Bryce Brentz, RF
Brentz's season line isn't much to look at just yet. He's whiffing 30 percent of the time, and hasn't shown the kind of crazy power that brought him all of the attention in the first place a year ago. Add to that the five percent walk rate, and it's fair to be underwhelmed by this early-season performance.
He's been hitting better as of late, though. Over his last 10 games, Brentz has a line of .316/.333/.579 with two homers as well as six of his nine extra-base hits for the season. He struck out at a 25 percent clip in that stretch, too -- still a bit higher than you'd like, but certainly better than where he was at prior.
Brentz has huge power, some of the most potential for that specific skill in the system. But he'll need to work on his plate discipline, like Will Middlebrooks and Josh Reddick before him, if he wants to keep moving up the ladder effectively. This recent stretch is a solid start, but given he's walked just one time in the last 10 games, he's not exactly at the developmental finish line for Portland, either.
Chris Balcom-Miller, SP
Balcom-Miller was just okay for Double-A Portland last season, and that's one reason he's at the level yet again. His strikeout rates dipped a bit, his walk rates rose, and he seemed hittable for the first time in his professional career. It wasn't an unexpected struggle, as Balcom-Miller had relied heavily on his fastball to that point, as pitchers with quality fastballs can in the lower levels.
The problems have continued to begin 2012, but he's rattled off two solid starts in row, with eight strikeouts against five walks in 12 innings. He's still an extreme groundball pitcher, too, with nearly four times as many ground outs as fly outs, and an ability to induce them against batters of either handedness.
Chris Mellen of Sox Prospects saw Balcom-Miller recently:
Right-handed pitcher Chris Balcom-Miller's fastball shows excellent run and sink, but during the majority of his time in Double-A last season he struggled to reel in the pitch. Often he had trouble commanding the offering consistently the times I saw him last season. In this most recent start, Balcom-Miller showed much better feel for the pitch. Clocking his fastball at 88-90 mph for most of the outing, it displayed strong sink when he threw it across the plate and ran hard arm-side when he worked that portion of the plate. He consistently kept his arm in slot and generated solid leverage when delivering the ball. With a large majority of his fastballs in the lower tier of the strike zone or dropping out of it, opposing batters could do little but pound it into the ground as he churned efficiently through the lineup.
That's the Balcom-Miller he'll need to be all the time if he wants to stick as a starter. Progress is slow, but there, with his change-up, but at this point, with a failure to get that slider to be anything of use, he's starting to look like a two-pitch righty who can get grounders and some strikeouts out of the pen. That's not a bad thing, though, especially in exchange for a very busted Manny Delcarmen.
Aaron Kurcz, RP
Speaking of right-handed relievers, Aaron Kurcz has shown an ability to miss bats. Despite walking nearly five batters per nine, the 21-year-old has a K/BB of three. Most of the damage against him came in one appearance, as he allowed three walks, a homer, and six earned runs in 2-2/3 innings on April 16.
Besides that -- not that you can simply erase that appearance from the record -- Kurcz has been great. He's struck out lefties and righties at an equal pace, but also handed out free passes with the same disregard for handedness. He hasn't been dominating by any means, but he's showing off his live arm, and missing a ton of bats. If he could just miss the strike zone a little less often, the Red Sox might have something here with this 21-year-old arm.