Boston Red Sox: Blake Swihart, C
Blake Swihart isn't in Boston as the starting catcher of the Red Sox because he was ready to assume that role. No, Swihart is there for a much more unfortunate reason: The Sox had no other choice once Ryan Hanigan fractured a finger. It shows in Swihart's early performance in the bigs, too, as the switch-hitting youth has struck out 10 times in 23 plate appearances, or 43 percent of the time if you need a percentage before you can dramatically spit take or have your monocle pop out or whatever your cartoonish surprise reaction of choice is.
There is hope for Swihart's future, of course: before Yoan Moncada was signed, Swihart was considered the top prospect in the system, he's only 23, and he was a consensus top-20 prospect in the minors as a whole entering 2015. Your expectations for 2015 should be low, though, because Swihart was still in the process of figuring out how to hit against Triple-A pitchers in what should have been his first full season at the level, and their major-league counterparts are significantly better at their jobs.
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Swihart will gain valuable experience at the plate and behind it, but it might come at the expense of how the Sox do in the present day, as they struggle to score more runs than their pitching staff can allow. Maybe with Hanley Ramirez back, Mike Napoli starting to show signs of life, the return of Shane Victorino/the displacing of Shane Victorino by Rusney Castillo, and the heating up of Mookie Betts, Swihart's lackluster contributions at the plate can be ignored. If anymore injury or surprise failure hits the lineup, though, Swihart's unexpected big-league education is will continue taking its toll on the Sox.
Double-A Portland: Dayan Diaz, RHP
It's easy to dismiss Dayan Diaz since he's 26 years old and only in Double-A, but his development has been hampered by injuries. Most significantly, Diaz underwent Tommy John surgery in 2009, before he was even in Rookie Ball in the Astros' organization, and the subsequent road to recovery coupled with his youth, inexperience, and control issues kept him from reaching even High-A ball until 2013 while with the Cubs.
The Red Sox signed him as a minor-league free agent after 2013, and he quickly pushed through High-A to get to Double-A for the first time last summer. The walks were still there, but they were more manageable, and Diaz threw 16 innings of 2.76 ERA ball with 16 strikeouts against seven free passes. Now, to start 2015, Diaz's control suddenly seems to have been found, and it's resulted in a stunning set of numbers, with 17 strikeouts against just two walks and a 1.15 ERA over his first 15-2/3 innings of the year.
There might be a future reliever here, but it's going to depend on his health remaining intact and his control doing the same. Diaz is already 26, and has already been a minor-league free agent, so it's been awhile since he's been considered a prospect of any worth. If he can stay on the mound and continue to miss bats rather than the strike zone, however, then there could be something here. He won't be a shutdown reliever in the majors or anything even if his walks stay in a happy place, but as the Red Sox have already reminded fans in 2015, having bullpen options is a good thing, and sometimes, those options can come from surprising places.
High-A Salem: Sam Travis, 1B
Travis had a rough start to the year, with one hit in his first five games and 17 plate appearances. Since then, though, the 2014 second-round pick has batted .322/.379/.478 with 16 strikeouts against eight walks over 103 plate appearances. He's currently slumping again -- he's just two for his last 14, which should give you an indication of just how hot he was between games six and 26 of the young season -- but that previous outburst gives you some hope that this will just be temporary.
It's too early in the year to make any significant declarations about Travis, but if he does recover from this mini-slump to go on another 20-game tear, it's safe to wonder just how much longer he'll be at High-A. At Double-A, the Red Sox have Jantzen Witte, a 25-year-old whose scouting report talks more about how great of a teammate and how intelligent he is than about his actual playing ability, at first base. When the Sox think Travis is ready, there will be room for him to play every day in the Eastern League.
Low-A Greenville: Jalen Beeks, LHP
The Red Sox selected Beeks in the 12th round of the 2014 draft, and the thinking is that, if not for elbow issues, he would have gone earlier. So far, his elbow seems fine, with Beeks mostly showcasing control en route to some success as a starter for the Drive. He's also kept the ball in the yard, allowing just one homer in his nearly 32 innings, but that will change with more innings: Beeks isn't an extreme ground ball guy, and while he's not an extreme fly ball pitcher either, that homer rate just isn't something he'll sustain for long.
You'd like to see a little bit more swing-and-miss out of Beeks, but it should be noted that while he's starting now, his future is likely in the bullpen if it's anywhere. Try not to get too impatient with a 21-year-old in their first go at full-season ball, especially when they aren't even in their optimal, eventual role.