Triple-A Pawtucket: Matt Barnes, RHP
It would be lovely if Matt Barnes makes it as a starter, but there is still a lot of work to do in that arena, and he's far from the only option in future Boston rotations. It might be lovelier for the Red Sox if Barnes converts to relief starting, oh, this past weekend, when Boston used him for two successful innings out of the pen in an emergency.
Here's the thing: Barnes might end up being a decent starting pitcher. He's already 25, and he still hasn't missed bats with any kind of consistency at Triple-A, which does not bode well for a career as a starter in the majors. Working in relief would likely eliminate (or at least lessen) his most significant problems, however, which are the lack of a reliable third pitch and a tendency to walk batters. Walks can hurt you anywhere, but relievers can be lifted much quicker than starters and without the same kind of hole to dig out of, and getting through an inning or two with two pitches at your disposal is a lot simpler than trying to survive five or six or seven at a time.
It also helps that the Red Sox could use Barnes right now. The back end of the bullpen is a bit unsettled with Koji Uehara's velocity all over the place, leaving Junichi Tazawa as the only true reliable arm John Farrell can turn to. Alexi Ogando has been solid to start the year, but Edward Mujica has been an April problem again, Robbie Ross isn't inspiring much confidence that he's fixed just yet, and Craig Breslow, while owning a shiny ERA to begin the year, is still walking too many batters.
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Barnes has the potential, with his stuff, to be a stabilizing presence in the bullpen, and by the end of the year, maybe even a setup man should the Sox still be searching for one. That's no small thing, especially for a team that will rely as heavily on its pen to stay in games as this one.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Edwin Escobar, LHP
Edwin Escobar is one reason why Barnes could be pushed to relief, even though he might even end up there himself eventually. Right now, the PawSox rotation includes Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez, Brian Johnson, Steven Wright, and Barnes, but that's only because Escobar began the season on the disabled list with elbow inflammation. Assuming he just needs time for that to heal, Escobar will be back eventually, displacing someone if nothing has changed in the starting five by that point.
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He has potential as a back-end starter, but given the aforementioned issues with Boston's bullpen -- especially from the left side, where Breslow and Ross reside -- he too might make sense as an arm the Sox switch to relief. Escobar is the fourth-best of four left-handed starting pitching prospects unless you've got something against Brian Johnson, and he might end up in the pen someday anyway if he doesn't pitch more effectively against right-handers. He's still young enough for things to improve -- the 23-year-old Escobar isn't up against the clock the same way the 25-year-old Barnes might be -- but it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to have him familiarize himself with big-league hitters by taking them on out of the pen.
This all assumes Escobar can come back healthy and strong, though, and until he does just that, we're dealing with conjecture only.
High-A Salem: Teddy Stankiewicz, RHP
Teddy Stankiewicz seems to be taking to Carolina League competition well enough, with just five earned runs allowed over his first three starts and 17 innings. He's only struck out seven batters in that stretch, but he's also only handed out four free passes and allowed zero long balls, so hey, it's something.
Remember, Stanky is 21 and is at High-A for the first time, so some early hiccups are to be expected. If those hiccups look like this, where he's not giving up runs or walks even when he can't get batters to swing-and-miss, it's promising for once he finally does. Or, more negatively, it's warning us that things are going to get ugly in a hurry once he stops successfully stranding the runners he does let on.
With that being said, Stankiewicz is a promising arm with a mid-rotation ceiling who has been largely ignored because there are more exciting prospects both in front of and behind him. Like with Brian Johnson before him, you don't want to sleep on him for too long, though, not if you want to impress your friends with your knowledge of future decent MLB starters. And who doesn't want that?
Low-A Greenville: Rafael Devers, 3B
Devers' season is going to be fun to follow, but it will need some context. You need to remember these two important things in order to fully appreciate whatever it is he ends up doing:
- Rafael Devers is just 18 years old and in full-season ball already after 302 Rookie League plate appearances and zero for short-season Lowell
- The league-average Sally League hitter is batting .250/.318/.367, and is three years older than Devers
Right now, Devers is batting .288/.321/.327, which doesn't seem like all that much until you remember number one -- it's impressive he's even here right now! -- and number two-- even the older guys have trouble batting in Low-A. What stands out right now for Devers is that he's striking out (18 percent), but not a worrisome level, and that while he's not hitting for power, he is making contact that results in hits. It's early, etc., but it's what's noticeable at this stage.
There is a ton of work to be done here, and it's unknown if Devers will hit enough by mid-season to be promoted or if he'll need a full year at Low-A like Xander Bogaerts got back when he was 18. Either way, we shouldn't be too concerned about the numbers, especially not yet. So long as Devers' approach continues to be refined and improved upon, then he's getting the most out of his time with Greenville.