Triple-A Pawtucket: Blake Swihart, C
Blake Swihart is hitting .333/.333/.405 in his first 10 games, and no, you aren't misreading that: he hasn't drawn a single walk in his first 42 plate appearances of 2015. This could be a cause for alarm for some, even though we're talking about such a small number of games and times up to the plate, but let's put you at ease: Swihart not walking yet isn't a big deal, mostly because it's not unexpected.
In Swihart's first 26 games of 2014 -- the first 26 games he played at Double-A Portland -- he hit .290/.303/.458. He showed power and an ability to make contact that resulted in hits, but just two walks on the season, drawn 13 games apart. What that basic slash line didn't tell you is that Swihart was still having solid, albeit aggressive, at-bats, and he struck out just 13 percent of the time as well. You could see him learning against the most advanced pitchers he had faced to that point, even if it wasn't showing up in his numbers just yet.
In his final 66 games for Portland, Swihart batted .304/.373/.500 with 27 walks, or a walk in 10 percent of those plate appearances. He managed this without a drastic increase in strikeouts, too, climbing to 19 percent, sure, but seeing far superior pitches he could swing at and drive by holding back to try to control the plate appearance. This earned him a promotion to Pawtucket, where the process has begun anew. He's hit .288/.301/.387 in his 28 games at the level, and pretty soon, you'd think Swihart starts to see what it is he's facing in a newer, clearer light, bringing on the same kind of surge that made his 2014 so wonderful in the first place.
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Triple-A Pawtucket: Travis Shaw, 1B
Travis Shaw had some issues upon his initial arrival in Triple-A, but he seems to have smoothed most of them out. Or, at least, he's performing better at this point in his Triple-A career than he did at the same time while at Double-A. That's likely due to the understanding that helped him finally get promoted: Shaw finally found success against Eastern League pitching once he stopped being so passive at the plate, and started to look to use his power rather than go up to the plate looking for a walk every time.
Patience is good, and it can go a long way -- see: Swihart, Blake -- but overdoing it can be as disastrous as not having any at all. Shaw went from a low-average hitter who couldn't utilize his power in-game, kept afloat only by walks that Double-A pitchers were going to give him but major-league one would not to someone who hit his way to a promotion by simply acting a bit more aggressive. It's all balance, and Shaw seems to have found his.
The 25-year-old hasn't started off 2015 all that well, but he's only struck out three times in his first 10 games, so it's likely more a small sample blip than cause for concern. Whether Shaw grows up to be a big-league first baseman is still a bit up in the air given his admittedly questionable bat speed, but he's already seemingly moved past the fatal flaw that killed Lars Anderson's career. That, if nothing else, is a start.
Double-A Portland: Carlos Asuaje, 2B
It's always a little chilly during the Sea Dogs' early season games, and this April has been no exception. The home opener was rescheduled due to snow, the next game because of rain and cold temperatures, and it hasn't been particularly warm during the days where the skies are clear, either. This is all being said to remind you that it's tough to find what look like productive slugging percentages in much of the Eastern League in April, so don't concern yourself too much with that of Carlos Asuaje just yet.
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He's batting .243/.365/.351, not hitting for much average yet either but having quality at-bats, drawing walks, and seeing pitches. To continue the theme from Swihart and Shaw, know that Asuaje has not been passive: he swings quite often and fouls pitches off until he either finds one he likes, walks, or strikes out. At this point, he has six walks against five strikeouts in 44 plate appearances, and while he might not stick at those levels all year long, he only whiffed 14 percent of the time at Low-A Greenville in 2014, and was at 19 percent in his short, 39-game stay there.
How Asuaje's power translates during his first summer of high-minors baseball merits watching. He's slugged .483 with a .186 Isolated Power to this point, but Double-A pitchers can exploit his weaknesses more effectively than those in the lower minors. Plus, while Asuaje is listed at 5-foot-9, that's about as accurate as Dustin Pedroia's listed height: it's to be seen how well he can turn on inside pitches or muscle the ball over the wall at his size. The bat speed seems to be there, though, and the pitch recognition, too, so maybe it won't be a problem. It still bears watching, though, much as it did for Pedroia, for Mookie Betts, for Sean Coyle, for basically everyone at this level and that height.
High-A Salem: Kevin McAvoy, RHP
McAvoy's performance so far is a reminder that not everyone in Single-A is capable of making pitchers pay for their mistakes. He's walked nine batters in his 10 innings thus far, but has only allowed two runs on the season because he's given up six hits, none of them homers. This isn't trying to imply that disaster is coming for McAvoy, so much as that you shouldn't be fooled by that shiny early season ERA if everything continues as it has.
There is promise here, as McAvoy is just 21 years old, and Boston's fourth-round selection from the 2014 draft. He pitched in the short-season New York-Penn League after signing, and skipped Low-A Greenville altogether, so there could be some growing pains here, if the eight walks per nine didn't clue you in. The 6-foot-4 right-hander has the potential for three average or better pitches, which means he could be a big-league starter someday, but obviously his control and command need to get in line before that can happen.
McAvoy probably won't see a promotion this season unless he's surprisingly adept at adjustments, as it's his first taste of full season ball and he's already on an advanced schedule through bypassing Low-A. That's a good thing, though, as it would mean he has plenty of time to take his lumps and learn from them here, without any kind of timeline pressure.