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
Brandon Jacobs, LF
It was going to be difficult for Brandon Jacobs to replicate his 2011 season. First off, the move to High-A Salem after a season at Low-A Greenville has its own challenges, almost irrespective of the player involved, given it's new (and better) competition. Second, Jacobs had a productive .303/.376/.505 season with the Drive in 2011, but he struck out 25 percent of the time, and flourished due to a .381 batting average on balls in play. Jacobs hasn't played long enough for us to know if we should be expecting lofty BABIP from him year in and year out, but even if we were, .381 is ridiculous.
Throw in that Jacobs has dealt with a hamate issue that will likely require off-season surgery, and it's easy to see why all three ingredients for his slash line have soured in 2012. His strikeout rate has climbed, his BABIP has predictably slipped -- it's still high at .332, but that's where a large portion of his 50-point drop in average has gone -- and the hamate has interfered with his power, with Jacobs amassing 35 extra-base hits through 99 games after 2011's 52 in 115.
Things have been especially tough for Jacobs after the break, as he's hit all of .220/.296/.376 while punching out over 30 percent of the time. It's very likely he'll need a second stint at High-A Salem, but even if he requires surgery, the recovery time from a hamate procedure is short enough that he'd be ready for the start of 2013.
Keith Couch, P
We last looked in on Couch over a month ago, when he was in the midst of a rough stretch in which he had allowed 11 runs in his previous 9-1/3 innings thanks to inconsistent control. He's been much better since, though, with 31 frames over his last five starts, including a complete-game, one-run effort on July 25. Couch struck out 7.5 batters per nine in that stretch, while limiting the free passes to 1.7 per nine.
Seeing an uptick in strikeouts is good, as Couch was struggling to punch hitters out during his rough go of things. It's likely his future is in relief in the long run, but that doesn't mean you don't want to see success from him as a starter in the meantime -- if anything, that's a better sign for his future, and he'll be all the more prepared as he moves up the ladder.
Adalberto Ibarra, C
Ibarra was last covered in this space on July 18, and, at the time, he was hitting .259/.374/.280. While his line above might not look impressive, take a look and see how much that slugging percentage spiked in a month's time. That's no small feat, and it could be just the strong finish Ibarra needs to get himself back on the radar.
Yes, he's 25, but he's also a Cuban import who is in his third season in the states. The strike zone recognition has been good, as have the walks, but without any kind of pop whatsoever, those skills would only get him so far. Enter the .304/.366/.413 he's hit after the All-Star break, as well as his ridiculous .469/.514/.656 August, and you start to see some of that power he's going to need to show -- and was supposed to show -- were he ever going to get to Fenway to use a swing that scouts felt was made for the park.
He's not out of the woods yet, but his recent surge has moved this from a disappointing campaign to something he can build on. He hasn't had much of that in his short history with the Sox yet, so this was a necessary shift. He's got a few weeks left to keep it going and finish up even stronger, although chances are good that slugging will not surpass his on-base without a Bondsian homer outburst.