The intention heading into last night's Portland Sea Dogs game was to cover Junichi Tazawa's rehabilitation start with the team today, but, as you will see (if you haven't already, Tazawa didn't give us very much to cover. Consider this extra content a bonus for having to sit through yesterday's contest, assuming you turned on NESN in time to view the carnage.
Tazawa made his first start with Double-A Portland last night, another step on the road back from Tommy John surgery that cost him the 2010 season. As last night showed, though, sometimes that road is covered in gigantic potholes and puddles that cause the pitcher to veer wildly out of control. After giving up just one run in his final 12 innings at High-A Salem, Tazawa looked as awful as he ever has against the New Britain Rock Cats, giving up six runs on two walks, a hit batsmen, a wild pitch, and three hits (all well struck and on meatball pitches in the middle of the zone) in just two-thirds of an inning pitched.
He induced one groundball that maybe would have been an out that would have reduced the damage if normal starting third baseman Will Middlebrooks had been playing, but he is in Low-A Lowell rehabbing from an injury at the moment. Otherwise, this was Tazawa self-destructing on the mound, and on television, no less.
There is still some hope that this is just part of the rehab process -- his curveball had life on it, though the strike zone eluded him with it -- but things are not looking good right now in terms of his helping out the Red Sox in 2011.
Last night's game wasn't all bad, of course. Chih-Hsien Chiang, who was selected along with Middlebrooks to represent the Red Sox in this year's Futures Game during the All-Star break, went deep for the home run number 13 on the year. Chiang, a Taiwanese-born outfielder, is hitting .297/.366/.612 on the year in his age-23 campaign. While normally there would be some allowance for the quality of competition Chiang is used to, he has been in the Red Sox organization since 2006, so time may have run out on that particular excuse.
Chiang, who was a second baseman until this year, has never hit enough to get much notice while in the Red Sox organization. It's tough to say how much of this is just being a little old for the level and repeating and how much is actual development. The fact that he is going to the Futures Game suggests the Red Sox believe there may be something there, as teams tend to showcase prospects at the contest, not just the ones who are having the best year statistically. Then again, he has just 18 walks in 231 plate appearances (7.8 percent), so the power is going to need to stick if he is to have some value.
With all of the injuries and promotions in Pawtucket's outfield, Chiang may find himself there later this year. Like current teammate Jeremy Hazelbaker, the real test will come when he is challenged to repeat his success against tougher competition.
Saudi Arabian born Alex Wilson continues to pitch well, though he's in his second stint at Portland and is 24 years old. Regardless, his second 70-plus inning stint has gone much better than the first, with his K/9 jumping from 6.4 to 8.1, and his walk rate dropping from 3.9 to 3.0 -- that gives Wilson a 2.7 K/BB ratio, a large jump from last year's below-average 1.7 mark.
He has been excellent over his last 10 starts, going 55 innings with 51 punch outs against 19 walks (2.7 K/BB again) while allowing 19 runs for a 3.11 Run Average in that stretch. He hasn't shown much in the way of platoon split problems this year -- while lefties hit him more often, they aren't hitting him harder, as he has allowed three homers to both sides of the plate. Wilson looks like he may be in line for a promotion to Pawtucket if there is room in that rotation. Considering Matt Fox has made 10 starts this year, we'll say yes, yes there is room in the rotation, and figures to be more if someone like Kyle Weiland ends up in Boston's bullpen down the stretch.
Alex Hassan is an intriguing prospect. He certainly has patience, as he has posted a career minor league on-base percentage of .407 despite hitting "just" .302 there, but the Milton, Massachusetts native hasn't shown a ton of power at any level. He does have excellent plate discipline, there is no denying that, and he controls the strike zone well (44 strikeouts against 49 walks this year). There is the urge to compare him to Kevin Youkilis, as the Portland Sea Dogs announcers did in last night's game, but when comps aren't perfect, there isn't any reason to use them.
I'm not sure this one is perfect, either. There is a very real chance we just want Hassan to be Youkilis, because hey, why wouldn't we want another one of those guys who is going to come into their power and be one of the top hitters in the majors after impressive displays of plate discipline in the minors?
That isn't to say Hassan isn't worth paying attention to, just that we should look at him for who he is instead of who we want him to be. It makes for clearer and more realistic projections. He knows the strike zone, and can do some damage with pitches that he swings at, and can avoid the strikeout. There is a lot to like there, even if he hasn't made his way onto any top prospects lists.
Hassan was drafted in 2009, and has never struggled at any level. He has always put up very similar lines from level-to-level and year-to-year, and for this, he should be commended. He's 23 years old in the Eastern League right now (read: the same age as Ryan Kalish and one year younger than Josh Reddick), so, like Wilson, I'm interested in seeing what he does when he climbs that last rung of the minor league ladder.