Left-hander Brian Johnson recorded a career-high 12 strikeouts on Friday. (Greenville Drive/Darrell Snow)
A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Friday:
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 10-2 WIN AT SCRANTON/WILKES-BARRE (YANKEES)
– Feats of Mookie: Being Mookie. Mookie Betts went 4-for-5 with a double and walk. The four-hit game was his third of the year and his seventh of the last two years; the contest marked the fifth time that he’s reached base five times in a game. After going 0-for-4 in his first game back in Pawtucket, Betts has a five-game hitting streak in which he’s 10-for-23 with two doubles, a triple and two walks. In 83 minor league games this year, he’s hitting .347 with a .436 OBP and .520 slugging mark.
– Right-hander Anthony Ranaudo had yet another strong performance, tossing six shutout innings in which he allowed three hits (a double and two singles) while walking two and punching out four. In 13 starts since May 15, Ranaudo has been among the most effective starters in the minors, going 9-2 with a 1.58 ERA, 7.0 strikeouts per nine and 2.9 walks per nine while holding opponents to a .186 average and averaging just over six innings a start.
Ranaudo is now at 119 1/3 innings this year. Aside from having gotten hit by a pair of line drives this year, he’s looked the part of a durable rotation member. Though his 2012 season was derailed by groin and then shoulder injuries, that now appears to be something of an outlier in his pro career, which has seen Ranaudo deliver 127 innings in 2011, 140 innings in 2013 and now on a pace to assume perhaps 160 innings this year. Combine that with the fact that his execution and understanding of what he’s doing on the mound continue to take strides forward and you have a pitcher who, even without top-of-the-charts stuff, looks like he has at least a solid likelihood of being a valuable contributor to a team — at least an innings-eating back-end starter, with a possible mid-rotation ceiling — for some time to come.
– Ryan Lavarnway continued his ascent through the minor league ranks during his rehab assignment. He rejoined Pawtucket and caught on Friday (he picked off a runner) while going 1-for-2 with a pair of walks and a pair of runs. He’s now 7-for-18 with a double, a homer and four walks in six games spanning three levels.
– First baseman Travis Shaw had his third straight multi-hit game, going 2-for-5 with a pair of doubles. The 24-year-old has reached base in all 21 games in July, hitting .346/.435/.577 with 10 extra-base hits.
DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 1-0 WIN AT NEW BRITAIN (TWINS)
– Left-hander Brian Johnson announced himself as a prospect on Friday night, allowing one hit (an infield single) in seven innings while walking three and striking out a career-high 12. Though he threw strikes with just 59 of his 99 pitches (60 percent), Johnson elicited 18 swings and misses — six each on his fastball, curve and changeup, averaging 91 mph and topping out at 93. Of his 21 outs, 16 were via groundball or punchout.
In 15 starts since his promotion to Double-A Portland, Johnson is now 9-2 with an Eastern League-leading 2.13 ERA. The huge strikeout total represented something of an aberration, as Johnson’s previous career high was eight, and even with the effort, he’s at 7.9 punchouts per nine innings. Still, he shows the ability to carve the strike zone with four pitches, is comfortable in his own skin at 89-92 mph with his fastball thanks to his ability to locate and change speeds with his changeup, curve and slider and, in his second full pro season, the 23-year-old is demonstrating a frequent ability to deliver six or more innings.
His emergence, in turn, as a high probability starting pitching prospect with a mid-rotation ceiling and back-of-the-rotation floor could permit the Sox to deal from their wealth of starting pitching prospects in order to sweeten a package should they try to turn some of their rental players into young impact talent before the trade deadline.
– Catcher Blake Swihart went 3-for-4 to break through the .300 barrier. The switch-hitter is now hitting .304/.357/.492, including .395/.429/.658 in his last 10 games.
– Sean Coyle went 1-for-2 with a double and walk. After having just three walks and 20 strikeouts in his first 16 games of July, Coyle seems to be re-establishing a more disciplined approach that has netted him walks in three of the last four games, a span in which he’s 3-for-11 with a double, a homer and just two strikeouts.
