Double-A Portland: Pat Light, RHP
Pat Light's career before 2015 was a massive -- but not unexpected -- disappointment. It was clear from the time he was drafted that his future was in the bullpen, with a potential run as a legitimate big-league closer in the cards. You don't develop a future reliever by putting him in relief immediately, though, not unless he's in line to be fast tracked to the majors, so Light worked as a starter from 2012 -- the year he was drafted -- until 2014. In that time, he was a mess, throwing 197 innings with a 4.88 ERA and just over six strikeouts per nine despite being a first-round college arm working in the low minors.
The 37th pick in the 2012 draft found himself promoted to Double-A Portland despite his tough 2014, however, but this time, he was set to work exclusively in relief. There was reason to hope it would help him rediscover the talent that attracted the Sox to him in the first place, and so far, it has: 20-2/3 innings into 2015, Light has struck out almost 11 batters per nine, struck out five times as many as he's walked, and induced grounders 57 percent of the time. He's the owner of a 3.05 ERA, but that obscures how fantastic he's been since his first few rough appearances. Light has allowed just two hits, one run, and five baserunners total over his last nine games, racking up 14 strikeouts while inducing grounders 2.3 times as often as fly balls.
The change, besides a little more time to familiarize himself with the pen-only role, might be the length of his outings. Light was used for multiple innings in each of his first four appearances, racking up 10 frames in that stretch. He has 11-2/3 in his last nine, allowing him to shed some of the problems that come with going all the way through a lineup and then some in relief. He's faced 40 batters in those last nine games, while he took on 41 in his first four: less exposure is better for relievers, and since Light is still pitching more than an inning per outing on average, it's not as if he's being hidden. He's being used in the way he would be used in the majors.
Photo credit: Kelly O'Connor, Sitting Still
The Red Sox have some options here. They could play it slow with Light and see if the Eastern League adjusts to him over time, or they could push him to Triple-A soon and see what happens there. If Light is as dominant for Pawtucket as he's been for Portland, then all of a sudden he's looking like a potential bullpen piece for the Sox by year's end. There is reason to figure it out sooner than later, too, as Light is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this offseason, so they need to figure out if he's worth one of their 40-man spots before then.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Bryce Brentz, LF
Brentz is still hitting lefties, in the sense he's getting on base against them and hitting for average (.298/.421/.404 in 2015). A major power outage has hurt his line quite a bit, however, as he went 20 games without a homer, and batted just .222/.296/.333 in that stretch. You might think part of it was bad luck, at least on the average end, but Brentz was a mess: his batting average on balls in play was .348, but he struck out in one-third of the 81 plate appearances he logged in this stretch.
Now, his season line of .250/.327/.432 looks similar to what he's managed in his 184 total games at the level, and he suddenly has a worrisome strikeout rate. He's recovered a little bit in his last few contests, hitting two dingers in his last five games, and it's hard to get too upset about 20 games -- it's just 20 games, and power outages happen even to the best. It's worth paying attention to the strikeouts over time, though, because while Brentz has a potential major-league future as a lefty masher, he needs to be able to actually do the mashing part for that to work out.
High-A Salem: Ty Buttrey, RHP
Another 2012 draft pick who seems to finally be turning things around is Ty Buttrey. He didn't pitch all that much in 2014, and was awful for Greenville when he did. A strong start to the year in Low-A earned him a promotion to High-A, however, and while you'd like to see him drop his walk rate, there is a whole lot going right here.
Buttrey is inducing grounders 55 percent of the time, which helps offset the fact he's only striking out 7.4 batters per nine at the moment. It's also helping him get away with the awful 11 walks in 17 High-A innings, so imagine the benefits if he can avoid the walks in the first place and is just left with the grounders.
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Buttrey is still just 22 years old, and he's a year younger than your average Carolina League player, so he's right on schedule even if it seems like it's taking forever for him to put things together. High school arms, especially ones that aren't projected to be elite, take time to develop, and Buttrey is no exception. At least this time around there are encouraging signs to look at, and if he can get over the walks, the Sox might even be able to speed up his progress a bit by year's end.
Low-A Greenville: Jamie Callahan, RHP
Jamie Callahan, on the other hand, has just been bad. Boston's second-round pick in 2012 had a 6.96 ERA in 108-2/3 innings for Low-A Greenville last summer, and now, a year older with all that experience under his belt, is pitching even worse: Callahan has an 8.37 ERA over his first seven appearances.
It should be pointed out that there are some positive signs here, but they are flickering rather dully. He's striking out 8.4 batters per nine, and has reduced his walks compared to last year, giving him a 2.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He's not giving up homers, with just one in his first 23-2/3 frames, but he's not exactly an extreme ground ball pitcher you can rely on to continue that. It's also possible that he's largely responsible for his .409 BABIP: that whole regressing towards a .300ish BABIP thing only holds true if the pitcher in question is deserving of being at the level they are at.
Callahan very well might be having trouble throwing quality strikes, even if he's throwing more of them, and it could be resulting in the absurd 14 hits per nine against him. He's still just 20, so there is time to figure things out, but he desperately needs to start throwing pitches that the opposition can't just drive for a hit every third at-bat.