8/10 Salem Red Sox Update: Vitek, Head, Brentz, and Britton

Good old High-A Salem. The prospects are still far away, but they are close enough to the higher levels that we can dream on them and their potential placement in the Red Sox future. In fact, a few potential major pieces of Boston's future are sitting in Salem right now, and while they haven't played so well we can expect them all to be in Double-A Portland in 2012, they are making progress.

Kolbrin Vitek started the year strong, and lost any power he had in the middle of the season, but is having a strong August, possibly to close out the year on a strong note. Vitek has hit .289/.355/.379 on the season, and .381/.435/.524 in his last 10 games and 42 at-bats. He has kept strikeouts to a minimum in that stretch, hit three doubles and popped a homer, too. 

Vitek hasn't shown consistent power at two levels now, somewhat surprising given it was the lack of a true defensive position that was supposed to be the 22-year-old's problem. It's not even home run power that isnt' showing up, either, as he has just 36 doubles and 10 triples in 754 plate appearances. Those are good, not great numbers, and it makes it so the most promising thing about his 2011 is the drop in strikeout rate to 18 percent despite a promotion. 

Vitek is considered a hitter with solid contact skills who should grow into some power thanks to quick wrists, so he could break out as he ages and puts on a bit more muscle (he is currently 6-foot-2, 195 pounds). It will be interesting to see if Boston keeps him at High-A in 2012, or if they push him to Double-A assuming the power will come as he continues to develop.

*****

Bryce Brentz has brought his power surge from Greenville to Salem, as he's hitting .259/.319/.560 with 15 homers in 216 plate appearances at High-A. Part of the reason his batting average dropped 100 points after the promotion was his strikeout rate, which jumped from 18.8 percent to 25 percent. While his 8.3 percent walk rate isn't ideal, and Brentz has to work on his plate discipline, it's actually slightly better than what he did at Greenville, so at least he hasn't been worse in that regard after a promotion.

Brentz is working on finishing the season strong, as he's hit .275/.348/.625 with four homers in his last 10 games. Much like Josh Reddick, Brentz may be a player who is able to shoot through the minors, but will eventually have his free-swinging ways be challenged by tougher pitchers. (In fact, Brentz even chases the same stuff Reddick had problems with: high fastballs and curveballs off of the plate.) Of course, if he adjusts to that anything like Reddick has, Brentz is going to have a lot of fans in Boston in a few years.

*****

Miles Head destroyed the ball at Greenville, hitting .338/.409/.612 with 15 homers and 41 extra-base hits in 263 at-bats, but Salem has been a harsher mistress. Head has struck out 23 percent of the time after whiffing just 17 percent of the time, and has produced a line of just .253/.321/.390 with just three homers. He has been better as of late, hitting .289/.386/.526 in his last 10 games, but the promotion has thus far been disappointing.

Head doesn't project to be the kind of massive power hitter he displayed himself as for Greenville, as his bat speed is not exceptional, and is something of a mistake hitter. This isn't to say he is bad, but don't confuse him with the departed Anthony Rizzo just because he had a monster half-season at Greenville.

*****

Drake Britton's 2011 continues to be something of a lost season, but there have been flashes of the Britton we've been excited about in the past. In July, Britton struck out 23 batters in 17-2/3 innings, while walking just five batters. Post All-Star game, Britton has 31 strikeouts against 11 walks in 22 innings pitched, but he also has an ERA of 6.55. Minor league pitcher ERA is pretty much the last thing to look at, of course, but just know things haven't been infinitely easier for him just because he's finally finding the strike zone. 

My one concern here is that he hasn't necessarily recovered his command, but is pounding the strike zone too much in order to avoid walks. There is a difference between throwing strikes and throwing quality strikes, and with Britton still giving up homers and lots of flyballs, I would believe he's throwing more of the former than the latter, especially since opponents are hitting .315 off of him in the second half.

Of course, I haven't seen him pitch with Salem, so I can't confirm this, but the available data suggests it. He'll have to solve that problem before he can leave High-A, but, despite his struggles, he is talented enough that Boston likely won't leave him unprotected for the Rule 5 draft this winter.

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