Triple-A Pawtucket: Brian Johnson, LHP
Taken as is, Brian Johnson's 2015 stint for Pawtucket has been impressive. He's averaging 5-2/3 innings per start even though minor-league pitch counts have him down at just 88 per outing. He possesses a 2.55 ERA and has struck out 2.4 times as many batters as he's walked, and has managed this despite the fact that around this time last year, he was just getting going at Double-A. If you look a little deeper, though, Johnson has been even better than this: he gave up seven runs in one 2-2/3 inning disaster on May 3, but otherwise, has allowed five runs.
Cut that seven-run start from the mix for a moment. When you do, Johnson has averaged 5-2/3 innings per start on 90 pitches per, he's struck out 8.6 batters per nine, walked 2.7 per nine, and has a 1.13 ERA. You can't actually erase that appearance from the record, nor should you, but you can excuse a blip as a blip. Johnson came into the year already mostly knowing how to pitch to Triple-A hitters, and his work since shows it.
His command and control -- plus knowing what to do with the entirety of his repertoire situationally -- made it likely even before the season began that Johnson's first real professional challenge would come in the majors. His performance to begin 2015 has mostly confirmed that thought, meaning Johnson is as big-league ready as he can be without actually testing his abilities there. The Sox might want to keep him at Pawtucket a little longer since he's still only thrown 277 innings as a professional -- he was drafted in the first round in 2012 and missed time in 2013 with a shoulder injury, yet is in Triple-A already anyway -- but there is an argument to be made that he should just come to the majors now while the Red Sox have a need.
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Johnson could slot into the rotation in Justin Masterson's spot -- the one Steven Wright is holding at present -- and despite his unproven, rookie status, would likely give the Sox a better chance at wins than Masterson and his mid-80s fastball. If the Sox don't want to put that much on Johnson's plate out of the gate, there is room for him in relief, since Boston lacks a go-to lefty out of the pen. It wouldn't be a permanent move, because Johnson's future is in a big-league rotation, but it would be an introduction to the big-league batters he needs to figure out how to retire, and would give the Sox a sense of his readiness in regards to claiming a rotation spot in 2016.
As he's already stretched out to start as well, the Sox could use him as a spot-starter or to eventually take over an empty slot as necessary. Regardless of the role, getting to face major-league batters might be what's best for Johnson's development, because the Triple-A ones don't seem to be offering enough of a challenge, and it's harder to learn when mistakes rarely occur.
Double-A Portland: Carlos Asuaje, 2B
When discussing Carlos Asuaje in this space, it's been something of a theme to compliment his obvious plate discipline and aggressive-when-necessary approach while also warning that it was okay if you ignored the lack of power for now: after all, it's cold in Maine in April, and that messes with early season stats. As the weather has begun to warm up across the Eastern League, so has Asuaje's bat: he's hitting .297/.416/.422 in May, with seven extra-base hits in 79 plate appearances.
Asuaje is unlikely to be an actual power threat, but he needs to have some pop in order to get pitchers to throw balls to him in the first place -- if he couldn't ever cause any damage, pitchers would just challenge him over and over again in the zone. He'll see plenty of strikes since he's more likely to hit a single than anything, but he'll keep pitchers just honest enough to give him those chances to walk if it's known he can smack a double into the gap at any time.
The second baseman is now also part of something of a backed up second base production line on the farm. Yoan Moncada has arrived at Low-A Greenville, so if at any point he needs a promotion, it means the Red Sox need to find a space for Wendell Rijo, Salem's second baseman. Rijo would need to either switch positions -- which seems unlikely given his profile -- or jump to Double-A, where Asuaje resides. That could result in something of a timeshare, with the two getting some time at DH or maybe Asuaje playing some more third and outfield, as he's done a bit of in 2015. Or, maybe Asuaje ends up in Triple-A, and it's Sean Coyle who is back to sharing second base yet again.
This is all hypothetical, of course, and requires a whole lot of success up and down the entire farm, but we are talking about a bunch of players who play Dustin Pedroia's position, so maybe figuring out where else they can help is in everyone's best interest.
High-A Salem: Austin Maddox, RHP
Where did Austin Maddox's strikeouts go? The right-hander struggled at High-A Salem in his introduction to the level in 2014, and has done a better job in the early going by keeping the ball in the park more often, but his strikeouts have been more than cut in half from over nine to under five per nine. It might just be a small-sample size thing, as he threw under 22 innings there last summer and is just under 17 this time around, but it's worth keeping an eye on.
Red Sox finally getting a shortstop in Xander Boga
Even if his bat remains a question mark, Xander Bogaerts is starting to resemble a major league shortstop in the field.
To this point, Maddox's strength is his control, but the homers suggest the command needs work. He can find the strike zone with ease, but needs to pitch better within it in order to see success. He's 24, but his future is in relief, so he has time to figure things out. He's also at a low enough level that it's unlikely his Rule 5 draft eligibility, coming this offseason, means much for his 2015 unless he suddenly dominates the opposition to the point where someone -- okay, the Orioles, again -- can't help themselves.
Low-A Greenville: Mauricio Dubon, IF
Dubon's future as a utility player continues uninterrupted, with the 20-year-old hitting about as well at Greenville as he did for short-season Lowell in 2014. He's split his season between shortstop and second, with twice as many games at the latter, and batted .287/.333/.390 in 149 plate appearances. That might not sound like all that much, but remember that the Sally League features an average position player age of 21.5, and a line of .252/.322/.364. Dubon is a little ahead of schedule, and a bit better than his peers.
He'll start to see less time at second with Moncada finally around, but that's okay, because to be a true utility player, Dubon needs to learn other positions. With Javier Guerra at short -- and tearing it up offensively -- Dubon might start to see a bit more time in the outfield, where fewer Greenville prospects reside.