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Thursday, May 1, 2014
Farm notes: Betts soars up the charts

By Mike Andrews, SoxProspects.com

As of May 1, Double-A Portland second baseman Mookie Betts leads all of minor league baseball with a .430 batting average. His full slash line is .430/.481/.688 with 10 doubles, 4 homes runs, and 10 stolen bases, which follows up a breakout 2013 season in which he hit .314/.417/.506 with 36 doubles, 15 home runs, and 38 stolen bases between Low-A Greenville and High-A Salem. Including last season, Betts has reached base in 52 consecutive games as of the close of April.

In addition to his offensive prowess, the 21-year-old also plays plus defense at second base, and may be capable of moving to shortstop, left field, or center field in the future if need be. Betts has skyrocketed up the prospect charts, and at anything even close to this pace will be ranked among the top prospects in all of baseball by season’s end.

TOP PROSPECTS

Center fielder Jackie Bradley graduated from prospect status on April 25, and shortstop Xander Bogaerts is slated to graduate from prospect status on May 2.

Here’s how the other top position prospects in the system fared offensively in April.

Notes: Garin Cecchini continues to put the bat on the ball, and has maintained an excellent plate approach despite being assigned to Triple-A Pawtucket at the age of 22 (he’s since turned 23), but the lack of added power in his fourth year in the system has some scouts concerned it may not come ... On the other hand, Christian Vazquez continues to impress scouts enough with his offense, where the defensive wizard might now be considered a potential future starting option for a first-division club ... At 18, Wendell Rijo is the seventh-youngest player in all of Low-A ball ... Rafael Devers turned some heads with his present power and makeup in spring training, but at 17 will likely open his season in the Rookie-Level Gulf Coast League.

Here are the lines for the system’s top pitching prospects from April.

Notes: Henry Owens opened the Portland season with a rain-shortened no-hitter on April 3 and followed that up with 6.2 scoreless innings on April 9, but has struggled with command and control over his last three starts ... Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo have both been inconsistent to start their 2014 campaigns, issues that have plagued them for the past few years ... Matt Barnes missed the first three weeks of the season with right shoulder tenderness ... Trey Ball, Boston first-round pick in 2014, was promoted from extended spring training to Low-A Greenville on April 26 ... Drake Britton hasn’t let up many runs to start the season, but his velocity has been down a tick and he’s struggled with control.

OTHER TOP PERFORMERS

Other top hitting performers have been Greenville infielder Carlos Asuaje, hitting .352/.477/.606, and Salem outfielder Kevin Heller, posting a line of .312/.450/.562. An 11th-round pick in 2013, Asuaje impressed with his bat, glove, and versatility in spring training, earning himself a spot as a regular on the Drive’s roster.

On the pitching front, the other top performers have included Pawtucket right-hander Rubby De La Rosa, Portland right-hander Keith Couch, Greenville left-hander Cody Kukuk, and Salem left-hander Corey Littrell.

De La Rosa has made five starts for the PawSox, going 1-1 with a 2.28 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 25 strikeouts, and 7 walks in 27.2 innings. He’s been able to throw strikes with his fastball, changeup, and slider, and hasn’t given up a lot of hard contact.
Given the early returns, De La Rosa may be next in line if an opportunity presents itself in the major league rotation.

Couch has opened his second season in Portland in dominant fashion, going 4-0 with a 2.48 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 25 strikeouts, and 5 walks in 29 innings over 5 starts. The 24-year-old relies on a solid low-90s sinker, an average curveball, and a decent low-80s changeup. An unheralded 13th-round pick in 2010, he has posted solid numbers throughout his time in the organization.

Kukuk, also repeating a level in 2014, is 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 29 walks, and 12 strikeouts in 24.0 innings. If he continues to maintain improved control as he has early on this season, he should get a bump up to High-A Salem before the All-Star Break.

Littrell, 22, is in his first full professional season after being selected in the fifth round in 2013 and thereafter posting a 1.74 ERA in 12 games with Short-A Lowell. In 2014, he’s 2-1 with a 2.60 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 29 strikeouts, and 10 walks in 27.2 innings with Salem. The polished lefty has a mix of four solid-average pitches. His fastball now sits in the 88-92 mph range, after topping out in the mid-90s in college. He could move quickly through the system, especially if his velocity returns to previous levels.

ORGANIZATIONAL LEADERS

As of May 1 (cumulative stats, minor league only, min. 75 plate appearances or 20 innings pitched for non-counting stats)

AVG
1. Mookie Betts, .430
2. Brock Holt, .358
3. Carlos Asuaje, .352

OPS
1. Mookie Betts, 1.169
2. Carlos Asuaje, 1.083
3. Kevin Heller, 1.012

HR
1(t). Mookie Betts, 4
1(t). Bryce Brentz, 4
1(t). Travis Shaw, 4
1(t). Kevin Mager, 4

SB
1. Mookie Betts, 10
2. Manuel Margot, 7
3(t). Ryan Dent, 5
3(t). Shannon Wilkerson, 5
3(t), Matty Johnson, 5

ERA
1. Cody Kukuk, 1.88
2. Rubby De La Rosa, 2.28
3. Keith Couch, 2.48

Strikeouts/9 IP
1. Brian Johnson, 11.57
2. Cody Kukuk, 10.88
3. Mickey Pena, 10.32

Walks/9 IP
1. Keith Couch, 1.55
2. Mike McCarthy, 1.74
3. Mike Augliera, 1.88

Saves
1(t). Drake Britton, 2
1(t). Alex Wilson, 2
1(t). Jose Valdez, 2
1(t). Joe Gunkel, 2
1(t). Jonatahn Aro, 2

PLAYER MOVEMENT

Two players got the call to Boston from the minor leagues in April: IF Brock Holt and RHP Alex Wilson. Meanwhile, Holt, Wilson, Workman, IF Ryan Roberts, and OF Daniel Nava were all sent down to Pawtucket from Boston over the course of the month.

Three major-leaguers had rehab assignments in April: Craig Breslow, Shane Victorino, and Will Middlebrooks.

Minor-leaguers who received promotions included RHP Pat Light from Greenville to Salem and Ball from extended spring training to Greenville.

Mike Andrews is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of SoxProspects.com and a special contributor to ESPNBoston.com.