Drake Britton, SP
A little over a month ago, the idea of Drake Britton seeing a promotion was tough to fathom. He had a great May for High-A Salem, though, posting a 2.14 ERA over 25-2/3 innings, thanks to a 4.1 K/BB and more than twice as many outs on the ground than in the air. It was the Drake Britton we've all been waiting to see since his shortened 2010 campaign, when he missed bats and found the strike zone with regularity.
If you've been following the minor-league updates, you know that it was starting to look like Britton's inconsistencies were going to land him in the bullpen once the High-A rotation added another arm. While I'm not convinced he's out of the woods in that regard just yet, the progress he's made has been better than his 5.80 ERA at Salem indicates.
Britton's first start with Portland didn't go that great. Sure, he didn't allow a run, but he lasted just five innings, and walked six batters against just two strikeouts. (Not that striking out more would have lessened the sting of more walks than innings pitched.) The promotion to Portland is a huge one for Britton, as it's likely we'll finally see if he's a starter or a reliever in the long-term. Double-A is a different beast than the low minors, and Britton's talents and weaknesses will both be challenged consistently in a way they haven't been before.
Stolmy Pimentel, SP
Last time we had checked in on Stolmy Pimentel, he looked like he was recovering from his terrible 2011, in which his ERA skyrocketed while he himself was demoted. That update closed with the following:
It's early yet, of course, so let's not claim him cured and start looking toward his time with Triple-A. There's work to be done at Double-A yet, but at least Pimentel has looked up to the challenge rather than lost.
It's a good thing that caveat was in there, because later that same night, Pimentel gave up five runs in just three innings, walking four and striking out just a pair. He followed that up with five runs in six innings, though, at least that time, he posted a 4/1 K/BB. In his first June start, Pimentel allowed four runs in four innings while walking four. As good as he was in his first few starts of the year, he's been that bad since.
He's still just 22 years old, but between 2011 and his start to 2012, it's difficult to stay positive, just as it is for Britton. Pimentel is also under additional pressure to perform as he's on the 40-man roster, meaning he's taking up a valuable roster spot that Boston might need to clear when their 60-day disabled list begins to empty. He won't be designated, but if he fails to show something of the old Pimentel with some consistency, he might be dealt in a package before too long.
Kolbrin Vitek, 3B
Vitek hasn't shown much of anything at Portland, and rather than improve with more time at the level, hit just .222/.276/.315 in May, and is in mired in a .146/.205/.244 stretch over his last 10 games and 41 at-bats. The 22-year-old was good, but not great, at High-A Salem, but his age-23 season wishes it had those kinds of problems.
He's striking out 23 percent of the time, while his walk rate has fallen to just over six percent. Even if he bulks up a bit, the average power he was projected for when he was drafted in 2010 isn't going to show up if his swing remains the way it is. High-A pitchers might not have been experienced enough to attack his weak points, but Double-A pitchers can and have. Things aren't going to get any easier for him from this point out.
Vitek is young enough to have time to improve, but by the same token, that's what you're leaning on the most heavily when you dream on his future. He has tools, and he used to have a viable approach, but they just aren't coalescing in a way that makes him productive. There's still time, but it would be easier to believe in him if he could show anything right about now, especially since he's likely an outfielder in the long run.
[Editor's Note]: Vitek has been on the minor-league disabled list since May 22, so he hasn't had much time to improve his numbers since the previous Vitek update a few weeks prior.