Triple-A Pawtucket: Henry Owens, LHP
We knew it would take some time for Henry Owens to get used to Triple-A hitting, especially now that teams have had the offseason to analyze his 2014 and adjust their game plans. So far, those adjustments seem to be working, as Owens is walking just about everyone he isn't striking out: In 21 innings, Owens has 19 punch outs and 17 free passes, leading to a 4.29 ERA.
It's to Owens' credit that things don't look uglier insofar as his ERA goes, but that only goes so far. Luckily, this is a bit reminiscent of the start of his 2014, when he was in the process of learning just what constituted a quality strike and what these more advanced hitters he was facing weren't going to bite on anymore. Over a seven-game stretch, from April 14 through May 19, Owens walked 25 batters in 37-2/3 innings, or six per nine. He'd make some adjustments using what he learned, and finish off his time at Double-A with 20 walks in his final 11 starts and 70-2/3 innings at the level.
With some more time, maybe we'll see Owens educate himself through his failures the same way he did a year ago. It's how prospects need to learn: development is a constant back-and-forth of adjustments between pitcher and hitter, and when one side stops learning to overcome the challenges of the other, stagnation occurs. Owens is likely too talented to stagnate right now, but there are going to be rougher patches until he figures out the way forward.
Photo credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Double-A Portland: Justin Haley, RHP
Justin Haley is also walking just about everyone. While he's not the prospect Owens is, there is still a potential future as a big-league starter here, but he'll need a lot of things to break right in his development for that to occur. Handing out free passes to 7.5 batters per nine innings is not one of them.
Haley has had problems with his control before, but not for some time now. In 2013, for Low-A Greenville, Haley walked 59 batters in his first 73-2/3 frames, or, over seven per nine. He made adjustments, though, and cut that to 2.6 walks per nine over his final nine starts and 51 innings, and that trend continued on into 2014, with a 2.7 walks per nine for the season between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland.
He's still missing bats, but like with Owens, he's just not getting all the calls and swings on pitches he likely found success with against more inexperienced hitters. As Haley has made the necessary adjustments before, there is reason to believe he can pinpoint the issues and change up his plan to once again succeed. Stretches like this are a reminder that there is still a lot to be done before Haley is a big-league starter, though, and not just because he's two levels away.
High-A Salem: Wendell Rijo, 2B
You knew the talk about walks had to end eventually in this column. Sadly, it happened with a hitter instead of a pitcher. Wendell Rijo has trotted down to first base on his own time on just three occasions in his first 15 games, but on the bright side, he owns a .208 Isolated Power and is just 19 years old in High-A.
Between his age and his previous pro experience, Rijo was due to see his walk rate dip as he moved up a level. Yes, he did manage nearly 100 points of separation between his average and on-base percentage in 2014 for Low-A Greenville, but his approach is not nearly advanced enough to withstand what High-A pitchers had in store for him. At least, not at first: Rijo is a tad aggressive, but he's not hopeless when it comes to waiting for the right pitch to mash, and he's already doing a decent job of hitting the ball the authority even before he's picked up either his average or on-base percentage.
What's a little suspicious is that Rijo hasn't attempted a stolen base yet. He was 16 for 22 in 2014 for a pretty eh 72 percent success rate, so one wonders if the Sox told him to not bother if he couldn't even impress on the bases in Low-A, or if it has more to do with his early season .268 on-base. It's probably the latter, given that Rijo has plus speed that, combined with some coaching, would make him an effective basestealer. Given his bat is set to be more good than great in the long run, it wouldn't make much sense to have him drop a potential valuable part of his game so early. Get on base more often and answer this question for us, Wendell.
Low-A Greenville: Javier Guerra, SS
Guerra hasn't shown much bat in the past, and it's not expected that will be the part of his game people focus on positively in the future, either. That hasn't stopped him from raking in April, though, with Guerra putting up a line of .304/.316/.536 in his first 15 games.
The one walk stands out, as do the 16 strikeouts in 58 plate appearances: he's not going to keep hitting over .300 if he's swinging and missing that often, and he'll need to draw walks to compensate at some point. This little flash of power is pretty nifty from a 5-foot-11, 155 pound shortstop, though, and it's precisely the kind of thing we never saw much of from former prospect Jose Vinicio at the lower levels. More experience and time should help Guerra fix the strikeouts and walks to a degree, and if he can show a tiny bit of pop, he won't so be reliant on an unrealistic batting average on balls in play to get our attention at the plate.
Even if he doesn't, though, that glove is legitimate. There is plus potential here, and a big-league career even if the bat is only okay. He's 19 and in Low-A, though, so maybe don't start writing him into the 2020 lineup or anything just yet.