For the last few years, we've focused our minor-league coverage one level at a time, one weekday at a time. We're going to do things a little differently in 2015, though, and instead pick one prospect to cover from each of the Red Sox four levels -- five when short-season ball picks up -- every weekday. This should help us rotate through players you want to read about more often, and help introduce you to the one you aren't yet aware you want to read about as well.
And hey, what better time to start this off than on Minor League Opening Day?
Triple-A Pawtucket: Blake Swihart, C
Blake Swihart is the top prospect in the organization, unless you're already giving Yoan Moncada bonus points for existing. Since Swihart is at Triple-A and Moncada remains in extended spring training, not yet having made his pro debut, let's give the edge to Swihart for now for familiarity's sake, yeah?
Swihart could very well end up in the majors before too much of the 2015 season goes by, but it depends on two things: the performances of Ryan Hanigan and Sandy Leon on the Red Sox, and Swihart's own adapting to Triple-A. He has minimal exposure to the level, finishing up his 2014 there with a .261/.283/.377 line in just 71 plate appearances, but being a catcher is about more than what goes on at the plate -- what Swihart does behind it matters even more, and it's the real reason he remains in the minors.
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His defensive potential behind the plate is high, and he made serious strides in 2014 in his game calling and his receiving, but he's not a finished product. Two months of catching pitchers who could also be major-league ready by the summer will be good for Swihart, and eventually, good for the Sox.
Double-A Portland: Carlos Asuaje, IF
Asuaje doesn't get much prospect hype, but maybe we should all be paying attention to what he does now that he's in the high minors. Boston's 11th-round pick from the 2013 draft has done nothing but hit since going pro, first besting the New York-Penn League's OPS by 84 points after he signed then hitting a combined .310/.393/.533 in a 2014 season split between Low-A Greenville and High-A Salem.
After just 39 games and 176 plate appearances in the Carolina League, the Red Sox saw enough, and assigned the 23-year-old Asuaje to Double-A. What he'll do there is anyone's guess. Asuaje struck out just 14 percent of the time in Low-A, and that bumped up to 19 percent at Salem, but he also didn't get to play for very long, and therefore wasn't given much time to adjust. The Red Sox must feel he needs a real challenge to show who he is and what he's capable of, and while the Eastern League isn't filled with high-quality pitchers in 2015, the jump should still be enlightening.
High-A Salem: Sam Travis, 1B
Sam Travis was Boston's second-round pick and third-overall selection in the 2014 draft. The first baseman actually has a pretty compelling ceiling despite going in the second round, but first base prospects are risky: they're already first basemen as far as defense goes, so if the bat doesn't match up to the position, there isn't anywhere else for them to go developmentally. As Travis is more about raw power than in-game power at this point, that's a flaw worth considering.
Sox High-A, Triple-A teams announce 2015 rosters
You already knew where Blake Swihart and Rusney Castillo were going, but what about the rest of the prospects?
Travis is 21, and started in short-season Lowell after signing last summer. He quickly earned a promotion to full-season Greenville to close out the year, and after just 289 plate appearances in the pros, finds himself one step away from the high minors. The Sea Dogs lack a first base prospect, too, so if Travis finds Sally League pitching to his liking, he might be going deep in Maine before too much of 2015 has passed by. Like with Travis Shaw before him, though, concerns about handling velocity against tougher minor-league competition exist, so while he could jump another level soon, that might be the last one for a bit. Especially with Shaw still in Triple-A Pawtucket with nowhere to go.
Low-A Greenville: Michael Kopech, RHP
Kopech was Boston's second-overall pick in the 2014 draft, and the no. 33 pick overall. He's just 18 years old and a few weeks shy of 19, but he's already 6-3 and nearly 200 pounds, with a low-to-mid-90s fastball. While the pitch has serious potential as an out-creating offering, his command needs work, so don't get too frustrated if he isn't immediately striking out opposing batters left and right.
Kopech also has a slider with the potential to be a plus pitch according to Sox Prospects, and both his curveball and his change-up have promise as far as being an average third pitch goes. He's young enough that he has time to solidify one of them as that third weapon he can turn to when he has to, but the first thing with him is going to be smoothing out that fastball command: without that pitch, the rest barely matters.