High-A Salem: Kevin McAvoy, RHP
Kevin McAvoy was the fourth-round selection of the Red Sox in the 2014 draft, one who has potential to be a back-end starter in the majors so long as his development goes well. Boston seems to have faith in him, as they placed the 21-year-old in High-A ball after his 28 innings for short-season Lowell, skipping Low-A altogether. It's not as if 21 is old for High-A or anything, either, like the Sox were trying to make up for lost time: the average Carolina League hurler is 23, while the average Low-A Sally League pitcher is 22.
Over his first three starts, McAvoy was all about grounders, inducing them an eye-popping 78 percent of the time. There was a downside to this, with McAvoy striking out just seven batters in his first 15-2/3 innings, or just over four per nine. That's small-sample noise, mostly, but there was obviously a concerted effort to induce those grounders, and living so low in the zone so often not only cut into opportunities for strikeouts, but also caused McAvoy to walk more batters (11) than he punched out.
In May, things have been different. McAvoy still isn't the kind of pitcher who is going to rack up the swings and misses, but he's whiffed 18 batters in his 24 May frames, giving him a 6.8 strikeout per nine against 3.8 walks per. That's not quite the strikeout-to-walk ratio you'd love to see, but it helps that McAvoy hasn't stopped getting those ground balls in the process: his May work has featured 62 percent grounders, still lofty enough to put him in the extreme ground ball pitcher category.
Remember, McAvoy is brand new to High-A and basically life as a pro: he's nowhere near perfect, but he's also nowhere near finished in his development. If he can further fine tune things so that his strikeouts go up a bit or his walks go down some, and the grounders manage to stay above that 60 percent threshold, then his chances of actually making it as a big-league starter improve. He's got some years and a whole lot of innings left before we'll get to see that play out, though, so for now, enjoy this first positive sign of potential development in his game.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Sean Coyle, 2B
Coyle is on the disabled list with an injury. Well, that much was obvious, but when it comes to the minor-league DL, teams aren't necessarily forthcoming with any injury that isn't an obvious season-ender. So, we sit here and wait for Coyle to return, wondering just what it is that's keeping him off of the field. Again. Because Coyle to the DL is an annual thing, and the reason he was limited to a combined 157 games between 2013 and 2014.
What makes this trip a little more disconcerting than last summer's is that Coyle isn't hitting: he's batting just .159/.275/.348, with his DL stint interrupting a disaster 12-game stretch where he's managed to collect three hits over 38 plate appearances. He's walking plenty, but striking out so often (28 percent of the time) that it's safe to assume some of those walks have more to do with just waiting the pitcher out than they do a successful plan seen to completion.
Coyle has talent, but there are holes in his game -- namely, his penchant for striking out and the reasons he does, along with his health. Those are both showing up in the early going in 2015, but don't get too concerned just yet. Coyle is in his first stint at the level, and he's still only 23 years old.
Double-A Portland: Mike Augliera, RHP
The Sea Dogs have finally added a new starter by promoting High-A's Joe Gunkel -- who devotees might remember we've covered in this space a few times this season already -- but it won't get Mike Augliera out of the rotation and into the bullpen just yet from the looks of things. Augliera started on Wednesday, and Gunkel is getting his first start Thursday. To be fair to Augliera, he's been pitching better in May, but that doesn't mean he's been pitching well: April was just horrific, so the bar is low.
As we've mentioned before multiple times, however, this isn't really a criticism of Augliera, who has his moments and value. He's better suited to relief work, though, or at least in theory he is, and getting him into that kind of space could do him a whole lot of good. His game is all about control with a splash of command, and he just doesn't have the strikeout or ground out stuff to carry him through a lineup multiple times. Augliera isn't about to turn into Pat Light, shedding all of his past failures for present-day dominance simply by switching to relief, but his chances of success and being noticed for being good at what he does do well are much better out of the pen.
For now, though, it seems like it's Mike McCarthy's turn to once again bow out of the rotation until such time there is space to fill again. Maybe the Sox decide that time is when Augliera gets bumped to the pen following the promotion of someone like Light to Pawtucket, but that's all guesswork on this end.
Low-A Greenville: Nick Longhi, 1B/OF
Nick Longhi has had a rough go of things lately, with a .200/.293/.240 May dragging his line down after a successful April. The problem mostly seems to be in his splits, for different reasons. The right-handed Longhi is struggling to get on base against right-handed pitching, but has retained his power against them. He's been able to draw walks against lefties -- he has six in 54 plate appearances against four in 83 against right-handers -- but hasn't had many extra-base hits against southpaws. These sorts of things will all even out with time and experience.
Plus, there is something else noticeable in Longhi's splits: he's had just four plate appearances on the season, out of 137, in which he's faced a pitcher younger than him. Longhi won't even turn 20 until the minor-league season is basically at its end, and he came into 2015 with 46 games and 171 plate appearances in the pros. He's raw with some talent that hasn't finished showing itself yet, so ups and downs like this are going to occur.