A not-so-brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Friday, Saturday and Sunday:
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX:
7-3 LOSS VS. LEHIGH VALLEY (PHILLIES), 15-2 LOSS AT BUFFALO (BLUE JAYS), 10-6 LOSS (WALKOFF, 12 INNINGS) AT BUFFALO
– Garin Cecchini‘s 4-for-9 weekend, which also featured a pair of walks, continued a season-transforming August stretch. The 23-year-old once again is once again showing the swing and approach that earned him a reputation as one of the top pure hitters in the minors entering this season. In 19 games in August, he’s hitting .329 with a .413 OBP and .529 slugging mark, with his 10 extra-base hits are his most in any month since he had 15 in April 2013 with High-A Salem.
Cecchini’s season totals remain disappointing. After hitting .322 with a minor league-leading .443 OBP and .471 mark with 94 walks and 86 strikeouts last year in High-A Salem and Double-A Portland, he’s hitting .257/.336/.367 with 41 walks and 89 punchouts in Pawtucket this year. Yet evaluators remain largely convinced that his ability to stay back and stay inside the ball hasn’t disappeared, that he fell out of his approach for a longer-than-expected stretch from May through July but that the basis of a successful big league hitter remain in place.
“He’s starting to show better balance, he’s staying back a little more. He was starting to get a little bit out in front when things weren’t going his way. Now we’re starting to see him stay with his legs a little more, stay with his base,” PawSox manager Kevin Boles noted last week. “Watching him, we just have to remember what kind of player we have here. All our guys go through this. It’s not a surprise when the younger players, the league makes the adjustment, and then it’s up to them to make the adjustments to the league whenever that happens. Seeing him get off to the hot start, obviously people are aware of him. When he’s in the lineup, no matter where you put him, they’re going to be aware of him and his ability at the plate. He’s handled it well, he’s starting to come out of it and get back to what we saw early on this year.”
His timetable may have been altered. Had Cecchini been enjoying anything like his 2013 campaign in Pawtucket, he likely would be getting a lengthy look in the big leagues during this Red Sox period of evaluation. Instead, he’s figuring things out in Triple-A, trying to position himself to be a contributor sometime in the middle of 2015.
With Xander Bogaerts on the DL, it’s Carlos Rivero — whose positional skills include the ability to play shortstop as well as third base and left field, as opposed to Cecchini, who just plays third and left for now — who received the big league callup. But Cecchini is in a place this month where he’s starting to put his game back in order, where his big league future is once again coming more prominently into view than his Triple-A struggles.
– Jackie Bradley Jr. went 1-for-6 on Sunday, closing out a 3-for-16 weekend in which he did not walk and struck out four times. So far, since being sent down to Triple-A, he’s 7-for-35 with no walks and 10 strikeouts en route to a .200/.200/.286 line.
– Catcher Dan Butler had a pair of three-hit games over the weekend, going 3-for-4 on Friday and 3-for-6 on Sunday.
– Bryce Brentz went 3-for-10 with a homer, triple and walk in two games over the weekend. The 25-year-old has shown plenty of power since his return from roughly two and a half months on the DL, as he’s launched five homers with nine extra-base hits in 17 games since returning to Pawtucket this month en route to a .261/.333/.551 line.
– Left-hander Drake Britton had one of his best outings of the year on Sunday, throwing 2 2/3 perfect innings with three strikeouts to give him three straight scoreless appearances (spanning 5 2/3 innings), the first time since May 8-14 that he’s had such a run this year.
– Edwin Escobar got shelled in his start on Saturday, allowing nine runs (eight earned) on 11 hits (including a homer). Prior to that outing, he had a 1.80 ERA in his first four starts with the PawSox after being traded by the Giants in late-July. Saturday’s struggle more than doubled his ERA, elevating it to 4.28.
DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS:
4-3 WIN, 7-1 WIN, 5-0 WIN VS. NEW HAMPSHIRE (BLUE JAYS)
– Portland had one of the most prospect-loaded teams in the Red Sox system of the last 10 years for much of the first half, with Mookie Betts, Blake Swihart, Henry Owens, Deven Marrero, Sean Coyle, Travis Shaw and Brian Johnson — among others — combining to give the team a number of players with a chance to be impact big leagues. But most of that group (save for Coyle and Johnson) has now graduated to Pawtucket.
It hasn’t matters. The Sea Dogs have won nine straight and have now set a franchise record with 84 wins (and counting), and members of the organization who pass through Portland keep saying the same thing: Billy McMillon‘s teams keep winning.
McMillon, 42, is in his fifth year managing in the Red Sox organization, having spent two years in Single-A Greenville and two in Salem before joining Portland this year. And while he’s certainly seen a number of prospects in that time, the different levels of talent that he’s seen on a year to year basis have typically ended in the same place: With a lot of wins. He has a .555 winning percentage in his five years, and only once has one of his teams finished under .500 — in 2012, when Salem went 68-69. This will be his third year in the playoffs (at three different levels), one year after his Salem team caught fire down the stretch en route to a championship.
