The Portland Sea Dogs have an odd roster this year, as it's made up of a few repeats and some newcomers, but lacks the kind of projected star power of last season. That's not to say there aren't any prospects worth paying attention to at Double-A, just that there's no Will Middlebrooks or Ryan Lavarnway for all of us to focus in on night after night.
There is, however, Bryce Brentz. He's intriguing because we aren't quite sure what he's going to be yet. Brentz was just ridiculous at Single-A Greenville in 2011, smacking 11 homers in just 186 plate appearances and 40 games, while hitting .359/.414/.647. His promotion to High-A Salem yielded less production, but that doesn't mean he struggled, as he still hit .274/.336/.531 with another 19 homers.
He's gone deep just once in the season's first 15 games, and is at .207/.258/.310, but these struggles were not unexpected. Brentz is highly-aggressive at the plate, and it was going to get to the point where the league didn't let him get away with it to the degree he has. That's not a bad thing, either, as this is the time we'll get to see how Brentz can adjust to the competition. We'll have a better sense of just what Brentz can be as we watch him rebound from his struggles. Will he continue being aggressive, to his own detriment? Will he learn the proper balance between patience and aggression that has served so many Red Sox hitters well in the past?
If it's the latter, with his power potential, the Red Sox have themselves a fine outfield prospect. Given he's striking out 34 percent of the time now, and still not drawing many walks, it looks like we'll see one way or the other soon enough. That's not to say a down season in 2012 is the nail in his ceiling's coffin (or that the first 15 games even represent such a thing), just that we'll really start to see his development in action from here on out. Remember Josh Reddick? His initial stint at Pawtucket wasn't inspiring, or on the level of his previous campaigns, but he's bounced back and is in the majors, likely to stay. Brentz, in many ways, is in the same situation due to a similarly swing-happy approach.
Chris Balcom-Miller is kind of in that strange dimension where he's a prospect because he's 23 years old, has a great fastball, and induces both grounders and swings-and-misses, but he's also not a significant prospect because he doesn't have the secondary pitches or command to make that worth as much as it sounds like it could be.
There's a lot to like here, but because he lacks a second pitch anywhere near as productive as his fastball, there's a chance his future will be in relief. He's off to a poor start in 2012, with just eight strikeouts in nearly 13 innings to go along with six walks and two homers allowed. He pitched much better at the same level in 2011, but was also either extremely hittable or extremely unlucky (11.3 hits per nine, .387 BABIP).
This is probably the season where the Red Sox figure out if they want him to start or relieve. If he can turn things around and display some of the more impressive pitching results he showed in the lower levels, then he's likely to keep on starting, at least for now. If not, though, then seeing what a groundballer who can miss bats can do in relief, where he doesn't need three effective pitches, is likely the next step in his career.
You might have noticed that second baseman Oscar Tejeda is now outfielder Oscar Tejeda. As Tejeda hit all of .249/.297/.339 last year, it's a bit of a strange move. But for as crowded as the Pawtucket outfield was -- Juan Carlos Linares was actually demoted in order to take up a spot in Portland -- the Double-A squad lacks outfielders. Since Portland also has second baseman Ryan Dent around, and Tejeda was below-average defensively at the keystone, it's worth the shot. Especially since, as disappointing as Tejeda has been, he's shown flashes of ability, and certainly has tools.
Whether or not those tools translate into something is another question entirely, but he's still just 22 years old, so repeating at Double-A isn't as much of a problem as it might sound like. And while Ryan Dent isn't a major prospect either, with Tejeda just not being very good at the position, it's not a problem to move him off in favor of someone who can field.