Double-A Portland isn't loaded with can't-miss prospects, but it does have its share of minor leaguers worth paying attention to, in case they do start to impress as their tools suggest they could. That's mostly the focus for this week's update from Portland, as we look at three players who maybe haven't hit the expectations of either the front office or fans just yet in 2012.
Kolbrin Vitek - 3B
Vitek was Boston's first overall selection in the 2010 amateur entry draft, but to this point he's been something of a disappointment in terms of results. He's never been outright bad, and has displayed some decent plate discipline, but he's 23 and without a hint of power in his game to this point. (To give that some perspective, many were impatient with Ryan Kalish's development, and he was in the majors at age 22 after slugging .502 between Double- and Triple-A.)
He still hasn't filled out entirely, and that's certainly part of it. He's hit for average in addition to the patience he's displayed, but he'll need to put on some muscle in order to drive the ball. This is doubly important, given Vitek might not stick at third base -- more will be expected of his bat in the outfield than at the hot corner. Double-A is a real test for Vitek, and it's important that some progress is seen.
Jeremy Hazelbaker - CF
Hazelbaker has fallen off of prospect lists, but that's something we should have seen coming. In Baseball Prospectus 2011, his numbers were described as being able to, "tell you everything you need to know-he's a low-average hitter with some power who could lead the world in strikeouts with enough playing time." Last year in High-A Salem, Hazelbaker struck out 24 percent of the time before moving up to Double-A Portland, a level more befitting his age. Once there, he still hit a bit (.266/.350/.435), but he also saw his punch out rate climb to 26 percent.
He's back down to 23 percent this year, but he hasn't hit much yet either. The stolen bases are exciting (63 of them in 2010, and 47 in 2011), but he'll have to keep getting on base to get them. Hazelbaker is strange, since he's old for the level and the Red Sox didn't force the issue with a promotion to Pawtucket (although, to be fair, Pawtucket was so full of outfielders that Juan Carlos Linares was demoted out of necessity). He's hit .262/.344/.422 in 105 games and 462 plate appearances at Double-A, with 26 percent strikeouts and 10 percent walks.
It's too early to assume he'll be nothing, but at the same time, he hasn't shown quite enough to be excited about a career in the majors, either. He's the average age for someone in the Eastern League, so the time is now to show us one way or another.
Aaron Kurcz - RP
Kurcz was the second portion of the compensation for the departed Theo Epstein, and to this point, he's shown off the best and worst of his qualities. On the positive side, he's striking out over 12 batters per nine innings, allowed one homer, and has twice as many punch outs as free passes. On the negative side, he only has twice as many punch outs as free passes, despite striking out over 12 batters per nine, and whether due to luck, the defense behind him, or an inability to put the ball where he wants to consistently, he's giving up nearly 11 hits per nine innings pitched. That ERA is ugly, but his Run Average is even uglier.
It's 10 innings of relief from a pitcher at Double-A who is missing a ton of bats, though, so perspective is necessary. He's all of 21 years old, at the same level where we just gave Hazelbaker a break for being the league-average 24 years old. His fastball has plenty of life and velocity, and he might not know where it's going yet, but there's time to work on that.