Drake Britton, SP
Drake Britton seemed an unlikely promotion to Double-A not that long ago, but a strong finish to his time in High-A Salem convinced the Red Sox that he had finally conquered the level. The 5.80 ERA he posted there might not look impressive, but it was a huge step up from where he was prior to the resurgence, and the improved state of his peripherals are evidence of that.
His first start for Portland was a bit odd, with Britton throwing five hit-less frames with two strikeouts, but also tossing in six walks just to balance things out. He's been the same kind of hit-or-miss since: five punch outs and two walks in 5-1/3 innings his next time out, followed by just two runs in six frames with four whiffs and no free passes, but balance was restored to the oddness that is Britton's professional career with 10 hits and seven runs in three innings in his last outing.
Of course, it's too soon to panic, especially since the 23-year-old's Double-A career is all of four starts and 19-plus innings long. Britton deserves some slack, given this, even if he's one to keep an eye on, due to his struggles with inconsistency and the persisting specter of a future in relief hanging over his head until he's pitched so well for so long that it simply fades away.
As his season-long problems dropped him from intriguing starting pitching prospect to potential bullpen piece last year, so too can a strong campaign at Double-A restore belief in him as something more than that. We've got quite a way to go before we know for sure, but he's shown flashes during his first month at the level, so the lefty has once again piqued our interest for now.
Anthony Ranaudo, SP
Ranaudo is stuck in the same kind of spiral of awfulness that Britton found himself in last year with Salem. There are homers, walks, and a lack of strikeouts, all the things a hitter dreams of, and Ranaudo just can't seem to stop. He has two starts of six with more strikeouts than walks, and one of those barely counts, given he punched out four and walked three.
His velocity and command have been inconsistent, in part due to his mechanics that have the same issue. That being said, he's just 22, and is a season removed from some solid numbers at Greenville and and a decent, albeit not awe-inspiring Salem campaign. Given the latter, it's not a surprise Ranaudo's struggling in this heady assignment. He needs time to work things out, and while, like with Britton, there are moments where you see who he can be, there are still too many where you see the more negative side of that idea.
The more of these kinds of stretches there are, though, the more you'll hear from scouts and minor-league experts who have felt for a while now that Ranaudo's future isn't in the rotation.
Jeremy Hazelbaker, OF
Normally, a Hazelbaker update isn't a pleasant thing, as it's often a reminder that he's already 24 years old (i.e., the same age as current major-league outfielder Ryan Kalish), and hasn't been up to snuff now that he's in the upper minors. This time around, though, let's give credit where it's due: Hazelbaker has been on a pretty good tear as of late.
Hazelbaker is hitting .235/.366/.588 with four homers in his last 10 games, including three long balls in the last two games. Now, he'd have to do that for months before the performance could be taken as anything more than a good stretch in an otherwise uninspiring season, but that doesn't mean we can't appreciate a good run for what it is.
Hazelbaker has basically smashed whatever he's come into contact with, as he's struck out in a third of his plate appearances in that 10-game stretch. When he hasn't ended up on at least second, he's attempted to steal, nabbing two of three during his 11 times on base.
Jackie Bradley will assume the playing time of Juan Carlos Linares, now that the two have been promoted to Double-A and Triple-A, respectively, but it's tough to see how this will affect Hazelbaker's playing time, if at all, at this point, given he splits his time between the corners and the DH spot these days.