Blake Swihart isn't walking all that much, but he's also showing off the power that was hoped would eventually develop from his line drive swing. He's got three homers, which might not seem like all that much, but he hit two all of last season with High-A Salem. The ball has just been flying off of his bat with authority, and there have been a couple of balls already this season that might have been homers in another park but were limited to doubles by the Maine Monster in left. (It's good practice for dealing with those moments, I guess.) Despite this, Swihart's .186 Isolated Power would easily be a career-high, as he has 13 extra-base hits in his 28 games, and he's only striking out 12 percent of the time on the year. There remains work to be done, but he's taking steps forward even as the walking subsides.
He doesn't need to constantly walk to be a high-quality backstop, either: between his defense and his power, and what seems to be an ability to make quality, strong contact consistently, Swihart is going to produce more than enough to offset what could result in an on-base percentage that doesn't swoon those who see it. It's also pretty early into his Double-A career, so maybe guessing what his walk rate will look like in the majors in 2016 based on fewer than 30 Sea Dogs games isn't the right idea.
Noe Ramirez, RHP
Ramirez seems to have settled in comfortably in relief. He's now over 49 innings total across his two stints with Portland, and has struck out just over a batter per inning while issuing just 14 walks in that time. In addition, whereas homers were a problem post-promotion for him in 2013, he's yet to give up a long ball in his 21 frames from this campaign. That could all change, of course, but as it stands, it looks like Ramirez has adjusted to Eastern League hitters in much the way he needed to learn where his pitches should and should not go while with Salem.
His potential future in the majors remains in relief, even though he doesn't always crack 90 miles per hour with his fastball. When he keeps it down, he's in good shape, especially with his ability to generate ground balls. While he won't get as many innings as he would have had his tenure as a starter survived longer, he still gets multi-inning outings to keep his workload up. He could find himself in Pawtucket's bullpen at some point this summer, just in time for the Red Sox to make a decision about whether he'll be left out in the Rule 5 cold or dealt to avoid making that decision.
Travis Shaw, 1B
Shaw is another player in need of 40-man protection or a plane ticket at some point in 2014, but if he keeps on mashing like he has lately, then he won't be going anywhere except Pawtucket. I've taken serious issue with Travis Shaw's approach in the past, as he's been, more often than not, more passive than patient, with a two-strike approach that mostly involved watching the pitch go by in the hopes a walk was in his future. Too often, it was a strikeout looking instead, and his tendency to let pitches go by also resulted in too many plate appearances where he wasn't running things, and was instead at the mercy of his opposition. This led to weak contact, which led to lines with plenty of walks and power but no batting average to back them up.
That's what makes his recent surge so fascinating. He's still drawing walks, but he's cut down on the strikeouts significantly: Shaw punched out 22 percent of the time in 2013 in his second try at Portland, and this year so far is at nine percent, with 14 in 152 plate appearances. He's looked more aggressive at the plate this month, willing to swing (and drive) pitches that make their way into the strike zone, rather than trying to squeeze every plate appearance for every pitch it's worth -- his BABIP is about 30 points higher at the moment because of it, and his ISO has climbed as well. There's a balance between discipline and passiveness, and Shaw seems to have finally begun to lean towards the former.
Whether he keeps it up is something we won't know until we see how pitchers adjust to the new Shaw. For the first time since 2012 at High-A Salem, though, it's okay to be optimistic about Shaw's chances. Just don't get too carried away, because Pawtucket and the majors still loom large, and Shaw still hasn't faced much of the velocity that could doom him yet.