Matt Barnes, SP
Anthony Ranaudo's 2011 ERA jumped a full run as he transitioned from Low-A Greenville to High-A Salem. Matt Barnes has seen his own jump by nearly two runs, but the main difference here is, whereas Ranaudo was pretty good for Greenville and just okay for Salem, Barnes has shifted from video game numbers at the low level to staggering dominance at the higher.
The Red Sox moved Ranaudo up to Double-A for 2012 despite not looking, results-wise, like he had conquered the Carolina League. It stands to reason that Barnes, with an ERA over two runs lower than what Ranaudo produced, nearly three more strikeouts per nine innings, half the walk rate, and far more consistency and promise from both his fastball and secondary stuff, will be joining Ranaudo at Portland before the year is out.
Barnes had his most human start of the season last time out on June 23, allowing five runs in 3-2/3 innings, the first time all season he's given up more runs than he's had innings in a start. In fact, he's given up just 12 runs in his nearly 50 frames for Salem, and nearly half of those came in one appearance. It's nothing to worry about, as it's simply a reminder that he is indeed mortal, and can occasionally bleed.
Travis Shaw, 1B
Shaw has been ridiculous as of late, pushing his OPS over 1000 (in its most basic form, his OPS+ in the Carolina League would be about 40 percent better than your average hitter), powered by a 10-game stretch in which he's hit .389/.500/.722 with three homers and three doubles in 36 at-bats. He's been great all year and ridiculous for two months straight now, though, as he posted a .294 Isolated Power in May and is at .318 in June -- in both cases, he's hit over .300, and is at .328 for the season in that particular stat.
While normally batting average in the low minors isn't something to talk much about, the constant contact is a positive. Shaw has whiffed just 16 percent of the time, so even as his batting average on balls in play drops with time, he puts the ball in play often. He also walks a whole lot, with just seven more whiffs than free passes on the year.
In 2011, the 21-year-old was good enough to be intriguing, but didn't shine through enough to make his way onto prospect lists. He's forcing the issue this year, though, and the Red Sox likely aren't surprised, given that his ninth-round selection in 2011 was the second time Boston drafted him.
It'll be interesting to see if he earns a ticket to Double-A, if he can keep up this crazy pace, and how the scouting world is going to react to his season with a High-A-sized shrug for the 22-year-old, or glowing reports of a bright future.
Brandon Workman, SP
Workman has had issues in the past with keeping pitches up in the zone, allowing the opposition to tattoo them. He's been avoiding that problem as of late, and has now gone five starts and 30 innings without the opposition going deep against him. His strikeout rate has been a bit lower during that stretch, with 20 punch outs in 30 frames, but he's also kept the free trips to first to a minimum, walking just five batters, or 1.5 per nine.
You can live with a drop in strikeouts for a bit while Workman learns to keep the ball down and in the strike zone in places where hitters aren't going to make him pay for it. It won't work forever, especially against hitters at higher levels, but he's in the minors to learn and adjust, and he appears to be doing that. If he's able to marry the lower homer rates and control with consistent strikeouts, then he's going to be as productive as his biggest fans believe he can be.