Boston Red Sox: Jackie Bradley Jr., OF
The idea of playing Jackie Bradley Jr. in center for his defense is an intriguing one, but there are two issues. For one, Mookie Betts has been playing in the outfield in general for just under a year, and even part of that took place at second base after Dustin Pedroia's 2014 ended -- cutting into his time learning center, when he's been getting better at the position and is the long-term answer there, is a problem. Second, Bradley hasn't hit, again, and it's not just a matter of not getting the playing time to do it. He's making ugly outs, striking out 30 percent of the time, and hasn't shown that he's ready to be handed more time just yet.
To Bradley's credit, he's collected 13 plate appearances in six games, taking on the sporadic-playtime Allen Craig role that he vacated when he was optioned to Pawtucket: it's hard to get going when you're inserted into games at random, for a plate appearance here and there. On the other hand, Bradley's numbers at Pawtucket weren't awe-inspiring despite it being his third go of things at the level.
They were good numbers, mind you -- we're not in the business of being too critical of a .345/.393/.465, 24-game line -- and hinted that maybe he was being a bit more aggressive on purpose so he would stop falling into the same holes that saw him strikeout constantly in the majors, but in his short time back in Boston, it doesn't look like that plan or its results have carried over.
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Bradley will get more playing time if he hits. Bradley might not be able to hit with the limited playing time he currently has. He's even stuck in the same situation that Craig was, so, like with Craig, he might have to play every day at Pawtucket for him to get his next real chance to be something besides a bench bat. That, or future bench bat is all the Red Sox are expecting out of him. With his glove, it's not a bad idea for the Red Sox at all, but it does seem like a disappointment given what Bradley's bat looked like it could be just a couple of years ago.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Zeke Spruill, RHP
The Red Sox picked up Zeke Spruill in a trade with the Diamondbacks this offseason, shipping 2013 fourth-rounder Myles Smith to Arizona to do it. Smith had been a disappointment to begin his pro career, but he's still young and has some promise -- though he hasn't pitched in 2015. Spruill, though, had already been in the majors and pitched decently enough in 2014, and had been a starter in the minors until he began to split time between that and the pen last summer. Now, exclusively a reliever, he's pitching well for Triple-A Pawtucket.
It's hard to tell from Spruill's strikeout numbers, which don't exist much -- he's punched out just over five batters per nine, but does possess a 2.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio, at least. He's not getting lucky en route to outs, however, as he's been inducing grounders rather than missing bats: Spruill leads Pawtucket regulars in ground ball rate, at 59 percent.
It would be lovely to see him pick up some of the extra strikeouts he featured in 2014, but even if he's just an arm the Sox could rely on to come in and get a grounder while avoiding a walk, then there is some value in that. Not back-end of the pen value or anything -- don't confuse intriguing Triple-A reliever with a future closer or anything -- but Spruill could help out if given an opportunity.
It should be stated that Spruill is giving up an awful lot of hits and has a batting average on balls in play of .364. Whether that's because Spruill's grounders are of the hard-hit variety and therefore not conducive to being easily fielded is a bit difficult to figure out with just 22 innings to look at, but it's something to keep in mind. The Pawtucket infield isn't exactly overflowing with top defenders outside of Deven Marrero, so Spruill might have better luck in front of better defenders.
Double-A Portland: Joe Gunkel, RHP
Joe Gunkel was promoted to Double-A Portland last week after a successful season-plus run in the Carolina League that he topped off with 22 innings of 2.05 ERA ball and a strikeout per inning in 2015. His first appearance for the Sea Dogs came in relief, with Gunkel throwing 3-1/3 innings where he allowed six hits and three runs, but also struck out six batters against one walk. He got his first opportunity to start on Thursday night, and while he walked four batters, he scattered those and his hits enough to hold Altoona to just the one run over five innings.
Gunkel isn't a starter in the long run, so don't hold out on that hope in spite of his success to this point. He'll get a chance to start for Portland because that rotation features a whole bunch of non-prospects or potential future relievers, so he's not taking innings away from anyone by sticking as one of the five. It will give him an opportunity to refine his slider and maybe get his change-up into workable order, but the great thing about a future in relief is that only the first of those really needs to happen for him to be effective.
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Gunkel can throw strikes, he's been able to keep the ball in the park despite not being an extreme ground ball pitcher, and he's shown an ability to miss some bats along the way. He's probably not on the short list of relievers who is being fast tracked because his future role is known, especially not if the Sox have decided to keep him stretched out and starting for now, but things could change as more of Salem's pitchers begin to make their way up north.
High-A Salem: Tzu-Wei Lin, SS
Tzu-Wei Lin might not look like he's having much success at the plate, as his OPS is 652 -- we'll refrain from mentioning that this would be his second-highest OPS in a season to date. Almost all of the good in that line is from May, though, as Lin has batted .284/.351/.418 with seven walks against eight strikeouts in his 74 plate appearances this month. It's all great to see, as much of Lin's problem to this point has been in his approach, with the rest of it in his inability to drive the ball much. Weird how that works.
If Lin can avoid strikeouts without sacrificing discipline, then he'll start to see more pitches he can hit. If he's seeing more pitches he can hit, he'll start to get more hits. It's all easier said than done, of course, but you've seen a snapshot of it in action when you look at his May numbers. If he can keep it up, then this glove-first shortstop could get a promotion for reasons besides his defense's readiness to move. Or, at least this time around, his bat won't be dragging so far behind his glove when he's told to head to Double-A.