Obviously, the players are paramount in the success at a minor league level, but the number of prospects who seemed to thrive under McMillon is noteworthy. He’s been a meaningful part of a winning environment that has been conducive to player development, year after year, building a resume that is gaining notice.
Left-hander Brian Johnson has been dominant throughout this season. (Darrell Snow/Greenville Drive)
– Left-hander Brian Johnson proved dominant on Saturday, allowing just one run on one hit (a solo homer) in seven innings during which he walked two and punched out 10. It was Johnson’s second double-digit strikeout game of the year, putting the New Hampshire lineup on the defensive all night with a solid three-pitch mix (fastball, curveball, change) that yielded a full complement of swings and misses on each pitch type.
The 23-year-old has been dazzlingly consistent this year, particularly after his early-season promotion to Portland. In 19 starts with the Sea Dogs, he’s 10-2 with a 1.83 ERA, 7.8 strikeouts and 2.5 walks per nine innings. His ability to feature three pitches that grade as at least big league average with command that rates as above-average suggests a quality big league starter. The fact that he’s looked like exactly such a pitcher nearly every time he’s taken the mound in Portland suggests that he’s one of the higher probability bets to fulfill such a future in the Red Sox organization, with perhaps only Henry Owens representing a safer bet to enjoy a lengthy future in a big league rotation among the Sox’ ensemble of upper levels pitchers.
– Sean Coyle went 4-for-12 with a homer and a pair of walks. He’s now hitting .303/.380/.513, with his weekend performance having managed to avoid his first dip below .300 since April 19.
– Though he went 1-for-5 and left eight runners on base on Sunday, Keury De La Cruz continued his outrageous month with a 4-for-12 weekend that included a homer and two walks. With an August surge (.366/.446/.620 with four homers and 10 extra-base hits in 20 games), he’s hitting .304/.340/.452 in 63 Double-A games, in a year where his entry into the season was disrupted by a broken wrist suffered in the last game of spring training and where, at 22, he’s still at least a bit young for the level.
De La Cruz’s torrid stretch has put him in an interesting position as a potential candidate to be plucked in the Rule 5 draft if he’s not protected on the 40-man roster this winter. Because he’s a corner outfielder rather than a position player, the chances of being selected are somewhat reduced, but he has a more consistent minor league track record of being able to impact the ball (albeit with a hyperaggressive approach that could be exploited in the big leagues) than Michael Almanzar, the corner infielder whom the Orioles plucked in 2013 after he spent all year in Portland.
– Though a broken hamate at the end of spring training slowed Mike Miller‘s entry into the season, he’s done nothing to compromise the organizational view of him as a potential big league utility player since he returned from the DL. Miller hit .307/.367/.349 in 49 games with High-A Salem, and after a 7-for-12 weekend that included a double and a homer, the 24-year-old is now hitting .328/.394/.453 in 16 Double-A contests. A 2012 ninth-rounder taken as a senior out of Cal Poly, Miller gets raves for his makeup and game acumen.
HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX:
4-3 WIN, 7-4 WIN, 5-4 LOSS VS. WILMINGTON (ROYALS)
– Center fielder Manuel Margot capped his weekend with a 2-for-4 game (which included a double) that snapped a three-game, 0-for-8 stretch. He also worked his first two walks since his promotion to High-A over the weekend. In nine games in the Carolina League, the 19-year-old is now hitting .333/.378/.545.
– Carlos Asuaje went 5-for-7 with a double over Saturday and Sunday, and now has a 10-game hitting streak during which he’s hitting .348/.412/.457. For the year, the versatile 22-year-old is now hitting .313/.390/.540 in 119 games between Greenville and Salem.
– Left-hander Cody Kukuk once again struggled with the strike zone, permitting four walks in three innings (the fourth straight start in which he’s walked four or more), yet he once again proved virtually unhittable, allowing one hit and no runs while punching out six. The 21-year-old has given up two or fewer hits in each of his last five outings, and since the beginning of July, he’s 3-0 with a 1.83 ERA, 11.4 strikeouts and 6.6 walks per nine — with those command woes limiting him to an average of roughly 4 1/3 innings per start in that time.
He has a mid- to high-90s fastball and can get swings and misses with his slider and changeup. That’s a starter’s mix, though his long history of command woes suggests a likely future in the bullpen. Still, there’s a bit of a lottery ticket’s worth of upside (and an equal measure of probability) to the athletic, powerful pitcher, that suggests that if he can even lock in his delivery to the point of throwing strikes with regularity, he could become an impact performer.
