OMAHA, NE: Jackie Bradley, Jr. #19 of the South Carolina Gamecocks is congratulated by teammate Whit Merrifield #5 after scoring a first inning run against the UCLA Bruins during Game 1 of the men's NCAA College Baseball World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Jackie Bradley, CF
Bradley was finished learning at High-A Salem long before he left, but the desire to let him make his way to and play in the Carolina League All-Star Game overrode the need to throw him in Double-A. And it's understandable, too -- the Red Sox were already aggressive with him at the beginning of the year, when they essentially skipped Low-A altogether (Bradley appeared in just four games there at the end of 2011), and another few weeks at Salem wasn't going to slow down his timetable any.
Now that he's in Double-A, though, it looks even more obvious that he belonged here. There's been little change in his line, except that he has more strikeouts than walks, but we're just 34 plate appearances in: you can't ask for the first handful of games to go much better than these have. Bradley is in his first year of full-season pro ball, and is already in Double-A. If he keeps on hitting, he might even be in Triple-A as soon as 2013, as a 23-year-old. That should give him plenty of time to finish developing, as he'll be ahead of schedule at that point.
Of course, he hasn't conquered Double-A yet, so let's not get ahead of ourselves. But it's hard not to be excited about someone who has thrust themselves into the discussion of Boston's top prospects not just because of potential, but thanks to results, and just a year after signing.
Stolmy Pimentel, SP
Pimentel showed some promise early on in 2012, but he's had problems missing bats, problems with walks (relative to his strikeouts), and problems keeping the opposition from putting everything in play. His ERA is now just a hair under six runs per nine in his nearly 50 frames, and the K/BB is once again in depressing 2011 territory.
It's not as awful as the 50 innings he threw at Double-A then, but it's not much of an improvement, either: Pimentel now has exactly 100 innings with Portland, and in those owns a 7.56 ERA, 1.5 K/BB, and just 5.6 strikeouts per nine. Boston has thought highly of Pimentel in the past, enough so to add him to the 40-man roster, but his past problems with inconsistency have devolved into maddening consistency, in part due to an inability to pitch well for very long.
Like Oscar Tejeda, another 22-year-old that was designated for failing to make any kind of headway in the last two seasons, Pimentel might need to start to sweat his 40-man roster spot. The Red Sox might be able to clear room on it in other ways, but if not, one wonders if they will attempt to sneak him through waivers, given his problems.
Aaron Kurcz, RP
Kurcz has the same K/BB he did in 2011 at High-A while still in the Cubs organization, despite an extra walk per nine tacked on to his rates. That's because Kurcz also bumped his strikeouts up by nearly three whole whiffs per nine innings, returning to the absurd punch out rates of his past.
He's keeping the ball in the park, and the walks wouldn't normally be a significant issue because of this, but he's also allowing a .355 batting average on balls in play that's helping to kill his WHIP and inflate his ERA. It hasn't all been poor luck, though, as Kurcz has been having a rough go of it as of late. The 21-year-old righty has given up six runs in his last four appearances and 4-1/3 innings, a big deal for someone with just 36 frames on the season.
Relievers go through rough spots, though, and it takes them awhile to level them out, given how few innings they toss relative to their peers in the rotation. You can cut Kurcz some slack in that regard, but that doesn't change that you'd like to see more consistency from him, along with fewer walks, and maybe a few more grounders. There's a lot to like, but he's certainly no sure thing, regardless of how hard he throws.