It's late June again, which means all-star breaks for full-season teams and season openers for short-season levels in the minor leagues. With the halfway point upon us, let's catch up with how things have been going over the first half of the season, starting with the upper-level clubs in Pawtucket and Portland.
With the bridge year upon us, the upper-levels were bound to be stacked with big name prospects, and so far that's been the case. For the first time since perhaps 2006 when Jon Lester and Dustin Pedroia headlined for the PawSox, Boston's Triple-A team will see some of the top talent in the system spend most of its season in McCoy. For the most part, though, this is the result of some quick call-ups from Portland.
With Junichi Tazawa out for the season, Pawtucket's talent was mainly to be found in Josh Reddick to start the year. The young outfielder had come up to Pawtucket last year following a hot start in Portland that actually led to a short trip to the majors before it led back to Triple-A. But whatever momentum Reddick had, he left in Portland, struggling mightily after his initial call-up. While this year has been better, Reddick has continued to struggle. Though his power continues to shine through in bursts, he's had some trouble making contact and getting on base. Hidden in the midst of a bad year and an unproductive trip to the show, though, was the quietly impressive June Reddick had been having in Triple-A. It's a small sample size of 38 at bats, but .342/.422/.474 is nothing to sneeze at—especially with six walks and five strikeouts. The call-up may prove ill timed—we'll have to see if Reddick can build on his improved month when he eventually returns.
Otherwise, the PawSox were a collection of might-never-bes such as Mark Wagner and Aaron Bates, both still with the potential to do some good but the reputation of fringe prospects or AAAA players, and fallen talent like Michael Bowden, who would have to find a way to convince the Sox to give him another chance after disastrous MLB showings. While Bates hasn't performed, and Wagner has found his way to the DL with a broken hand, Michael Bowden perhaps deserves a second look. While his year started poorly as he tried to work on changing his mechanics, a return to his old ways has coincided with a return to his old numbers, and he is suddenly looking a little dominant again.
There has also been an in-between group of players who have a good shot at helping the Red Sox this year. Mostly this is in the bullpen, where the Red Sox stocked their leftovers from their "see what sticks" offseason approach. Oddly enough, the one guy who looks most capable of actually helping, Robert Manuel, has been given no major league appearances. Manuel has been dominating AAA to the tune of a 0.95 ERA, making many question why the less effective veterans and more wild rookie Dustin Richardson have gotten the call ahead of him.
There's also some guy named Daniel Nava. Not sure if he's done anything though. . .
Really, though, it's the callups that have infused Pawtucket with its most impressive talent. Ryan Kalish, Lars Anderson, and Felix Doubront rank as the second, fourth, and sixth best prospects in the system respectively according to soxprospects.com, and all of them showed why in Portland.
The results in Pawtucket, however, have not been entirely the same. While Doubront actually ended up pitching better than he did in Portland in a few starts before making a spot start for the Major League team, Kalish has run into a hip flexor injury, and Lars Anderson has been plagued by the same problems that ruined his 2009 season: strikeouts, and ground balls. Right now, Doubront is definitely the closest of the three to being MLB ready, though he isn't there yet.
Finally, there's Robert Coello, another acquisition from the independent Golden Baseball League like Daniel Nava. While Coello hasn't had perfect control in his time in the system, he has been keeping runs off the board by missing a ton of bats—good for 70 strikeouts in 56 innings. In his third and most recent outing for Pawtucket, Coello pitched six innings, allowed one run on four hits and a walk, and struck out ten. Not something that can be ignored.
While Portland may have lost some of its best talent, it still has the most impressive rotation in the system, and a good few position players worth talking about.
There's no question where the Red Sox' pitching talent is stashed. Casey Kelly, Stephen Fife, Kyle Weiland, and now Alex Wilson highlight a top-tier rotation. Kelly, likely the consensus #1 Red Sox prospect since Ryan Westmoreland's surgery, received a surprising push from the organization to Double-A at just 20-years-old. Results have been predictably mixed for Kelly at such a high level, with bad games and good games almost evenly distributed throughout the year, but there are some good signs such as a strikeout rate of eight batters per nine innings, and a 1.27 groundout-to-flyout ratio.
The older Fife and Weiland, meanwhile, have managed ERAs under 4.00 on the season. Though their peripherals haven't been entirely impressive, both have shown much better walk and striekout rates as the season has gone on, especially in June. Continued improvement could make either a prime candidate for a late promotion. Alex Wilson has spent almost the entire season in Salem so far, with only a couple of Double-A starts to date. How well he adapts to Double-A hitting remains to be seen.
Offensively, Portland has a few mid-level prospects of note. Catcher Luis Exposito hasn't had the type of season one would hope for from someone expected to play a potentially significant role in the team's future. There's not any easily diagnosable problem with Exposito's season so far—he's just doing everything a little worse than is necessary, without any really noticeable signs of improvement so far. The same can not be said for Che-Hsuan Lin, who has still yet to display any power. He also isn't making quite enough contact to fully take advantage of his speed. Still, his ability to get on base s as good as ever thanks to his great discipline.
On the other side of the coin are middle infielders Yamaico Navarro and Jose Iglesias, who have both had successful seasons so far despite injuries. Coming into the year, nobody knew quite what to expect from the "question mark" bat of glove-first shortstop Jose Iglesias. While he's not exactly been an offensive force, and has shown the tendency to swing at bad pitches, for a 20-year-old in Double-A he's shown the ability to put the bat on the ball when it's in the zone, and put something of a charge into it too. There's work to be done, but not so much as might have been expected. Navarro, for his part, is quietly putting together a very good season aside from a few troubles surrounding his injury. A strong April eventually fed into a great June once he got everything back in sorts, with a monthly line of .313/.405/.552 to date with four homers. He's even managed to steal a few bases here-and-there. If Navarro's season continues like in any way like his June has gone, Navarro could be a surprising solution to the Sox' third base woes in the not-too-distant future.
There's also a couple of guys to watch in the bullpen, if nobody nearly so impressive as in the rotation. Eammon Portice has a lot of runs on his resume, and his massive strikeout total hasn't transferred fully intact to Portland, a lot of his troubles are the result of some bad luck, as evidenced by his 3.53 FIP. Also notable is Jason Rice, whose control problems continue to be an issue, though he'll rack up plenty of strikeouts along the way too. With a bit better control, Rice could break through as a bullpen prospect in the system.
That'll do it for the top levels. We'll finish it up next week with the Advanced-A Salem Red Sox, and the Single-A Greenville Drive.