6/8 Salem Sox Update

Yes, the draft took up the beginning of the week, but those guys won't be in uniform for a while. We can focus on some of last year's (or even older) picks by taking a peek at what the High-A Salem Sox have been up to as of late. Many of these names will be new, thanks to promotions that bumped a few players up to Double-A; whether that is a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen.

Kolbrin Vitek's slow descent into a poor season continues. Vitek, who hit .341/.396/.500 in April, had an awful May (.240/.316/.300) and has hit just .179/.304/.205 over his last 10 games. The right-hander has been hitting lefties (764 OPS) better than righties (a dismal 686 OPS), but neither line inspires confidence.

Of course, he is also just 21 years old and at an age-appropriate level, so this isn't the time to hit the panic button by any means. He has less than a year of pro experience under his belt at this point, and has at least shown flashes of the kind of hitter he could become. It would be good to see him change course and get back to hitting even a little, though, before this one month speed bump turns into a trend.

***

Junichi Tazawa turned 25 years old two days ago, but is in High-A thanks to recovery from Tommy John surgery. The righty appeared in six games in Boston before going down, and while his performance was atrocious, the injury is considered at least partially to be at fault.

I say "partially", because the recovering Tazawa hasn't exactly inspired confidence in his first few appearances back from the injury. He has gone 12 1/3 innings in his four appearances, and has an 8.76 Run Average, eight punch outs against six free passes, and three homers allowed already. He has also allowed far more flyballs than grounders, not that that tidbit is a surprise given he has served up three bombs already.

It's his time to get back into the flow of things, but that doesn't mean he had to pitch just like he did last time he was on the mound. Tazawa is very low on the depth chart, and chances are good the next time he is in the majors he will be a reliever, but that doesn't make his being beat down by kids fresh out of school any easier to take.

***

Drake Britton still can't put it together, thanks to command that has been all over the place. He has just 31 strikeouts in 44 innings pitched after punching out over a batter per inning last year in Single-A, and also has 28 walks alongside that for cringe-worthy K/BB ratio.

Amazingly, the opposition isn't hitting him often--he has allowed a .226 batting average despite the low strikeout rate--but they are hitting him hard, as evidenced by the 1.4 homer rate. Of course, when your command is shot, and the hitter knows you have to throw fastball in a hitter's count, the ball is going to travel a long way. 

Britton was probably the #2 pitching prospect in the system behind Anthony Ranaudo coming into the year, but he is going to have a hard time holding onto that if he continues to pitch like this. Last year was the only time he didn't struggle with his walk rate, so this isn't anything new, but he will need to continue to make adjustments so he doesn't beat himself.

***

The 22-year-old Dominican Anatanaer Batista has done a fine job out of the Salem pen this year, with 34 whiffs in 32 1/3 innings against 12 walks. He has kept the ball in the yard, allowing one homer in that stretch, and has done so despite having an average G/F ratio. 

The right-hander has been tougher against righties than lefties--he has induced his grounders against right-handers, giving him more ways to get outs--but he has pitched well against both. He has been in the Red Sox system since 2005 when he was signed as an international free agent, and hasn't had very much success overall, but has shown some progress the last three seasons by striking out more than a batter per inning and keeping his walks to a manageable level. 

We will have to see him against tougher (and older) competition, but consider him another one of those random organizational arms like Cesar Cabral who may find a use at the MLB level at some point, as long as they keep missing bats at every level.

Speaking of Cabral, his first few innings at Double-A have not gone nearly as well as his High-A ones, but that's a story for another update.

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