Triple-A Pawtucket: Henry Owens, LHP
Henry Owens hasn't faced much in the way of competition since his debut campaign for Low-A Greenville back in 2012. He's had occasional poor starts or tough stretches, sure, but he hasn't been challenged for a significant length of time in the last few years -- he posted a 2.67 ERA and over 11 strikeouts per nine for the year in 2013, and 2.94 and just under 10 per nine in 2014. As his brief stop at Triple-A to end 2014 suggests, though, he might finally be getting that challenge this year on the mound for the PawSox.
It's just what Owens and his development needs, too: he's not going to be throwing out sub-three ERA and striking out every other batter he faces when he gets to the majors, so taking some baby steps towards that realization against Triple-A competition will do him a whole lot of good and help him ease in to adjustments. His fastball is fine so long as his command holds steady, and that change-up is legit, but his curve still needs some refinement before it can be a weapon against big-league bats. Testing it out on Triple-A hitters, many of them promising big-league players themselves or former ones who still have a trick or two up their sleeve against an untested kid, will tell us a lot about what Owens is going to grow up to be.
The good news is that there is no rush for the 22-year-old to be ready for the bigs within a month or two. He has the entirety of 2015 to sort himself out and grow as a pitcher, as he's not on the 40-man roster (and doesn't have to be for Rule 5 draft purposes until after this season), and the PawSox have other arms in waiting to jump to Boston if necessary: Steven Wright is the obvious first choice, and was already up once when it seemed Joe Kelly might miss a turn, and then there is Edwin Escobar, and maybe Brian Johnson or Matt Barnes as well.
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Maybe if Owens dominates Triple-A competition after a few weeks of tweaks -- like with what happened to begin 2014 at Double-A -- he can get a call to the Red Sox bullpen at the end of the year to slowly be introduced to major-league hitters. There is no pressure to do even this, though, and that laid back approach not only fits in with the whole Henry Owens' vibe, but should also be a positive for his development.
Double-A Portland: Pat Light, RHP
Pat Light was the 37th overall pick in the 2012 draft, a compensatory first-round selection who was expected to have a career in the bullpen. The Red Sox like to keep their future relievers starting for as long as possible, though, to give them that much more time to refine their pitches and develop, but that plan doesn't always see itself all the way to Triple-A. For Light, the switch to relief has come this year at Double-A, as he just wasn't putting it together as a starter in a way that benefits either him or the Sox.
That's not to say his time as a prospect is over: Light is now transitioning to the place where he was meant to be all along, so it's more of a reset on his development than anything. He's 24 years old, but the age of relief prospects isn't a concern in the same way it is for other positions: so long as Light can continue to smooth out his control and find the pitches he can miss bats with, then his season should go well. Whether he can do those things is up for debate, though, and will be the central discussion surrounding his time on the Sea Dogs.
It seems like it will be tough for Light to reach that closer potential he had when he drafted, but give it some time now that he's in this relief role for good. Maybe the pitcher the Sox thought they were getting was waiting for the right role to succeed in. If not, it will be a shame, but Boston has other arms, so all will not be lost if Light doesn't pan out as hoped. If he can get back on track, though, the Sox will certainly take it.
High-A Salem: Austin Maddox, RHP
Austin Maddox is another 2012 draft pick who made the switch to relief, but his moment came last summer. His development path is a bit odd, as he was a two-way player in college who was still learning how to pitch, and injuries haven't helped him make the most of the time he's been given in the Red Sox system.
A rough -- and brief -- 2014 at Salem has Maddox back there again, but he's shown the potential to miss bats in a relief role, so he could still salvage things and find himself promoted to Double-A before too long. Remember, as a reliever, Maddox can get away with not having three refined pitches or the greatest command in the world. It would be lovely if he also had those things, sure, but they certainly aren't job requirements in his current position.
Low-A Greenville: Mauricio Dubon, IF
Dubon was a late draft selection in 2013, picked in the 26th round out of high school. He's already something of a versatile player who has spent his time in the middle infield, and that's intentional, as he profiles as a utility player in the majors. Utility player is often a derided concept because players who can do a lot of things sub-optimally often occupy the position, but Dubon should be able to handle everything defensively but first base, according to Sox Prospects.
What kind of hitter he will be is a little more up for debate. He's hit for contact and average in his brief professional career, only striking out 11 percent of the time while batting .314, but there is no disciplined plan in his game right now, and, shocking no one who has seen his listed weight of 160, he hasn't hit for power. He's also just 20, though, and could always fill out his six-foot frame a bit, so maybe that could change. Enough, anyway, to make him more than just a defense-minded utility player.