Sarasota, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox batting helmets and bats in the dugout before a spring training game against the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
Drake Britton, SP
Britton is still starting games (or, at least, throwing long, starter-ish outings), as the Salem Red Sox have used six starters since Matt Barnes was promoted to High-A. He's still very hit-or-miss with success, but he's finally starting to get some separation between his walk and strikeout rates, even if it's not showing up in that horrific ERA of his. In May's three starts, Britton has thrown 14-2/3 innings, struck out 19, and walked six. After allowing five homers in April, he's yet to yield a long ball this month.
It's early yet, but it looks as if most of Britton's struggles have come while pitching from the stretch. With the bases empty, he's striking out nearly a batter per inning, and has given up 13 hits in 18-1/3 frames. He's also induced nearly twice as many ground outs as air outs from the windup. With runners on, though, opponents are hitting .328, his G/F ratio drops, and while he still misses bats, four of his five homers have come in these 15-2/3 innings.
As said, it's too early to make much of this yet, but it's something to watch out for. Britton has trouble staying consistent not just in his results, but in his delivery and approach, and having different issues from the stretch than the windup wouldn't be surprising in the least. Long-term, it's this lack of consistency that leads me to believe he'll become a reliever, but if there is a problem from the stretch, that will need to be ironed out first.
Brandon Workman, SP
After allowing four runs and two homers in his first start of the year, Workman has given up just eight runs and two homers in the 26-1/3 innings and five starts since. His strikeout rate just keeps climbing, too, as Workman -- who punched out a quiet 7.3 batters per nine at Single-A Greenville last year -- is now whiffing well over a batter per nine.
Sox Prospects described his cutter as being "a potential wipeout pitch" in his preseason scouting report. It's an offering that he wasn't allowed to throw until the end of 2011, as the Red Sox wanted him to focus on his other secondary offerings rather than develop a habit of relying too heavily on his potentially best pitch. The wait was a solid plan, as the cutter has been doing work for him this year, both for grounders (Workman has 1.5 times as many ground outs as air) and for whiffs.
The four homers suggest he's still leaving the ball up too much, but overall, those numbers tell you he's been showing both control and command. (That, or everyone he faces is awful. It's likely the former.) With fellow 2010 draft pick Anthony Ranaudo failing to show consistency in his mechanics, results, or velocity, it's reassuring to see Workman step it up after his promotion to High-A. As with most hurlers, Double-A will be the first real test that tells us just how far he's come.
Keith Couch, SP
Couch was on Sox Prospects list of arms to watch this March. He throws a sinking fastball, a high-70s curve, and a change-up that isn't quite there yet. The fastball has a tendency to be left up in the zone -- not a good thing for a sinker -- and the bender was at that point just average, although with promise to be more than that. It's the kind of repertoire that lets you start in the low minors, but in the upper minors and majors, likely leads to a future in relief. If you're wondering why you don't see Couch's name on any top Red Sox prospect lists despite his impressive K/BB, there's your answer.
The 2010 13th-round selection is acquitting himself well at his first stop at High-A, but as with Workman, Double-A is going to be where we see what he and his stuff are made of. The Red Sox generally let their future relievers stick as starters as long as they merit that role, so as to get them more innings and experience to work on their approach and repertoire, so Couch isn't likely to be tossed into the Portland pen in 2013 just because it's his likely destination. If he can continue to succeed at High-A and show progress with his secondary offerings, becoming less reliant on his sinker to do the work, then he'll likely get another shot to start.