When Mario Alcantara signed with the Red Sox out of the Dominican Republic in 2009, he was only 16 years old.
He had a good body and a good delivery.
His fastball rang up on the radar gun at 88 miles per hour.
Lowell Spinners pitching coach Walter Miranda saw room for improvement.
“He kept getting stronger and stronger and his delivery got better,” Miranda said. “He’s a strong kid, power pitcher. He’s still working like every other kid. He’s still working on his delivery. That’s the hardest thing for a young pitcher — repeating delivery.
“But he’s doing well. He has better command with his fastball now and his secondary pitches are coming along. It’s still a work in progress, but he has a great fastball, downhill, 97 miles per hour tops.”
Miranda sees a higher ceiling for all of the pitchers in the Spinners’ baby-faced rotation.
Jamie Callahan doesn’t turn 19 until Aug. 24. Sergio Gomez will celebrate his 20th birthday on the same day. At 21, Simon Mercedes is almost the old man in the rotation.
Their youth makes them malleable.
“They’re willing to learn and they’re so hungry to learn,” Miranda said. “We got those guys when they were 16, 17, 18. There’s not enough room for bad habits. They’re going to accept all coaching, they’re going to learn our philosophy. They’re hungry, they want to learn and we as coaches take advantage of that.”
Through three starts this season in the New York-Penn League, Alcantara is 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA, but the strongest sign of progress is his 11 strikeouts in 14 innings.
“He gets a lot of swings and misses on his fastball because it has a lot of late life,” Miranda said.
It’s also a sign of kids with potential growing into men.
“When those kids develop their bodies, mature their bodies and mature mentally and they get a good confidence level, they let their fastball go,” said Miranda.
Gomez has been the most impressive, fanning 20 in 15⅔ innings with a 1.15 ERA.
“He’s being aggressive, using all his pitches, attacking the strike zone with his fastball,” said Miranda. “To be a major league pitcher, you’ve got to be able to command your fastball and that’s something that we do in the minor leagues, we emphasize fastball command. We want to develop power pitchers. To be able to pitch for the Red Sox at Fenway you better be a power pitcher with a power mentality and that’s what we do.”
That mentality is easy to instill, Miranda said, when working with a clean slate.
When he was drafted by the Red Sox in 2012, TyButtrey was considered perhaps the team’s second-best pick even though he was taken in the fourth round.
“Coming from high school, my mechanics were kind of raw,” he said. “Everyone’s got good habits and bad habits, but I definitely feel like I was able to show them what I had. And it wasn’t so much like them changing things around, they just kind of fine-tune you and keep the repetition of having the right mechanics.
“It’s a hard process. There’s a lot that goes into that simple delivery than people may think. It’s hours of work and just constantly trying to repeat it and get better every time.”
Since being optioned to Triple A Pawtucket to work on his swing, third baseman Will Middlebrooks is hitting .324 with four home runs and 13 RBIs in eight games.
He tied a PawSox record by driving in eight runs Wednesday against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, going 4 for 5 with two home runs.
“A number of good swings,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “Obviously, the two home runs, the eight RBIs, all those add up to his bat path through the strike zone when he’s at his best. A couple home runs to straightaway center and right-center, obviously a very good day for him.
Still, Farrell said there was no timetable for when Middlebrooks might return to Boston.
“As it was outlined to Will when he was optioned down, he’s on option,” Farrell said. “It’s very different than a rehab assignment where there’s an end date in mind. He’s there to get on the roll that we are confident he will.”
Three to watch
Luis Diaz, Greenville: The 21-year-old Venezuelan took a no-hitter into the sixth inning June 30 against Kannapolis and ultimately struck out nine over 7⅓ innings of one-hit ball, earning him South Atlantic League player of the week honors.
Keury De La Cruz, Salem: The 21-year-old outfielder has driven in at least one run in each of his last seven games. He leads the Carolina League with 62 RBIs and ranks in the top 10 with a .296 average.
Travis Shaw, Portland: After hitting .282 with 10 RBIs in April, the 23-year-old first baseman endured a deep slump that sank his average to .210 by mid-June. But he’s found his stroke of late, hitting .309 with six homers and 16 RBIs in his last 20 games, including a two-homer night July 2 against Trenton.
Off to Futures
Xander Bogaerts and Anthony Ranaudo will represent the Red Sox in the Futures Game during the major league All-Star festivities at Citi Field in New York. Bogaerts shredded through 56 games in Double A Portland, hitting .311 with 12 doubles, six triples, six home runs, 35 RBIs, 40 runs, and five steals before being called up to Pawtucket in mid-June. Bouncing back after an injury-plagued 2012, Ranaudo (8-2, 2.68 ERA) is second in the Eastern League with 91 strikeouts . . . Greenville third baseman Mario Martinez ended June on a tear, hitting .362 in the final 11 games of the month with two home runs and 14 RBIs.