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
Garin Cecchini, 3B
Cecchini had a strong May that helped him bounce back from his initial month in the Sally League, but his June has sent his line right back in the other direction. The 21-year-old is at just .216/.255/.275 in June, and has just two extra-base hits in his last 10 games.
A rare problem with strikeouts has plagued him in the month, as he's whiffed roughly 25 percent of the time in the month, while drawing just a pair of walks. Cecchini normally displays much more pitch recognition and patience than this, as his season's rates of nine percent walks and 19 percent whiffs suggest. The minor-league season can often be an up-and-down one, though: Cecchini had 16 walks against 20 punch outs in May, showing off what he's capable of, but it seems as if pitchers have adjusted right back to his adjustment. So it goes in the life of an early-20s prospect.
That being said, don't fret just yet. He's all of 21, and has 60 games of Low-A under his belt, and just 405 plate appearances total in his professional career. The fourth-round selection has done far more in terms of production in his time than, say, Kolbrin Vitek, who was selected in the first round in the same draft as Cecchini, and the latter is two years younger. He's shown progress in his second year in the pros, and this time next month, we could easily be talking about the next set of adjustments he's made to cut down on strikeouts and hit for power once more.
Henry Owens, SP
Owens spent most of May lowering his walk rate, but this in turn led to an increase in hits and a decrease in strikeouts, to "just" about one per inning. While that would normally be more than enough, as you can see by his season's strikeout rate, that's not quite what he's shown himself capable of. In his last two starts, though, he's been something of a hybrid between the early and later versions of Owens, striking out 17 batters in his last 10-1/3 innings, but giving up just four runs and three walks in the process.
He's not likely to throw enough innings in 2012 to ever make his ERA look as dominant as his strikeout rate suggests it should be. Pitchers at this level -- especially 19-year-old ones -- just don't compile innings in the way that major-league hurlers do, as they're still early in the process of building the arm strength that will serve them well in the bigs. It's just one more reason why scouting is so important at this level, as surface stats don't necessarily tell you everything.
They can tell you quite a bit if you dig even a little, though. Here, you have a pitcher that posted an ERA of nearly eight in his first month of pro ball as a 19-year-old, who has been at a 3.82 clip since, thanks to nearly 11 whiffs per nine innings, against just 3.3 free passes per nine. He's not getting the same kind of love as Matt Barnes, and he's not going to jump a level or two in a season like that more well-known and older product, but there's been plenty to love about Owens' first year in the pros, too.
Blake Swihart, C
You might not be impressed by Swihart's line for the season, but, like Henry Owens, there's been plenty of progress buried by early struggles. The backstop hit all of .178/.253/.274 in April, and while he failed to produce much through much of May, a late surge pushed his monthly split to .289/.329/.408. That's continued in June, as we're now two-thirds of the way through the month, and the switch-hitting catcher is at .314/.350/.514, finally showing off some of the pop the Red Sox hoped he had when they selected him in the first round a year ago.
Even when he was struggling to make contact that accomplished anything, Swihart has avoided strikeouts, and while he's not walking a ton just yet, around eight percent is a good start for a 20-year-old learning approaches from two sides of the plate.
He's had more success from the left side to this point, hitting .265/.304/.397 against righties, and .208/.298/.313 against southpaws. A bit more patience against lefties, and a bit more power against right-handers. He's also surprisingly hit much better at home, despite the fact that Greenville's stadium is fairly neutral. Funny things happen in small samples.
Remembering that Swihart's still dealing with a small sample even with his overall stats -- especially for a switch-hitting catcher -- is important. He's seen his stats climb slowly, but there's a ton of talent here. There's a reason Swihart was considered the top prospect at Greenville by many heading into the year, and his recent progress has done little but reaffirm that position. Now, he just has to keep doing it.