring training. He went 2-for-4 with a double and walk, and he now has an eight-game hitting streak (three games prior to his stint on the DL for biceps tendinitis and five since coming back), during which he’s 14-for-32 with a line of .438/.526/.688. With Shane Victorino now on the DL and Bradley representing the only healthy Sox minor league outfielder on the 40-man roster, both his roster status and recent performance suggests that he likely will be called up to the big leagues in the coming days, particularly since the Red Sox could use an outfielder capable of playing both right field (where Daniel Nava is currently the only viable option) and center (Jacoby Ellsbury has no real backup right now).
– The yin-and-yang of Allen Webster: The right-hander struggled with his command in a 27-pitch first inning, then blitzed through a 1-2-3 second inning to get his pitch count back on track. Given his ability to get lousy contact with his nasty sinker and changeup, he has the potential to be efficient to the utmost. Yet the fact that he can lose his command at times — that his sinker can get so active that it dives out of the strike zone — and that he gets (when he is at his best) a ton of swings and misses or (when he is off) a ton of foul balls, he also can be vulnerable to pitch inefficiency that raises concerns about his ability to log consistent innings at the big league level, despite obviously big league-caliber stuff.
Friday showed some of both. It also showed progress, coming off some puzzling command struggles in his previous two starts, alternately working like a buzzsaw through an opposing lineup and then falling out of his delivery, trying to overthrow and losing the strike zone dramatically in brief spells. In those two outings, though he gave up just four hits, he permitted nine walks in 10 innings and, according to PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur, showed velocity fluctuations and struggling with pitch efficiency in the process.
That being the case, Friday represented a step forward. Though he struggled with his command in the first, and ultimately threw just 52 of 87 pitches (60 percent) for strikes, Webster limited his walks to just two in a 5 2/3 inning stint and he got stronger as the game progressed, retiring six straight and eight of nine before his outing reached an abrupt halt in the sixth. His fastball sat at 94 mph and touched 97 He would have gone longer, but he got ejected after drilling an opponent in the leg after both teams had been warned by the umpiring crew when a Brock Holt plunking by Louisville starter Armando Galarraga led to enough jawing between the two that the respective benches emptied. Webster did permit a solo homer, his third in seven Triple-A starts.
– Bradley is not the only PawSox outfielder amidst a torrid stretch. Bryce Brentz went 2-for-4 with a walk, and he has eight multi-hit games in his last 14 contests. Over the course of his last 14 games, Brentz has elevated his line from .243/.308/.467 to .280/.331/.494.
– Right-hander Chris Martin continued his outstanding year of bullpen dominance. The stringy 6-foot-7 right-hander fired 2 1/3 scoreless innings, giving up two hits, walking none and punching out four. He’s now worked 7 1/3 shutout innings in Pawtucket after tearing through 21 scoreless frames in Portland to force his promotion. The 26-year-old, in 28 1/3 shutout innings this year, now has 34 punchouts and eight walks.
– Rubby De La Rosa, scratched due to soreness in his intercostal from his Tuesday start, played catch from 60 feet on Thursday and appears likely to progress quickly to a return to the rotation.
DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 10-9 WIN AT BINGHAMTON (METS)
– Third baseman Michael Almanzar continues to build on what has been a striking performance this year. The 22-year-old went 2-for-5 with a triple and a grand slam, his ninth homer of the year. He’s amidst his second power surge of the year, having hit four homers in his last nine games. However, this one was of an unusual ilk, as Almanzar hit an inside-the-park grand slam. He’s now hitting .280/.
– Right-hander Anthony Ranaudo, who pitched at least five innings in each of his first seven starts, encountered some pitch efficiency issues for his second straight start. After he logged four innings on May 18, Ranaudo went 4 2/3 innings on Friday. He allowed just one run while working around four hits, two walks and a hit batter, but he needed 96 pitches (59 strikes, 61 percent strikes) to work just 4 2/3 innings. So, that’s two straight starts in which Ranaudo has had to labor but ultimately limited his opponents’ output.
Still, Ranaudo has been impressive in the consistency with which he’s shut down opponents. He has a 1.70 ERA (14th best in all of minor league baseball), he’s allowed one or no runs in seven of his nine starts and he’s completely stifled opponents (.114/.179/.143) with runners in scoring position. He also has while punching out 9.4 batters per nine and walking 2.8 per nine.
– Shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who had been in a 2-for-17 slump in his previous five games, matched that hit total on Friday, going 2-for-5.
HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 3-2 WIN AT FREDERICK (ORIOLES)
– The streaky Sean Coyle remained in his groove at the plate, going 3-for-5 with a double. The game was his fifth in which he’d reached base multiple times in his last six contests. He’s hitting .435/.500/.652 with two doubles, a homer and four walks in the run.
– Keury De La Cruz continues to show a productive approach with runners on base in an otherwise challenging year. The 21-year-old, for the second straight night, went 1-for-4 with a double and drove in a pair. On the year, he’s hitting .195/.244/.351 with eight extra-base hits when the bases are empty and .297/.323/.473 with 12 extra-base hits with runners on, helping to explain how he ranks fourth in the Carolina League in RBI (29) despite a .250/.287/.417 line on the year. (Of course, having Cecchini hitting in front of him doesn’t hurt, either.)
SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 12-2 WIN AT CHARLESTON (YANKEES)
– Daily Feats of Mookie: Mookie Betts evidently has entered the Matrix, and now operates in a dimension that others struggle to comprehend. The 20-year-old — who did not rank in Baseball America’s top 30 Red Sox prospects entering the year — led off Friday’s game with a solo homer (his eighth of the year) to extend his hitting streak to 18 games, and finished the night having gone 2-for-4 with a double, walk and the aforementioned solo shot. As if to underscore that he has entered a realm that cannot easily be comprehended, one of the hottest hitters in the minors over the last three weeks also elected to drop a sacrifice bunt. During his 18-game hitting streak, Betts is hitting .423/.512/.789 with six homers, 14 extra-base hits, 13 walks and seven strikeouts. Given that he leads the minors in OPS during the stretch, he may want to holster the sac bunt.
– After a pair of relief outings, Justin Haley returned to the rotation with his best start of the year. The 21-year-old right-hander allowed one earned run, punched out eight and walked two in five innings. He has 14 strikeouts and four walks in his last 8 1/3 innings. Though he’s endured severe command woes at times, his stuff is interesting, as evidenced by his 10.6 punchouts per nine this year.
– Shortstop Jose Vinicio went 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles. It was his second three-hit game this year and his third in two seasons in Greenville.
– J.B. Wendelken submitted four dominant innings of relief. The 20-year-old allowed a run while striking out a career-high seven.