Bryce Brentz, RF
Bryce Brentz looked overmatched after his promotion to Double-A to begin 2012. He hit just .216/.266/.318, and had already struck out 29 times in fewer than 100 plate appearances. As awful as that stretch was, his May has been that good: in his last 10 games, Brentz is hitting .442/.467/.651 with five extra-base hits, and for the month of May, has posted a 1073 OPS, nearly doubling April's output.
It's not all sunshine and puppy dogs yet for the right-handed 23-year-old. Brentz still isn't drawing walks, and the strikeout rate just doesn't look good yet, even during his recent surge -- after striking out almost 30 percent of the time to begin the year, he's only down to 28 percent on the season now. Slight progress, perhaps, but nothing of significance given the sample involved.
Still, like Josh Reddick before him, it's good to see Brentz's plate coverage winning the day after a rough start against more advanced competition.* Triple-A isn't something we should rule out entirely, as the Red Sox might see Brentz getting complacent at the plate with his current strategy. If he keeps on slugging over .600, as he did to begin the 2011 campaign at Single-A Greenville, then there isn't much point in keeping him in one place -- if anything, he might pick up bad habits that are tough to drop. Failure will be good for Brentz, who eventually will have to stop acting as if every pitch is a hittable one -- more advanced pitchers will cause him to struggle more than just the month that the Double-A arms did if he doesn't adjust his approach to compensate for this.
*Let's keep this in mind: strikeouts weren't the issue for Reddick, who was and is able to put his bat on every good and bad idea that approaches the strike zone. Brentz isn't a clone, by any means, even if he does have promising power and a penchant for taking the bat off of his shoulder at every opportunity.
This all sounds negative, but it's just the natural path for a prospect in this particular offensive mold. Brentz has some excellent power, but he has holes in his swing and an aggressive approach that will be exploited. How he adjusts to that as he continues his climb up the ladder will determine what kind of player he's going to be in his career.
Oscar Tejeda, LF
The 2010 season, when Oscar Tejeda hit .307/.344/.455 as a second baseman, seems very far away right now. Tejeda posted a 636 OPS in 2011 in his first go-round at Portland, and now, here for a second stint, he's hitting just .279/.313/.414. This time, he needs more offense, too, as he's an outfielder rather than a middle infielder.
He's still young, so don't take this as giving up on Tejeda, especially since he has the tools to be a solid hitter. But you'd like to see something more out of a player who is taking up a spot on a crowded 40-man roster, especially during his second trip to Double-A.
There are some encouraging signs contained within his May. After punching out 28 times in 92 April at-bats, Tejeda has whiffed just four times in May. He's had half the playing time, but that's still a notable difference. Of course, he's not striking out less due to strike zone recognition and discipline. Tejeda is just ending at-bats before he can punch out, putting the ball in play almost every time.
Tejeda hasn't played since May 15, thanks to a strained hamstring that put him on the DL a few days later. He needs to pick up the pace once he returns, either so that the Red Sox know he's worth the 40-man roster spot, or so that another team gets that idea in their head.
Stolmy Pimentel, SP
Drake Britton might be having a difficult time rebounding from his terrible 2011 campaign, but, to this point, Stolmy Pimentel seems to be rebounding just fine at his second attempt at Double-A. Whereas he had a 9.12 ERA, 1.3 K/BB and 1.4 homers per nine in 50 innings at the level in 2011, Pimentel has looked more like the successful, young right-hander Boston felt belonged on the 40-man roster rather than left unprotected in the Rule 5 draft.
He's still giving up too many hits, but whether that's all on Pimentel or is due to the defense behind him is cloudy. The important thing is that he seems to have regained the strike zone and the punch out numbers he posted back in Single- and High-A a few years back, and is inducing far more ground outs than air outs at the same time. The demotion to Salem last year was a step in the right direction, but it was tough to be pleased with moderate success after heading backward not just performance-wise, but level-wise, too. These first four starts are a reminder of why 2011 was such a disappointment to begin with.
It's early yet, of course, so let's not claim him cured and start looking toward his time with Triple-A. There's work to be done at Double-A yet, but at least Pimentel has looked up to the challenge rather than lost.