– Right-hander Noe Ramirez retired all six batters he faced for his 11th save in as many chances.
HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 6-0 WIN VS. MYRTLE BEACH (RANGERS)
– Left-hander Cody Kukuk had a stunning outing, firing six shutout innings, allowing two hits (both singles), walking one and punching out a career-high 10. The 21-year-old sat at 93 mph and topped out at 97, with his 15 swings and misses spread evenly across his fastball, slider and changeup. He threw strikes with 57 of his 86 pitches, and showed once again his capacity to dominate if (big IF) throwing strikes, something that Kukuk has done with noticeably greater frequency this month. In five starts in July, Kukuk is 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA, 30 strikeouts and nine walks in 23 innings. He’s walked three or fewer batters in all five of those outings, and has issued just two free passes in his last 11 innings spanning two starts.
For the year, Kukuk is averaging 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings, the best rate of any Red Sox starter, with the sort of electricity in his arm that is unmatched in the system, but with a walk rate (6.3 walks per nine) that suggests he still has a considerable amount of work to harness his talent.
SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 5-2 LOSS AT LAKEWOOD (PHILLIES)
– Though left-hander Trey Ball absorbed the loss to drop to 1-8, the 20-year-old left-hander continued his run of strong performances. He permitted four runs (two earned) on six hits (four singles, a double and triple) in six innings, walking just one while punching out three. He recorded eight groundball outs while averaging 91 mph and topping out at 95 — a mark he hadn’t been hitting to this point in the year — and recorded five swings and misses with his fastball, a pitch that he threw for strikes at will (37 of 48 for strikes — 77 percent), on a night where he sailed through his six innings in just 71 pitches.
The month of July has thus represented a considerable step forward in the 2013 first-rounder’s performance. In 25 innings, he has a 3.24 ERA with 19 strikeouts and seven walks while holding opponents to a .196 average — a considerable improvement from the first three months, during which he had a 7.27 ERA.
– Second baseman Wendell Rijo added to the arguably the most impressive stretch of his career, going 1-for-2 with his third homer in five games along with two walks. The 18-year-old is hammering the ball at a .290/.366/.629 clip with 11 extra-base hits in 17 games this month, showing power beyond anything he’d previously demonstrated in his relatively brief pro career.
SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 7-4 WIN VS. HUDSON VALLEY (RAYS)
– Recently signed former indy leaguer Aaron Wilkerson had a dominant performance, tossing seven innings in which he allowed a run on four hits while walking one and striking out six. In 13 innings, the possessor of the NAIA record for the longest winning streak and longest consecutive scoreless innings streak has a 1.38 ERA with 13 strikeouts and three walks.
– Third baseman Jordan Betts slammed his sixth homer of the season and drove in five runs. The 22-year-old is hitting .302/.341/.535.
ROOKIE LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE RED SOX: 5-3 WIN AT GCL TWINS
– Shortstop Michael Chavis, the team’s first-round pick this year, had his first multi-hit game as a pro, going 2-for-3 with a double.
– The irrepressible Rafael Devers went 2-for-4 and drove in a pair of runs. The 17-year-old is hitting .379/.431/.586 with seven extra-base hits and 14 RBIs in 16 games.
– Bryce Brentz went 0-for-4 with a walk and two strikeouts in the third game of his rehab assignment. He’s 1-for-8.
DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: 5-2 WIN VS. DSL MARINERS
– Jhonathan Diaz, a 17-year-old left-hander from Venezuela, posted his third straight scoreless start, tossing five innings and allowing three hits and a walk while punching out four. In his last three starts Diaz has 15 scoreless innings; indeed, he’s thrown five or more scoreless innings in all but one of his last six starts. He’s 4-2 with a 1.55 ERA, 37 strikeouts and 11 walks in 46 1/3 innings.
– Roldani Baldwin went 3-for-4, his third straight multi-hit game and fourth in five games. The 18-year-old is hitting .297/.361/.442, including .346/.419/.531 in July.