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Minor League notebook

Some thievery is being encouraged

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / July 9, 2010

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There’s something unusual going on in the South Atlantic League. The Red Sox have put together a team that thrives on stealing bases.

The Single A Greenville Drive had stolen 129 bases in 165 attempts through Wednesday, both league highs. Manager Billy McMillon, at the behest of organizational base-running coordinator Tom Goodwin, has urged his players to run at will.

“I don’t want them to be afraid to get thrown out, that’s the key,’’ said Goodwin, who has been with the Sox for three years. “They need to learn what they can do and can’t do. I love what those guys are doing.’’

Testing for performance-enhancing drugs is slowly changing baseball, making good defense and speed a bigger part of the game. Fast players are becoming more valuable in the eyes of major league general managers.

Stolen bases were once thought to be too risky, given how many players could hit home runs. Now the steal is considered an effective way to generate offense.

“You see more teams stealing third now than you ever used to,’’ Goodwin said. “Stealing is coming back.’’

Greenville has made it a constant threat. Jeremy Hazelbaker (35 steals), former first-round pick Reymond Fuentes (27), Derrik Gibson (19), Wilfred Pichardo (16), and Vladimir Frias (11) are taking off when they get the chance.

“We’ve never had a team like this before,’’ player development director Mike Hazen said. “It’s a lot of fun to watch. Tom has done a really good job of pushing them to run.’’

Goodwin stole 369 bases in a major league career that ran from 1991 to 2004, he now teaches that skill well.

“It’s about learning the pitcher, how to shift your momentum, how to take a lead, there’s a lot to take in,’’ he said. “We want these guys to make mistakes now so by the time they’re in Boston they won’t.’’

Goodwin has told the players that they do not risk demotion for being caught too many times. The Red Sox will gladly trade a few outs in the cause of player development.

“Gibson is the fastest player on that team and we’re trying to get him to be more aggressive,’’ Goodwin said. “Hazelbaker is a great example of a guy who is stealing a lot of bases and making that part of his game, something that will help him move up.

“You have to hit to get to the majors. But being able to run is another positive that may help you get there a little sooner. It also can keep you on the roster.’’

Goodwin has studied a number of base stealers in the major leagues, looking for tips to help the prospects. He is particularly impressed with Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner.

“The way he leans out over his front leg and goes, he makes it look so easy. There’s a guy who is taking a lot of bags with his technique as well as his natural speed,’’ Goodwin said. “I’m trying to implement some of what he does with our guys.’’

Goodwin spends much of his time with the Single A teams, But at the higher levels of the organization, players such as Pawtucket outfielder Ryan Kalish (19 for 20 this season between Double and Triple A) have made stolen bases part of their game.

“We’re getting there,’’ Goodwin said. “There are some very athletic players in the organization. My message to them is to not be afraid to run. We want you to.’’

Making the adjustment
Lars Anderson hit his way out of Double A Portland this season, but fell into a slump shortly after arriving in Pawtucket. But now come signs that the well-regarded first baseman is figuring out Triple A.

Through Wednesday, Anderson hit .314 (11 of 35) with six doubles, six walks, and six RBIs over a 10-game stretch. That bumped his batting average up to .227.

Big weekend
There is plenty to see and do this weekend when it comes to minor league baseball. It starts tomorrow at Fenway Park with two Single A games.

The annual Futures at Fenway doubleheader will have Lowell playing the Jamestown Jammers at 12:05 p.m., followed by the Salem Red Sox taking on the Potomac Cannons in a Carolina League game.

Gates open at 11 a.m. There are reduced prices for tickets and concessions and plenty of activities for the kids.

Lowell’s roster includes the team’s first two picks from the June draft, infielder Kolbrin Vitek and outfielder Bryce Brentz. The Spinners also feature outfielder Brandon Jacobs.

Salem has a bunch of good prospects, including third baseman Will Middlebrooks, second baseman Oscar Tejeda, catcher Ryan Lavarnway, and righthander Brock Huntzinger.

On Sunday, Salem righthander Stolmy Pimentel will represent the Red Sox in the Futures Games in Anaheim, Calif. Pimentel, a native of the Dominican Republic, will play for the World Team. He is 5-7 with a 4.61 ERA in 17 starts this season.

That game can be seen on ESPN2 at 6 p.m.

Josh Beckett will make a rehabilitation start for Pawtucket Sunday against visiting Syracuse at 1:05. Beckett is expected to throw 80 pitches as he continues his comeback from a back injury.

It will be the first minor league game Beckett has appeared in since 2003. Beckett has never pitched in Triple A. He sailed through the Florida organization in 43 games, making the jump to the majors from Double A.

Beckett had a 1.75 ERA in the minors and struck out 295 in 216 1/3 innings, while allowing 142 hits.

Good and bad
Portland righthander Casey Kelly struck out eight over 5 1/3 innings Wednesday night, his most as a professional. But he also allowed six runs on seven hits to fall to 1-4 with a 5.45 ERA . . . Jose Vinicio, the shortstop from the Dominican Republic who was signed to a $1.95 million bonus last summer, is playing in the Gulf Coast League and hitting .243, with seven errors in his first nine games. He turns 17 tomorrow.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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