– Reed Gragnani had back-to-back three-hit games (that also included a walk) to open the weekend before going 0-for-4 in the final game against Wilmington. The 23-year-old switch-hitter is hitting .303/.410/.402.
SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE:
6-5 WIN, 7-3 WIN, 8-5 WIN VS. SAVANNAH (METS)
Left-hander Trey Ball has seen his season turn around over the last two months. (Darrell Snow/Greenville Drive)
– Left-hander Trey Ball rebounded impressively from a mess of an outing on Aug. 15, when he permitted nine runs (four earned) in two innings, snapping a streak of five straight starts of at least five innings and two or fewer runs. The 20-year-old threw six innings in which he allowed two runs (one earned) on just three hits (a solo homer and two singles) while walking two, striking out four and eliciting 10 groundballs outs. Since the beginning of July, Ball now has a 3.02 ERA in 10 starts, with considerable progress in his ability to control a curveball with an altered grip having played a critical role in his improvement.
Ball entered pro ball with a knuckle curve, but this year, he’s transitioned to a more conventional grip with his fingers on the ball. Over the last couple of months, the change has taken, with the improved ability to throw the curve for strikes resulting in a greater ability to prevent hitters from sitting on the 2013 first-round pick’s low-90s fastball. That improved curveball, along with improved ability over the course of the season to command his fastball, has allowed Ball to hold opponents to a .191 average since the start of July.
– Right-hander Teddy Stankiewicz had his seventh straight start of six-plus innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on six hits (a double, triple and four singles) while striking out four, walking one and firing an impressive 67 of 97 (69 percent) pitches for strikes. The 20-year-old’s willingness to attack the strike zone — he’s walked one or no batters in 17 of his 24 starts, and two or fewer in 21 of his 24 outings — has permitted him to shoulder a workload rarely seen by a Red Sox pitcher in his first full season of pro ball. His 133 1/3 innings this year are the most by a Red Sox pitcher in his first full season of pro ball at age 20 or younger since then-19-year-old Brad Baker threw 137 2/3 innings with Single-A August in 2000, one summer after the Sox drafted him in the first round.
– First baseman Sam Travis went 2-for-5 with a homer on Sunday, bookending a pair of hitless games (in which he was 0-for-7) with his second (Thursday) and third (Sunday) homers since his promotion to Greenville. The 20-year-old, a 2014 second-rounder, is hitting .314/.347/.461 with seven homers and 21 extra-base hits in 60 games to start his pro career.
– Second baseman Wendell Rijo capped a 4-for-11 weekend with a 2-for-4 Sunday that included a pair of doubles to extend his hitting streak to 12 games. Yet perhaps more impressive than the fact that the 18-year-old is collecting hits has been both the approach and the kinds of hits he’s been getting during his run. He’s hitting .326/.442/.581 during the streak with nine walks and just four strikeouts along with six extra-base hits (two homers) and five steals over his last dozen games. Though one of the youngest position players in the league, Rijo has posted a solid across-the-board line of .262/.354/.431.
SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS:
5-2 LOSS, 3-2 WIN, 3-2 WIN AT ABERDEEN (ORIOLES)
– Shortstop Mauricio Dubon went 1-for-4 on Friday and then 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts on Saturday before receiving an off-day on Sunday. The 20-year-old had entered the weekend with four straight multi-hit games. He’s hitting .314/.332/.395 for the season.
– Right-hander Kevin McAvoy is having perhaps the most impressive performance of any of the Red Sox’ pitchers drafted this year. The 21-year-old fired three shutout innings in which he allowed two hits, walked none and punched out five on Friday, lowering his ERA to 2.42 with 19 strikeouts and three walks in 22 1/3 innings spanning nine starts, a strong strikeout-to-walk rate that is complemented by excellent groundball numbers.
– Left-hander Jake Drehoff threw a career-high seven innings, giving up three hits, two walks and no runs with four strikeouts, to earn the win on Saturday. The 22-year-old is 2-1 with a 1.57 ERA in four August starts.
ROOKIE LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE RED SOX:
5-2 LOSS, 3-0 LOSS VS. GCL TWINS
– First-rounder Michael Kopech continued to show swing-and-miss stuff, getting three strikeouts in two innings, but he also allowed a pair of runs on three hits and a walk. He’s issued at least one walk in seven of his eight appearances while garnering multiple strikeouts with the same frequency, resulting in 16 punchouts and nine walks in 13 2/3 innings en route to a 4.61 ERA.
– Third baseman Rafael Devers went 2-for-6 with a double and a walk over the weekend, showing some survival skills at the plate even at a time when the 17-year-old has played a far greater volume of games than at any point in his baseball life. In 39 games in the GCL, he’s hitting .306/.369/.486.
DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX:
POSTPONED (RAIN) VS. DSL YANKEES, CANCELLED (FOG) VS. DSL YANKEES